Next-generation gaming PCs put to the test

The rise of virtual-reality headsets, including the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, has led to a surprising arms race in gaming desktops, a category that's languished in the past few years.

Adding fuel to the fire is a new generation of graphics cards, the most important component in a gaming or VR-ready PC. Nvidia has new desktops cards, led by the GeForce GTX 1080 (replacing the previous-generation 900-series cards). At around $600 in the US (which works out to £560, AU$815) it's reasonably priced for a flagship card, and will be joined by the lower-cost GeForce 1070 and GeForce 1060 cards.

AMD also has a new generation of GPUs, led by the Radeon RX480, which promises basic VR performance in a $199 card.

 

The case for new graphics cards

We've already tested nine VR-ready desktops with previous-generation Nvidia 980 graphics cards, all of which will provide excellent performance in the first generation of virtual reality games and apps. This new roundup covers desktops with Nvidia 1080 graphics cards, including a couple of systems with dual GPUs. Current-gen VR experiences (and frankly, most PC games) can't really take advantage of the extra power from running two graphics cards at once (Nvidia calls a setup like this SLI), but adding a second card is a form of future-proofing against the next few generations of games.

We're already seeing the first examples of game content that requires new GPUs. Nvidia has just released a free demo called VR Funhouse that uses advanced physics and only works with newer cards (either 1000-series cards or the slightly older 980Ti cards).

 

The verdict is that these new cards, part of the first wave of PC components at least partly designed with VR in mind, offer amazing performance. A single Nvidia 1080 card is expensive, yes, but not outrageously so. And the pair of dual-card systems we tested showed a big boost in our tests as well, but keep in mind, you can always add a second card later on if your PC case has room for it.

Of course, none of this will come cheap. While the least-expensive VR-ready desktops are available from around $999 in the US (roughly £716 or AU$1,390), that covers only the minimum system requirements -- an Intel Core i5 CPU and Nvidia 970 GPU -- a setup that already feels dated. In contrast, the newer desktops tested here were configured to cost from $2,200 to more than $6,000.

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