As more and more soon-to-be VR users consider the hardware necessary to really enjoy an HTC Vive or Oculus Rift, we find ourselves frequently being asked if it's better to buy a computer that is VR-ready or build something yourself. It's an easy question to answer, especially if you're already using VR with a capable PC, but that doesn't mean everyone's answer is the same.
It's clear we need more than one perspective here, and to do that we've assembled a brief roundtable from our staff that have recently either built or bought a PC.
Keeping it simple, desktop VR can be a great way to keep costs low without sacrificing power. Offering unrivalled flexibility, there's a range of ways to get your hands on a desktop build. Here's what our team members think about desktop VR builds!
After recently funding a personal PC build with virtual reality in mind, I've spent a fair few hours searching for deals through online retailers. With the intent of surpassing the recommended specifications for the HTC Vive, my time was spent finding the best deals possible for higher-end components.
I've never found the upgradeability I prefer is available in pre-built market.
When it comes to purchasing high-end PC rigs, I've always seen custom-built PCs as a more affordable route. At first the task can seem rather daunting, but in recent years it's become more streamlined than ever. With dedicated sites to help choose components and even assemble them, less-capable system builders are now able to construct their own custom builds. Even when factoring in the additional charges of a third-party assembling your PC, this can end up as a much cheaper alternative. While pre-built setups are designed to work straight out of the box, you'll often pay a somewhat unjustified price tag for that luxury.
Midway through building my PC, Nvidia also announced its latest line of graphics cards, including its latest flagship - the GTX 1080. While I went ahead and purchased the leading card, the release of the new GTX 10 series had a significant impact on the pricing of previous generation options. The company's whole range of 'VR Ready' cards has now seen a price-cut, which cuts back a significant cost of gaming PC.
Looking past the price, custom-built PCs also gave me unlimited flexibility – a trait almost non-existent in the pre-built market. While modern PCs offer the choice between differing configurations, I've never found the upgradeability I prefer is available in pre-built market. Without various incompatibilities and proprietary hardware, a custom-built rig gives the control ideal for creating a future-proof VR solution.
For me, building a PC is all about choosing the exact experience I want and being able to quickly expand when I need to. I know what each part in my PC is capable of, and I have a rough idea of how long each of these parts are going to last. That gives me the ability to create a long-term plan for expanding and maintaining my PC.
This is obviously a lot more work than buying a PC. The build process can be complicated, especially when you choose a case that requires some extra work to look nice when managing cables. When you factor in time spent building the PC, there's a good chance this method is more expensive than buying a PC as well. As I said, in the long term building my own machine gives me a little more flexibility and peace of mind, both of which are valuable to me.
I'm also a little boring when it comes to my casing. I have no need for a slick-looking outer shell. I don't care about LEDs everywhere. This box is going to sit in a corner under my desk and I'm only going to look at the back of this machine when swapping between VR systems. When I'm showing off my PC, I'm showing off what's on the inside and what I can do with it, everything else is pointless to me.
My PC is going to last me quite a while, and during that time I'll be able to explore the latest graphics cards and probably even some water cooling at some point. I'm also going to have a shitload of fun with it along the way!
The first 26 years of my life I was a PC guy, having built many kick ass rigs for myself. I have many fond memories as a teenager of going to the local computer store with my brother and parents to pick out components.Ten years ago I was convinced by some work colleagues to switch to a Mac. Whether that was a decision for the better or worse I'll let you be the judge, but suffice to say the days of me being a computer hardware tinker-er were over.
Charge me a premium and hand me over a cool looking, VR-ready PC so I can plug it and get playing!
These days I'm a busy workaholic and free time is a precious, precious commodity that I don't have a lot of. I find VR to be incredibly exciting, not just for the games and experiences available today, but also for the implications and changes it will bring to the world in the years ahead. I wanted to get on the VR bandwagon immediately so I could put some of that precious free time I have into experiencing the future.
Needing a PC to run the Vive and the Rift, it was a no-brainer to look at packaged VR-ready desktops. A decade with Apple already has me trained to overpay for hardware that I can't easily upgrade or tinker with, and I simply don't have the time — nor desire to commit brain cells — to PC building again. Besides, I need to put those brain cells to learning how to use Windows again.
Bottom line — charge me a premium and hand me over a cool looking, VR-ready PC so I can plug it and get playing. That's the way I like it!
Gaming on the go
Don't fancy the form-factor of a desktop PC? If you're happy to pay a premium, VR laptops are also now a viable solution!
Earlier last year, VR-capable laptops were extremely hard to come by, with the demand for VR-capable machines simply not present at the time. Since the launch of both the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, laptop manufacturers are now pushing VR support harder than ever before. Following the launch of the NVIDIA's GTX 10-series, mobile GPUs are finally catching up to their desktop equivalents.
You'll be paying a premium for the convenience of a compact form factor
Sure, you'll be paying a premium for the convenience of a compact form factor, but this is now a much more viable solution for those interested in getting started with desktop VR experiences.
While neither of today's leading headsets are designed with portability in mind, the simple fact of having a compact desktop is appealing to many. Whether you take your PC on the go or simply don't have room for a desktop build, a laptop can be a pricey but just as effective prospect in 2017. Whereas I still prefer a desktop form factor, I can see the appeal to a huge market of gamers.
It seems like just last year people wanting a laptop for VR had to decide whether they could endure a serious cut to performance in order to take their head-mounted display on the road. Not only that, they had to pay two or three or even four times more money than a custom-built gaming desktop.
A laptop is a no-brainer if the budget allows
Not so much anymore. While desktop rigs will almost always trump laptops with similar hardware — more room for the parts to breathe! — you can still get an unbelievable laptop that will have no problem running your Rift or Vive, and you'll no longer have to pay an arm and a leg.
Laptops definitely aren't for everyone. Plenty of websites have a broad range of configuration options which make it seem like you're building your own, but nothing beats the feeling of seeing your PC boot properly after putting it all together yourself.
Nevertheless, I think it's incredible how fast laptops have narrowed the divide between desktop performance while also keeping the prices competitive. If you're someone who belongs to a thriving VR club or you're someone who just likes to share VR, a laptop is a no-brainer if the budget allows. You already have to carry your headset, controllers, and sensors, so why add a monitor and tower to your burden?
Which side of this discussion do you fall on? Are you building an epic VR rig, or are you taking a look at the best VR PC you can grab from the shelf at your local store? Let us know in the comments!
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