Since new generation high end laptops for VR gaming and development are still on their way, yet too close to get justify getting the old ones, I have decided to go with building a portable Mini-ITX VRPC for portable development and showcasing. I have managed to do so, and the result is this minimum-spec VRPC.
- Processor: Core i5-4690K 3.5GHz
- Motherboard:Gigabyte GA-Z97N-WiFi
- Graphics: Gigabyte Geforce GTX 970 (short)
- Memory: Crucial Ballistix Sport 8GB DDR3-1600
- Storage: Cucial M500 120GB SSD
- Cooling: Zalman CNPS8900 CPU Cooler
- Case: Lian-LI PC-TU100 Mini-ITX case
- Power supply: Corsair SF 900W 80+ SFX
The entire thing is just around $1000, here’s a PCPARTPICKER link if you want to build a thing like that! Here are the SteamVR performance test results for it.
I must say, that right now, I would probably get a R9 Nano, instead of the short GTX 970, or wait for short GTX 1060 or RX 480 and swap the ram for 16GB, as 8GB might be fine for playing but is quite on the low end for dev (my workstation eats up 20GB when I work).
To build the thing I used parts from my living room PC. I replaced the case, the PSU and upgraded the CPU from Penntium G3258 and GPU from 750Ti.
I really like the case. it’s made form really thin aluminium and is really light. Looks sturdy tho, and provides good heating dissipation.
The entire thing weighs under 4kg (8 pounds), and is 25x17x27cm (10x7x11″) including feet and handle which makes it lighter than eGPU solutions! (Alienware Graphics Amp is 8 pounds without a graphics card inside and you need a 4 pound GPU inside and a 4 pound laptop to run it). The performance is acceptable, here are the SteamVR performance test results!
The case can heat up quite a bit, but it’s still acceptable levels of heat. The highest I got the GPU to go was 80, and CPU didn’t exceed 60. The GPU fan is just a couple of centimeters from the bottom of the case andd there are no holes there. Also, the SSD bay is over there, I hope the heat weill not shorten the drive lifespan.
I have not tested it in flight luggage, but I will definitely install safety precautions inside (stuff it with newspapers or so) before doing so. i did, however tested it in a showcase environment and it did splendid work for hours.
But having to carry a screen around with it would be cumbersome! So I came up with a way to directly operate the computer with only a Vive hooked up to it using remote desktop connection from a laptop! I have a 12″ retina Macbook (the one with USB-C) and high resolution screen on that thing makes it a good candidate form a remote operation machine, but you could use anything! Here’s how I set it up!
First of all, you need Windows 10 Pro to host RDP connections, and a screen to get started. Open explorer window, go to This PC, right click on a blank space, and select Properties, click on Advanced System settings. Go to Remote tab and check the Allow remote connections to this computer box. Go to Computer Name tab and make sure that Full Computer name is set to something legible and Workgroup is the same as the in computer that will try to access it. You will have to reboot when you change anything here.
When you have done that, hit Windows key, type run, hit enter, type shell:startup in the window and hit enter again. Inside the window, create a file named hostwifi.bat. To change the extension, you will have to click File Menu -> Change folder and search options -> View and uncheck Hide extensions of known file types checkbox. Right click the file, edit, and type the following inside:
netsh wlan set hostednetwork mode=allow ssid=VRwifi key=yeahyeah
netsh wlan start hostednetwork
Double click the file to run it. Press any to skip the countdowns as they are only needed at startup. Now open up the device you’d like to access you computer with. Remote Desktop Connections can run on anything form a desktop PC to smartphone. There’s an old Windows 7 app available on both 7 and 10, and the new shiny RDP app with red icon that’s available on Windows 10, Mac and smartphones. Both are good and performance is pretty much the same.
Connect to VRwifi wifi network, open Remote Desktop application, and type in the computer name you chosen in the box and hit Connect. Oh, and you need to set the audio playback to Play on remote machine in the options! This will improve performance, and you don’t really need sound to play on your remote access PC. You can toy with other options depending on your network performance to get the best results too. Changing the color depth helps a lot. If you have trouble authenticating, it’s easiest to use your Microsoft account credentials to log in to the remote PC. Anyways, that’s it! You are connected remotely to the PC! Unplug the screen, plug in Vive, run SteamVR, launch Unity and get hacking! :)
The latency in display is pretty much not important, since the Vive is hooked up to the VRPC anyways. As for the performance, clunky Windows Wifi drivers on the Macbook have given me some troubles, but on OSX everything works magic wirelessly. If you need more sturdy solution, tho, you can connect via an ethernet cable and skip the Wifi setup completely. Also, when you set up the hosted wifi network on Windows 10 PC, make sure you disconnect from any other Wifi networks, as it will try to maintain incoming and outgoing connections at the same time hindering the performance. I haven’t used it so far for actual dev outside of testing, but I will do so next week and report back! Make sure you check out the forums as I will be posting smaller updates there!