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CPU Performance In VR: 11 Games Benchmarked

Introduction

When HTC’s Vive launched at $800 and Oculus’ original incarnation of the Rift surfaced for $600, friends and family made it a point to stop by my place for their first tastes of VR. Most of them loved the experience, but nobody ran out and bought an HMD of their own.

More recently, the Rift + Touch kit went on sale for $400, while HTC permanently dropped the Vive’s price to $600. Suddenly, people I know were taking the leap and asking for help building fast-enough PCs. Most of all, I encouraged, buy as much graphics horsepower as possible.

But what about the platform that beefy GPU lives on? How much muscle do you need backing up your favorite GeForce or Radeon card? Oculus sets the bar low, specifying a Core i3-6100, Ryzen 3 1200, or FX-4350 at minimum. However, the company recommends a Core i5-4590, Ryzen 5 1500X or more. HTC suggests a Core i5-4590 or FX-8350 at least. If only there was a way to quantify the benefit of stepping up from entry-level to a more potent host processor...

As it turns out, we’ve already done a fair bit of work to establish a toolset and methodology for benchmarking PC hardware in virtual reality. If you haven’t already read our primer, check out FCAT VR: GPU And CPU Performance in Virtual Reality. That piece introduces the VR rendering pipeline, two approaches to collecting performance data, the ways we can present it, and it introduces our first batch of results. We showed how Oculus’ asynchronous spacewarp technology works, how quality settings affect a game like Chronos, how Nvidia’s Pascal and Maxwell architectures stack up to each other, and how AMD’s Graphics Core Next architecture compared earlier in 2017.

On one page at the very back of our story, we took a peek at host processor performance in Arizona Sunshine, a game purportedly imbued with special CPU extras for owners of Core i7 CPUs (which of course made it controversial). It turned out that a Core i7-6950X and Core i7-6700K did, in fact, enjoy a performance advantage over Core i5-6600K. And all three Intel chips decimated AMD’s FX-8320.

Eager to expand on those initial findings, we put together five distinct platforms, came up with ways to test 11 different Oculus Rift titles, and talked to some of the developers about the ways they utilized host processing resources in their VR games.

What (And How) We Tested 11 Different Games in VR

Compiling all of the necessary hardware was our first challenge to overcome. Again, we’re an international team, and launch-day hardware gets spread all over the world. A few companies stepped in to help fill in the holes, expressing interest in answering the same questions we were asking.

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MSI set up all of our host platforms, providing its X299 Gaming Pro Carbon AC (for Skylake-X), Z270 Gaming Pro Carbon (for Kaby Lake and Skylake), X370 Xpower Gaming Titanium (for Summit Ridge), and 990FXA-GD80 (for Vishera).

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The company also sent over a Core i9-7900X for us to use as an ultra-high-end contender. We added our own Core i7-7700K to represent the top of Intel’s mainstream Kaby Lake family, and we purchased a Ryzen 7 1800X to compare the performance of AMD’s Zen architecture. Core i3-6320 and FX-8350 serve as floors, upon which the faster CPUs build.

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Given Ryzen’s sensitivity to memory performance, we knew our choice in DDR4 would be scrutinized. G.Skill sent its F4-3200C14D-16GFX FlareX kit to complement the Ryzen 7 1800X and its F4-3200C14Q-32GTZ kit for our other DDR4-based configurations. Both were set to 3200 MT/s for testing.

We used a F3-2133C10Q-16GXM Ripjaws X kit at 2133 MT/s to go with AMD’s FX-8350. In this way, we were able to maximize throughput on every platform. The CPUs with dual-channel memory controllers were limited to 16GB (from one DIMM per channel), while the X299 setup featured 32GB (allowing the same one DIMM per channel).

In an effort to give each platform comparable thermal performance, we approached Corsair about a high-end closed-loop solution that we could use on Skylake-X, Socket AM4, LGA 1151, and Socket AM3+. The company sent over its Hydro-series H110i, which not only fit all of our test platforms, but also facilitates the cooling needed to keep our Core i9 from throttling.

Everything else was held constant. We used a GeForce GTX 1080 Ti to alleviate graphics bottlenecks as much as possible, a 500GB Crucial MX200 SSD, and the familiar be quiet! Dark Power Pro 10 850W PSU. Windows 10 was installed fresh and completely updated before we started downloading games from Oculus’ store.

We still have two PCs sitting side-by-side able to collect data using the hardware- or software-based approaches to FCAT VR. Our primer established the software version’s efficacy, though, so we’re using that utility exclusively to save time and provide insight not otherwise available from video-based analysis (such as unconstrained frame rate, calculated from real frame time measurements).

Again, if you’re interested in learning more about hardware performance in VR and want to get the most out of today’s deep-dive, FCAT VR: GPU And CPU Performance in Virtual Reality is the best place to start.


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Chris Angelini is an Editor Emeritus at Tom's Hardware US. He edits hardware reviews and covers high-profile CPU and GPU launches.