There’s arguably never been a better time to jump into VR. Historically prohibitive hardware costs chart ever downwards, VR finally has its killer app in Half-Life: Alyx, there’s more options than ever when it comes to headsets, and, well, VR Chats growing popularity is on the uptick if we take Twitch viewer numbers as a measure of interest. While mass adoption may still be a few years away, there’s a sense that we are at a turning point when it comes to VR’s popularity.
If you’re planning on dipping into VR for the first time or plan to upgrade a struggling rig, then you probably have some pressing questions about what hardware is best suited for the best performance when exploring virtual worlds. Today, we’ll be looking specifically at what’s required on the CPU front, and we’ve as such compiled a least of the very best CPUs out there for VR.
There’s certainly some crossover between traditional gaming and VR, which means that many of the criteria we’d assign to CPU for straight gaming factor into the equation choosing the right CPU for your VR plans.
While this may be the case, VR places slightly different demands on a PC, and our method for choosing the best CPUs for VR took that into account. In particular, considerations such as future-proofing, the varying requirements of the different headset manufacturers out there, and the all-important question of single-thread performance steered our decision-making process.
Perusing everything the CPU market has to offer in relation to VR performance, we settled on five different CPUs, from both AMD and Intel, that, in our estimation, offer the best VR experience out there. As always, we’ve steered clear of simply recommending the most powerful and pricey options and instead honed in on CPU models that suit different needs, including budget.
Best CPU For VR in 2021
Super fast speeds
Excellent single-core performance
Price may be prohibitive for those on a budget
Topping our selection of VR suitable CPUs is the Intel Core i9-9900K. A high-end processing powerhouse, this super fast CPU features 8 cores, 16 threads, a base clock speed of 3.6 GHz, a boost clock speed of 5.0 GHz, and a 95 W TDP.
Despite AMD’s latest CPUs edging closer to Intel’s in terms of single-core performance, Intel retains the crown. This gives the Intel Core i9-9900K an edge in gaming performance that translates to VR performance. When paired with a powerful GPU, there’s no game out there with demands that can trump the Intel Core i9-9900K. We are looking at maxed-out settings and buttery smooth, high FPS that superseded the refresh rates of your headset of choice in all titles.
Price does stand as a roadblock when it comes to the Intel Core i9-9900K. It doesn’t come cheap and may be out of range for some builders. However, it does have the added benefit of offering top-tier performance for traditional non-VR gaming, making it ideal for those that dabble in both.
High core count
Lower gaming performance compared to Intel
Next up, we shift over to team red with the best AMD CPU for VR – the AMD Ryzen 9 3900X. Much like the Intel Intel Core i9-9900K stands proudly among AMD’s most powerful retail CPUs geared towards gaming with 16 cores, 32 threads, a base clock speed of 3.8 GHz, a boost clock speed of 4.6 GHz, and 105 W TDP.
There’s substantial power lurking below the surface when it comes to the AMD Ryzen 9 3900X, especially when it comes to producing the refresh rates required for an excellent VR experience. We’re talking high, all but perfect frame rates at all times.
It lags a little behind the Intel Core i9-9900K in pure gaming performance, but this is easily made up thanks to top-tier multithreading performance and a more reasonable price tag. As VR developers tap into the processing power of more cores, the AMD Ryzen 9 3900X also boasts significant future-proofing chops and is a good investment for the years ahead.
Singel-core performance below Intel CPUs
For those loyal to AMD, if only for the value offered, we have the AMD Ryzen 7 3700X. While the naming conventions imply a lesser card to the Ryzen 9 3900X, the AMD Ryzen 7 3700X stands its ground when it comes to VR gaming, with the added benefit of a lower price tag. Consequently, it’s a perfect middle ground for those seeking value alongside a great VR experience.
Under the hood, AMD Ryzen 7 3700X packs 8 cores, 16 threads, a base clock speed of 3.6 GHz, a boost clock speed of 4.4 GHz, and a 65 W TDP, matching Intel’s pricier options on many fronts. As with the Ryzen 9 3900X, gaming performance comes in lower than Intel, but the differences are negligible in the grand scheme of things, and VR doesn’t suffer as a consequence in any tangible sense.
As above, multi-threading potential does future-proof the AMD Ryzen 7 3700X to a certain extent, making it a more affordable yet worthy investment for what’s in store for VR’s future.
Reasonably-priced for an Intel chip
Pricier than AMD alternatives
With Intel’s new batch of 10th-Gen Core CPUs out in the wild, we are seeing a trickle of price cuts to the previous Core generation. Among them, the Intel Core i7-9700K is an excellent investment that won’t break the bank like it once did while packing a fantastic VR experience. As such, the Intel Core i7-9700K wins out as the best value Intel CPU for VR.
Specifications-wise, the Intel Core i7-9700K sports 8 cores, 8 threads, a base clock speed of 3.6 GHz, a boost clock speed of 4.9 GHz, and a 95 W TDP. As is tradition with Intel CPUs, the Intel Core i7-9700K performs well when it comes to running games, which carries over to VR well.
The Intel Core i7-9700K is a workhorse CPU that will serve you well in your VR adventures. It’s worth noting that it’s priced higher than the AMD Ryzen 7 3700X, but still worth a look if you’re set on Intel or already have an LGA 1151 socket motherboard and have a little more cash to spare.
Best value among VR-suitable CPUs
May not stand the test of time
Finally, we turn to the AMD Ryzen 5 3600, which, in our estimation, stands tall as the most value-packed CPU suitable for VR on the market. If a steep headset price already has you dizzy, then the AMD Ryzen 5 3600 will come as a welcome spot of reprieve for your budget. In other words, the AMD Ryzen 5 3600 is a great point of entry into VR. It features 6 cores, 12 threads, a base clock speed of 3.6 GHz, 4.2 GHz boost clock speed, and a very low 65 W TDP.
Even with a notable price difference to Intel’s i5 and i7 models, the AMD Ryzen 5 3600 stands its ground when it comes to VR game performance, and a lower TDP adds to its value as well with extremely low power consumption. It’s capable of high refresh rates even though its overall specifications don’t match those of the high-end options.
The only notable negative is how well the AMD Ryzen 5 3600 will stand the test of time or any seismic changes to VR hardware needs. Nevertheless, the money saved now can be put towards a GPU or saved up for a better CPU later on when requirements invariably surge upwards.
Things To Consider
Not all headsets require the same CPU requirements, with some more demanding than others. While there’s sense in choosing in opting for the best CPU your money can buy, we also recommend checking out manufacturer requirements beforehand. You may be able to save some cash that can then be put towards a better GPU, something we cover just below.
For convenience, we’ve included the requirements for the three most popular headsets. In an effort to attract potential customers, manufacturers do tend to produce requirements that flirt with what many would consider sub-par performance. With this in mind, we suggest opting for a CPU that exceeds what’s required to err on the side of caution and weed out potential performance issues.
Oculus Quest 2
Intel I5-4590/AMD Ryzen 5 1500X or greater
Minimum – Intel Core i5-4590/AMD FX 8350 equivalent or better
Maximum – Intel Core i5-4590/AMD FX 8350 equivalent or better
Minimum – Dual Core with Hyper-Threading
Recommended – Quad Core +
Don’t Skimp On a Quality GPU
A suitable CPU is crucial to good VR performance, but the GPU arguably plays a more important role due to the rendering requirements of bringing to life 3D worlds. We, therefore, recommend allocating a decent chunk of budget to a quality GPU. That additional graphical power will serve you well when it comes to the more demanding VR titles, and overall, a more fluid experience.
As above, you can check headset manufacturer requirements to get a ballpark sense of what’s needed in the GPU department. It’s also worth noting that not all GPUs are compatible with all headsets. For example, NVIDIA’s GeForce GTX 1650 and 1060 aren’t compatible with the Oculus Quest 2.
Budget and Future-Proofing
Given VR’s relative infancy, the fact there’s still a long path to mass adoption, and the hardware costs, we can’t stress the importance of future-proofing your setup to avoid having to fork out cash in the years ahead simply to keep up. VR tech continues to change and evolve at a rapid pace, and having a CPU capable of navigating those twists and turns is a smart move, as doing so will save you money in the long run.
Naturally, this is limited by your specific budget, so try and stretch it as much as you can, or alternatively, opt for a lower-priced value CPU option with an eye on saving up and replacing it in a couple of years.
In the case of the GPU, it’s arguably a great time to invest with both NVIDIA and AMD launching new flagship lines in recent months, the RDNA 2-based cards and the Ampere 3000-series cards, respectively. It will be a couple of years before a new batch of next-gen GPUs come to market, setting you up for at last a few years.
If you are looking for the very best CPU for VR that money can buy, then you can’t go wrong with the Intel Core i9-9900K, a powerhouse CPU capable of delivering a premium VR experience regardless of the game. Simply remember to pair it with a worthy GPU for the best performance possible.
If you’re already set up with an AMD socket motherboard or simply prefer team red, then the AMD Ryzen 9 3900X won’t disappoint, despite a marginal drop in gaming performance compared to our top pick.
Looking to our next pick, there’s the AMD Ryzen 7 3700X, which offers similar performance to the 3900X, but with a more palatable price. If you’re looking for a value Intel option, then the Intel Core i7-9700K will serve your VR needs well.
Last but by no means least, we have the entry-level AMD Ryzen 5 3600, which packs enormous amounts of value and more than enough processing power for a fantastic VR experience, given the cost.
And, with that, our guide to the best CPUs for VR comes to an end. We hope this has been informative and helped you on your journey to choosing the right CPU for VR based on your needs and budget. Don’t hesitate to chuck us a few words in the comment section below if you have any concerns or pressing questions. We’re happy to help.