Should You Build Your Own Steambox?

Introduction


Steambox has been a topic of much debate in the PC gaming community, promising a more gamer-centric PC experience, removing the need for the Windows operating system by providing you with a free alternative, while also bringing PC gaming into the casual mainstream, much like consoles, only a lot better.

It’s been an ambition of mine to buy a Steambox, simply because “why not” and while that’s all good and well, there’s not really a lot of options out there that I’m happy with. A few system integrators have released beta-systems, but what I would like to call a “final product” still seems to be sitting on the horizon. What if we could simply do it ourselves? A Steambox is just a PC with a fancy Linux Distro installed on it anyway…

I’ve picked out a few choice components to build my own Steambox, nothing crazy expensive or overly powerful, but more than enough to provide good 1080p gaming performance. I’m sure many of you love to bash consoles from time to time, so we’ll just round that up with “it’s going to be more powerful than consoles.”

VR Gaming: Building Your Own Oculus Rig

Introduction


I’ve had my Oculus Rift VR Headset, more specifically the DK2, for several months now, but one question keeps coming back time and time again, what kind of system do you need to run VR software? It’s a very tricky question to ask and one that’s typically a little more complicated than putting together a normal gaming rig, but let’s see if I can help.

The first thing that you need to be aware of is the absolute minimum recommended specifications from Oculus Rift for the DK2 headset. While these are easily attainable, keep in mind they’re for the minimum level of performance on basic applications and are likely to be worthless in a few months time, as I’m guessing DK3 will be upon us in mid 2015.

Q: What are the minimum requirements and recommended specifications for the Oculus Rift Development Kit 2?

A: Minimum requirements: A computer running a Windows 7 or Windows 8, Mac OS 10.8 or higher, or Ubuntu 12.04 LTS operating system, 2 USB ports (at least one powered), and a DVI-D or HDMI graphics output.

Recommended specifications: A desktop computer running a dedicated graphics card with DVI-D or HDMI graphics output, with capability of running current generation 3D games at 1080p resolution at 75fps or higher.

Typically you’ll find that most of you are running Windows 7 or above, Mac OS 10.8 or a recent Linux distro, if you’re OS is not up to speed, then that’s the first thing you need to update. I’m running a fully updated Windows 7 Pro, so that’s that part covered.

The next issue will be graphics card/s, these need to have a DVI-D or HDMI display output, preferably both or one of each, a single output will cause you a world of problems that I’ll get to later. Since you’re likely looking at gaming via the Oculus Rift, you’re going to have to tackle on of the most important issues with 3D gaming and VR; graphics processing power. You need a fast card to enjoy many of the latest VR games and you can easily benchmark the performance of your current hardware to see how it may hold up. I recommend you download something like Unigine Heaven, if you can get that running at medium to high settings with a frame rate around or above 100fps, you’re going to be just fine and if you can hit 150fps with these settings, you’re on easy street. While Oculus Rift only needs a steady 75FPS for optimal performance, this is rendered in 3D and is reflective of rendering everything twice; hence the 100fps+ 2D benchmark.

I scored 168fps and I could see the average was well above 100fps while running the benchmark. How does your rig compare?

What if your system cannot meet that level of graphics performance? Plain and simple, you’re going to have to upgrade your rig, or only use DK2 demos that have less demanding requirements, which doesn’t leave you with a lot of options. I was running the Nvidia GeForce GTX 660 Ti prior to getting Oculus Rift, which would have skimmed by on a minimum level with graphics turned right down, but I decided to go one, no wait, two better than that; I bought a pair of Sapphire R9 280X Tri-X Vapor-X 3GB graphics cards.