Laptops

The Best Laptops for VR in 2021


Virtual reality demands anything-but-virtual hardware. Exploring the immersive, interactive worlds of today’s VR games and applications takes considerable processing and graphics power. That means that, with one notable exception—the standalone Oculus Quest 2, our Editors’ Choice pick for cable-free virtual reality—your VR headset must be tethered to or plugged into a high-end PC. (Yes, Sony’s PlayStation VR plugs into a PlayStation instead of a PC, and an optional cable lets the Oculus Quest 2 access PC-based games and apps, but we’ll get to that in a minute.) 

What kind of PC do you need? Beefy gaming desktops are a common option, but not everyone has the space or the desire for a bulky tower. Being able to move your VR machine from room to room—or take it on the go, if you need to show off VR demos—is more appealing. 

Acer Predator Helios 300 (2020)

This is where a VR-ready laptop comes in. Unfortunately, the average consumer laptop is not suited to the requirements of virtual reality—chances are, it doesn’t have a sufficiently potent graphics processing unit (GPU), or it has an HDMI port for an external monitor when most VR headsets dictate a DisplayPort connector instead. You’ll have better odds of success with a specialized laptop designed for gamers or digital content creators. Most of all, you’ll need to know what you’re looking for to make sure your headset is compatible. What does it take to get virtual? We’ll tell you. 


It’s All About the GPU 

Laptops that rely on their processors’ integrated graphics are useless for VR applications. Just as when shopping for a gaming laptop or a mobile workstation, your first priority must be a discrete or dedicated GPU, and a good one. Even avid gamers are often satisfied with a GPU capable of showing 60 frames per second (fps) on a laptop screen or desktop monitor, but on a headset that frame rate can at best look choppy and at worst cause nausea—a sustained 90fps is more comfortable. 

The two major pioneering (and now discontinued) VR headsets, the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive, recommended at least an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 or an AMD Radeon RX 480 for tolerable performance. Officially, things haven’t changed much—the newer Rift S, which at this writing is still for sale on the Oculus site though the company is focusing on the Oculus Quest 2, suggests a GeForce GTX 1060, while the spendy Valve Index specifies the GeForce GTX 1070. 

Nevertheless, our advice is to aim higher, to the neighborhood of the mobile GeForce GTX 1660 Ti on the Nvidia side and the Radeon RX 5500M for AMD customers—or, better yet, a GeForce RTX or Radeon RX 5600M series solution. 

Oculus Quest 2

This probably means you won’t get away with spending much less than $1,000 on a gaming laptop. In the $1,000 to $1,300 ballpark, you’ll likely be torn between the GeForce GTX 1660 Ti and RTX 2060, with Radeon RX 5500M and 5600M machines tempting those on Team Red. (You might see some models based on Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1650, but don’t bite; it’s not suited for VR.) 

Of course, if you can spend more, you can get a truly powerful GPU. The leading Windows Mixed Reality headset, the HP Reverb G2, recommends the Radeon RX 5700M for AMD fans. Among Nvidia’s offerings, stepping up to a GeForce RTX 2070 or 2080 will help you run games at much higher frame rates, even at maximum settings, which may make the difference between suffering and avoiding motion sickness. 


Processor and Memory Concerns 

Outside of the graphics card, component hardware requirements for VR are somewhat easier to hit. As far as the CPU goes, the Oculus Rift S and Vive Cosmos (the latter being the successor to the original Vive) both say you’ll be okay with a Core i5-4590 or equivalent. That’s a quad-core desktop processor that Intel introduced in 2014 (and that, needless to say, you won’t find in any desktops or laptops today). 

The same goes for the Oculus Link cable that connects an Oculus Quest 2 headset to a PC to play games like Half-Life: Alyx. The minimum for AMD CPUs is equally undemanding—the Ryzen 5 1500X, a desktop quad-core that dates back to 2017. 

MSI Alpha 15 (Late 2020)

While four processing cores are a necessity (and six or eight cores naturally better still), any of today’s 9th or 10th Generation Intel Core i5 chips, or AMD Ryzen 5 3000 or 4000 series, will be fine for even the latest and greatest VR apps. A Core i7 or Ryzen 7 will give you ample headroom for future software. Gaming laptops almost universally use one of Intel’s or AMD’s H-series CPUs, which are higher-powered processors than the U-series silicon in most thin laptops. A late model Core i5, i7, or i9, or a Ryzen 5 or 7 H-series chip, should do the job.

As for graphics memory, the Vive Cosmos asks for 4GB, while the Oculus headsets require 8GB or more. Since every current gaming laptop comes with at least 8GB of RAM and plenty offer 16GB, you won’t have to go out of your way for sufficient memory or processing power, unless you’re shopping for a used laptop. 


The Right Ports Are Crucial 

Modern VR headsets don’t hog three USB ports as the original Oculus Rift did (it required cables for the headset, as well as two wired sensors), but you’ll still need to be careful about your new laptop’s selection of ports. Being able to plug in all of your headset’s connectors is the main concern here, and knowing which ports you’ll need requires checking the fine print. 

Alienware m15 R3 ports

The Oculus Quest 2’s optional Oculus Link is basically a fancy USB Type-C 3.2 cable, but other headsets like the Vive Cosmos, the Valve Index, and the Oculus Rift S require both a USB 3.0 port and a DisplayPort video connector to work with a PC. The last is critical because some laptops, as mentioned, have an HDMI output but no DisplayPort. An adapter that links a full-size DisplayPort to a mini DisplayPort will work (and is sometimes included with the headset), but an HDMI-to-DisplayPort adapter will not. (We haven’t tried a Thunderbolt-to-DisplayPort adapter, but we wouldn’t count on it.) 

Fortunately, a number of gaming laptops and some content-creation laptops do have DisplayPort connectors, but triple-checking the necessary mix of ports before you buy a laptop for VR is essential. If you have ports left over beyond what’s required, you can chalk that up as a win, since it will allow you to keep other peripherals plugged in alongside the headset without swapping cables. 


Screen, Storage, and Battery 

After meeting the VR hardware requirements, other factors come down to your personal preferences and needs. You’ll find both 15.6-inch and 17.3-inch laptops compatible with popular headsets, but of course you’ll be wearing your headset while playing, not looking at the screen. The display size you pick should depend on how you use your laptop when you’re not using VR. 

Alienware m17 R3

Our laptop buying guide will walk you through the pros and cons of different screen sizes. If your work is mostly confined to your desk, a 17.3-inch notebook is a plus, though some can weigh a barely luggable 8 to 10 pounds. If you’ll often take your laptop on the go, a lighter 15.6-inch system makes sense. (Again, check that it has the ports you need; the more compact the machine, the fewer ports it’s likely to have.) All laptops have their own visual styles, as well, ranging from businesslike bland to gamer garish. The difference is totally subjective, but you don’t want to be stuck looking at something you don’t like. For example, Alienware machines tend toward the garish; most Gigabyte machines look much more conservative. 

Vive Cosmos

VR games and applications take up a lot of storage space, so you’ll want a machine that can at least hold your favorite titles while letting you rotate others out. Teaming a speedy solid-state drive (at least 256GB, preferably 512GB) with a 1TB or larger hard drive is a popular solution. If the laptop of your dreams has room for only one SSD without a supplemental hard drive, buy the highest-capacity SSD you can afford. 

Battery life is generally less of an issue for gaming and VR laptops than for ultraportables and convertibles, because gaming laptops are usually plugged in—playing on battery rather than AC power usually diminishes performance, and VR is so power-hungry that you’ll rely on a wall outlet for all but the shortest explorations. 


So, Which Laptop Should I Buy for VR? 

The systems below represent the best VR-ready laptops we’ve reviewed. Also check out our roundups of the best gaming laptops (VR abilities aside)—or, if you decide to keep things wholly at home, the best gaming desktops, most of which can easily handle VR duties.



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