Virtual reality is going to be big. Whether for work or for play, the applications where VR can be utilized are so expansive that they can affect almost every aspect of our lives. If you want to get a head start on developing or experiencing VR for yourself, you’ll need a headset and some hardware. One of the main components required is a graphics card that’s capable of handing the demanding processes of rendering virtual reality scenes. The current manufacturers in this market are NVIDIA and AMD, and they’ve already started labeling cards as “VR Ready” to help consumers.
With the green team, you’ll have a few selections of graphics cards that are able to handle the demanding processes required to run virtual reality games and applications smoothly. These include the 10-series GPUs, such as the GeForce GTX 1080, 1070, and 1060. Even though they’re powerful and feature new technology, users without them aren’t necessarily left out. If you happen to have select 900-series cards, including the GTX Titan X, 980Ti, the discontinued 980, and 970, you’ll still be able to enjoy VR, albeit not at the level that newer cards can offer.
On the flip side, the most recent card on the red team that’s capable of running VR is the Radeon RX 480. There are definitely much better revisions in the works; however, even previous-generation cards are sufficient, such as the Radeon R9 390 and 390x, R9 Fury and Fury X, R9 290 and 290x, as well as the R9 Nano. Keep in mind that you may be able to meet the minimum requirements with some of these cards, but to enjoy VR at its best (90 FPS, Eye-candy, etc.), you’ll need a much heftier GPU.
Clock Speeds and Cooling Solutions
When buying a graphics cards, you’ll be presented with two choices: a reference edition and a custom version from select manufacturing partners. Reference edition cards, or otherwise known as “Founders Edition” cards (for NVIDIA users), have a traditional blower-style cooling solution that draws air from within the chassis and dumps it out through the back. The same goes for reference AMD Radeon graphics cards. Once you move away from reference models, you’ll have a larger assortment of fancy, eye-catching, and better performing options available.
Take the ZOTAC GeForce GTX 1080 AMP Extreme, for example. A standard reference edition of the GTX 1080 has a base clock speed of 1607 MHz. After getting their hands on it, ZOTAC’s engineers slapped on a ginormous three-fan cooler and significantly bumped up the speed to 1771 MHz. By implementing NVIDIA’s GPU Boost 2.0 technology, reference cards can reach a boost clock speed 1733 MHz. Compared to the stock clock of the ZOTAC model, it’s not even close. What’s even better is that, after overclocking, the AMP Extreme can reach up to 1911 MHz with multiple user reports stating that it can achieve 2000 MHz and above easily. Not only can custom models perform better, but also cool better. Compared to a single fan, having two or three on top of a customized heatsink tends to result in lower temperatures and less noise.
For users who would still like to enjoy virtual reality, but have or prefer a computer with a smaller footprint, there are “mini” cards available, such as the EVGA SC GAMING, ZOTAC Mini, and Gigabyte Mini ITX OC 6G. These small form factor GTX 1060s are VR capable, and the ideal size for mini-ITX and HTPC builds.
If you’re not a fan of fans, or if you’re into liquid cooling, you should consider cards built with All-in-One (AIO) closed-loop cooling solutions, such as the MSI Sea Hawk X or the EVGA FTW HYBRID. These hybrid cards utilize air and liquid cooling, which requires a radiator to be mounted in a 120mm spot for fans. The high-speed pump circulates the enclosed liquid cooling solution through the copper base, where it picks up heat from the GPU. It then flows past the radiator, where it transfers heat to multiple fins to be cooled by the included 120mm fan. The rest of the board and its components still generate heat, which is dissipated by the built-in fan on the card, hence, these are considered “hybrid” cooling solutions. While there’s no ironclad guarantee for lower temperatures compared to non-AIO cards (ambient temperature is a big factor), AIO units can be cooler and quieter. Additionally, closed-loop systems don’t require any additional maintenance or assembly.
The top two VR headset contenders right now are the HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift. As long as you have one of the aforementioned graphics cards, you should be VR ready; however, there are still a few requirements worth mentioning. Both platforms require an Intel® Core™ i5-4590 processor or better, as well as Windows 7 SP1 and up. After that, the specs diverge. For the Vive, you’ll need at least 4GB of RAM, a HDMI 1.4 or a DisplayPort 1.2 video port, and a single USB 2.0 or faster port. The Rift requires 8GB of RAM, an HDMI 1.3 port, and two USB 3.0 ports. It may be a bit troublesome getting all the connectors neatly in place, depending on your build; however, the Gigabyte Xtreme Gaming comes with a “Xtreme VR Link” to help you out. The included 5.25" drive bay module provides two HDMI ports and two USB 3.0 ports for easy access to your VR headset, so you won’t have to fumble around with a bunch of wires behind your system. Whether it suits your needs or not, it’s worth considering for an optimal VR experience.
Now that we’ve covered the basics for VR, its GPU requirements, and multiple models, you should be able to make an educated purchase to suit your needs. If you’re still not sure whether your card is capable or if you’re just curious, there are VR benchmarking programs available online that will help you figure it out. Be sure to check them out because they’ll even offer advice on what can be improved across your whole system.
For more information, stop by the B&H SuperStore in New York, speak with a sales professional on the telephone at 1-800-606-6969 or contact us online via Live Chat.
How can I use these with a Mac Pro Tower (Current version)?
Unfortunately, these cards are not compatible with Mac.