PC-based virtual reality and its many fascinating applications definitely seem like something that may require a fair bit of power. Reinterpreting, stretching and transmitting graphics, as well as processing input from the VR headset itself takes a lot of power. Additionally, most modern VR applications, aside from simple mirroring, would require a fairly high-end setup with or without the VR frills. Given those facts, it's not hard to imagine you'd need a decent computer for the two premiere VR experiences being talked about in the tech space at the moment, the Oculus and the HTC Vive. Just how decent is decent enough, though? In this case, decent means a high-end gaming PC that's a stone's throw and a rung below the best that money can buy at the moment.
To be specific, you'll need, at a minimum, a 4th generation Intel Core i5 processor, the i5 4590, or its AMD equivalent, the FX 8350, for starters. For laptop users, this means the weaker dual-core variants of desktop CPUs often found in laptops simply won't do. Some laptops, mostly high-end business or gaming rigs, have desktop-grade CPUs, but they're somewhat rare and costly. On the graphical front, the kit you'll need will run you between $250 and $450, depending on where you look and which variant you're wanting, as well as how much dedicated RAM the GPU will have. Specifically, you'll need the Nvidia GTX 970, whose mobile equivalent is the GTX 980m, or the Radeon R9 290X, whose closest mobile match is the similarly named R9 M290X. These cards are both just one or two steps down from the absolute top of their class and will dominate any game or 3D application you throw at them, as well as GPU-intensive tasks like CAD.
As an interesting departure from the Oculus, the Vive will require only 4GB of RAM as opposed to the Oculus' minimum of 8GB. Needless to say, however, you'd be hard-pressed to find a pre-built rig of any sort that will have the necessary specs listed above with less than 8GB of RAM, let alone a custom-built one. One requirement that is a practical departure from the Oculus, however, is USB. While the Oculus demands 2 USB 3.0 ports to call its own, the Vive is content to limit itself to one port, which can be USB 2.0. Between this and the lower RAM requirement, it's not terribly far-fetched to guess that there's either some serious software optimization going on or the Vive's power needs will be far below those of the Oculus. With a retail price that surpasses the final price of the Oculus by $200, for a wallet-walloping $799, the Vive is banking on these little perks and extra features such as its Lighthouse tech.