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How to build a VR PC on a budget

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Getting into VR isn’t cheap - especially if you’re going down the PC gaming route. First you have to buy hardware powerful enough to run it, then a pricey headset before finally shelling out on the games themselves.

One way to save yourself some money is by building a VR-capable machine yourself. Nvidia recently launched its new Pascal-powered graphics cards, which are easily powerful enough to run the most demanding of games. Even the low-end GTX 1060 – the cheapest of the three new GTX 10-series offerings – is capable of doing the job for some time to come.

You’ll have to pay good money for it, though. So if you can’t afford a Pascal card, it’s worth going on the hunt for a refurbished graphics card that meets Nvidia’s minimum spec for VR. Based on Nvidia’s previous Maxwell GPU architecture, the GTX 970 is the weakest (and most affordable) option - and it will still do you proud.

The more the refurb graphics card tilts towards the GTX 970 end of the scale, the better your chance of finding yourself an excellent bargain compared to more expensive and powerful ones closer to the GTX 1060 end. Going down the refurbished route is nothing to worry about - just take the time to check what you’re buying, what warranty you get and what steps the seller has taken to refurbish the product.

Build it yourself

Grabbing a screwdriver and learning how to put the components together can be a valuable learning experience that stays with you over time. Or, once you’ve ordered the components, you could always ask a friend to build the machine for you. YouTube is an excellent resource for step-by-step PC building videos, such as this one.

Once you’ve loaded up on PC building knowledge, check out the following components that will let you build a killer VR-ready gaming PC for under £600. All prices you see below are taken from listings found on eBay UK at the time of writing but, of course, are subject to change.

Processor - Intel Core i5-6400 - £99.99

Intel’s entry-level Skylake processor is more than sufficient for handling VR games, and it won’t cost you the earth. The Core i5-6400 is a popular choice with system builders and has featured inside value-conscious gaming PCs. This CPU part features all the mod-cons of a modern processor, including DDR4 memory support, multi-threaded performance and power consumption that won’t send your electricity bill sky-high.

Graphics card - Nvidia GTX 1060 (6GB) - £247

Nvidia’s new GTX 10-series graphics cards (the 1060, 1070 and 1080) were created with VR in mind. The GTX 1060 is the weakest and most affordable of them, but don’t let that fool you - it’s on a par with Nvidia’s premium GTX 980 card from 2014 where pixel-shifting power is concerned. It can run games comfortably at 1440p, and benchmarks have shown it to be even more powerful than AMD’s similarly priced RX 480. We considered that card for this build, but for raw price/performance alone, the 1060 has to feature.

Motherboard - Gigabyte H170M-D3H - £50

The motherboard is one of the most important components of your gaming PC. If you don’t have one that’s modern enough to handle your shiny new graphics card, you’ll have to upgrade. We’ve gone for one that’s a bit more capable than your average budget offering in Gigabyte’s GA-H170M-DS3H. Rocking 16 PCIe lanes, it’ll serve you for some time to come.

Memory - HyperX Fury Black (2 x 4GB) - £41

You should aim for at least 8GB of main memory to go with your VR rig. It’s the minimum requirement for the Oculus Rift, and the demand for more RAM is only going to increase over time. For now, however, the HyperX Fury Black hits the spot. This dual-channel DDR4 kit is affordable while providing a healthy base clock of 2,133MHz.

PSU - EVGA 430W - £38

There’s only two rules that you should adhere to when picking a power supply. First, you need one that will supply sufficient voltage to the graphics card. Second, always pick one from a reputable vendor like EVGA, Cooler Mater, Corsair or NZXT. We’re going with the EVGA 430W, which provides more than enough juice to keep the Nvidia card ticking over.

SSD - Corsair Force LE 240GB - £62

You’re going to need something to install your Steam library onto, right? By opting for an SSD (versus a spinning hard disk), you’ll cut down the amount of time it takes to boot your machine, load levels in games and fire up apps on the desktop. Corsair’s Force LE isn’t the most capacious SSD around, but it’s relatively affordable - and you could always upgrade it down the line.

Case - Fractal Design Core 2300 - £44

With around £60 left, you’ve got more than enough of your budget left to splash out on a decent case. You’re going to be looking at it a lot, and it’s important that there’s sufficient room to fit everything inside. The Fractal Design Core 23000 is a compact ATX Mid Tower with great cooling support, a roomy interior and comes with two pre-installed 120mm fans. There’s also plenty of room for additional disk drives and SSDs if you want to increase your storage.

Look out for a refurbished bargain

There’s every possibility that a refurbished version of the above components will be available on eBay. With newer Pascal cards now on sale, older graphics cards will drop in price and refurbished models often appear online. Even opting for one or two refurbished components to mix in with full-priced ones can be a great way of cutting cost and getting the same item in essentially new condition.