Should You Upgrade Your Computer for VR?

What kind of performance in VR should I expect for my computer? Should I upgrade my graphics card? CPU? Everything?!?! These are questions people ask often in these early days of VR. Information is scarce and things change so quickly that it’s hard to get definitive answers. Luckily, we can use our own demo, Picard’s Quarters, to help you benchmark your computer.

Keeping Your Head Above Water


Performance is too ambiguous a word to be useful for describing user experience in VR. We prefer to using framerate and judderFramerate or Frames Per Second (FPS) is the most important number you’ll want to watch because typically, the Rift will be running at a stable 75 FPS (for the DK2). This is achieved by the technology in the Rift and ultimately powered by your computer.

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Even if you have a super computer, the Rift will run at 75 FPS. However, if your computer isn’t powerful enough, you will see judder. What is judder? It’s hard to describe but you’ll know it when you see it. One second you’ll be enjoying VR and the next, you’ll be getting sick. Beneath the surface, there are many different factors contributing to the overall performance. CPU cores, GPU clock rates, and motion-to-photons latency are just some of the things developers have to worry about when creating VR experiences. The goal is to run at 75 FPS for as much of the experience as possible–in essence, to tread water.

Benchmarking Against Picard’s Quarters


Before you start, please make sure you’ve optimized your computer first. You should also note that all VR experiences have certain areas where you’re more likely to see judder–we’ll call these hotspots. They exist because some areas of the experience will be more taxing on your computer than others. For example, a meadow will likely be easier to render than a busy city corner. In Picard’s Quarters, the two hotspots are at his desk where there are many objects and at the big animated LCARs screen. If you get 75 FPS when you start the demo at the desk looking at the lounge area, you’ll probably get 75 most everywhere else.

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There are a myriad of settings we can tweak but to simplify things for users, we’ve boiled the quality settings down to a single option based on the Screen Percentage (SP). You can choose between Low (100), Medium (120), High (140), or Epic (160). To benchmark your computer, run Picard’s Quarters at the highest setting where you can maintain 75 FPS through most of the level.

Deciding When to Upgrade

We benchmarked using our two computers, a GTX970 (Epic) and a GTX660Ti (Medium). Detailed specs for these systems. If you have a GTX700-series, most likely you’ll be able to run at least on a High setting. If you don’t think your system is performing up to its potential, try optimizing your computer more. If you have an AMD processor and/or an ATI graphics card, try to look at comparison charts like this one. Based on this benchmark, you should have a good idea whether your system is optimized appropriately and what it would take for you to get the performance you desire. Rumors suggest that CV1, the next iteration of the Rift will be released in late 2015 or early 2016. The new specifications will likely even put a strain on the GTX900-series graphics cards since there will be 50%+ more pixels to drive and at a higher framerate (most likely 90 FPS). We suggest that you buy the best CPU you can afford, followed by the best GPU you can afford because we’re seeing VR experiences being CPU-bound usually and it would be silly to buy a $400-peripheral and only spend $800 on the computer. Just sayin’.

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