For the last few years, I've been watching the slow growth of what's clear to be a modern VR (Virtual Reality) boom. It's clear that Oculus (and Lucky) were onto something a few years back when they launched a Kickstarter for the DK1. Since then, we've seen countless VR start-ups pop up, breathing new life into a once dead corner of the tech industries.
I'll be transparent on my experiences with VR to date: I haven't had the chance to really 'jump in' in the ways, or the depth, that I'd like. I'm a huge proponent of Apple developing something akin to the Samsung GearVR, and even went as far as to purchase an iPhone 6S+ in December 2015 so that I could start trying out the Google Cardboard software that had been released onto the iOS App Store. But that being said, I still haven't had a chance (to date) to immerse myself in either the Oculus Rift or the HTC Vive, which are the big boys in the VR market (Yes, I know all about Playstation VR, but I have little interest in purchasing a console at this point).
Since I wanted to get started in VR the right way, a few months ago, I began slowly ordering parts to build a small VR rig at home. And before actually spending any money, I had to do my homework and decide what hardware I was going to purchase, and what stipulations I'd be held to on this build:
- Low Budget PC (~$1000)
- Which headset to go with: Rift or Vive?
- What sort of play space would I need: desk area or full room (informs which headset)?
I knew that all in, I'd be spending about $2000. This allowed me some flexibility on the PC hardware in case prices went up, and would allow me to have enough left over for the Rift+Touch or the Vive.
A friend suggested that I browse pcpartpicker.com to checkout some completed builds and see if any of the projects were in line with my end goal. I ended up finding a few that were close to my idea, and used them as a starting point for my rig.
With a good idea in my head, I created a list of parts that I'd be ordering:
- Thermaltake CORE V21 Micro ATX Cube Chassis
- MSI Intel Skylake H110 LGA 1151 DDR4 USB 3.1 Mini ITX Motherboard (H110I Pro)
- EVGA SuperNOVA 650 P2, 80+ PLATINUM 650W Power Supply
- Samsung 750 EVO - 250GB SSD
- Seagate 2TB BarraCude SATA 6.0Gb/s 3.5" HDD
- Intel Core i5 6550 3.20 GHz Quad Core Skylake Desktop Processor
- PNY Anarchy 16GB DDR4 2400 Kit
- EVGA GeFroce 1050 TI SSC 4GB GPU
- Still deciding between an HTC Vive or an Oculus Rift (since the price drop)
With my list in hand, I began ordering parts. I knew I could order various bits from different sites and get a better deal/cheaper price, but as far as I've seen in the last few years, no one beats Amazon's return policy, which actually came in handy (upon arrival of the EVGA SuperNOVA 650W Power Supply, I'd noticed that the box was missing the shrink wrap. Upon inspection, I found most of the cables missing, and had it immediately replaced).
The rest of the parts were ordered and installed without incident, though due to budgetary reasons (vacation plus the holidays), my build was reduced to a lower priority, and therefor took a few months longer than I'd expected, but by the end of February, we were up and running.
(I should point out that the day of the initial test-run of the build, I had forgot to run the CPU power from the PS to the motherboard, resulting in an hour of pulling my hair out trying to figure out why the damned thing wouldn't turn on. So, lesson learned: make sure everything is plugged in.)
First impressions: this is the little beast that could. I kicked on a few of my long time favorite games (Elite Dangerous, Unreal 3 Black Edition, various Blizzard games) and maxed out the settings. Everything is slick as warm butter, and I'm really happy with the results thus far. I'll be running through a few additional games looking for FPS performance to make sure I have a solid 90FPS at all times, and will include screenshots below.