The Quest For The (Free) VR PC

Graphics Card

9

Motherboard

8

CPU

7

HDD

9

Case

8

Cooling

7

User Rating: ( votes)

0

8

The quality of the components are totally usable by the end of the quest. Although the CPU does not officially meet the Oculus minimum specs it runs smooth like butter. The Vive runs great. There is room for upgrades still.

This is a chronicling of the adventures in building a VR capable PC for about $0. Peripherals like monitors, keyboards, mice, and VR HMDs do not count because they are for other computers. At this same desk I use my laptop and Mac Mini through a KVM.


The $0 VR PC

This is a project that I have been working on for nearly a year. For a long time I have been building computers, since before it was cool to own your own gaming rig. The first PC that I owned that I could call my own I had to put together myself, before that I had to time share with my family.. which for young Dan was not always the easiest task. While I was in highschool I took system building to an obsessive level and at one point had 30 computers in my basement, which  I later donated to local schools.

We live in a disposable society. It’s easier to throw things out than to fix them. We even give it a name – we call it recycling.
– Neil LaBute

I have always had a hard time parting with old computer equipment because there is always a use for everything, I have always built servers for learning and storing my data, or machines for family. This time I decided I would recycle components and build a computer for gaming at home.. that was actually kinda good.

Staring Point

Since founding Bit Space I have basically moved all my computer hardware other than my essential machines like my Mac Mini and my laptop to work. The gaming PC I once used has been upgraded and assigned to a developer, my old laptop has been reassigned (it is an MSI gaming laptop so it is still decent, I promise). In doing all of this I started to take a look at what components I had laying around to build a machine that could run a few games for me.

At the time I was using a Dell XPS laptop for work which was not the best for running games, and the Mac Mini was sub par. I don’t have the time for games that I once did but I wanted to play the occasional Diablo run or something. I ended up building a decent little machine.

  • AMD 3 core processor
  • 8GB of RAM
  • 1.5 TB HDD (1x 1TB, 1x 500GB)
  • Windows 10
  • ATI Radeon 6970
  • Pro Yellow Gaming Case (generic from China)
  • Thermaltake 500w PSU

The machine was not good enough to run the Vive but with some hackery I did get the Oculus runtime working at ran my DK2 on it with no real issues.

Because we do VR at work, it made sense, build a VR capable machine for working at home and testing builds. The majority of our products at 360 photo based and we use a seated VR experience so I would be able to test these products easily using this setup (Or any phone ever really).

We called it the garbage computer because it was as if I pulled it from the trash.

Upgrades

Not long after the initial build I re-purposed my granny’s old computer, and got her set up with a Lenovo Compute Stick which proved to be a really good solution for her computing needs. It had parts in it which were better.

Super important Razer sticker on that beast.

The case alone was a big upgrade aesthetically, I am big on sleek black cases that don’t suffer too much from gamer syndrome. I also used the RAM, CPU, and Motherboard from this computer. This brought the current specs up to something slightly more modern.

  • New black case
  • 12GB GSKILL DDR3 RAM
  • 1.5 TB HDD space
  • Radeon 6970
  • Intel Core i5 2nd gen
  • Asus motherboard
  • Corsair 600w PSU

Overall this actually made a decent computer, I played a lot of WOW on it and I had considered this a decent success. Not long after putting this computer together I received a dead Zotac Geforce 970 which was dead, but after removing the cooler and blasting some air, new thermal compound and some love, came back to life. At this point I was in business.

I used this to run a sick triple monitor setup.

Making it VR Capable

One thing I thought was weird, when I upgraded to the i5 from the AMD processor, even though it was newer I lost the ability to run any VR set. The DK2 which had previously worked no longer did with the hack. I decided this was fine because I had a good experience with all my monitors. While exploring some PC building options for work I talked to my friends at a startup down the hall because they had a DOA PC from a custom builder that had not done a good job of making sure the computer was dead. I decided to purchase the computer specifically for the HDD, case, and PSU for a build I was doing for work to assign to a developer.

This left me with a motherboard, RAM, and a POS EVGA card I proptly put in my pile of old GPUs. The motherboard, RAM, and CPU was interesting to me though.

  1. ASUS Republic of Gaming – Crosshair 4 fomula main board
  2. AMD Phenom II x6 1100t
  3. 8GB Kingston DDR3 RAM
  4. EVGA whatever – not worth talking about.

After a while my lab desk looked like a war zone.

While we set up the PC for work we shifted our attention back to the garbage pieces which I thought might have some life in them. The main problem is the board would not POST regardless of which PSU, RAM, or GPU were plugged in. There was LED activity on the board. I was not convinced it was totally dead. Main problems with the board:

  1. Thermal compound seaping from the CPU
  2. CPU  cooler mounted the wrong way
  3. No POST

We removed the cooler from the board, which revealed an actual shit load of compound. There was 2 types. At first I noticed my fingers were silver, this makes sense. I did have some silver compound left over from my work builds so I took the last bit to apply to this PC. What was weird though is there was white ceramic thermal compound on the actual motherboard and on the locking portion of the mount.

Once the CPU was cleaned we removed all RAM and allowed the board to discharge it’s capacitors. We reseated the CPU, took care in attaching the cooler and hooked up parts from another computer to test for POST.

to my surprise it worked.

The Final Product

Once I took the board home I upgraded my computer again for what cost me nothing in garbage parts. I kept the RAM from before which brought my specs to:

  • Same Black Case
  • Corsair 600w PSU
  • ASUS Republic of Gaming – Crosshair 4 fomula main board
  • AMD Phenom II x6 1100t
  • GSKILL 12gb DDR3 RAM
  • 1.5 TB HDD Space
  • Zotac Geforce 970

No cable management has been done in this picture.

Once I applied these updates I installed Oculus Home and SteamVR, both of which worked (Oculus did complain but worked great). This is the current state of the junker computer and I continue to look for parts. I have yet to buy a part specifically for it, I don’t think receiving a part for free specifically for this computer breaks the rules of building a free computer from spare parts. This computer did power the VR experience for my daughter’s birthday

I succeeded, here is the gallery.