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What Computer Do I Need? Tags: computer vr inworldz


Note:  It has been announced that Windows 10 is not compatible with the Intel HD 3000 graphics chip.  It seems to be compatible with other graphics chips.  This article addresses PCs only, as I'm not an Apple user. 

Over the years virtual worlds have grown, development work has been done, things have improved.  We now have  better performance, faster performance, and wider computer compatibility. 



So recently I was surprised to discover that computers which I would never have used for VR before... now work.  I procured a 10.5" netbook (tablet with a keyboard) .  It's super lightweight, has a touch-screen, and cost $299 +tax.  It uses an Intel Tablet processor.  It's not a "killer" computer by any means, nor does it have advanced graphics.

What I was surprised and pleased to find was that this little, low-power tablet computer works okay with virtual worlds.  Of course it's not as spritely as a gamer desktop... but it works.  I'm able to walk around without significant lag, I can create and build, textures rez.   Before now we couldn't recommend lightweight computers.  But the industry has improved.



Bottom line it means that instead of buying a gamer system just so you can use virtual worlds... you can spend $400-$600 and have a totally suitable system.  Rather than needing Nvidia and ATI graphics systems you can get by with standard 3D Intel graphics systems (with some exceptions as noted above). 

Of course, faster "gamer graphics" systems will perform far better.



These days there are so many different processors all sporting different claims-- it's difficult to tell which is the best.  In general, Intel i5 and above or AMD Ryzen 5, 7 or above is recommended as good CPU systems.  You can get by with lower-power system like the i3... but it will be at some sacrifice in overal graphics.

The tablet I'm using as I write this article is a 1.4 ghz processor... and while it's not near the speed of my 3.6ghz i5 quad processor in my desktop, it does well enought for an ultra-portable touchscreen netbook.   But lag is to be expected in such a low-power computer.

You may want to shy away from unknowns such as A-class or E-class processors.  Celeron and Sempron are very slow; I strongly recommend avoiding such.



Rule of thumb:  A quality graphics card is more important than a high-level CPU.

There are so many different kinds of cards out there, and the numbering systems have become confusing.   The three primary cards are Nividia, ATI, and Intel HD.  Intel HD is not a "gaming" card, but it can do a reasonable job on virtual worlds.   But by all means, if you can get a quality Nvidia or ATI card, do so.  Some computers (laptops especially) have the graphics built in and cannot be upgraded.   So...

Be sure to do your research.  Visit the card manufacturing sites and compare card performance.   At this time I strongly recommend the Nvidia 1050 or above, or the ATI Radeon 10 or above. The specific card you want will depend on your needs and pocketbook.  Do your online research before buying and realize that the same model card can vary widely in price.  Don't get suckered in by graphics card shysters.  Read the customer reviews. 



This may come as a bit of a surprise... but examine the following facts (and please read it all, because otherwise some may disagree):

My prior computer:

i5 4-core CPU, 8 gigs RAM, GeForce 1050 GPU w/ 2 gigs vRAM

My current computer:

i7 8-core CPU, 16 gigs RAM, GeForce 3070 GPU w 8 gigs vRAM

Logically, the i7 system should just run rings around the much-less-powerful i5 system, yes?

Well... no.   In truth I noticed no difference in basic operation.  Textures didn't load any faster.  There was no noticeable difference in operational speed.  Worlds didn't load any faster.

What this means is that it seems there is a point at which these virtual worlds hit a performance ceiling. Beyond that, investing a ton of money in a high-level gamer system really just isn't worth it.   Instead of buying a "gamer system"... you could buy an i5 4-core with a 2060 graphics card and get along just fine... saving yourself several hundred dollars in the process (ie, a mid-level gamer system).  You can even go with a 1050 graphics card and get along well... as long as it has enough RAM.

Note that this article could use a bit more information on Radeon cards. In general however, Nvidia GeForce is considered the "card of choice".  Ask your local computer guru about Radeon graphics cards.



YES, there is some gain in having a "gamer" system.  For example, I can now crank my draw distance up to 512m instead of 256m and it works just as well (credit that to four times the video RAM).  I tried boosting it to 1024m but that got a little glitchy in heavy-texture areas. With a gamer system you can use things like shaders, or set your system from high to Ultra... which may give you better graphics... or really may not.  If you don't notice the difference visually... tech specs are somewhat irrelevant, aren't they?

Most people will get along fine with a mid-priced i5 or Ryzen 5 / 7 system.  Most people will do well with a GeForce 1050 4-gig card or a Radeon 10 (I do recommend a bit more RAM than 1 or 2 gigs).   But buying a gamer-level system just for Second Life or Opensim... is really not essential.



Due to severe damage by Covid-19, many Chinese chip manufacturers have shut down operations.   This has created a severe shortage in the graphics card industry-- and a resultant incredible increase in graphics card prices... if cards are even available.  Hopefully this will change over time and graphics cards will once again become widely available at reasonable prices.  At the original time of writing this article, shelves were cleaned of mid-priced grahics cards.   Now these cards are showing back up on the market again, at prices that aren't absolutely absurd.



There are two kinds of graphics memory:   1)  Dedicated on-card  and 2) Shared.

Graphics cards use either or both.  When purchasing your system be aware of how much graphics memory is available... and what kind it is.   Here are some guidelines:

* It is good to have 8 gigs system RAM available with Windows 10 or above.   If you get a 4 gig machine and your graphics card shares part of that RAM... you're not going to have much to use for virtual worlds.

* Dedicated graphics RAM (on the video card itself) is best in ideal situations, but avoid machines with less than 1 gig total graphics RAM (dedicated or shared).   Some machines only have 128 megs of dedicated RAM and can't share system memory; they will not have enough graphics memory to handle virtual worlds.

* As of July 2022, 4 gigs video RAM is recommended, but you can get by well enough on a minimum of 2 gigs.  1 gig will work but is pushing it.

* Shared RAM isn't as fast as dedicated RAM, but it still works. Shared RAM will often be found in laptops or cheaper desktops.

The main point is that it's now possible to buy a relatively low-cost netbook, laptop or desktop computer and have a functional computer for virtual worlds.  This is of course very good news for users with limited budgets.  Still, the more you spend (up to a point), the better the performance.  (See the summary, following.)



Recommended system is an i5 or Ryzen 5 system (or above) with at least 8 gigs RAM, and a GeForce 1050 (or above) graphics card, or a Radeon 10 (or above) graphics card with at least 2 gigs vRAM (4 gigs is better).  Go with what your budget can handle.  Because the truth is, Second Life and Opensim just isn't up to the level of octa-core, high-level graphics systems yet.  There's just no real need to to spend the extra money unless you just want to.   Of course a gamer system is very nice and will offer some advantages... but those advantages will have a diminishing level of return per dollar.







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