May 11, 2017
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Can you believe it’s been a year already since consumer-grade virtual reality headsets became available to the masses? It’s almost hard to fathom that time has already come and gone, especially given the innovations we’ve seen in the segment in just that short time period. Amazing is one of the many ways to describe the ferocious pace that VR has evolved, but even more shocking is the lower starting price of PCs that can handle VR.

When things first rolled out with the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift last year, buyers also needed to be wary about the investment because not only were they buying the VR headsets themselves, but also the minimum spec’d PCs that would be handling all the backend processing! Even more unbelievable were laptops that would be capable of handling the rigors involved with VR’s crushing demands, they just weren’t an option right out of the gates.

As it turned out, though, it only took a short period of time before the first VR-ready laptops were announced! Of course, the performance of VR is dependent on a PC’s hardware – so super spec’d rigs would be more capable, naturally. In the one year of experiencing everything that VR had to offer, we managed to check out a bunch of PCs, which brings us to this very exact piece.

While benchmark tests are traditionally the best representation of a PC’s performance when juggling VR, we decided to take the approach with an emphasis on their real-world performances instead. Objective scores and numbers are great for some folks, but they do little to actually decipher and explain a PC’s true performance when they’re used for VR in particular. So, it made us realize and think about how VR does VR perform on different PCs? Are there really substantial differences between them?

Consumers shopping around for a PC for VR purposes will be given several solutions, but there are obviously practical ones that would be suitable for the occasion. You might be questioning why we listed a tablet below, but hey, the uninitiated wouldn’t have a clue as to what kind of PC to look for in the first place – so it’s here for a reason. Plus, we were curious ourselves to see what roadbload (besides minimum specifications) would we encounter before realizing it’s not fathomable.

So let’s check out how they perform!

Huawei MateBook: $1000

  • 6th Generation Intel Core M5 6Y54 (1.10 GHz)
  • 8 GB LPDDR3 Memory 256 GB SSD
  • Intel HD Graphics 515
  • 12″ Touchscreen 2160 x 1440
  • 10.97″ x 7.64″ x 0.27″ 1.41 lbs
  • Keyboard Sold Separately

So yeah, we’re including the Huawei MateBook in this quick comparison. We’ve personally used it on-the-road during trade shows, proving to deliver solid utility when it comes to packing power in such a small form factor – it can even handle editing 4K video footage to some extent! While it’s fine and dandy to know that, running VR is a totally different beast for this svelte tablet.

First of all, the specs don’t meet the minimum specifications needed to run today’s VR headsets – so that alone is the first indication. Despite all of that, we pushed on and tried to see if we could even get the Oculus Rift set up. It didn’t take all that long for us to realize that it’s just not feasible. The next roadblock we encountered was the fact that it features an integrated graphics card, as opposed to a discrete one. And finally, the lack of ample USB ports seemingly nails the coffin for this tablet.

Tablets aren’t there just yet in terms of handling VR, but don’t count them out! If the spread of VR-ready laptops is any indication, you can absolutely bet that tablets are coming to some degree in the future!

Acer Predator 17 X: $2699

  • Intel Core i7-6820HK Processor 2.7GHz (Up to 3.6GHz)
  • 17.3″ 4K IPS Screen with NVIDIA G-SYNC technology
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 with 8GB GDDR5 VRAM
  • 32GB DDR4 Memory, 512GB SSD, 1TB Hard Drive

The Acer Predator 17 X was one of the initial batch of VR-ready laptops announced and released last year, not too long after the release of the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift headsets. Being Acer’s gaming line of PCs, it doesn’t try to hide its ungodly girth – and boy is it a massive thing to try and lug around. When other laptops strive for thinness and portability, the Acer Predator 17 X favors raw power.

The particular model we’re dealing with here, one that features an Intel Core i7-6820HK Processor, 17.3-inch 4K screen, 32GB of RAM, and the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980, is still an impressive thing on paper. We’ve been checking it out for several months and have been extremely satisfied by its ability to handle all sorts of VR games and experiences. Seriously, it rarely ever builds up a sweat when dealing with even the most demanding VR experiences.

In almost every circumstance, the Acer Predator 17 X showed all the qualities of a champion, as it managed to deliver fluid performances and responsive actions. If there’s a laptop we’d recommend to pick up now, while also being future proof for some time, then this is it! Then again, you’re going to pay a pretty penny snagging this one, despite being out for several months now, as it can retail around the $2700 level.

MSI VR Ready GS63VR Stealth Pro-068: $1547.99

  • Display: 15.6″ Full HD Non Reflection 1920×1080
  • Processor: Intel Core i7-6700HQ Quad Core Processor (2.6-3.5GHz)
  • Graphics Card: NVIDIA’s Latest GeForce GTX 1060 6G GDDR5
  • RAM: 16GB (8GB x2) DDR4 2400MHz | Hard Drive: 512GB M.2 SATA SSD

One of the latest VR-ready laptops we’ve been using is the MSI GS63VR Stealth Pro. Unlike the Acer Predator 17 X, MSI’s offering brings forth a more meaningful balance because it combines power and portability into one. Featuring a 15.6-inch FHD display, Intel Core i7-6700HQ processor, 16GB of RAM, and the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060, it’s nice to see that all of those goodies are packaged into a relatively svelte chassis.

There’s not a whole lot to complain about here either, since it handles most VR experiences with ease. In fact, it’s almost difficult to notice any differences between its performance and Acer’s offering – and that includes the significant size disparity between them. Still, there’s one issue that arises when attempting to run VR games using battery power. Even when it’s set on high performance mode, the MSI GS63VR Stealth Pro stutters with its performance when it’s running on battery power. It’s pretty noticeable and distracting thing to tell you the truth.

Those wishing to use this laptop for VR will want to do it while it’s plugged into a power source! Indeed, it’s a small compromise, but considering how it’s dramatically more portable than the Acer Predator 17 X, as well as being priced lower at $1550, we suppose most people using it for VR won’t mind having to be plugged in.

Custom Cybertron PC: $3000+

  • Intel Core i7-6700K Processor (4.0GHz)
  • 64GB RAM
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 with 8GB RAM

The last PC in our comparison here is a custom-made Cybertron PC, something we had built very shortly after the release of the Oculus Rift. We ensured that the VR performance wouldn’t be compromised with this one, stuffing it with the latest and greatest hardware at the time. That includes an Intel Core i7-6700K Processor, 64GB of RAM, and the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080.

Even now after a year of using the PC, it still performs at peak performance, barely ever showing any sort of strain when dealing with VR. That’s kind of expected, naturally, especially given the hefty $3000+ cost of building the rig. Then again, it’s mind-boggling to see that a $1550 priced laptop can also deliver a practical VR experience – plus it’s something that can be easily transported around, to share the VR experience with others.

Not only is the hardware becoming more affordable to purchase for consumers, but when you combine the optimizations that have been made on the software side, minimum specifications for VR have been lowered as well. At this current rate, it’s very much plausible for us to see sub-$500 PCs that are VR-ready.

What kind of machine do you use to power your VR experience? Any recommendations? Tell us in the comments.

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