by Dave Allen on July 9th, 2011
Signing-up for iRacing is easy, posting in the forums is also easy, but deciding exactly what computer you need to run the simulator? That can be where the challenge is found. Let me say up front there’s no right way or wrong way to choose your iRacing computer. We all have different wants, desires, and outcomes. iRacing can produce very realistic racing environments if you have the system to handle the load of all the eye candy. If you’re willing to sacrifice some eye candy, then you can get by with a lower end system if the budget is tight. In this article we will cover some of the basics of that cost/benefit equation.
Gaming computers are very much a niche market. I’m not here to support any one outlet or source. I can say many custom builders exist to build the machine of your dreams. On the other hand, in most cases the computer you already have will enable you enjoy many hours of sim racing on the iRacing service. While you may not have all the eye candy on your current system, in most cases you can still decide if iRacing is the right fit for you.
If you decide to join the service in most cases users do decide to make a few upgrades strictly for the eye candy effect. Possibly the most common upgrade is the video card. The Nvidia GTX 460 would be a budget minded video card for users not looking to break the bank. The card retails for less than one hundred dollars and would allow you to turn up more of the graphic detail options. Just don’t expect it to run the advanced shadows. If you’re an ATI fan or feel that a three screen setup could be in the future, then the ATI 5770 may be a budget minded option for upgrade. It will run three screens (Eyefinity) effectively for just over one hundred dollars. Do keep in mind that both of these video cards require at least a 450 watt power supply to function properly. Check to make sure your system has one; if not, don’t worry: A 600 watt power supply will run you about 80 dollars.
You can also go to your favorite electronics shop and find a computer suitable for iRacing. What do you look for in such a machine? Most machines these days have a quad core CPU of some sort; almost any quad core processor (CPU) will get you on the track. Most machines these days come with 4GB of Ram as well which is more than suitable as iRacing isn’t ram intensive. Hard drive space really isn’t much of an issue either, as most machines will come with a 500GB or higher drive. iRacing can take-up somewhere around 20GB or so, that’s giving you a little room to save some replays as well.
Back to the issue of video cards . . . . Possibly the most difficult decision when choosing the perfect iRacing system will be your graphics card selection. A dedicated graphics card is an absolute must. Dedicated cards are generally found with 1GB of memory, with a few of your lower end cards containing 512MB of memory. The graphics card decision should not be made with the sales person standing by your side. In order to make the best- informed decision you need to think about how much eye candy you either desire or can live without. You also need to at least consider if having a three monitor setup would interest you now or in the future. If you’re not sure don’t worry, as I noted earlier, in most cases video cards can be upgraded as your needs change.
Another thing to keep in mind when buying a system from a retail outlet is the power supply wattage. High-end graphics cards are power hungry and require at least a 600 watt power supply in most cases. Retail systems are often in the 300 to 400 watt range, so a power supply upgrade may be needed.
I am commonly asked what system configuration I have. I currently run an Intel I7 at 3.4ghz with 8GB of ram and a 5770 graphics card. I do have a three screen configuration on three 22 inch screens. (We will cover the details of a three screen setup in a future article.) I do use my system for other tasks such as video and photo editing. Some users choose to have a dedicated iRacing system, the choice is yours.
I will say this article is strictly my opinions from a budget minded system builder. I’m sure other builders and enthusiasts out there can debate each of my statements and that’s okay. As long as you’re on the track, getting the performance you desire at a price you can afford is all that matters.