Is Your PC Ready for Virtual Reality?

Hardware and software specs for a VR-capable PC

So, you've decided to take the plunge and go 'all in' on PC-based virtual reality. You've done your homework and purchased a VR head-mounted display that meets your needs. So what's the next step to complete your VR system? You need a VR-capable PC.

What Makes a PC 'VR-Ready'?

Two popular VR headset makers, Oculus and HTC/Valve, have provided recommended minimum-required PC specifications (Oculus) that provide a decent VR experience. Going below these specs might result in dropped frames, motion tracking lag, and other unpleasantries that might cause VR sickness in some people, and might end up ruining your overall VR experience.

Computer programmer programming virtual reality simulator glasses at computer in office
Caiaimage/Robert Daly / Getty Images

Minimum VR Baseline Specifications

The main reason published VR minimum specs are important is because they give VR developers something to target as a benchmark to test against their apps and games. This helps to ensure that users who have PCs with at least the minimum specs for VR will have a good experience because the developer has configured their app or game to take advantage of the level of performance provided by the minimum specs.

Anything the user has above those specs is extra. Users can use any extra horsepower they have above the minimum specs to allow for higher graphics detail settings, supersampling, and anti-aliasing.

The best rule of thumb is to make sure your PC meets or exceeds the minimum requirements. If you want to do a little "future-proofing," opt for a little bit beyond the minimum specs. Otherwise, you'll have to settle for VR on smartphones.


The minimum PC processor spec for the more popular Head-Mounted Displays (HMDs) is an Intel Core i5 4590 or an AMD FX 8350 or greater. If you can afford to, we recommend opting for something more powerful, such as an Intel Core i7 (or AMD equivalent).

How much difference the processor makes in the overall VR experience is difficult to quantify, but in general, if you’re choosing between an i5 vs. an i7, the price difference between the two processors is probably not nearly as much as the price difference between higher-end graphics cards.

A slower processor could also hinder the performance of a higher-end graphics card, which is another consideration. You don't want to spend a bunch of money on a fancy graphics card only to have your processor end up as the system's bottleneck.


Oculus recommends at least 8 GB of memory, whereas HTC recommends 4 GB as the minimum. Again, when it comes to memory, you can't go wrong with purchasing more than the minimum requirement. Your system will take advantage of additional memory and it will generally improve the speed of just about every task your computer performs.

Graphics Card and Display Output

This is probably the single most important factor in VR performance, as well as where things can get expensive. The minimum specs for VR-capable video cards are in a slight state of flux as new iterations of graphics cards entered the market shortly after the minimum specs were announced.

Originally, the base requirement was at least an Nvidia GTX 970, or an AMD R9 290 or better. The Nvidia GTX 10-series was released shortly after the specs came out, so now there are the 1050, 1060, 1070, and 1080. Same case for AMD. This confusion leaves the buyer wondering which to choose, for example, is 1050 better than a 970? Is a 980 better than 1060? It can get confusing.

Our advice is to go with the newer version of the card that has the minimum spec, and if graphics are important to you, go at least one level higher than the minimum. For example, the GTX 970 was the original minimum spec, the 1070 is probably a safe bet for what the next "benchmark" will probably end up being. A 1080 costs more than a 1070, but if you want pro-level graphics and higher frame rates and want to add a little "future-proofing," consider the 1080 if your budget allows.

The display output is also important. Oculus requires HDMI 1.3 or better and HTC sets the bar at 1.4 or DisplayPort 1.2. Make sure the graphics card you purchase supports whichever HMD you end up choosing.

USB, OS, and Other Considerations

The type of USB ports your system supports is also important for VR. For Oculus, you'll need a few USB 3.0 ports, and oddly, USB 2.0 ports are required as well. For the HTC Vive, only USB 2.0 is required.

As for the operating system, you'll need at least Windows 7 SP1 (64-bit) or higher to join the VR party.

You should also consider investing in a quality SSD drive for your OS drive if you can afford it, as it would likely improve VR app load times and speed up other tasks.

As VR displays an increase in resolution, feature, and complexity, expect VR minimum system requirements to increase to support the additional pixels and other advances. You may want to take this into consideration when purchasing your VR PC rig, so you won't be under-powered later down the road.

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