A Buyer’s Guide for the Beginning Sim Racer – The Extended Version, Part One
So you want to join the PC-based sim racing world. Perhaps you’ve dabbled in console games like Gran Turismo or Forza and are looking for improved realism. Maybe you’re a racer who wants greater access to off-season training and competition. In any case, getting started in sim racing can be incredibly overwhelming. What’s the best wheel for me? What computer specs matter? What are triple monitors? This guide will walk you through those basics and help you assess what you have, what you need, and the best solution for your budget. These recommendations are based primarily on experience with iRacing, the go-to leader in sim racing.
In Part One, we’ll cover the “non-racing-specific” equipment you’ll need. This means your computer, monitors, and sound hardware.
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The Biggest Question, and Expense – the PC
The first decision to make on this journey is if you are in the market for a new PC. Sim racing is very demanding on hardware, especially RAM and graphics capabilities. If you already have a PC that you intend to use for sim racing, it will need to meet the following specs at a minimum: 4 core CPU, 2GB GFX, 50GB SSD, and 16 GB RAM.
For an enjoyable experience with appealing rendering and no storage concerns, I’d recommend at least a 4GB GFX card and 100+ GB SSD. With a 6-core CPU, 6GB GFX, 500GB SSD, 16GB RAM, and included keyboard and mouse, the Skytech Blaze II boasts an exceptional spec list and is available for only $799 on Amazon. At such a reasonable price, I really can’t recommend anything else. Nothing more affordable holds a candle to these specs, and bumping up to more performance takes you quickly into 4 figures. Also, this PC should easily be capable of multipurpose use if you can’t justify having a standalone PC for sim racing.
What You See is What You Get – Monitor(s)
Once again, this entry depends on what you have and what you want. While your average single monitor should be capable of getting the job done, I absolutely love my triple monitor setup for the added immersion. Of course, this requires a bit more planning on the mounting side as well, but I have a good recommendation for you there too. In any case, the Sceptre E275W-19203R 27" Ultra Thin 1080P LED Monitor is an affordable, well-reviewed solution boasting solid marks in the obvious specs like size and resolution (matching my setup), with quick refresh rates as well. Additionally, this monitor offers great utility with a large enough size to be usable as a single, and built-in speakers to boot.
While my preferred setup is triple monitors, some other popular options include curved monitors and/or Virtual Reality. Curved monitors improve the viewing angle but, in my opinion, not enough to justify the cost. VR, of course, provides unmatched immersion and visibility. However, this comes at the expense of fidelity that I find similar to the “3D-movie” effect. Combined with the cost and computer graphics load, VR just doesn’t appeal to me.
Can You Hear Me Now? – Speakers/Soundbar
Since you don’t get as much “feel” as you would in a real racecar, visual and auditory cues become even more critical in sim racing. This TaoTronics soundbar boasts phenomenal reviews at a fraction of the price of more familiar brands and, combined with a good monitor setup, will allow you to maximize sensory inputs.
Looking for more options than just my top picks? Check out this post for a full buyer's guide.