Feature Articles

Futuremark VRMark: Can your system handle virtual reality?

By Koh Wanzi - 28 Nov 2016

Futuremark VRMark: Can your system handle virtual reality?

Finally, a way to quantify VR performance

Is virtual reality the next big thing in gaming? Perhaps, perhaps not. But while it has yet to show itself to be the game-changing paradigm shift that the addition of a third dimension to games was, there’s no doubt that major industry players are clamoring to get on board the VR train.

Part of this may be a hyper-competitive fear of missing out – it seems almost silly to write VR off at this stage anyway – but the fact remains that the rash of VR-Ready certifications for PCs (reference 1, 2, 3) and the focus on VR performance in GPU design mean that the industry is driving itself forward, even if consumer demand for VR hardware as yet to really establish itself (let alone having enough VR content to use it with).

VR was also a huge part of E3 this year. On the PC front, we heard about plans to bring major releases like Serious Sam, Fallout 4, and Doom to the VR space.

However, even though game developers and hardware manufacturers are forging ahead, it often seems like consumers are lagging behind. A big part of this is because of the relatively high minimum hardware requirement for VR. For a long while, you needed at least an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970 or equivalent, although Oculus as since debuted a new Asynchronous Spacewarp technology that bumps this down to just a GeForce GTX 960.

Still, Futuremark’s new VRMark benchmark is yet another signal that VR is here to stay, and can help eliminate some of the ambiguity when trying to assess if your PC is ready for VR. While reviewers are now busy quantifying 3D performance with its Fire Strike tests, VR is shaping up to be the next yardstick to measure graphics cards by. 

And now that the HTC Vive is available to buy locally, you're probably curious as to how your system measures up. 


The VRMark engine

Here's a screenshot from the Orange Room benchmark.

VRMark uses a custom graphics engine featuring a pipeline optimized for VR. Things like scene updates and particle and physics simulations are only executed once per frame, and the results are shared for both eye views. All other rendering passes are executed on a per eye view basis as well.

Two different benchmarks are available, one of which is far more demanding than the other. The Orange Room benchmark is intended to be the starting point for VR performance, and it showcases a level of detail on par with that which you can expect on a PC that meets the recommended hardware requirements for the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift.

If your PC passes the Orange Room test, then it is officially capable of powering the Vive and Rift headsets.

On the other hand, the Blue Room benchmark is a far more demanding test that renders a greater level of detail. In fact, as of October 2016, Futuremark says that no publically available system has been able to pass the test at stock settings. In our own tests, we found that even an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 paired with the 10-core Intel Core i7-6950X was still deemed inadequate.

The Blue Room benchmark is far more demanding.

That’s because the Blue Room benchmark is a more forward-looking test, intended to show the amount of detail that may be common in future VR games. A PC that passes the test will be theoretically be able to run the latest VR games on the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift at max settings, and may even be ready for the next generation of VR headsets.

Both benchmarks assess your PC by checking to see if it’s able to reach or surpass a set target frame rate – an average of 109fps to be exact in Desktop mode. There’s an option to benchmark your system in HMD mode as well, but we didn’t do this because we don’t have an HMD available.

At the end of every benchmark, you’ll get a description informing you if your system is VR-Ready. This helps with results interpretation, and is a lot more meaningful than a raw score because VRMark will tell you more about the qualitative experience you can expect. For instance, it’ll tell you if your system doesn’t meet the requirements, and caution that you might experience "some stuttering and other distracting effects". 


Performance results

We used the same test rig as we do for our recent graphics card reviews. The specifications are as follow:  

  • Intel Core i7-6950X
  • ASUS X99-Pro (Intel X99 chipset) motherboard
  • 2 x 4GB Corsair Vengeance LPX DDR4-2133 (Auto timings: CAS 15-15-15-36)
  • Samsung SSD 840 Pro 256GB SATA 6Gbps solid state drive (OS + benchmark + games)
  • Western Digital Caviar Black 1TB SATA 6Gbps hard drive (general storage)
  • Windows 10 Pro 64-bit
  • Intel INF

The Orange Room benchmark focuses on geometry processing, illumination and GPU simulated particles. It renders at a 2,264 x 1,348-pixel resolution, or 1,132 x 1,348 pixels per eye. The Blue Room benchmark however, renders at a resolution of 5,012 x 2,880 pixels and is more intense in terms of GPU load.

We’ve included the Orange Room and Blue Room benchmarks below for comparisons sake, even if none of the cards passed the latter test. In addition, we’ve thrown in the average frame rate figures for the respective cards to provide more context to the raw VRMark scores.

As it turns out, all the cards met or exceeded the minimum requirement for VR, with the exception of the AMD Radeon RX 460. With an average frame rate of just 71.91fps, the Radeon RX 460 fell well short of the target frame rate of 109fps, and the results summary pointed out that we were likely to notice some stuttering when running VR applications.

However, it’s worth noting that meeting the target frame rate is not actually required for passing the benchmark. For instance, the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 Ti and GeForce GTX 960 failed to push out at least 109fps, but were described as having met the minimum requirement for the Oculus Rift (the GeForce GTX 1060 and up “comfortably beat” the requirement).

This is interesting partly in light of Oculus’ new Asynchronous Spacewarp technology, which lightens the load on the render pipeline through the generation of synthetic frames, and consequently lowers the minimum requirement of the Rift from a GeForce GTX 970 to just a 960.

Other takeaways from these results include the fact that at the time of writing, NVIDIA looks to be the more solid contender in the VR space, even at the low end. The GeForce GTX 1050 Ti meets the minimum requirement for the Rift, whereas the Radeon RX 460 just falls short.

That said, that’s likely to change with the release of AMD Vega GPUs in the near future, and we’ll most probably see a more level playing field when it comes to choosing VR-Ready graphics card soon.

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