CPU Performance In VR: 11 Games Benchmarked


VR gaming generates excitement. But even 18 months after we first reviewed the Oculus Rift, significant barriers to widespread adoption remain.

Most material is the price of VR. You have to buy an HMD. And while the Rift and Vive both cost a lot less than they did in 2016, that’s still an outlay of several hundred dollars. There’s also the investment in a high-end gaming PC. Both Oculus and HTC go out of their way to bring minimum requirements down through technologies like asynchronous spacewarp and asynchronous reprojection, respectively. But there’s a big difference between the “barely cutting it” experience and high-quality VR. Our tests today push maximum-quality settings through a GeForce GTX 1080 Ti. Really, that’s not the best way to isolate platform performance, since graphics bottlenecks stand to mask differences between host processors. When we’re immersed in VR, however, we want beautiful visuals.

Premium content is also in short supply. Those AAA titles that do exist knock this medium out of the park. They’re still pretty rare, though. And because the install base of HMDs is relatively small, developers aren’t making much money creating new games. You’re seeing stakeholders like HTC and Oculus subsidize the hefty development costs in order to get good games out of the door. Once those games exist, a greater number of enthusiasts will see the value in spending hundreds of dollars on new hardware. It’s a chicken-and-egg issue that works itself out slowly, and only after significant investment.

The pace at which this industry moves is breathtaking, though. Some of the developers we spoke with had an idea of how previous-gen platforms behaved under their games. Most could only speculate how newer architectures like Core i9 and Ryzen might fare since they hadn’t gone hands-on yet. And they all seemed to have moved on to new projects already. Clearly, the best is yet to come as those talented studios apply what they learned from the games we tested today.

As is usually the case after a cursory look at performance, a bit of data begs for more. We wanted to go wide on game testing, narrowing the comparison platforms to keep the workload manageable. And while it’s great to see how so many different engines handle such a wide range of hardware, a retrospective look back makes us wish we had Core i5 and a lower-end Ryzen chip to fill in holes in the middle.

The good news for enthusiasts building high-end PCs is that Core i9, Core i7, and Ryzen 7 are all capable of backing a GeForce GTX 1080 Ti. Frankly, though, if your primary focus is VR gaming, the Core i7-7700K really can’t be beaten. It’s a top performer and $90 cheaper than the Ryzen. You could pick up the -7700K and a GeForce GTX 1080 for less than a Core i9, leaving money left over for a couple of games.

Slower CPUs and flagship-class graphics cards obviously create balance issues. It’d be far more likely to pair an older FX or Core i3 with a GeForce GTX 1060 or Radeon RX 580, not the GTX 1080 Ti we used. But then you’re talking dialed-back detail settings in order to maintain playable performance. Until we’re able to generate some data with more mainstream configurations, we’d guess that mid-range GPUs are best paired with Core i5 or Ryzen 5 host processors at a minimum, rather than the baselines Oculus/HTC specify.

If there are specific combinations you’d like to see tested, or if you have questions you’d like to have your favorite developers answer, let us know in the comments—we’ll see what we can do!


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Chris Angelini
Chris Angelini is an Editor Emeritus at Tom's Hardware US. He edits hardware reviews and covers high-profile CPU and GPU launches.
  • lightofhonor
    At the end you recommend the Ryzen 5/i5 but don't actually test it. Also, a 1700 or 1700X would be a better apples-to-apples 7700K price comparison.
  • zippyzion
    Great article and lots of good testing. Now, since we've determined the best CPU for VR, do you think, perhaps, that you could take different GPUs and slot them into a 7700K system to give us relative GPU performance? Say from the RX 480/580, 1060, 1070, 1080, and 1080Ti? Or possibly throw a Vega into the mix?

    You might also consider doing a VR at budget review pairing components that make sense in different budget segments. Like an i3 or i5/RX 480 or 1600, i5/1060 or 1070, i7/1070 or 1080, or something like that.

    If the goal is to help speed up VR adoption we need ideas of how VR would work on a variety of system configurations. If people don't know if their borderline system can handle VR without an upgrade, they aren't going to even try it.
  • Sakkura
    I don't know why you disregard the minimum requirements specified by Oculus, when your tests confirm that a Core i3 and FX CPU both run well with ASW. That was the whole point of Oculus lowering system requirements - the ASW feature means the system can be basically half as powerful and still deliver a playable experience.

    Of course you wouldn't want to combine a GTX 1080 Ti with a low-end CPU like that, but a Core i3 or FX CPU with a GTX 1050 Ti will get you going in VR.

    I'm also disappointed that you didn't include Lone Echo in the test. A lot more relevant than a mobile port like Gunjack, and it seems to be one of the most CPU-intensive VR games so far.

    But at the end of the day it's still great to get some data on general VR performance.

    Next up, maybe a Core i5-7600K and some older-gen chips from Intel? People don't all have the newest hardware, and might want to see if they can get a VR headset without a PC platform upgrade.
  • cangelini
    The Core i3 had dropped-frame issues in CryEngine-based games that ASW didn't fix--for that reason, I'd try to free up budget for a quad-core if possible. The FX, of course, simply isn't balanced with a 1080 Ti (a point I tried to make in the conclusion after looking at the experiment's data). In the ends, as with regular PC gaming, it's a question of whether you want to "get going in VR" or have some room to turn up details and render 90 real frames per second. Leaning on ASW exclusively does introduce artifacts of its own--maybe we can illustrate that with slowed-down video in an upcoming piece (screenshots from the primer story may not be enough?). Thank you for the feedback!

  • kokolordas15
    Please retest Pcars with a proper framerate.If you could also specify how many cars you have enabled in the run that would be nice.

    The CPU gets hit extremely hard the more cars you add.
  • artk2219
    These results are great data points but as other have pointed out, it seems you opened up a can of worms :-/. What about different configurations, different settings, older hardware, R9 290's instead of RX 480's / 580's etc etc. I love what you've given us so far, and i know you are definitely under time and budget constraints, but this begs a follow up article with more data points. Thanks for all you guys do though, i know you work hard and put out the best that you can, its just never enough for some of us :).
  • pdlevers
    I would be curious to see how a 2600k/2700k overclocked stacks up. A lot of people are stilling running those workhorses, and in many games they perform quite well despite being 5-6 years old.
  • sucker25
    Well I have a 3770k running at 4.6 ghz with a 1080 ti ...............with the htc vive all my vr games run flawlessly.
    neither my video card nor cpu hit the 100% utilization mark.
    if I had to I could still get a little more out of my cpu as I'm only hitting 40 degrees c.
    was thinking of upgrading to 7700k but imo the difference in performance would be marginal.......so I will wait a little longer.
  • chalabam
    I watched all those games on youtube, and not a single one made me want to play the game.

    Sorry, but 3D by itself is not a good reason to buy VR. All 3D games suck.
  • Scarystuff1970
    I wonder why every test have dropped frames? Have you done any investigation into what causes them? Even Gunjack with more than 400 fps have dropped frames? There must be a problem with a Windows process halting everything else? Maybe the same problem that have plaqued Win10 since the Creators Update with lag spikes in all games?

    Also I think it would maybe have been more appropiate if you had disabled ASW in these tests?