Virtual Reality (VR) headsets for gaming are here to stay and available to the layperson in numerous forms, ranging from low-end investment for mobile as well as headsets like the PSVR to work with PS4.
All fine experiences deliver their relative pros and cons in the VR space but the best in class experience will still be that of high-end PC experiences. They require some serious investment in terms of PC hardware (and space) to not only be powered properly but experiences to their fullest extent.
Virtual reality games work a lot like our regular games but the industry is still relatively new, there are a lot of similarities between VR games and modern computer gaming, especially in terms of hardware.
VR games in general are very demanding because of how VR games are rendered, some requiring two viewports rendered, advanced graphics, and they also have to run at a higher refresh rate than normal gaming to minimize motion blur and most importantly to reduce the risk of motion sickness in the user.
GPUs (that's the graphics processing unit or the main chip on video cards) usually handle displaying the game and calculations involving any lighting, special effects and any kind of alterations on the graphics during the games.
Virtual Reality demands that the display for each eye is rendered separately because they originate from different perspectives and this is required to give the 3D feel to VR games.
The higher the level of realism in a game, the more powerful a video card needs to be- especially for photo-realistic games with high resolution.
While, for the reasons stated above, VR games are usually more intensive on GPU, they also require a good CPU (central processing unit) because of the way they work- the graphics card takes care of any display related concerns and the CPU takes care of anti-lag.
In VR games, the processor is solely responsible for keeping track of what is going on in the virtual or simulated world, as well as keeping track of the actions of any computer controlled character’s AI and not to mention any input coming from the player’s head mounted display and their hand controllers movement.
The frequency or clock speed of the hardware is very important as it impacts the number of calculations each core can handle per second and is therefore more important than the number of cores present in the hardware.
The demand for VR CPU is increasing more and more across industries and there has been significant increase in the gaming sector for VR that runs games smoothly and without lags.
If you are looking to build a system dedicated to virtual reality gaming, then you are better off using a low core count CPU with a higher clock speed and to get the game running at at least 90 FPS (Frames per second).
If the FPS is below that, then the users are more likely to experience nausea and effects like disorientation.
When it comes to buying a CPU for VR gaming, there are a lot of options in the market to choose from and many factors to consider like future-proofing, requirements of different headset manufacturers, and lastly, and possibly most importantly, the CPU’s single-thread performance.
Below is a tailored list on buying the best CPU for VR gaming and what makes these CPUs great for VR gaming setups.
OUR TOP PICK
First on our list is the Intel Core I9-9900K which is basically like a Dodge Challenger SRT Super Stock of the COU world and is synonymous with the term “high-end processing powerhouse”.
It is certainly suitable for any type of purpose, for example, video editing, Photoshop, or any other creatives.
Although Intel was a bit late coming in with their first mainstream octa-core processor, they came in with all guns blazing.
It comprises 8 cores and 16 threads and a base clock speed coming in at 3.6 GHz, a boost clock speed of 5.0 GHz, and a 95 W TDP.
TDP is the Thermal Design Power, measured in watts and refers to the power consumption of the CPU under maximum theoretical loads. In a nutshell, it is super duper fast but uses a bit of energy.
This CPU has an added solder-based thermal interface material (STIM) or a soldered, integrated heat spreader (IHS) inside which means that heat is dissipated better.
That means that under a full load of power (high clock speeds or even when overclocked) the CPU will run cooler and will be easier to keep running and is, therefore, the perfect addition for running multi-thread loads generated by VR gaming.
This CPU also features a 16MB cache memory and comes with an unlocked multiplier that allows for overclocking of processors for even better performance.
When VR gaming uses this CPU, expect to experience seamless transitions between games and applications and most importantly, no lags during gameplay.
This model is almost unbeatable in terms of specs. However, it seems that this may not be the “world’s best gaming processor” as boasted by Intel as the chip when run at stock settings will deliver the same FPS as the previous generations which had fewer cores and threads, which is disappointing, to say the least.
The only other drawback to the Intel Core I9-9900K is its price. It is quite expensive but for what you get, it is probably worth it and will make a good investment.
- Extremely fast speeds
- Peak single-core performance
- Excellent at single-threaded workloads
- Great for streaming
- Incredible VR performance overall
- Runs smoothly without any lagging.
- Its price point may be a hindering factor for those on a budget.
- No stock cooler included
- FPS unchanged from older versions (no improvement on the number)
Next up is the best AMD CPU for VR gaming and is one of the most powerful and advanced CPUs that exist today. It is much more reasonably priced than the Intel Core I9-9900K.
The two chips have similar specs and performance and the price/performance ratio is much better on the AMD Ryzen 9 3950X.
However, the price of the AMD Ryzen 9 3950X is a 50% increase from the Ryzen 9 3900X, which features 12 cores and 24 threads (and comes with its own cooler).
It boasts a whopper 16 core with 32 threads and it has a boost clocking in at 4.7 GHz and a base clock of 3.7 GHz with 105 W TDP. This super speed and the high number of cores allow the player to multitask and stream while gaming in VR.
The AMD Ryzen 9 3900X came with an RGB Wraith Prism cooler which performs well for a stock cooler (something that is not included with the Intel Core I9-9900K but this AMD Ryzen 9 3950X has left out the cooler for extra ability and performance elsewhere.
It also comes with a huge cache memory which can be upgraded to 72MB and certainly is a winner for VR, 3D rendering, and video encoding tasks. It also delivers over 100 FPS performances in most games which are considered Ultra-fast.
However, its single-core performance is somewhat lacking and is a bit slower than the Intel Core I9-9900K and when it comes to gaming, single-core performance is the trump card every time.
Another downside is the massive power consumption and thermal performance. Even though it includes a cooler, some tests found that the temperature hits 172.4℉ and can consume up to 145 W.
- Value for money
- Large cache memory
- High core count
- Excellent performance
- Future proof/ good investment
- Lower gaming and single-core performance when compared to the Intel Core I9-9900K
- Limited overclocking
- No integrated graphics- therefore limited gaming options
- Cooler dropped.
This may be a considerable step down from its sister CPU in some ways but it has its merits. The AMD Ryzen 7 3700X is an entirely capable VR CPU and will do everything you want from a CPU at a fraction of the cost.
Like the Intel Core I9-9900K, it comes with 8 cores and 16 threads for processing at high speeds. You can boost this CPU up to 4.4. GHz as well and it can run over 60 FPS and in some tests went up to 118 FPS.
What is great about this CPU is that it comes with a cooling system included when you buy it out of the box which has a 65 W TDP. This means that the CPU uses minimal power to run even at peak loads- helping with the use of overclocking tools it comes with.
In other words, you can push the clock speeds to the limits for extended periods of time without worrying too much about burning it out and so can take the strain VR games put on it.
If you want to stream your VR gaming sessions, this chip can do it with its eyes closed so to speak. It also comes with a Wraith Spire cooler which keeps the processor under 176℉ even in the harshest circumstances
Although it doesn’t perform as well as the Intel Core I9-9900K in gaming, this CPU is also suitable for video editing and is an incredible piece of technology when it comes to processing multi-threaded workloads at this price point.
- Best price/performance ratio
- Cooler included
- VR performance is excellent
- Low TDP
- Overclocking headroom
- Although a good single-threaded performance, it still lags behind Intel CPUs
If you are looking for a strong-performing CPU that will not break the bank, don’t look any further than some of Intel’s previous core generations which recently have had some price cuts, including the Intel Core I7-9700K.
The Intel Core I7-9700K makes for a great investment while packing a fantastic VR experience.
With 8 cores and 8 threads, it supplies the single-core performance sought after by VR gamers. The core still manages to boost up to 4.9GHz from a base of 3.60 GHz but uses a lot of energy in doing so (95 W TDP) and it also does not come with a cooler.
CPU performance is similar to the Ryzen 7 3700X but gets 4-5 more FPS than the Ryzen.
However, it only comes with a 12 MB cache memory and is only compatible with motherboards based on Intel 300 Series chipsets. When tested, the CPU runs extremely hot and so you will need to budget for a high-end cooler to get the best performance out of it.
It has a fantastic ability to process 3D graphics and quick refresh rates giving the VR experience seamless transitions from one angle to the next.
Basically, if you spin in a circle, the VR game will not lag behind. However, this CPU needs to be paired with an excellent video card and cooler to feel the full benefits of this CPU.
If budget is not an issue, then perhaps look at the 10th generation version of this CPU which performed a bit better than the 9th generation even though it still does not come with a cooling system.
- Good performance
- No cooler
- Not as good as alternatives in terms of price and performance
If you are a beginner just starting out with VR gaming and want a good CPU that is not top-tier but is low in price and has high gaming performance, then the AMD Ryzen 5 3600 is for you.
The AMD Ryzen 5 3600 replaces the AMD Ryzen 5 2600, adding performance and options to the mid-range CPU buying market.
It is made up of 6 cores, 12 threads, and a base clock speed of 3.6 GHz which can be boosted to 4.2 GHz clock speed which will only set you back 65 W TDP in power consumption.
This CPU is capable of extremely high refresh rates and is a great entry-level CPU option even though it does not match the specs of the high-end options.
Another pro to this baby is that it comes with a Wraith Stealth cooling unit and so can be overclocked quite easily- meaning that it will easily keep up with most VR games that you may want to explore.
It is super fast and additionally comes with a 200 Mhz boost capability to process those VR games with intense graphics needs, through it.
It also comes with 36MB cache memory which means that it never lags when processing transitions.
Overall, the capability of this CPU is astounding considering its price-point and the only drawback on this CPU model is the question of how future-proof it is as the VR gaming industry is advancing massively daily in terms of hardware needs.
- Good entry-level alternative
- Good performance
- Potentially not as future-proof as other CPUs out there.
The Low Down
Depending on what you are looking for in a CPU will determine your buying decisions. If you are after the best CPU for VR gaming that money can buy then the Intel Core i9-9900K is your best choice as it is capable of delivering a premium gaming experience no matter what the game.
But if you are more budget-conscious, then the AMD Ryzen 9 3950X is the next best thing. If you are really on a budget or just starting out, the last three options on the list will be a great CPU choice for VR gaming.
No matter what your decision, all five of these puppies will deliver the goods that you need for an optimal VR gaming experience.
Best CPU For VR Gaming Buying Guide
Not all headsets have the same CPU requirements- some are more demanding than others. It is recommended that you look into the manufacturers’ requirements of a headset before purchasing a CPU. This could save you some money which then could be put towards a more expensive GPU.
Buying a good GPU along with the CPU
Because the GPU plays an important role in rendering and bringing to life a 3D world, a good GPU will ensure that additional graphical power will allow for a more fluid experience.
It is important to note that not all GPUs are compatible with all headsets so remember to check out the headset specifications first.
Buying for the future
When purchasing a CPU, you want to make sure that it is going to stand the test of time and that the CPU you buy will be able to adapt to advances in other hardware over time. Of course, this is limited by budgetary requirements and so try to balance your CPU choice with this in mind.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is VR CPU heavy?
Because VR gaming experiences are very similar to PC games in terms of hardware and system requirements overall, both CPU and GPU are important.
There are of course more demands from a VR game than a PC game and so a good processor is needed to endure heavy loads for extended periods of time, in order to have an optimal gaming experience.
Do VR games need a good CPU?
In short, yes. Because of the demands of modern PC games in virtual reality, a huge amount of computing or processing power is needed to keep up with the game. As mentioned above, for VR systems to run effectively, they need good GPUs and CPUs.