There is a lot to think about when buying a PC for sim racing. When it comes to the specs, there are a few that matter a lot more than the rest. Knowing what to look for in a good sim racing PC will make it much easier to choose the right one for you.
The 6 main specs you should look for in a sim racing PC are:
- GPU: Minimum 2GB RAM (ideally 4GB and above), and 1400 MHz boost clock speed (ideally 1550 MHz and above)
- CPU: Minimum 2.5 GHz, ideally 3.5 GHz and above
- RAM: Ideally 16GB, minimum 8GB
- Storage: Ideally SSD with a minimum capacity of 512GB, but ideally 1TB+ overall
- Cooling: Liquid cooling is desired; air cooling will be enough for most simulators
- Ports: At least a few USB ports, HDMI & VGA also ideal for multiple monitors
Each of these specs play an important role in your sim racing PC, and some of them will really dictate what kind of experience you can have. We will go into each specification in more detail and explain why each one is important to consider when choosing a sim racing PC.
A Quick Note About The Article
We are writing this article for both for those that are looking to buy a pre-built sim racing PC, as well as those looking to build a PC. The idea is to try and help you learn what to look for when buying a pre-built retail PC or the components. This will help to make sure that you know exactly what your specific setup will need.
There is not necessarily a correlation between experience level and whether or not you choose to build your own PC. There are so many options on the market, and you will definitely be able to find one with the right specs for your needs. We go into each spec in more detail below, which should make buying a pre-built sim racing PC much easier for you.
What GPU To Look For In A Sim Racing PC
Arguably The Most Important Part
So, first up we have the GPU. This is the Graphics Processing Unit, and it is also often called the graphics card. The GPU is one of the most important parts of your gaming PC setup, as it will dictate a lot of the aspects that determine how well the PC performs when handling games. GPUs range in price from very little to a lot of money, so we will discuss some of the main options.
But first, let’s outline why the GPU is so important. Sim racing games are not by any means the most power intensive, but they can still put some strain on your PC components. The first issue that a mediocre GPU will present tends to be with the frame rate. The frame rate is how many images the PC can display on the screen per second, usually quoted in frames per second (FPS).
High Framerates Are Ideal
In order to have smooth gameplay, you will need your PC to be able to ideally provide at least 60 frames per second. Any lower and you may experience some jumping in the images, and if you are looking to play in VR you will probably want closer to 90 fps. The frames per second, also known as the refresh rate, will be affected by other things such as the monitor, but the GPU is the most important.
Aside from simply providing high refresh rates, a strong GPU will also allow for VR gaming and high-resolution triple monitor setups. If you are looking for a fully immersive sim racing experience, you will most likely be looking into at least one of these options, if not a decent ultrawide screen. Thus, a high-quality GPU is essential.
Two key stats to look at are the clock speed and the RAM. Think of the RAM as important for setting the minimum frame rate, and the clock speed for setting the maximum frame rate. For example, if your simulator is functioning at 60 fps and you want to increase this, the key variable to look for would be an increased clock speed in your next GPU.
Increasing the RAM will have a minimal effect by itself, however the RAM still needs to be at a high enough base level to support a given frame rate. In the example above, if we were to swap the GPU and instead use one with a higher clock speed and lower RAM, the frame rate might actually decrease.
More Advanced Graphics
Other more technical aspects of the gameplay will also be dictated by the GPU that you opt for. Ray tracing is a relatively advanced graphical technique that allows for the simulation of object interactions in the game by tracing the path of the in-game light. This is fairly GPU intensive, but it can make for some truly beautiful graphics.
Aside from the visually tangible performance perks, a good GPU also takes the strain off of the other parts of your PC. They come with their own rapid video memory, which we will discuss more a bit later, which takes the pressure off your RAM, and you will also benefit from a reduction in the load that the CPU has to bear as the GPU does its own processing of the graphics.
So, let’s talk about some of your options when it comes to picking a good GPU, starting at the budget end of the scale.
The Absolute Minimum
An Nvidia GTX 1050 graphics card will do the job for low-end sims, and is ideal for those on a tight budget that are not worried about playing in resolutions higher than 1080p. There are other Nvidia options, like the GTX 1060 or the earlier 970 and 980 models, which can provide similar levels of performance. However, you will usually be limited to around 50-70 fps with these GPUs.
These GPUs are usually quite cheap when bought on their own, so if you are buying a pre-built sim racing PC you will probably be able to cut the costs significantly by going for one with this tier of GPU. It should be noted however that if the PC has a relatively low-quality GPU, other components like the CPU will tend to be of lower quality as well.
Quality Over Lower Price Every Time
It is definitely best to go for quality rather than low cost. This is because you will want your PC to last for a long time, and to be compatible with all of your favourite games, as well as those that will be released in the future. So, we recommend going for a more intermediate level GPU.
These options are ones such as the Nvidia RTX 2060/70, or the RX Vega 56/64. These can retail for a couple hundred dollars, and so are definitely the next tier up. However, the performance increase can be very noticeable, with VR and triple screen setups definitely compatible without a worry. Going for a PC with any of these cards will definitely be a safe choice for most sim racers.
The High End
At the much higher end of the scale there are cards like the RTX 2080/2080Ti.. Alternatives include the GTX Titan and the Radeon VII graphics cards. These are the ideal choice for those that want consistent fps at the very high end, with constant 90 fps when playing in VR. You can also expect a resolution of 1440p without any trouble, along with ray tracing.
These options cost a fair amount on their own, so expect the price of your sim racing PC to be driven up accordingly. There are even graphics cards out there that cost thousands of dollars on their own, but they are far beyond the scope of this article. For most sim racing games, the intermediate tier GPUs will be desirable, with the high-end ones providing the ultimate experience.
Choosing The Right CPU For Sim Racing
The Brain Of The PC
Up next, we will consider the CPU, or Central Processing Unit. This is often thought of as the brain of the computer, as it processes the information provided by the game you are playing along with the input from you as the player. AI racers, the environment you are racing in, and all other simulations are handled by the CPU, and then displayed through the GPU.
CPUs come in as many varieties as GPUs, and they are often quoted in terms of the number of cores they contain. As a general rule, the more cores the better, with the minimum for a decent sim racing PC being 4 cores. 8 cores are desirable, with some processors even offering 16 cores. However, these ones are beyond the scope of this article.
How Fast Is Your CPU?
Aside from the number of cores, there is also the clock speed. This is usually quoted in GHz and is a measure of how many processing cycles the CPU can perform per second. Although not always an accurate measure of the speed of a processor, it will give you a good idea of the kind of performance you can expect. A decent clock speed is around 3.5GHz to 4GHz.
Then you have to consider the generation of the CPU. There are two main options for CPUs, and these are the Intel line of processors and the AMD variety. The intel ones come in varieties such as i3, i5 and i7, while AMD also have their numbered Ryzen series like the Ryzen 3 and 5 options. There are also more specific options within these broad types.
The Bare Minimum
At the very low end of the scale, representing the absolute bare minimum that we would recommend, are the Intel i3 8100 and the Ryzen 3 1200. The Intel model has 4 cores, with a clock speed of 3.6 GHz. Meanwhile the Ryzen 3 also has 4 cores with a maximum clock speed of 3.4 GHz. They are ideal for beginners that can handle slightly lower quality graphics.
The Next Step Up
For sim racers that want VR and triple monitor capabilities, the intermediate tier of CPUs is where you will want to be looking. These won’t drive the price of your pre-built PC up too much while giving you much better performance, along with the ability to handle higher-quality graphics and more multitasking as well.
The Intel i5 options are ideal for these cases, such as the 8400 model. It has 6 cores, but a slightly lower clock speed of 2.8 GHz. It can be overclocked, but for most purposes there will be no need. An alternative would be the Ryzen 5 or 7 series. For example, the Ryzen 5 2600 also comes with 6 cores but boasts a clock speed of 3.4 GHz, while the 7 1700 comes with 8 cores and a 3.7 GHz clock speed.
The Very High End
Finally, at the high end of the CPU scale, we have some very expensive options. These will be more than capable of handling any sim racing game you can think of with as many cars as your track can handle. These are really only for those with a big budget, and for those that perhaps do a lot of recording and editing as well.
Options include the Intel i7/i9 9700k, which has 8 cores and can be turbo boosted to 4.9 GHz, as well as the Ryzen 7 2700x which also offers 8 cores and a clock speed of up to 4.3 GHz. Above that, you can also find the AMD Threadripper line of CPUs, with the 3960x model having a whopping 24 cores and a clock speed of 4.5 GHz.
Intermediate Options Are Usually Ideal
As with the GPUs, the CPUs can be bought on their own, and their individual pricings will give you an idea of their effect on the price of a pre-built sim racing PC. An intermediate option, such as the i5 and Ryzen 5 models, will be enough for most sim racers, and they will be able to provide a very smooth gaming experience.
How Much RAM To Go For In A Sim Racing PC
The next important thing to consider is the amount of RAM provided by the PC. This is another aspect that can be finely tuned if you decide to build your own PC. So, what is RAM?
RAM stands for Random Access Memory and can be thought of as the short-term memory of the computer. Although quoted in the same units, GB, as storage, they are two entirely different things. The amount of RAM a PC has will play a vital role in the speed and performance of the computer. More RAM usually means faster and better performance.
How Much Do You Need?
You can usually get away with 4GB of RAM, but this is definitely on the low end of the scale. Ideally, you will want at least 8GB, but there are 16GB options out there as well. The 16GB options will drive the price up quite substantially, and in reality 8GB will be enough for most sim racers. It is not as simple as more is always better, but it is a key component, nonetheless.
There are different types of RAM as well, with a reasonable place to start being known as DDR3 RAM. There is also VRAM, which is Video RAM and is what the GPU will use. Having more RAM will allow you to run more applications at one time. However, you will want to go for more VRAM when you can, as this also tends to correlate with better performance.
The Speed Counts Too
It is worth noting that the amount of RAM is not the only thing to consider here. There is a speed associated with it as well, which determines how many cycles occur per second, as was the same with the CPUs. RAM speed is arguably less important than the capacity, with speeds ranging from 2400 MHz to 3600 MHz being more than enough for most sim racers.
In general, you will want to aim for at least 8GB of RAM for a sim racing PC, but you also have to consider the amount of Video RAM on your graphics card. In this case, try and aim for 4GB of VRAM, with less being okay and more usually not being worth it. 16GB of RAM will ensure you can handle any racing sim on the market, while 32GB is the ultimate for future proofing but is much more expensive.
How Much Storage Do You Need For A Sim Racing PC?
Storage is what some people get a little confused with RAM. Storage is the long-term memory of the PC, and it is where games are downloaded, and files are saved to be accessed at a later date. As with most of the components on this list, more storage tends to be better. Although there are some extreme options with several terabytes of storage, we won’t be going into much detail about them here.
Not The Same As RAM
Storage is quoted in GB, and like RAM it handles the information in your game. Unlike RAM however, storage is memory that is not wiped when power is lost, and so is used for long-term storage such as game files, which can reach upwards of 100GB, as well as your saves and profiles within the games. Loading times will be affected by your storage, so more can make things faster to an extent.
Different Types Of Storage
There are a couple of different types of storage to choose from, namely SSD and HDD. HDD stands for Hard Drive Disk and is the traditional storage method for PCs. SSD is a relatively new technology and stands for Solid State Drive. The two options differ in terms of speed, capacity and longevity, and so it is important to consider which option is right for you.
HDDs use a spinning disk to hold memory, while SSDs make use of semiconductor chips and have no moving parts. This makes them generally more durable – and much quieter (silent) – than HHDs and less susceptible to physical breakage. Although HDDs have a longer lifespan due to the way they write data, you will most likely be able to use your SSD for as long as you need your PC.
Speed Is Key
Due to the way that these two storage types physically store data, SSDs are faster than HDDs and are thus a popular option for gamers in general, not just sim racers. Although it will vary by application, SSDs can be multiple times faster than HHDs, and you will notice a difference in loading times as well as boot times, and they will help the PC to run smoother overall.
There are a couple of other things you might want to consider, such as the type of storage device. This is a finer detail, and usually isn’t too important. Essentially this involves the size of the drive, which would only really be an issue if you were building the PC yourself. You can also get what are known as M.2 variants, which are faster than standard SSDs, and so can boost performance further.
The most important aspect aside from the speed difference is the difference in storage capacity. Ideally, you will want to go for at least a terabyte (1TB) of storage regardless of which type you opt for. HDDs range from around 500GB to 8TB, although there are some options out there with more. Meanwhile, SSDs usually range from around 120GB to 4TB.
The price per gigabyte for HDDs is much lower than that of SSDs. You can expect to buy an external HDD with 500GB of storage for around $20. However, the same capacity SSD will start at around $60. Ideally you will want 1-2 TB overall, and if you went for just HDD it would cost around $75, while a 2 TB SSD will typically set you back at 3 to 4 times that amount.
Go For A Mix
However, the ideal setup will actually involve both of these options. Games can take up anywhere from hundreds of megabytes to hundreds of gigabytes of storage, so you have to work out what you are going to need for your specific gaming habits. If you plan to play a lot of different racing sims, or if you want to store a lot of photos and videos on your PC as well, you will need plenty of storage.
Usually, you will want to opt for around 250-500GB of internal SSD, and then you can add more external storage in the future if you need it. External HDDs are much cheaper but can be more susceptible to damage than external SSDs. Going for a an internal SSD will maximize your speed, and it usually won’t add too much on to the price even at the 500GB level.
The Cooling System
The next thing to consider is the cooling system. All pre-built gaming PCs will come with some sort of cooling system, with the cheapest and most common usually being fan cooling systems. There are also liquid cooling systems available, which are usually more expensive but more effective too. Cooling is important regardless of which type you go for, so consider going for quality over lower price.
Cooling Is A Must
Cooling inside your PC is essential as there is a lot going on at one time inside the box. If you are playing a power-intensive game at high levels of quality settings, you will be putting a lot of strain on your components. This strain requires a lot of electricity, and it can build up resistance very quickly, releasing heat. Heat will make your components less efficient and can damage them too.
Air cooling methods use a mix of fans and metallic plates or pipes to cool down the inner components of the computer. There are some very efficient options out there that not only blow cool air onto the components, but also drive hot air away from them using a series of specially designed fins. Fans can be quite loud however, as well as bulky and often power intensive themselves.
Liquid coolers on the other hand use water to drive heat away from the inner components of the PC. Water is much more effective at transferring heat than air is and makes for a much more efficient cooling system. The water-cooling system can also be used to cool specific parts of the PC directly, whereas air cooling systems tend to be less direct, bringing their efficiency down further.
Pricing varies for cooling systems, but liquid cooling will tend to be more expensive. It is also more dangerous than air cooling due to the proximity of the water to the live electrical components of the PC. However, pre-built PCs are made with lots of safety precautions in mind and are built to such high standards that this isn’t really an issue if you aren’t building it yourself.
Which Type Do You Need?
As for whether or not you actually need the cooling power of a liquid cooling system, this will be down to your specific gaming habits and requirements. If you plan to race a lot of power-intensive simulators at high graphic settings, you might want to opt for high-end air-cooling systems or even liquid cooling. Casual sim racers that won’t can definitely get away with basic air-cooling systems.
How Many Ports Do You Need?
The final thing to consider when buying a PC for sim racing is the number and type of ports that it has available. You will most likely want at least a few USB 3.0 ports for your peripherals, such as a mouse and a keyboard, as well as your steering wheel and pedals of course. Most PCs of any kind tend to come with at least 2 USB ports, with more than 4 not being uncommon.
Specific Port Requirements
Next up, you might want to consider HDMI/Mini HDMI ports for connecting external monitors. Ultrawide monitors and triple monitors can use HDMI cables, while you could even connect your TV to your PC if you liked through this port. A lot of PCs will come with at least one HDMI port, while others may come with several.
VGA ports are the final thing to consider, as these are some of the most common for connecting external monitors to your PC. If you want to connect more than one, for example for a triple monitor setup, you will need to ensure that your GPU can handle it and that you have enough available ports. DisplayPorts are also commonly used for connecting external monitors.
Can I Use A Gaming Laptop For Sim Racing?
Now that we have outlined all of the ideal specs for a sim racing PC, you may be wondering whether or not you could use your gaming laptop for sim racing instead. This presents a few more specific considerations, and although you may wish to have portable sim racing capabilities, for the best and most immersive experience a PC will definitely be the better choice.
Nonetheless, there are some gaming laptops out there that are more than capable of playing your favorite sims. We will take a look at one of the intermediate range gaming laptops and consider the specs, and then we will compare it to a PC of a similar price point to get a good comparison between using a laptop and using a PC for sim racing.
For a fair price, you can get your hands on a 14” Fusion IV gaming laptop. This laptop comes with an Intel i7 quad core processor, capable of clock speeds of 1.8-4.9 GHz. It has a Nvidia MX250 GPU, with 2GB of DDR5 VRAM. It also has 16GB of 2666 MHz RAM, and a 512GB SSD. It benefits from portability but loses out on the ability to connect to many other peripherals.
However, you could also get an AlphaSync gaming PC. This comes with the AMD Ryzen 7 processor, with clock speeds of 3.7-4.35 GHz. It uses an ASUS Dual RTX 2060 Evo GPU with 6GB of GDDR6 VRAM. It also has faster RAM than the laptop, with 16GB at a 3000MHz clock speed. Finally, it has a 240GB SSD and a 1TB HDD as well.
PC Tends To Be Better
So, for not too dissimilar a price, you can get faster RAM; a better GPU with more VRAM; a faster processor; more than double the storage and you will also benefit from more versatility when it comes to peripherals. Although a laptop might give you portable gaming, you will definitely have to make some compromises with some of the key components.
It is hopefully clear that there is a lot to think about when buying or building a PC for sim racing. There are a few key components you need to consider, and there are plenty of options for each out there on the market. Doing your own research is key, as you can get a very decent sim racing PC to suit your specific needs for less money than you might think.
Ideally, you will want at least 1TB of overall storage, with a mix between SSD and HDD. You will also probably want at least 8GB of RAM, but you can’t go wrong with 16GB as well. When it comes to a GPU, there are loads to choose from, and it will really depend on your own specific requirements, but you will want to go for one with at least 2GB of VRAM.
The same thing applies to the CPU, and ideally you will go for at least an Intel i5/Ryzen 5 with a clock speed of around 3.5-4GHz. You might also want to consider your cooling options, with air cooling being enough for most gamers. Finally, the ports on the PC will also be worth considering, as these will allow you to connect to your peripherals and enhance your experience even further.