The sim racing world is split into two sides: Console racers and PC racers. For most other gaming genres, the jury is out on which side is best, but for the sim racing community, PC is usually best. This can cause a dilemma for beginners wondering if it’s best to start sim racing on PC or console.
Sim racing is better on PC for many reasons. These include the dedicated racing simulators like iRacing and rFactor 2, the ability to let users mix and match their hardware and rig components, and the potential for better in-game graphics and physics than you can get on a console.
Of course, it isn’t essential to have a PC to start sim racing, as consoles also offer great sim racing titles and hardware compatibility. Below, we’ll discuss the similarities and differences between PC sim racing and console sim racing, and what exactly it is that gives the PC the upper hand.
Sim Racing On Console vs PC
At first, the differences between sim racing on console and sim racing on PC may not be totally clear cut. However, zoom in slightly and they become more apparent. It can be argued that sim racing on PC has been built for realism and sim racing on console has been built more for approachability and light entertainment.
Console vs PC – The Games
The range of sim racing titles available on PC compared to console adds weight to this argument, with popular titles known for their incredible realism such as iRacing, rFactor 2 and Raceroom being exclusive to PC.
The current best-selling racing games on console are the Forza Motorsport franchise on Xbox and the Gran Turismo franchise on PlayStation. While these games have elements of realistic sim racing to them, they are aimed at a mass market rather than a dedicated sim racing market.
This mass marketing approach can be detrimental to the online communities that play the games. Online racing on PC is generally regarded as a more satisfying experience than on console due to the fact the games are more focused on realistic racing and the players playing them are more aware of racing etiquette.
There are sim racing games such as Assetto Corsa available on PlayStation and Xbox, but the experience of playing them on console is dampened by various factors, including lower framerates.
Console vs PC – Framerates
One of the single most important differences between PC and console sim racing is framerate. Framerate is essentially the speed at which a gaming machine can display individual pictures onto the screen. A high framerate means you’ll see an accurate representation of where your car is on the track.
To put this into context, if you are driving at 180 mph, you’ll be travelling around 80 meters per second. If your gaming machine is working at 30 frames per second (fps), then you will be losing around 2.6 meters of the track per second, greatly increasing your chances of losing your racing line or slamming into the crash barriers.
The average framerate on consoles is 30-60 fps, with only a handful of ‘next-gen’ games being able to achieve 120 fps. You’ll also need a PS5 or Xbox Series X/S to get these framerates. A high performing PC with a good quality monitor will usually be able to reach a maximum of 240 fps, resulting in smooth and accurate gameplay with razor sharp responsiveness.
Not every PC will be able to reach these sorts of numbers, and you’ll be paying a premium for one that can. However, lower end PCs with 60 fps and higher are available. It’s also worth noting that, regardless of which option you choose, getting 120 fps (or more) will require a monitor/TV that has a refresh rate of at least the same number, otherwise it’ll be capped at its refresh rate.
Console vs PC – Hardware
For PC sim racers, the ceiling for hardware options is much higher than it would be on console. For a start, console gamers will be limited to one screen, unlike PC gamers, who can choose a triple screen or an ultrawide screen setup to be able to check their peripheral vision and spot any potential overtakes with ease.
Xbox consoles also do not support any virtual reality headsets. PlayStation has been offering their virtual reality headset since 2016, but if you are a PlayStation user, you will be restricted to the Sony PSVR headset only. PC users have the luxury of being able to use a wide range of VR headsets for sim racing, with models such as the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive being popular choices.
Virtual reality may be a luxury rather than a necessity, but it can greatly enhance the experience of sim racing on certain titles, and to have the ability to shop around for a VR headset that suits your preferences and budget is most definitely a bonus.
Console vs PC – Peripherals
Finally, the choice of components for your sim racing rig are a lot broader on PC than console. For example, if you wanted to use a Logitech G29 wheel with Fanatec pedals on console, you wouldn’t be able to.
This is because of different techniques being used in the manufacturing of hardware across different companies, as well as discrepancies in signal tolerances. This is not the case with PC because of the higher number of USB ports to use and additional software manipulation capabilities, meaning the number of component combinations available to you is almost endless.
It also affords you more control over the amount of money you want to spend on your rig, as you are not restricted to paying what your chosen manufacturer is charging for their essential parts. Third party adaptors are available for console users to allow them to mix and match their component suppliers, although they are not recommended by manufacturers due to their unreliability.
Do You Need A PC For Sim Racing?
You do not need a PC for sim racing. While sim racing PCs often offer better performance than consoles can, PCs can be far more expensive, and it’s often not worth it for those on a tighter budget that may already have a console they can play on. But you will need a PC to play certain racing sims.
How Good Of A PC Do You Need For Sim Racing?
The Graphics Card
While there is no limit to the amount of money you can spend on buying or making your PC, there are a few minimum requirements for your PC to meet in order to start sim racing. A computer with a good Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) is a necessity.
The GPU is a circuit within the PC that accelerates the creation and rendering of images, maximizing the graphics that you see when you are racing. A good GPU will increase your PC’s maximum framerate, providing you with a smoother racing experience. It will also afford you the choice of playing with a triple screen, ultrawide screen, or a VR setup.
The very minimum amount of video RAM (VRAM) your GPU should offer for sim racing is 2 GB, but this is the very minimum. Having a 2 GB GPU will be severely compromising on the quality of your driving experience. Recommended VRAM numbers are closer to 6 or 8 GB. Having a GPU of this size will ensure good, steady framerates.
There are countless options for GPUs out there, and VRAM is just one metric to use. You really need a high-quality graphics card regardless of the amount of VRAM it can offer, so it’s best to shop around and do your own research to find out what you should look for in a PC for sim racing.
The Engine Of Your PC
The GPU may provide the looks of the operation, but what are looks without brains? This is where the CPU (Central Processing Unit) comes in. The CPU connects all the coding and information provided by the game to the inputs of the player at the wheel, and then passes that information onto the GPU which will display it on the screen.
CPUs are measured in, among other things, cores. The more cores the better, with the recommended number of cores required for sim racing being 6. The PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S both have 8 cores.
High-end gaming PCs can come with 8 or more cores, which will no doubt benefit the user, but if you choose to stick to a 6-core PC, you will still enjoy your sim racing experience. Clock speeds are also important, as cores aren’t everything when it comes to CPUs. The generation of chip and its ‘architecture’ also make a big difference, so there’s a lot of room for variability here.
What RAM And Storage Do You Need For Sim Racing?
The next acronym you need to look out for is RAM. This stands for Random Access Memory,which is essentially the short-term memory of the computer. The RAM holds the information that the CPU is providing for a short while, leading to higher performance and framerates.
RAM is measured in GB. The recommended amount of RAM required for sim racing is 16GB. This is higher than many games require, due to the speed in which the cars travel and the amount of data that is required to keep up with the quickly changing scenery.
Whereas RAM is the PCs short-term memory, storage is the PC’s long-term memory. The more storage your PC has, the more games, cars and tracks you can download. But while the number of GBs of storage you have won’t affect your sim racing experience in terms of performance, the type of storage you have will.
Storage is split into two types: HDDs and SSDs. HDDs are the traditional form of storage on PCs, relying on a spinning disk within the PC. SSDs are a more modern form of storage and operate using chips rather than a moving disk. This means SSDs are faster and shock resistant, as well as silent, although they have a shorter lifespan than HDDs and are also more expensive.
Due to their speed, SSDs are more popular among gamers. This extra speed will both launch games faster and reduce loading times in-game. In terms of capacity, you’ll likely want at least 1TB of space in order to have the freedom to download whichever titles you want as well as their add-ons and mods.
For individual games, the amount of storage needed can vary a lot, with iRacing and Assetto Corsa Competizione requiring a minimum of 50 GB available storage space and rFactor2 requiring 60 GB. Other games may require even more.
A Recap Of The Recommended Specifications
The recommended specifications for a sim racing PC are:
- 6 GB VRAM GPU
- 6 Core CPU
- 16 GB RAM
- 1 TB Storage Space
For best results, a mid-range gaming PC would be recommended for running sim racing games. It also needs an adequate amount of USB ports to effectively run any hardware you plan on using. These are only recommendations, and some low-end PCs will have the capability to run sim racing games, but ultimately you would be compromising in quality, experience, and immersion.
Sim racing is often better on PC, as it can offer better performance than you can get on most consoles, and there are some PC exclusive sim racing titles that offer the most realism on the market. However, you do not need a dedicated sim racing PC to enjoy it and experience great immersion.