Technology has given us so many ways to spend our spare time these days and now the Automated Home has a room dedicated to one of them.
It’s been well over a decade since I built a PC but two new driving sims are making a bit of a stir at the moment and it’s time to build a new gaming rig.
I’ve been a ‘sim racer’ of sorts since I started playing the Geoff Crammond classic ‘Grand Prix 2’ in 1996 (coincidentally the same year that Automated Home launched on the web). In those days we would go to each others houses and link two 486’s with a serial cable and play a full length Grand Prix. #OldSchool.
Flash forward almost 20 years and with the help of a friend that I’ve know since those GP2 days I got a spec together for a machine that would do these new titles justice [thanks Darren].
The Gaming PC
The system is based around the 4.0GHz quad core Intel i7-4790K processor. In truth few games will see any difference between an i7 and an i5 currently, potentially saving you around £75. But ‘Project Cars’ already list an i7 in their recommended spec, so hopefully those extra threads will give us a little longer before we need to upgrade this machine in the future.
The chosen Gigabyte motherboard supports SLI so a 2nd video card can be added and linked for a future upgrade too. All the kit was ordered from Amazon and the build was completed in an evening.
RELATED: Our Oculus Rift VR Sim Racing Review
Check out the parts list below, which came out at around £900 (excluding the OS – Windows 8.1 Pro) managing to get in well under the £1K budget set for the build.
- Intel Core i7 i7-4790K CPU (Quad Core 4GHz, Socket H3 LGA-1150)
- Cooler Master Hyper TX3 Evo Tower Cooler for CPU
- Gigabyte Z97X-SLI Intel LGA1150 Z97 ATX Motherboard
- HyperX FURY Series 8GB (2x 4GB) DDR3 1866MHz
- Samsung 840 EVO 250GB 2.5-Inch Basic SATA SSD
- MSI GeForce GTX 970 4GB Twin Frozr V Video Card
- Corsair 200R Windowed Compact ATX Case
- Corsair CX 600M Modular 80 PLUS ATX PSU
I’m also re-purposing an old 2TB SATA drive for automated weekly Acronis backups of the SSD and I bought this Logitech K400 wireless keyboard and trackpad which is very convenient while sitting in the racing seat.
The Rest of the Hardware
The basis of my setup is a ‘Visionracer VR3’ in the photo at the top of this post. This is the chassis and seat which includes the mounting points for all the controls.
My trusty Logitech G27 Force Feedback Wheel, Pedal and Shifter have served me well for years now, making the move from PS3 duties to the new gaming rig. While I hanker after the new generation of servo motor wheels, my budget is exhausted for now.
For sound I’m using some old kit rescued from the loft. Some floor standing speakers from the 90’s (Bose 401’s) and an old Pioneer AV Amp of similar vintage. This setup is loud and bassy and adds to the experience (if not my relationship with the rest of the family). I’d like to add a buttkicker or similar transducer to the seat or chassis in the future too.
‘Assetto Corsa’ is a fantastic game and ‘Project Cars’ was finally released a couple of months ago and it’s the one that I play most by far. It suffered some delays during its long development, but boy oh boy was it worth the wait. These two games alone are incredible.
Online play brings a whole new challenge to the sim. Real drivers, no more AI. Drifting the little Caterham around Oulton Park, chasing down your mate is incredibly entertaining and satisfying when you get it right..
I’ve also subscribed to iRacing which is regarded as one of the most serious sims out there. While the iRacing cars may seem slow at the start, and the tracks less visually stimulating, the physics engine is top notch and the racing leagues are second to none.
The realism with these new generation of sim racers is amazing. The super accurate data obtained by Laser scanning can provide virtual tracks that are almost centimetre perfect. Coupled with advanced physics models for suspension and tyres, the cars really can handle like you’d expect. The video above compares a real life Ariel Atom round the full Brands Hatch GP circuit, side-by-side with the Project Cars virtual version. Pretty impressive.
The first night I sat down to check out how the system was running for half an hour. When I next looked at the clock 4 and a half hours had inexplicably passed by and I was buzzing.
The Immersion Factor
Playing a racing sim with a hand held controller is a horrible experience that you should avoid at all costs. Once you sit in a proper seat and feel a steering wheel in your hands and a set of pedals at your feet everything suddenly becomes natural. You’re no longer playing a game, you’re just driving.
Setting up the rig correctly will improve the ‘immersion’ and getting the field of vision correct is important. This FOV Calculator will give you the settings you need to input into your sim with only two measurements (diagonal screen size and distance from it to your eyes). Most sims allow you to turn off the computer generated arms and steering wheel as you want to see your own there instead.
You’ll notice in that video above there’s a dash board between the wheel and screens and that’s another element that adds to the realism too. There are many options available to add these Second Screen companions to your sim setup (here are some for Project Cars for example) and some are as easy as running an app on your smartphone or tablet and finding a suitable mount. I run mine on an old iPad mini and a £12 mount off eBay.
The Immersion Factor 2.0
I had decided to go for a triple monitor setup similar to the one in the video above. However after I tried the Samsung VR virtual reality goggles recently I totally believe this is the future of sim racing. And I’m not alone, here’s a great thread of photos from a sim racer that’s converted his rig (another Visionracer) to a VR setup after having had a top notch triple screen setup in the past.
In addition to the Samsung unit HTC has announced the Vive, a virtual reality headset developed in collaboration with Valve, but it’s the Oculus Rift that I’m waiting for. Check out the video below for some idea of what it’s like (especially around the 2:15 mark where you can see the head tracking as the driver moves closer to the instruments and looks around the car).
While I wait for the release of the Oculus Rift CV1 (due 2016) I’ve bought a cheap refurbished 40″ 1080p LED TV to use in the meantime. This works well for now, although the single screen means the odd bump as you cannot see cars either side of you in a race.
Sky’s The Limit
My setup is pretty tame, there’s a whole mad world of sim racing out there and the sky’s the limit. Just look at some of the full motion rigs out there and marvel at the prices.
Of course it would be great to be racing the real thing but who can afford that in the days where even a competitive amateurs’ Mark II Escort rally car can cost £100K. On the other hand I can see how this could get you hooked and transferred to at least doing more track days, if not building or buying a Caterham or something.
With this setup though you can be drifting a Subaru around a Welsh forest one minute, then taking an E30 M3 around the Nordschleife the next.
It is genuinely exciting and entertaining and the Oculus Rift is going to take it to an even higher level.
So is this a virtual mid-life crisis or just another big boys toy? Who cares, I’m off for another blast round Bathurst in my Radical!
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Last update on 2021-10-04 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API