Core components, continued
Graphics cards: Two MSI GeForce GTX 980 Gaming 4Gs
No, you're not reading that wrong. We're using a pair of Maxwell graphics cards to power this particular VR build, not the latest and greatest from AMD or Nvidia. Hear us out. One of our goals when planning this build was to represent a PC that might be typical of the systems sitting on enthusiasts' desks today, not bleeding-edge machines with a rare-as-hens'-teeth Pascal chip inside. The GTX 980 Gaming 4G cards that MSI sent along serve that goal admirably, and hey—two is better than one, right?
The fully-enabled GM204 chips under the heatsinks on these GTX 980s are a nice step up from the GeForce GTX 970 that's the recommended baseline from Oculus and HTC, and having a pair of these cards inside our system might afford us the opportunity to play around with nascent technologies like VR SLI once they become more common. Our VR PC will also run quietly when its graphics cards are running at full tilt, thanks to MSI's excellent Twin Frozr coolers.
Compared to a reference GTX 980, MSI boosts the GTX 980 Gaming 4G's clock speeds from 1126MHz base and 1216MHz boost speeds to 1216MHz base and 1317MHz boost clocks in the card's most aggressive mode. (That's a 90-MHz base bump and a 101-MHz boost increase, if you're curious.) We also get 4GB of GDDR5 RAM running at a brisk 7 GT/s.
If we decide these GTX 980s aren't up to the task of delivering great VR performance down the line, we've got a great platform to work with shoud we decide to swap out these Maxwell twins for something more powerful. Once again, however, our goal isn't to build something on the bleeding edge of today's hardware. We're trying to get a VR experience typical of a system built within the past couple of years for our VR experiences. Had we been building this system with parts from the open market, the story might be different, but this is one case where we're going against the grain a bit to satisfy some whims that we might not have otherwise made sense to indulge.
Power supply: Corsair RM850x
To power our top-end CPU and graphics cards, we're turning to Corsair's RM850x PSU. This 80 Plus Gold unit offers all the connectors we'll want for our pair of graphics cards. Corsair also uses slick all-black cabling with mesh covers that'll make our extensive wiring job stealthier when it's all in place.
The RM850x's fully-modular design means we only have to plug in the cables we need for our build and nothing more. The RM850 won't contribute a lot of noise or heat to our system, either, thanks to its 80 Plus Gold efficiency rating and a semi-passive design that lets the fan inside shut off at low loads. The PSU experts at JonnyGuru give the RMx series outstanding marks for voltage regulation and ripple suppression, so our system should get nothing less than superb power from this unit.
CPU cooler: Corsair H110i GTX
In our experience, Skylake CPUs are notoriously difficult to cool once the clocks start climbing, and the Core i7-6700K is especially ornery in that regard. To squash any chance of running out of thermal headroom for our CPU, I asked Corsair for the beefiest CPU cooler in their parts catalog, and they offered up the H110i GTX. This 280-mm closed-loop cooler should have no trouble keeping our CPU frosty at stock clocks, and it should also have more than enough overclocking headroom if we decide that the i7-6700K's stock clocks just aren't enough.
The "i" in the H110i GTX's name means this cooler can be hooked up to the motherboard using an open USB 2.0 header. That connection gives builders full control over the H110i's fan and pump speeds within Windows using Corsair's Link software. Link also gives us control over the RGB LEDs in the H110i's pump head. This degree of control might not be necessary for every system builder, but we think it's nice to have.
Storage: Corsair Neutron XT 480GB SSD and Corsair Force LE 960GB SSD
While we still recommend spinning disks in most of our System Guide builds, our preferred approach when drawing up parts lists for our personal systems is to do away with mechanical storage entirely. Moving to an all-solid-state storage setup means that we're cutting out another source of noise and heat in our system, and it also means that anything we're storing on our VR PC will load much faster than it would from a spinning drive.
To make the best use of all of these NAND cells, we're storing our OS and main programs on the high-performance Neutron XT SSD from Corsair. This 480GB drive boasts sequential read ratings of up to 560 MB/s and sequential write speeds of up to 540 MB/s, as well as 100K random read IOPS and 90K random write IOPS.
The Force LE 960GB drive isn't quite as much of a barn-burner, but its 560 MB/s sequential read and 530 MB/s sequential write numbers are pretty close to the Neutron XT's. Random I/O isn't quite as fast on this drive, at 85K read and 60K write IOPS, but this bulk storage disk should still be more than fast enough for our purposes.
Case: Corsair Carbide Series 400C
We enjoyed our time with the enormous Carbide Series 600C when we tested it out a while back, so Corsair's Carbide Series 400C seemed like a natural choice for our VR build. This case offers plenty of room for our dual graphics cards and 280-mm radiator in a compact ATX footprint. The large side window lets us show off the beefy graphics hardware and slick red-and-black color scheme of our build, and filtered vents at the front and top of the case will keep those fancy parts clean with time, too.
The 400C is designed with modern builds like ours in mind. It's only got room for two 3.5" storage devices and three 2.5" drives, but that's not a problem now that high-density hard drives and SSDs are becoming the norm. The only drawback to choosing the 400C over the 600C for this build might be the smaller case's lack of 5.25" bays. Some graphics cards, like Gigabyte's GeForce GTX 1080 Xtreme Gaming, come with front-panel breakout boxes for USB 3.0 and HDMI outs. If you're considering a VR-ready graphics card of your own with one of those breakout boxes included, the 600C might be a better choice.