Featured image: Corsair iCUE RGB Gaming PC featuring NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 Ti and Intel Core i9 10920X (source)
Sim racing is enjoying a boost in popularity in 2020, and while you do need to spend some money on equipment, it’s a fraction of the expense associated with Motorsport in real life. Plus, the crashes are easier to deal with! At the heart of your set-up, you’ll need a decent gaming PC, and for that, you need to know what defines “decent” in the multifaceted and somewhat perplexing world of GPUs, motherboards, and so on.
That’s the reason why I’ve decided to put this guide on buying and building the ultimate sim racing PC so that you can be informed about what parts you’re going to need if you want to piece a gaming rig together yourself.
I’m aware that not everyone will have the spending power to splash out on the highest spec hardware, so I’ve considered that, and here I’m going to show you how to build three different grades of gaming PC that will suit all your sim racing needs; Budget, Mid-Range, and High-End. In the Budget segment, I’m going to explain in detail how each component fits together, while in the latter two sections, I’ll be focusing solely on which are the best parts available at that price range.
Why you need a great PC for sim racing
There are a couple of things that I would like to address before we jump into the guide.
Firstly, you should consider pushing your limits in terms of your budget when it comes to choosing parts for your PC. When buying PC hardware, its good practice to invest in the future, so don’t automatically choose the cheapest part, as after a few years you might need to replace it again. If you buy with this strategy in mind, you’ll be able to upgrade economically in the future, and you should aim to purchase something that will last you at least five years, or preferably up to ten years.
Secondly, the chances are that if you’re going down the Budget or Mid-Range building routes, the PC will not only be your gaming platform, it will also likely be your daily driver. What I mean by that is that it’ll be used for everything from checking Facebook and watching YouTube to trying to keep an F1 car out of the barriers at Eau Rouge/Raidillon.
With this in mind, you want to make sure that when you decide to switch from browsing social media to playing your sim, that you have enough processing power in the tank to run your racing-game titles smoothly. Otherwise, you could end up with a bottleneck where the CPU locks up, and your frame rate will drop to zero. Not exactly what you want when you’re turning into a corner or going nose-to-nose with another driver on your last lap.
Finally, you need to consider what kind of strains a sim game puts on your PC hardware. For many modern PC games, the graphics processing unit, or GPU, is king. It’s what handles all the heavy lifting of making games look great.
However, for driving simulators such as iRacing, Assetto Corsa Competizione and rFactor 2, the CPU is equally as important, handling the big-time calculations to make the game physics feel right, not just look right.
So, when you’re selecting your PC parts, keep these kinds of things in mind as what’s often needed to play RPG, or FPS games doesn’t exactly translate into what’s required for a racing sim.
Mapping a successful build
If you’ve never built a PC before, you might be feeling a bit apprehensive about the process, but fear not as you’ve come to the right place. In the Budget segment, I’ll be walking you through the whole process from start to finish, including the price points of every item and a step-by-step explanation on how to connect those parts.
Also, I’m going to explain what you need to install after you’ve assembled everything which will include a Windows 10 operating system and all the necessary drivers to make sure every single part is running up to speed. With that said, I’m going to assume that those of you checking out the Mid-Range and High-End builds will either already be a dab hand at putting a PC together.
Or you can simply afford to pay someone else to do it for you, so without further ado, let’s take a look at some of my recommended PC builds.
$800 Budget gaming PC build and installation guide
For this build, I strongly recommend going with an AMD based system simply because it’s got the power that you need and it’s got an outstanding balance of price to performance, plus you can get CPUs with higher core and thread counts than what’s available with Intel at this price point. As I mentioned earlier, for systems like this, it’s essential always to have an eye for future compatibility.
Getting your money’s worth
It’s all too common nowadays to hear the phrase “bang for your buck” being thrown around with PCs, PC building, and gaming PCs in particular, but what does that mean? Well, for me it means you’re trying to hit the sweet spot between how much something costs and how much performance you can get out of it.
CPU and Motherboard
Getting things started, I suggest going with the MSI B450 TOMAHAWK Max ATX Gaming Motherboard priced affordably at $115, with an AMD Ryzen 5 3600 Processor that is equally economical at $175, which has 12 threads and a max boost of 4.2 GHz.
It comes included with a stock AMD heatsink which already has thermal paste applied.
To assemble these two parts, look to the bottom of the CPU, and you’ll find a tiny golden arrow. You need to line that up with the arrow on the motherboard. Next, lift the lever (seen to the right of the socket in the image below) on the motherboard to the side and then up.
There’s no need to push down on the CPU, just let it drop into place as not to bend any pins, and return the level on the motherboard to its downward position.
To attach the heatsink supplied with the AMD Ryzen 5 3600, first, unscrew the four screws surrounding the CPU, then line up the heatsink with the holes and secure all four points, and to power the fan, hook it up to the CPU fan header.
For RAM at this price bracket, your best option coming in at $80 is the CORSAIR VENGEANCE LPX 16GB (2 x 8GB) DDR4 rated at 3200 MHz.
Make sure that you put the two sticks into the second and fourth RAM slots on the motherboard, and then push down until they click into place.
Depending on how many games you want to have stored on your PC will dictate how much storage you need, but for this build, I recommend the Western Digital Blue 500GB M.2 SSD which costs $59.
It fits into the M.2 slot on the motherboard and needs to be secured with one screw. If you want to know more about SSD and M.2 technology, check out the Mid-Range build where I’ll go into much more detail on this subject.
Next, you’re ready to put the motherboard into a case. An excellent case for this cost-saving build is the NZXT H510 ATX Computer Case priced at $70.
To begin, clip on the IO shield that’s supplied with the case to the rear. Then, place the board into position. When inserting the board into the case, make sure that all the attachment points of the motherboard line up with the standoff posts inside the case.
The MSI B450 TOMAHAWK Max ATX Gaming Motherboard has nine points, and this case perfectly matches it with nine standoffs in the appropriate position, so you don’t have to modify anything.
How to install the motherboard into an ATX case
Here’s a good step by step guide from ASUS and while the case and motherboard are different in this video, the principles are exactly the same:
Take care to line up the ports of the board with the IO shield and then lay the board down in line with the standoffs. Finally, you can go ahead and screw your board into place using flathead screws, but you only need to use eight screws, as the centre standoff can be left empty.
Power Supply (PSU)
Now you’re going to need to get some fuel in there. For that, you’re going to be using the EVGA 650 BQ.
There are two cables already joined to the unit; a 24-pin power cable that powers the motherboard and another cable to power the CPU. You will also need to hook up one VGA cable to the PSU into VGA slot 1, which is going to power the GPU.
You can keep the other VGA cables aside for future expansion. When you put the power supply into the case, make sure that the fan is facing downward so that the power supply draws in cold air from the bottom.
Before we hook up all the cables to their matching ports, at this stage, I’d like to point out some additional options you might want to throw into your build.
The NZXT H510 ATX Computer Case comes included with two stock 120 mm fans, but if you want to ensure ample airflow throughout the system, I’d recommend picking up two more fans. As this is not included in the budget of $800, I will leave it at your discretion which fans to use but to give you an idea; you can’t go wrong with the Aer RGB 2 from NZXT that I’ve covered in more detail in the Mid-Range build, which only cost $30 each.
To install the extra fans, attach them to the front section of the case so that the intake position will draw cold air into the system. So now you’re ready to plug in all the cables. I’m going to break this down further into three groups; case cables, fan cables, and power cables.
The first cable you’re going to plug in is the one labelled HD audio which runs the headphone/microphone input, and it connects to the corresponding port at the bottom of the board. There is only one audio input port on the front of the case, but a two-way adapter is provided in the accessories pack which allows you to connect headphones and a mic.
Next, you’re going to connect the USB 3.0 cable which also connects at the bottom of the board, again just make sure you find the appropriate port that fits the cable head. Then, you need to attach one more case cable which connects the power button on the case to the motherboard. This one is labelled “F paddle” and links to the JFP1 pins, again at the bottom of the board.
The CPU power cable plugs in at the top of the motherboard, while the 24-pin power cable that provides energy to the motherboard attaches to the matching port on the side of the board. Ensure both of these cables are all the way in. You should feel a click once they are correctly connected to the input.
The last cable is for our graphics card, but I’ll get to that in just a moment. At this stage, if you’ve decided to add some LED lights into your build to make your PC more aesthetically pleasing, attach the cable to the light and then connect it to the motherboard. Be sure that the cable for the lights matches up to the correct pins at both ends.
The best way to understand your connections is just to work through each one step by step. Here’s a really insightful video from Max’s Tech who goes through each and every connector on a board:
So, it’s time to add the priciest component of your build, the ASUS GeForce GTX 1660 SUPER 6GB Graphics Card which you can buy right now for $220.
To install, line up the GPU with the first PCI slot on the motherboard. First, you need to pull back the clip on the slot, and you will also have to remove the second and third brackets at the back of the case to allow the graphics card to line up properly.
Push the card in until it clips into place and then secure it in place with screws. Finally, attach the left-over power cable to the card to give it some juice.
That’s it! You’re ready to turn it on and get the software installed.
$800 Budget build gaming PC component list:
|Motherboard||MSI B450 TOMAHAWK Max ATX||$124.99|
|CPU||AMD Ryzen 5 3600||$175.00|
|RAM||CORSAIR VENGEANCE LPX 16GB DDR4||$80|
|STORAGE||Western Digital Blue 500GB M.2 SSD||$59|
|CASE||NZXT H510 ATX||$69|
|POWER SUPPLY||EVGA 650 BQ 80+ BRONZE||$65|
|GPU||ASUS GeForce GTX 1660 SUPER 6GB||$240|
$3,000 Mid-Range PC Build
If like me, you want everything to match in terms of theme, color scheme, and even branding when you put a PC together; then this Mid-Range build will surely satisfy your enthusiasm.
When you throw down a bit more money, you’re not only paying for increased performance but also improved aesthetics and extravagance.
In my budget option, I included a case from NZXT. Here in my Mid-Range build, I’ll be using another case by NZXT, albeit one of their more premium cases. This time, I’m also going to be using NZXT fans, PSU, motherboard, and of course, their latest AIO liquid cooler. Going down this route ensures maximum compatibility, and offers one of the sleekest looks possible within this price range.
CPU and Motherboard
For a Mid-Range motherboard, you can’t go wrong with the NZXT N7 Z390.
You’d be hard pushed to build a quieter, better-looking system as easily as you can with this board which currently costs $250. NZXT has designed their latest N7 motherboard around Intel’s Z390 chipset which delivers everything you need to build a powerful gaming PC. All the essentials are included, along with built-in wireless connectivity, a digital fan controller, and integrated RGB lighting channels. The all-metal motherboard cover perfectly matches the colour and finish of your case, creating a visually seamless backdrop for your components.
To accompany this great piece of kit from NZXT, I suggest going with Intel’s Core i9 9900k. The 9th Gen Intel Core processor takes mainstream desktop PC performance to a whole new level. At $414.99, it’s the first Intel Core i9 desktop processor designed for mainstream users.
So, as I touched on earlier, this is great for when you want to switch from online browsing to tearing it up around a race track with all visual settings maxed out. The i9-9900K with 16MB of cache and Intel Turbo Boost 2.0 technology takes maximum turbo clock speed up to 5.0 GHz.
As we’re moving up the ladder here, you’ll want to double the RAM capabilities that I suggested in the Budget build.
As an advocate for CORSAIR, I would recommend the VENGEANCE RGB PRO 32GB (2 x 16GB) DDR4 DRAM 3200MHz C16 memory kit for this build. You can pick up this piece of gear for $140, which is an excellent price considering the overclocked memory lights up your PC with mesmerizing dynamic multi-zone RGB lighting while delivering the best in DDR4 performance.
For this build you’re going to be using a combination of different storage types; the Western Digital Black SN750 1 TB NVMe Internal Gaming SSD PCIe M.2 ($135), plus another Western Digital Black SN750 250 GB ($75), and two Western Digital 6TB WD Blue PC Hard Drives – 5400 RPM Class SATA ($140 x 2 = $280). Now I’m aware that’s a mouthful and hell of a lot of acronyms for one sentence, so let’s break it down.
For PC gamers such as yourself who are building or upgrading a machine, storage drives are crucial. They’re the infrastructure by which the games are stored and accessed. They’re both the car park and the motorway.
What’s an NVMe SSD?
First of all, let’s address what an NVMe SSD is. Many of you may already be aware that SSD stands for solid-state drive, which is set apart from the traditional HDD (hard disk drive) by the fact it has no moving parts and therefore offers faster data access and reading times. SSDs are flash-based storage devices, and because of this, SSDs can be incredibly versatile, taking on many different forms and sizes. But what about NVMe?
Commonly you can find SSDs in housings which look like traditional hard drives, maybe just a little smaller, but SSDs can also shed their housing and get a lot slimmer. NVMe is a new technology standard purpose-built for blazing-fast access to solid-state storage. Any given solid-state drive has variations of its own which affect its speed and efficiency just like in traffic where the car driver and highway lanes all contribute to how fast you can travel. With graphics and gameplay evolving like they are, speed and efficiency aren’t just a luxury; they’re a necessity if you want to grow with gaming.
Storage devices have traditionally been connected to your motherboard through connections like SATA, which is an actual wired connection. It’s okay for spinning hard disk drives which aren’t fast enough to max out a SATA bus’s transfer capabilities, but as solid-state drives have evolved a better system was needed for the transfer of this faster and denser information.
Since SSDs can be made so thin and small, they’re able to utilise the high bandwidth and versatile PCIe interfaces already common to computing. An SSD like the Western Digital SN750 1TB M.2, which is a PCIe device is designed for a PCIe configuration that has four lanes of data transfer capabilities versus a traditional one-lane transfer. That equates to transfer speeds four times as fast.
As motherboards evolved to handle the high-speed capabilities of cards like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and other peripherals, PCIe form factors also had to evolve, which led to the M.2 connection. A drive’s form factor is the pin and key configuration that physically touches the interface bus. Think of a PCIe interface as the motorway that your gaming data is being carried on, and the M.2 form factor as the car on that motorway; a fast and efficient car.
So now your gaming data cargo has its four-lane motorway, it has its car, and now it needs a reliable and efficient driver. Enter NVMe; a protocol standard designed for storage drives using the PCIe interface. Non-Volatile Memory or NVM is memory built for storage which means that data can be written and it will remain after a reboot or power loss. This is opposed to volatile memory which is memory lost after a reboot. A type of express NVM was developed to handle best the evolving standards of SSD devices utilising PCIe interfaces. Thus NVMe was developed.
By using a combination of NVMe and SATA SSD drives in this build, you can guarantee lightning-quick access to your games that you play regularly, and still have plenty of storage space to keep games for later. You can move them over to your NVMe drives when you want to play them to ensure the smoothest gameplay possible. If you’d like to see how we installed a new NVMe SSD recently, take a look at this article.)
Keeping with our NZXT theme, the H510 Elite compact ATX mid-tower is perfect for this build and costs $150. Behind the flush-mounted, tempered glass front panel, you’ll discover two of NZXT’s renowned Aer RGB 2 fans keeping your components brilliantly cool.
Well-engineered airflow, a removable radiator mounting bracket, multiple fan filters, a vertical GPU mount, a front panel USB-C connector, and an all-steel and tempered glass construction are just some of the key features you’ll get.
The H510 Elite also includes the NZXT Smart Device V2, powering the built-in RGB light strips and case fans.
The new E850 ATX power supply from NZXT is available for $165 and will help streamline the design of this build.
It features digital voltage and temperature monitoring, so you get precise, real-time information about your PSU, including uptime, wattage by rail, and temperature. Manufactured with top-quality components and backed by a 10-year warranty, the E850 delivers both peace of mind and up to 850W of clean, reliable power to your gaming system.
Just like the engine of a race car, it’s useless to have all that power if it risks overheating. To alleviate that issue, I recommend adding in two more NZXT Aer RGB 2 fans to this build at $30 apiece, for extra peace of mind that you CPU and GPU will continue to function the way they’re supposed to. Integrating seamlessly into the HUE 2 ecosystem, Aer RGB 2 fans deliver optimal airflow and advanced lighting customisations. With fluid dynamic bearings and winglet tips, Aer RGB 2 fans offer enhanced cooling while minimising noise.
The all-new Kraken Z63 AIO lets you personalise your liquid cooler like never before. This AIO or ‘all-in-one” liquid CPU cooler combines the parts necessary to liquid-cool your CPU into a pre-packaged solution.
This AIO, again from NZXT costs a considerable $250, but when you consider that it combines the water block, radiator, tubes, fans, fittings, and pump into one sleek package, you can see where your money is going. Plus, with the Z63, you can do more than simply fine-tune settings; you can now display your favourite animated gifs or CAM system information, allowing for total customisation.
It’s all change at the $500+ price point for GPU’s – an informed buyer has a huge amount of choice available right now.
To make sure all your games look as beautiful as they do in their promotional videos, the eagerly awaited NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3070 will go a long way to making that become a reality. It’s not only the most affordable entry in NVIDIA’s new Ampere line-up, but it’s also touting specs that seem too good to be true, and put the previous RTX 20 series cards to shame at a much lower price tag.
NVIDIA announced the RTX 3070 alongside the RTX 3080 at an event on 1st September. However, it won’t be hitting store shelves until sometime in October 2020 with a price tag of $499. Of course, with the release of this new RTX generation, you’re bound to see the price of RTX 20 series cards dramatically drop, like the GIGABYTE GeForce RTX 2080 SUPER GAMING OC 8G pictured above.
So, it’s worth mentioning that if you can find an RTX 2080 Ti card for example at an incredibly great price, you’d be foolish to pass it up as these cards are still able to meet the demands of most sim racing games.
$3000 Mid-Range Hardware Build Component List:
|Motherboard||NZXT N7 Z390||$250.00|
|CPU||Intel Core i9 9900k||$420.00|
|RAM||CORSAIR VENGEANCE RGB PRO 32GB DDR4 DRAM 3200MHz C16||$140.00|
|STORAGE||Western Digital Black SN750 1 TB||$75|
|CASE||NZXT H510 Elite||$150|
|POWER SUPPLY||NZXT E850||$165|
|GPU||NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3070||$499|
$5,000 High-End PC Build
If you want to enjoy the ultimate sim-racing experience with the highest levels of immersion possible, you’ll need a PC that can handle everything a racing game will throw at it. I’m talking about things like shadows, dynamic track features, crowds, pit lane features, the number of cars in a race and their resolution settings, etc.
All these things need processing power to be generated, and if you don’t have the right machine for the job, you can drag your frame rate down.
With PCs in this bracket, you can expect to have all your visuals boosted to their capacity with 4k graphics, full ray tracing enabled, and all your graphic settings turned up to the max. The build I’ve recommended here would chew through the latest racing games, even on higher resolutions and with all game play options on their highest settings!
As we’ve now reached the upper echelons of the PC building world, I’m not going to waste your time explaining the benefits or reasons why you need certain parts. After all professionals such as those of you who are reading this segment will surely know what you’re doing, and you’re just looking for a well-researched and comprehensive list of the best and latest parts on the market! As they say, less is more. Except for the price, that’s just more.
CPU and Motherboard
For my High-End build, I’m recommending the ASUS ROG MAXIMUS HERO XII motherboard which you can purchase for $400. It’s a board that packs substantial power, smart cooling, and faster memory support under a stealthy skin. Loaded with outstanding ROG features, from AI overclocking and AI cooling to attention-grabbing Aura Sync illumination, the Maximus XII Hero, is ready to perform and crafted for customisation.
Going into your motherboard will be the 10th Gen Intel Core i9-10900 Processor priced at $470. The i9-10900 with 20MB of cache and Intel Turbo Boost 3.0 technology gives a whopping turbo frequency of up to 5.2 GHz.
In case it wasn’t’ evident by now, I’m a strong proponent of CORSAIR memory. For my High-End build, it’s time to offer some face-melting memory, so I’m suggesting the VENGEANCE RGB PRO 128GB (4 x 32GB) DDR4 DRAM 3600MHz C18.
This overclocked memory kit lights up your PC with mesmerising dynamic multi-zone RGB lighting while delivering the best in DDR4 performance.
For your storage in this build, you’ll want to go with the PATRIOT VIPER GAMING VPR100 RGB 2TB NVMe SSD PCIe M.2 which costs $360, and for good measure, why not also add and two Western Digital 6TB WD Blue PC Hard Drives at $140 apiece.
Phantek’s ENTHOO ELITE is one of the most premium production gaming enclosures available on the consumer market, costing $900.
Built from premium materials that are engineered with the utmost care and attention to detail, the design is based on continuous product improvement and innovation throughout the ENTHOO series. This case is the perfect way to house you’re ultimate PC build.
It is a fact of the modern world that high technology requires constant refinement and unending improvement. To run this progressive build, I suggest going for the Dark Power Pro 11 1200W power supply from be quiet! priced at $280.
The company is renowned as the manufacturer of the world’s quietest and most efficient high-performance PSUs. The Dark Power Pro 11 model takes that a step further with a power conversion topology that delivers cutting-edge performance. Add to that an unparalleled array of enhancements that augment this unit’s compatibility, the convenience of use, reliability, and safety, and the result is one of the most technologically-advanced power supplies money can buy.
We’ll be cooling this High-End build off with a triple pack of CORSAIR QL Series RGB, 120 mm LED Fans. For a pack of three, you will pay $130.
Liquid CPU Cooler
In my Mid-Range build, I suggested the NZXT Kraken Z63. Since we’re now going for the best of the best, this build will be getting the NZXT Kraken Z73 at an additional $30, meaning the price of this unit is $280.
This AIO liquid CPU cooler delivers a fantastic experience, backed by a 6-year warranty and a look that is uniquely your own.
Now it’s time to unveil our High-End GPU and outshine anything else available on the market. For this, I recommend going with the brand spanking new NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3080.
Due for release on 17th September, you will want to make sure you are one of the first gamers to get your hands on the incredible new graphics card. This flagship card for the new GeForce RTX 30 series, brings a massive generational leap over its predecessor with up to two times the performance of last generation’s GeForce RTX 2080, plus the all-new NVIDIA Ampere Architecture powers it. While it’s not for sale just yet, you can expect to pay $699 for this GPU when it’s finally released to the public.
$5000 High-End Hardware Build Component List: