Windows Mixed Reality is almost here. Microsoft’s efforts to usher Windows into the era of mixed reality arrives October 17 alongside the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update, and the company’s partners have a long list of HMDs ready to debut with the platform. Soon we’ll have more options for XR than ever—and that means it’s time to start comparing the platforms. Before you can decide on an HMD, though, you need to know what your system can run.
Windows Mixed Reality
As we explained in an earlier article, Microsoft has split Windows Mixed Reality into two tiers. The base platform is supposed to give people who use their computers to edit documents, watch movies, and perform other basic functions the opportunity to do so outside the confines of a traditional PC. Meanwhile, the higher tier (“Windows Mixed Reality Ultra”) is for gamers and professionals. That means Windows Mixed Reality has two separate lists of requirements a system or system builder has to meet, depending on which tier will be used.
Here are the advantages of the Ultra tier over the base one, per Microsoft (opens in new tab):
- Crisper visuals and a higher refresh rate (90 frames per second).
- More apps and experiences—including the highest-performance games.
- A "mirror" window on your desktop that shows what you see in mixed reality.
- Record and share videos (as well as photos) of your mixed reality experiences.
The primary differences in spec requirements between Windows Mixed Reality and Windows Mixed Reality Ultra come down to the CPU. The base platform requires an Intel Core i5-7200U or better; the Ultra version needs an Intel Core i5-4590 or AMD Ryzen 5 1400 or better. Both platforms rely on at least 10GB of storage, 8GB of memory, and the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update. (Windows Mixed Reality Ultra also requires HDMI 2.0 instead of HDMI 1.2.)
Oculus, Vive, And OSVR
Windows Mixed Reality products will primarily compete against the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and OSVR HDK2. We’ll compare these HMDs another time, but for now it’s worth looking at what these platforms demand from your system so you can figure out if your PC is up to snuff or if you’re going to have to order some new parts. (Not that you need another reason to do that, right?)
The OSVR HDK2’s minimum specs are the easiest to meet. Here’s the list, straight from OSVR: “A PC running at least a GTX 970 and i5 4590 or equivalent with a minimum of 8GB” of memory. That’s it. The group doesn’t specify what generation of Bluetooth your PC has to support, what HDMI connections you must have, or which operating system version needs to be installed.
HTC is a little more specific and stringent (opens in new tab) with the Vive HMD. The company’s official recommended specs call for an Intel Core i5-4590 or AMD FX 8350 or better; a GTX 1060 or RX 480 or better; and specific outputs (HDMI 1.4 or DisplayPort 1.2 or newer), operating systems (Windows 7, 8.1, or 10), and USB ports (2.0 or newer.) It also requires at least 4GB of memory.
Oculus has also been more specific (opens in new tab) regarding the minimum and recommended system specs for the Rift. The HMD calls for at least an Intel Core i3-6100, AMD Ryzen 3 1200, or FX 4350 or better; GTX 960 or Radeon R9 290 or better; and 8GB of RAM, as well as HDMI 1.3 video output and Windows 8.1. (Interestingly, the minimum specs list Windows 8.1 or newer, whereas the recommended specs require only Windows 7 or newer.)
Note that all of these requirements are simply to run the HMDs themselves; individual apps or games may require more powerful hardware. So even though these specs are modest, at least by gamers’ or enthusiasts standards, they might not be enough for more intensive experiences. Unlike Microsoft, however, these companies don’t make the differences apparent. You’ll simply get more from better hardware; the differences are up to you to figure out on your own.
How They Compare
So how exactly do the hardware requirements differ between Windows Mixed Reality, Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and OSVR HDK2? Fret not, faithful reader. That’s what the table below aims to answer. TBut if you don’t want to make like Johnny Cash and gaze into all those cells, the main takeaway is that Windows Mixed Reality is for the vast majority of PC users who aren’t clinging to previous versions of the operating system. You can get by with a relatively modern processor, integrated graphics, and other basics that you’ll find in most pre-built systems available today.
Windows Mixed Reality Ultra offers a more direct comparison to the other platforms. They all require more powerful CPUs, dedicated graphics, and in some cases newer ports and outputs. None are particularly taxing—chances are good that if you’ve played any games or done creative work in the last few years you have a GPU that can handle these platforms—and most of the differences are small. Perhaps the biggest hurdle for Windows Mixed Reality Ultra will be the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update requirement; a lot of people still love and use Windows 7.
Besides that, choosing between these platforms largely comes down to whether or not you want to stick with Windows Mixed Reality’s base platform or invest in a PC that can handle the more powerful options. If you opt for the latter, you shouldn’t have to worry too much about hardware limiting your choice of HMD.
|Name||Windows Mixed Reality||Windows Mixed Reality Ultra||Oculus Rift||HTC Vive||OSVR HDK2|
|Operating system||Windows 10 Fall Creators Update||Windows 10 Fall Creators Update||Windows 7 or newer||Windows 7 or newer||N/A|
|CPU||Intel Core i5-7200U||Intel Core i5-4590 orAMD Ryzen 5 1400 3.4GHz or better||Intel i3-6100, AMD Ryzen 3 1200, or FX 4350 or greater||Intel Core i5-4590 or AMD FX 8350 or better||Intel Core i5-4590 or better|
|GPU||IGP||Nvidia GTX 960/965M/1050 or AMD RX 460/560 or better||Nvidia GTX 960 4GB or AMD Radeon R9 290 or better||Nvidia GTX 970 or AMD R9 290 or better||Nvidia GTX 970 or better|
|Monitor||External or integrated VGA (800x600) monitor||External or integrated VGA (800x600) monitor||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|USB||USB 3.0 Type-A or Type-C||USB 3.0 Type-A or Type-C||1 x USB 3.02 x USB 2.0||1 x USB 2.0 or newer||N/A|
|Bluetooth||Bluetooth 4.0||Bluetooth 4.0||N/A||N/A||N/A|