There’s really only a few PCs on the market that are up to the intensive task of running VR. Thankfully the Asus ROC G20CB is one of them. Packed inside the efficiently sized 9.5-liter case is a 6th generation Intel Core i7 CPU and the mega Nvidia GTX 1080 GPU.
When you pair that with 16GB of dual channel DDR4 RAM running at 21333Mhz and Window 10 with Direct X 12, this relatively small box, delivers some of the best performance available.
The ROG series from Asus is a range of products that are specifically targeted at gamers and only the most worthy, performant machines are worth of the Republic of Gamers moniker.
From the time you unbox the G20CB, you can’t miss the distinctive design. With angles that’d make a supercar blush, the stealthy black exterior gives a tough, serious look to the case, but it’s the intricate cut outs that deliver the red band around the heart of the machine. The designers and engineers at Asus have done a great job of catering for the necessary heat emission while keeping the thing quiet while it performs. At idle the G20 is just 22db, which means you’ll barely know it’s on. If you’re rendering a 3D model with the processor and GPU maxed out, you definitely hear the fan come on, but even when maxed out at 100%, the noise is definitely subtle.
Up front you’ll find easy access to a couple of USB 3.0 ports, audio ports (microphone and headphones) and a slimline DVD drive. It’s around back where the exciting stuff happens. The red back of the G20CB is red like an angry red back spider and it’s here where we find the ability to display the raw horsepower of this computer.
The dual-width GTX1080 provides no less than 3 display port connections and a HDMI input for the Oculus Rift. This single video card can drive up to 4 monitors if need be, but I suspect most will use it to drive a couple of 4K displays.
No gaming PC design would be complete without the obligatory LED light customisations. Of course Asus went to the next level with this factory-supported light customisation. There’s more than 8 million colours you can configure across 3 zones using 3 different modes. You can set a specific colour or cycle through 10 different colours, you can have the lights pulse like a breathing effect or what I recommend, use the sound effect that leverage the audio output to impact the sound colour and brightness.
In recent years I’d left a dedicated PC behind in favour of a mobile solution to my computing needs, with the Surface Pro 3. This machine has once again opened my eyes to what’s possible with the processing power of a modern day computer.
This year has been sensational for VR and one of the market leaders is the Facebook-owned Oculus Rift. Given the G20CB is VR-capable, Asus provided a Rift for the review.
The Rift needs and will get a review of its own, but what does need to be covered is the experiences possible thanks to the high-end hardware inside the Asus.
If you think buying a powerful PC and the Oculus Rift was the end of the story, think again. Something I’ve learnt quickly is that you’ll be searching for a diverse range of experiences in VR. This means you’ll likely need to budget some more for the software side of things.
The Oculus Store provides a marketplace for free and paid experiences and these vary in quality and enjoy-ability as much or maybe more than mobile apps.
When you first connect the Rift, its not immediately obvious just from the connectors how everything comes together, for that, you should take guidance from the Oculus setup wizard. This walks you through the connection and configuration of the 3 components to experiencing the Rift.
The Rift headset is the first, it requires two connections, HDMI into the GTX1080 and a USB connection. The second is the sesnsor which if I’m honest, I wasn’t aware was required. This translates your head movements into movements in the virtual space, so looking over the side of the building is possible within the field of its vision. The third element is the controller. The Rift ships with a standard Xbox One style controller, but as a Xbox Elite owner, obviously I wanted to take advantage of that, so after pairing with the wireless USB dongle, the setup was complete.
The Oculus app was familiar to me as I’d browse and experimented extensively with the Galaxy S7 and GearVR. What was surprising was that despite using the same account, I basically had to start over. Unlike getting a new phone and visiting the App Store to re-download previously purchased apps, the Oculus Store was a start-over experience that definitely needs to be improved.
With a growing catalog, the Oculus Store has new or updated content regularly, but you’ll spend the first hour or so browsing the categories – Featured, Games, Entertainment, Apps, Early Access and Concepts. There’s some substantial price tags in the VR world, with prices ranging from free, to A$89.99. The great news is that you can get a lot for free to wet your taste buds, but that does draw you in to wanting, craving more VR.
My library right now includes Dirt Rally, Discovery VR, Oculus Dreamdeck, Bigscreen beta, The Body VR, Slot Tub party, ABE VR, Showdown, Oculus 360 Photos, Oculus Video, Fearless Discovr WA and Desert Ride Coaster.
What you should know at this point is that titles outside the Oculus Store can also support the Rift. Services like Steam have a number of titles that support VR and another racing title, iRacing also supports the Rift.
Dirt Rally VR
After complaining on Twitter about already owning Dirt Rally on the Xbox One and having to re-buy it for the Oculus, the amazing guys at Codemasters reached out to me on Twitter and a couple of DMs later I had possession of review codes to re-experience the game in VR. This is definitely one of the perks of reviewing products, not something available to all. Going forward its these kind of situations that will mean Play Anywhere support on Windows 10 will become a critical checkbox.
When you first race with the rift, you’ll do the obvious look around the cabin, observing your co-pilot, the gear shift even the rear-vision mirror or actually turn around at look out the rear window.
Once the light turns green, you’ll be controlling the normally fixed cockpit camera and controlling it with your body, by turning your head. What ends up happening is that you slide through the crazy corners on the side of a mountain and looking out the side window (ken-block style) quickly becomes a common activity.
There’s no doubt that our efforts to increase the size of monitors and TVs are a complete waste of time compared to VR. When you’re entire vision is consumed by the experience, it can’t be matched, even with a 200″ display.
I happen to have a racing simulator, the GT Ultimate V2 with a Logitech G920 that was used with the Xbox One, but is also compatible with PC, this PC and of course can be the input while your vision is taken over with the Rift.
This means the task of tricking your brain into thinking your actually in a car is made even more possible. Sure there’s plenty of tweaking to get comfortable and make sure your seating position physically matches your virtual representation, but once you nail it, you’ll absolutely feel like the steering wheel you can feel, is the virtual one you see in virtual vehicle your commanding.
Here’s where VR gets exciting. This platform enables you to be transported into a number of experiences, many of which you’ll never experience in real life.
When it comes to racing simulation, iRacing.com is where the serious gamers go. So serious are these people that you need to pay to play every month. On top of the monthly fee to simply access and play the game, you also need to purchase cars (most are $11.95 each) and tracks (around $14.95 each) . This means things can get expensive fast, but when I learnt iRacing supported the Rift and having a PC that’ll run it exceptionally well, I was always going to revisit the game.
If you want to jump behind the wheel of a V8 Supercar like the Holden Commodore VF or Ford Falcon FG around world-famous Aussie tracks like Bathurst, and Phillip Island this game offers a level of localisation not found elsewhere.
With the large downloads out of the way, the configuration of the Logitech G920 wheel and pedals was pretty straight forward. Adding the Oculus Rift was easy and immediately detected on launch. Users are prompted to decide if you want to output to the Rift and choosing yes puts you behind the wheel of your selected car. Unlike other titles I drove, I was unable to get the HDMI output to the TV to display in anything other than the portrait resolution in the image above.
There’s no doubt that iRacing can’t compete with the gorgeous Forza Horizon 3 in terms of textures, lighting and reflections, however when it comes to physics, iRacing is the best simulator I’ve use to date. When it comes to feeling connected to the car, the vibration feeds through the wheel in a way that’s quite simply different to Forza, Dirt or frankly any other game. The refinement to vehicle dynamics is staggering and discussing optimal setups in the forum is commonplace.
The experience of being behind the wheel of a V8 around Bathurst was seriously amazing with the Rift. The ability to look through the corners, turn to the apex and gently accelerate out on the perfect driving line was done at a level of connectedness I’ve never experience before. My brain was seriously tricked into thinking I was in that car, driving the track and for the first time, the height differences commentators talk about around Mount Panorama, are actually felt and translated to you as the driver in VR.
As Australian as the V8s are, there’s better cars available. The stunning McLaren MP4-12C GT3 with its aero package and technology, is just so much more planted and frankly more enjoyable to drive. It was hard to stop there, so the iRacing store seen another transaction for the McLared MP4-30 Formula 1 car. When jumping being the wheel of the F1 car, again I experienced a similar level of immersion and believably. Despite playing dozens of hours of F1 2016, I have never felt like I was in complete control, but with this, I did. I put it down to the ability to look to control the camera which replicates real life much better than looking at a static display, regardless of how large it is.
Forza Horizon 3
Inside the G20CB is the amazingly powerful Nvidia GTX1080 GPU and one of the best ways to test that is with the beautiful visuals found in Forza Horizon 3. If you’ve got it connected to a 4K display, it’ll run at a solid 60fps, regardless of the visual settings (crank everything). While I’ve played dozens of hours on the Xbox One, this title is one of the select few that are universal apps. This mean I was able to re-download the game on PC for free, which really made me wish every title supported this option as the prospect of re-buying games is not inviting and unlikely to happen.
Outside techAU, I’m building a house and being the nerd I am, I 3D modeled that house. This model is sophisticated with 2,473 objects with 2,042,633 faces, 72 lights and took months to create and refine. While I can walk through my future home in 3DS Max, I want other people to be able to experience it and that means exporting. Because of the level of detail, each frame of the 3,500 frame walkthrough camera takes minutes to export. With an earlier build of the project, I actually left an older desktop machine running for close 2 weeks to export a test animation and that certainly wasn’t with all the quality settings turned up.
Hitting rendering on the 3D House with the G20CB I quickly noticed the frames being processed quickly. We were down to just a couple of minutes per frame, taking days off the final export. Understandably not everyone does 3D modelling, but if you’ve ever wanted to start creating 3D models to add to Unity and start building a game, its great to know that if you buy this computer for gaming, its incredibly capable for almost every other task you throw at it.
A common task for those with DLSR cameras or even modern smart phones, is to compress those multi-megabyte multi-megapixel images to something smaller, more shareable and usable on the web. Batching image compression is something I do almost daily and having that task done in seconds is a massive time saving and allows you to continue your workflow, rather than breaking for coffee. With the G20, you basically don’t even see each file open, resize, close then move to the next.
Its commonly understood that modern computers will generally meet your needs. When those needs change and require you to be editing 360 degree video, you’ll need all the grunt you can get as this is one of the most brutal tasks you can ask of your PC. Attempting an edit this footage on my now aging Surface Pro 3 produced a combination of sweat and tears, but throwing the same challenge at G20CB, it remained fast and responsive throughout the processing and the job of converting video was done in a fraction of the time.
When your needs change from a simple top and tail and export, to a post-production augmentation of the video, you’ll want to export the 360fly video as equirectangular, then open and edit in Adobe After Effects. Its here where the full ability of the Nvidia GTX1080 shines. Adding video overlays to the original content, then wrapping content back into a ball, injecting the metadata and ready for upload to YouTube, aside for 3D rendering, this is one of the most intense things you can ask of your PC and the G20 took it in its strides and delivered, this really is a very capable machine.
Price & Availability
This top-tier of performance doesn’t come cheap as you may well expect. The Asus ROG G20CB costs A$3,999 at Scorptech. While the Australian Asus site now has a page for the G20CB, it doesn’t yet have that crucial buy button of the US site. It also doesn’t list the GTX1080 that we had in the review unit.
If you pickup the Oculus Rift (you should), then you’ll be up for an additional A$1,029.60 delivered.
Head over to Asus Australia for more information.
This is the kind of review that’s dangerous. While there’s dozens of reviews that go up on techAU every year, its ones like this that change your life, that offer experiences that are so dramatically different that you had before that you don’t want to send them back.
Gamers in 2016 are looking at the benchmark for VR and often have issues upgrading their current rigs to a point that’ll deliver the necessary performance for a high end resolution and frame rate. The Asus ROG G20CB is a small, quite, well designed package that’ll deliver exactly what you need and look great doing it.
You never want the things you do on the internet to be limited by your connection speeds and similarly, you never want the things you want or need to do on your PC to be limited by its speed. If you can find the budget, its hard to go past the Asus ROG G20CB.