My dream VR rig, realized

As my followers know, I’ve been involved with all things virtual since I became a content creator for Second Life waaaaaay back in 2003. Back then, SL seemed incredibly demanding, in terms of its hardware requirements, and I couldn’t afford an adequate SL rig until 2007 when I bought my dream machine: a Pentium quad core at 2.4 GHz with a whopping 4 gigabytes of RAM. A speed demon!

I’ve had my eye on the rise of VR hardware even as my once-enviable computer edged further into the depressing territory of obsolescence. How could I contribute to new virtual worlds without anything resembling a capable PC?

A naked processor! Gasp!

This year, Oculus Rift and HTC Vive seem to be hitting their stride. Microsoft is pushing new hardware for their “mixed reality” solutions. Console gamers are getting in on the action with PlayStation VR. Even smartphones have VR content with Google Daydream and the aging Google Cardboard. 2017 marks a major step forward in consumer adoption of virtual reality.

In this context, I realized that it’s time to step up and buy a ticket to the virtual world. So I built my dream machine.

It’s going to get really nerdy in a moment, so if you glaze over at the mention of hardware, you might want to visit my sidebar for some more engaging content where I write about penguins, breakfast sandwiches, and airplanes.

Knowing that VR is extremely demanding, I decided to get the best I could afford (which is different from the best available), that would fit into the smallest form factor possible.

  • Case: CoolerMaster Elite 130. This one’s notable for being small, but long enough to house a full-size graphics card, which is key for VR.
  • MSI B260i Pro “gaming” motherboard in a mini-ITX form factor (to fit my mini-ITX case).
  • Intel i7 7700k quad core “Kaby Lake”. My last was a quad core, but this clocks in at 4.2GHz without overclocking. Nifty.
  • Corsair “Vengeance” RAM, 16GB. I don’t know how fast. It’s supposedly quite fast.
  • MSI/nVidia GTX 1060 graphics card with 6GB on-board. Here I skimped a bit, but a 1080 seemed like overkill.
  • Samsung SSD for the system drive.

And then, of course, I bought myself an Oculus Rift with Oculus Touch controllers (described in a previous post). After recovering from utter stunned amazement at my Rift, I noticed that my little i7 was overheating badly. The Noctua “low-profile” cooler that the store expert assured me was sufficient was not. Like… close to boiling water kind of insufficient.

The best solution for a hot processor is liquid cooling. But in a mini-ITX case? It was already a tight squeeze, but I managed to mash a full-size Corsair twin-fan radiator and pump inside along with the truly bulky GTX 1060.

So now I have my dream machine — a rig that can handle pretty much anything this year’s software can throw at it. And a bit less the next year. And the next year. Until the relentless march of time turns my dream into a doorstop.

Stay frosty

Virtual reality sits out on the bleeding edge of technology — a spot its occupied for decades — always an elusive dream. Now, with the right hardware, it’s within reach.  A dream machine can take us there.