Best GPU for VR in 2021

There are a host of different VR experiences available these days, from flimsy cardboard solutions to be paired with a mobile phone, self-contained standalone headsets like the Oculus Quest, and at the very top end there are event installations in VR arcades, but for the best possible experience in your own home, a high end gaming PC paired with a top end VR headset offers the most flexibility and renders these virtual worlds in the highest fidelity.

For VR the more powerful your GPU, the better experience you’ll get. Typically VR games aren’t much more demanding on your CPU and RAM than traditional games; any mid range or higher CPU from the last few years should be more than capable of handling most VR games, and 8gb or ideally 12gb of RAM will do the job fine too. But a lot of VR games will be a bit more demanding on your GPU, so you’ll want to make sure your system is equipped with a capable GPU to ensure you get all the right visual bells and whistles, and optimal performance with regards to consistent framerates. Integrated graphics aren’t going to cut it.

For Valve’s Half-Life Alyx, the biggest VR game of 2020, the minimum requirements are a 6gb variant of either an Nvidia GTX 1060 or AMD RX 580, so if you’re looking into getting a new GPU specifically for VR, you should consider this your absolute baseline. If you’re interested in playing some of the more demanding VR games, titles like Boneworks, Elite Dangerous and Skyrim VR, you may want to look at a more modern and more powerful GPU, something around a GTX 2070 or RX 5700 XT. Then if you want to really dial the settings up for maximum visual fidelity and performance, you’ll want to be looking more towards the top end cards, something like a GTX 2080 and beyond would be able to provide a great experience for all the VR games currently out there, and many more in the future.

Another benefit offered by the top end RTX cards is that they come equipped with VirtualLink compatible USB-C ports, which can simplify cable connectivity with VR headsets, by offering a single port to handle connectivity for video, audio, data and power between your PC and headset, rather than deal with a variety of different cables and dongles. Reducing the number of wires plugged into your headset really frees up movement, and reduces risks of getting wires tangled up.

There are a host of different VR experiences available these days, from flimsy cardboard solutions to be paired with a mobile phone, self-contained standalone headsets like the Oculus Quest, and at the very top end there are event installations in VR arcades, but for the best possible experience in your own home, a high-end gaming PC paired with a top end VR headset offers the most flexibility and renders these virtual worlds in the highest fidelity.

For VR the more powerful your GPU, the better experience you’ll get. Typically VR games aren’t much more demanding on your CPU and RAM than traditional games; any mid-range or higher CPU from the last few years should be more than capable of handling most VR games, and 8gb or ideally 12gb of RAM will do the job fine too. But a lot of VR games will be a bit more demanding on your GPU, so you’ll want to make sure your system is equipped with a capable GPU to ensure you get all the right visual bells and whistles, and optimal performance with regards to consistent framerates. Integrated graphics aren’t going to cut it.

For Valve’s Half-Life Alyx, the biggest VR game of 2020, the minimum requirements are a 6gb variant of either an Nvidia GTX 1060 or AMD RX 580, so if you’re looking into getting a new GPU specifically for VR, you should consider this your absolute baseline. If you’re interested in playing some of the more demanding VR games, titles like Boneworks, Elite Dangerous and Skyrim VR, you may want to look at a more modern and more powerful GPU, something around a GTX 2070 or RX 5700 XT. Then if you want to really dial the settings up for maximum visual fidelity and performance, you’ll want to be looking more towards the top end cards, something like a GTX 2080 and beyond would be able to provide a great experience for all the VR games currently out there, and many more in the future.

Another benefit offered by the top end RTX cards is that they come equipped with VirtualLink compatible USB-C ports, which can simplify cable connectivity with VR headsets, by offering a single port to handle connectivity for video, audio, data and power between your PC and headset, rather than deal with a variety of different cables and dongles. Reducing the number of wires plugged into your headset really frees up movement, and reduces risks of getting wires tangled up.

Budget Graphics Card for VR

If you’re looking for an entry level gateway into PC VR, these cards are our top pick. You’re not going to be able to turn all the settings up, so you’ll be compromising somewhat on things like resolution, image quality, and framerate, but for the vast majority of VR games currently available, these will certainly be adequate. These all meet or exceed the minimum requirements for Half-Life Alyx, so if that’s top of your list of games you’re wanting to play, and you’re on a budget, any of these will suffice.

The cheapest card in this roundup. This should be considered an entry-level for VR gaming in 2020. You could maybe get away with spending a little less if you’re on an extremely tight budget, but that would be getting into the territory of false economies.

A solid budget card from Nvidia. It’s not going to handle raytracing or 4k gaming like you could get from top end cards, but you’ll be able to use this card to power a very wide range of VR experiences.

This is essentially a souped up version of the above 1660, matching it feature-wise, but with a decent boost to performance. Depends on the game, but you can get up to 10% more performance out of the Ti variant. 

Mid Range Graphics Card for VR

Now we’re getting into the more serious performance cards, where if you can stretch your budget a bit further, you’ll be able to start dialing up the settings on your games. Less demanding games can be pushed towards the max settings, and you’ll be able to maintain good performance on some of the games that are a bit more demanding. Even the most demanding VR games will be playable with these GPUs, but you will have to compromise on some settings to maintain smooth and consistent performance.

We’re getting into the mid-range territory here, and this is a beefier card that will open up more of the high graphical settings in many VR games, without compromising on frame rate stability. This card will be good enough to run all the VR games on the market as of today, but you may have to dial back a few settings on more demanding games like Boneworks, Elite Dangerous and Skyrim VR.

Here’s we’re getting into Nvidia’s flagship RTX range of cards. In addition to very capable mid-range performance, you also get Nvidia’s hardware based RTX raytracing solution. Probably the best card available today for anyone not looking to spend huge sums, and if you dial back a few settings should be able to run everything that you throw at it.

Souped up variant of the above Radeon 5700, and it’s AMD’s most compelling high end card. It provides a lot of the same functionality, and has the advantage of letting you dial up more of the graphical settings without performance suffering.

High End Graphics Card for VR

These are the beasts, and if you’re looking to splurge for the best possible VR experience available, then you’ll want to think about these top end Nvidia cards. These will be able to play all VR games available today, and for the most part on high or maximum settings. These will also likely be very capable for handling future VR titles for quite some time.

These all come equipped with VirtualLink compatible USB-C ports, which is not an essential feature for VR, but if VR gaming is your main focus, it’s very nice to have.

If you’re serious about having the highest fidelity VR experiences possible, and your budget can stretch to these top end cards, then you’ll want to put some serious thought into getting one of Nvidia’s top end cards. They don’t come cheap, but a 2070 will be more than capable of handling all VR titles currently released, and for many of them you’ll be able to max out the graphical settings.

Now we’re getting right towards the top end of Nvidia’s RTX cards, and this will be able to handled all VR games on the market today with ease, and you’ll be able to play all games at or near maximum settings, so if visual fidelity is your priority, and you’re open to spending whatever it takes to get it, you should be thinking about a 2080.

The 2080 Ti is a beat of a card, and will not only be able to max out all the VR games available today, but will likely be extremely capable for the VR games of the future. Here you’re getting ultimate high end performance without compromise. If you’re after the best VR experience that money can buy, you’ll want to find a home for a 2080 Ti in your machine.

Our Verdict

There are many VR games available today that are not extremely taxing on GPUs. It’s already a niche within gaming, and just owning a VR headset is a big hurdle for many players, so developers do a lot of work to ensure their games run acceptably on mid-range hardware to avoid excluding players unnecessarily. 

But VR is also an area where even if a top end GPU is not required, it will significantly improve the experience, and as such you want to think long and hard about exactly what your budget it, and what’s the most powerful GPU within your price range.

For our money, the 2070 Super represents a good sweet spot between price and performance. It’s an extremely capable card, that will provide a fantastic VR experience, without breaking the bank like the bleeding edge top end cards might. You could opt for the cheaper 2060 if you are willing to compromise on some visual fidelity, and still play many excellent VR games, or you could treat yourself to the top end 2080 Ti if you’re happy to spend that much, but a 2070 Super should be able to handle absolutely everything you throw at it for quite some time. It’s also a great choice for non-VR gaming experiences, and an all round solid choice for any gaming rig in 2020.