Sim Racing Rig #1: Basic Rig

In the last year or so, a lot of people have asked me how to get started sim racing. Some of the interest has come from gamers, who want to take their immersion to the next level, and hope to improve their times moving up from X-Box and Playstation controllers. And some has come from people who see sim racing as a training tool for the real world, or a way to keep themselves sharp during the winter season.

I wanted to gather a set of advice in one place for people to refer to, hence this series of blog posts, where I will outline the options available at various price points. You should think of these as jumping off points. If you hear some brand is better than another, or you have specific aims or needs, nothing in these lists is sacrosanct. But if you have no idea where to start, hopefully they are useful to you.

The first rig I’ll describe is a basic rig. If you’re coming from a controller, this will feel great, help you drive more consistently, and be a lot more immersive. If you’re looking to use your sim rig as a training tool for driving real cars on track, you might want to look at higher budget options for wheels and pedals. We live in a golden age for sim racing, and these pieces of equipment are fine, but there is a limit to how faithfully they can replicate the controls of real cars at this price point, and hence how useful they are as training tools.

The aim here is to get started as cheaply as possible so you can decide whether sim racing is something you actually enjoy. If you can salvage or re-use things you already have (especially a PC), then so much the better.

PC – $600

You will need a PC. Console racing games are fun, but they are games, and not generally trying to simulate actual racing. If you have an existing PC you can use, definitely do it. iRacing particularly is undemanding at its lower graphical settings, so even an older or non-gaming machine may be adequate.

At this price point (as of September 2020), you should be able to build a system with an Intel Core i3 or AMD Ryzen 3 processor, an AMD Radeon RX 570 GPU, 16GB of RAM and around 500GB of SSD. This will be sufficient to run most racing or driving simulators at medium to high graphical settings.

I like to build my own PCs. That way you know exactly what has gone into your PC, and if you want to upgrade components later, then you’ll know exactly which areas to focus on. I think it’s also slightly more cost effective, if you don’t mind spending the time to assemble the components. If you want to go this direction, definitely take a look at pcpartpicker.com. Particularly their entry level AMD and Intel gaming builds will be useful. You will also need to budget $100 for a copy of Microsoft Windows.

If not, Microcenter offers gaming desktops under their PowerSpec brand, or Dell under their G5 line

PC Accessories – $50

You will need a mouse and keyboard. You won’t be using these to write essays, so no need to spend much. Amazon have a Logitech MK120 Combo for $15.

You’ll also need some speakers or headphones. I’ve always used headphones for racing, so I don’t bother people around me too much. The HyperX Cloud Stinger has good reviews, and I’ve had good experiences with other headphones HyperX produce. Currently $40, but I’ve seen them for $30.

One note on accessories: Wires are your friend. A lot of people get wireless headphones and then have the frustrating experience of losing sound during a race – makes it difficult to know where to shift. You’re going to be sitting in one place, so there is very little to be gained by paying more for wireless, and only downsides. Wires are your friend.

Wheel – $300

At this price point, Thrustmaster and Logitech are the best options. I used a Thrustmaster TX Leather when I was getting started, and enjoyed it a lot. But I think if I was starting now, I’d be most interested in the Logitech G29, used by one of my favorite sim racing streamers, Kinduci. He’s a competitive driver, and also, from the amount of racing content he publishes, loves driving. I don’t think there could be a higher endorsement for a wheel.

TV/Monitor – $200

As a sim racer, you will care about slightly different qualities in your monitor than other people.

First, you’ll care about field of vision (FOV) – how wide of an angle you can see about you. You will need to see apexes of hairpins that are not directly in front of you. You will also need to see what your competitors are doing in front of, but also beside you. So it makes sense to prioritize size.

The other main thing you’ll care about is latency. Modern TVs and monitors do a lot of sophisticated digital processing on the images they show. This means they can be a delay in the tenths of seconds before the image from your PC is shown on screen, which can make the difference between controlling an oversteering car, or having an accident. Displaylag.com does a great job measuring this aspect of monitors and TVs. Refresh rate is definitely related to latency, but at this price point, you won’t have much choice of refresh rate. I’ll cover it in a later post, when it’s more relevant.

Things you don’t particularly care about are resolution (1080p is fine, more is gravy, but unnecessary – I believe Max Verstappen uses 1080p monitors), color fidelity (maybe marginal for immersion, but all modern monitors are great).

Probably the best option, for the money, is to get a cheap but low latency TV. Something around 40″ should be great. Or, to save money, maybe just use your current living room TV, assuming that you have space to push your rig out of the way when you’re not using it.

Rig – $150

If you want to save money, or at least spend it progressively, a good first option is just to bolt your wheel to a desk.

I freely admit that I don’t know a huge amount about rigs at this price point. I looked around a little, and the GT Omega APEX Racing Wheel Stand seems like a decent pick. It’s a wheel stand, rather than a full rig, so you’ll need to find a table to put your TV, and a chair to sit on. The base itself should provide a solid support for your wheel and pedals. If you have a wheely chair, I understand a good trick is to use tethers to tie it to the base so you don’t fly away under hard braking.

Total Cost – $1300

The total cost of the components here is $1300. Hopefully you’ve been able to re-use a TV and a PC to get down towards $500, or even lower if you are using an existing desk for now. For that, you get a system that you can go racing on happily for many years. You’ll also find out how much you like sim-racing. If it’s not your jam after all, then at least you found out as cheaply as possible. If you do love sim-racing, you’ll probably want to go further with your setup over time, and I’ll outline some options for that in my next post, covering a mid-range rig.

Final thoughts

The equipment listed here is perfectly functional, but there are a few compromises compared to more expensive equipment. The physical quality and durability is going to be lower. It’s not going to be as faithful a substitute for a real car – drivers looking to train for the real world might want more. And the pedals and wheel aren’t going to be able to relay feedback as well, so it will be hard to have Senna-like car control with these setups.

Nonetheless, it should be possible to be decently competitive. You will be doing the same things that you’d be doing at the track – spotting marks, controlling the car, and dealing with the traffic around you. And most important of all, it should be pretty easy to have a great time with this equipment as you get started sim racing.

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