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Best CPUs for VR in 2024 – our top picks for virtual reality

The very best CPU for your virtual reality escapades

Reviewed By: Kevin Pocock

Last Updated on April 30, 2024
You can trust PC Guide: Our team of experts use a combination of independent consumer research, in-depth testing where appropriate - which will be flagged as such, and market analysis when recommending products, software and services. Find out how we test here.

There’s arguably never been a better time to jump into VR, and we’ve just made acquiring one of the best CPUs for VR even simpler. Historically prohibitive hardware costs chart ever downwards, there’s an ever-expanding catalog of games, and the coverage of the Apple Vision Pro pushed many alternative gaming headsets into the spotlight, such as the Meta Quest 3, the Valve Index, or the HTC Vive Pro 2.

VR Chat is likewise growing in popularity too, if we take Twitch viewer numbers as a measure of interest. While complete mass adoption may still be a few years away, there’s a sense that we’re at a sort of turning point when it comes to VR’s popularity.

If you’re planning on dipping into VR for the first time or plan to upgrade a struggling rig, then you probably have some pressing questions about what hardware is best suited for the best performance when exploring virtual worlds. Today, we’ll be looking specifically at what’s required on the CPU front, and we’ve as such compiled a list of the very best CPUs out there for VR.

Products at a glance

How we picked the best CPUs for VR

There’s certainly some crossover between traditional gaming and VR, which means that many of the criteria we’d assign to CPU for straight gaming factor into the equation of choosing the right CPU for your VR plans. But while this may be the case, VR places slightly different demands on a PC, and our method for choosing the best CPUs for VR took that into account. In particular, considerations such as future-proofing, the varying requirements of the different headsets out there, and the all-important question of single-thread performance, steered our decision-making process.

Of course, it’s worth bearing in mind that you might not need the absolute best CPU for gaming for good results in VR, as it’s the GPU that does most of the heavy lifting. What’s more, in terms of specs, frequency is prioritized over core count, since it is the clock speed that determines how many calculations each core can handle per second: you want to make sure you’ve got plenty of speed for the few cores that will be utilized. However, if you’re not just gaming but developing virtual reality content or 3D graphics, you might benefit from the extra power that comes with having a few extra cores. If that is the case, it might be worth checking out the best workstation GPU too.

So, what we’re getting at is that in the two-horse race that is the CPU market, we made sure to include options across the performance spectrum from both AMD and Intel. We also made sure to lean heavily on processors that we’ve reviewed in-house, as we’d much prefer to recommend options we’ve approved from our own hands-on experience, as well as ones that are established market favorites.

Perusing everything the CPU market has to offer in relation to VR performance, we settled on four different CPUs that, in our estimation, offer the best VR experience out there. As always, we’ve steered clear of simply recommending the most powerful and pricey options and instead honed in on CPU models that suit different needs, including budget.

Best CPU for VR

Best CPU for VR
  • Product packaging of an AMD Ryzen 7 7800X3D processor featuring 3D V-Cache technology, with an orange and black color scheme.
Best in Class
  • Cores: 8
  • Threads: 16
  • Boost speed : up to 5 GHz
  • Base speed: 4.2 GHz
  • L3 Cache: 96 MB
  • TDP: 120 W
  • Platform: AMD (AM5)
Reasons to Buy
  • Fastest gaming chip currently available, so should soar through VR
  • Super fast CPU with boost speeds of 5 GHz
  • Both a power efficient and overclockable chip
Reasons to Avoid
  • The AM5 ecosystem is expensive and can add up overall costs
  • No support for DDR4 memory
  • Won’t have as good performance in productivity apps

So, leading the pack in this buying guide as the premiere CPU pick for VR enthusiasts is the Ryzen 7 7800X3D. Engineered by AMD, this CPU represents the pinnacle of the Ryzen 7000 series lineup, and with its Zen 4 architecture, clock speeds, and 3D V-Cache technology, you should soar through the demands of immersive virtual reality experiences.

At the heart of the Ryzen 7 7800X3D lies its formidable processing power, boasting an octa-core architecture capable of executing multiple threads simultaneously – and with impressive efficiency. With a base clock speed of 4.6 GHz and the potential for dynamic overclocking up to 5 GHz, this CPU ensures smooth and responsive gameplay when you’re plugged in, or unplugged, from your headset.

Of course, there are a few other benefits to opting for a Zen 4 processor, and an X3D model nonetheless. The Zen 4 architecture, with its large L2 cache, is optimized to minimize latency and maximize throughput for a VR experience free from lag, and it easily out-paces the Zen 3 generation. What’s more, its integrated 3D V-Cache technology enhances data access speeds, ensuring swift retrieval of game assets: this is the main role the CPU plays in VR, so it’s important the processor can do it well. However, you’re also benefitting from the addition of PCIe 5.0 connectivity and DDR5 memory, meaning you’re getting even better responsiveness and data transfers between the CPU and peripherals, such as the GPU and the VR headset itself.

While its price may be a drawback, if you can stretch to around $400 to get the Ryzen 7 7800X3D into your VR gaming setup, you’ll be future-proofed with a CPU that’s more than capable for gaming in this reality and in others.

With a base clock speed of 4.6 GHz and the potential for dynamic overclocking up to 5 GHz, this CPU ensures smooth and responsive gameplay when you’re plugged in, or unplugged, from your headset.

PC Guide

Best Intel CPU for VR

Best Intel CPU for VR
  • An Intel Core i9-13900K processor installed in a motherboard socket, surrounded by circuits and components.
Highly Recommended
  • Cores: 24 (8P-16E)
  • Threads: 32
  • Boost speed : P-Core 5.7GHz / E-Core 4.3GHz
  • Base speed: P-Core 3.0GHz / E-Core 2.2GHz
  • L3 Cache: 36 MB
  • TDP: 253W
  • Platform: Intel (LGA 1700)
Reasons to Buy
  • Superior cores and threads offer excellent gaming performance
  • Compatible for lots of builds because of using the LGA 1700 socket
  • Future-proofed with DDR5 and PCle 5.0
Reasons to Avoid
  • Replaced by the identically-priced i9-14900K at MSRP
  • Power hungry with a TDP of 253W
  • Has a tendency to run hot, so needs sufficient cooling

Coming in hot on the tails of the 7800X3D, our pick of the best Intel CPU for VR has got to be the Intel Core i9-13900K. Despite AMD’s CPUs edging closer to Intel’s in terms of single-core performance, Intel retains the crown. This gives the i9-13900K an edge in gaming performance that translates to VR performance, and it’s still often favored by many over the flagship i9-14900K. For many of these reasons combined, we awarded it with a solid 4 stars in our Core i9-13900K review.

The 13900K employs a second-generation hybrid architecture processor, leveraging a blend of E-cores (efficiency cores) and P-cores (performance cores) to enhance power efficiency. With a total of 24 cores (eight P-cores and 16 E-cores) and 24 threads, it boasts a significant advantage over competing CPUs, ensuring leading-edge performance for demanding tasks. It doesn’t end there, as you’re getting a CPU capable of 5.8 GHz speeds, and 36MB of L3 cache to aid processor-intensive tasks such as VR gaming and 3D rendering.

Price does stand as a roadblock when it comes to the Intel Core i9-13900K: it doesn’t come cheap, and so might be just out of range for some builders. However, it does have the added benefit of offering top-tier performance for traditional non-VR gaming, making it ideal for those who dabble in both sides of the spectrum.

t’s clear that the Intel Core i9-13900K is still more than competitive when it comes to powering today’s games

PC Guide

Best budget CPU for VR

Best budget CPU for VR
  • AMD Ryzen 5 7600X CPU in front of its packaging, featuring the "7000 series processor" label.
  • AMD Ryzen 5 7600X processor with visible pins on a white background.
Reasons to Buy
  • A really affordable choice, and offers excellent price-to-performance
  • Has boost speeds of 5.3 GHz, perfect for VR
  • TDP of only 105W, so not demanding on your system
Reasons to Avoid
  • Fewer cores mean it’s not as good as it could be for heavier tasks such as 3D rendering
  • Doesn’t come with a cooler included
  • Only really currently worth it if bought at a sale price

Next up, we’re shifting back over to Team Red for one of the more affordable AM5 processors for gaming and virtual reality – the Ryzen 5 7600X. It brings big value for its small price, and has enough going for it to keep up with the higher-end GPUs you need for VR gaming.

Spec-wise, the entry-level AM5 CPU certainly isn’t lacking; you’ve got 6 cores and 12 threads, 32MB L3 cache, and a nice base clock speed of 4.7 GHz boosting up to 5.3 GHz. What’s more, thanks to the smaller 5nm process, AMD can pack more transistors into each core, resulting in the increase of a metric known as IPC (instructions per core). Essentially, that means the processor can compute more information per clock, which should improve your experience using software across the board, but you’ll definitely feel the benefit in gaming and VR.

This was proved to be the case in our Ryzen 5 7600X review, in which we put the CPU through its paces. We found that in our Geekbench scores, the Ryzen scored 2,955 points in the single core, and 13,236 points in the multi. This is somewhat comparable to our testing of the 14700K of Intel’s 14th Gen, which only scored 3,092 points in the single core. Overall, it’s not much of an uplift when you consider the cost. 

So, the 7600X is a good budget match because, as mentioned earlier, it’s got a high boost speed of 5.3 GHz but not an overload of cores (only 6!), which is on the whole an important aspect to be looking out for in a processor for VR.

Best high-end CPU for VR

Best high-end CPU for VR
  • A close-up of an Intel Core i9-14900K CPU installed in a motherboard socket.
  • Close-up of an Intel Core i9-14900K CPU installed on a motherboard, surrounded by RAM slots and a PCIe slot.
  • Cores: 24 (8P-16E)
  • Threads: 32
  • Boost speed : P-Core 5.8GHz / E-Core 4.4GHz
  • Base speed: P-Core 3.2GHz / E-Core 2.4GHz
  • L3 Cache: 36 MB
  • TDP: 253W
  • Platform: Intel (LGA 1700)
Reasons to Buy
  • Technically the best CPU on the market right now, with the same launch price of 13900K
  • 6GHz peak boost clock speed, and field-leading single-core performance
Reasons to Avoid
  • Doesn’t offer a lot of value over Intel’s 13th Gen
  • Same cores, same threads, same memory support, and integrated graphics as the 13900K
  • Runs hot under heavy loads

Last up, we’ve got our wild card: the Intel Core i9 14900K is technically the best processor currently on the market, so while some might consider it overkill, there’s no doubt that it will breeze through anything you throw at it. Whether you’re a light VR gamer, or a professional VR creator, your rig will be getting an upgrade like no other with the top-of-the-line from Intel.

As you can probably tell, the specs of the 14900K pretty much speak for themselves: you’ve got a whopping 24 cores and 32 threads, 36MB of L3 cache, and boost speeds of 6 GHz out of the box. Of course, our i9 14900K review goes deeper into exactly what makes Intel’s best CPU worth its flagship title. However, while this may make it sound revolutionary, it doesn’t really offer anything new over the 13900K/KS, with the same cores, threads, and integrated graphics.

There’s no avoiding its 253W TDP, so while it’s going to be demanding on your system, we like to imagine you’re equipped with the best graphics cards and a setup that can take the heat – otherwise, you’ll likely run into bottlenecking or unmatched performance. For any gaming, VR, or professional setup, there’s no doubt that the i9 14900K is one of the most future-proofed processors you can invest in, but performance does come at a cost, and you’ll need to balance out your upgrade with a suitable GPU to make it truly worth your while.

Features and considerations

If you’re ready to drop a couple of bucks on a new CPU, then there are a few features you need to consider. Before you upgrade your rig, make sure you take into account the requirements of your VR headset, how compatible it is with your GPU, and your budget.

Continue reading as we explore what you should look out for below.

Headset Requirements

Not all headsets require the same CPU requirements, with some more demanding than others. While there’s sense in opting for the best CPU your money can buy, we also recommend checking out manufacturer requirements beforehand. You may be able to save some cash that can then be put towards a better GPU, something we cover below.

For convenience, we’ve included the requirements for the three most popular headsets. In an effort to attract potential customers, manufacturers do tend to produce requirements that flirt with what many would consider sub-par performance. With this in mind, we suggest opting for a CPU that exceeds what’s required to err on the side of caution and weed out potential performance issues when looking for the best CPUs for VR.

  • Meta Quest 3
    • Intel i5-4590/AMD Ryzen 5 1500X or greater
  • HTC Vive Pro 2
    • Intel Core i5-4590 or AMD Ryzen 1500 equivalent or greater
  • Valve Index
    • Dual Core with hyperthreading, or better

Don’t Skimp On a Quality GPU

A suitable CPU is crucial to good VR performance, but the GPU arguably plays a more important role due to the rendering requirements of bringing to life 3D worlds. We, therefore, recommend allocating a decent chunk of the budget to a quality GPU. That additional graphical power will serve you well when it comes to the more demanding VR titles, and overall, a more fluid experience.

As above, you can check headset manufacturer requirements to get a ballpark sense of what’s needed in the GPU department. It’s also worth noting that not all GPUs are compatible with all headsets. For example, NVIDIA’s GeForce GTX 1650 and 1060 aren’t compatible with the Oculus Quest 2. Of course, we’ve also got you covered with our picks of the best GPU for VR too.

Budget and Future-Proofing

Given VR’s relative infancy, the fact there’s still a long path to mass adoption, and the hardware costs, we can’t stress the importance of future-proofing your setup to avoid having to fork out cash in the years ahead simply to keep up. VR tech continues to change and evolve at a rapid pace, and having a CPU capable of navigating those twists and turns is a smart move, as doing so will save you money in the long run.

Naturally, this is limited by your specific budget, so try and stretch it as much as you can, or alternatively, opt for a lower-priced value CPU option with an eye on saving up and replacing it in a couple of years.

In the case of the GPU, it’s arguably a great time to invest with both NVIDIA and AMD launching new flagship lines in recent months, the RDNA 3-based cards and Ada Lovelace 4000-series cards, respectively. It will be a couple of years before a new batch of next-gen GPUs come to market, setting you up for at least a few years.

Tom is an experienced PC hardware, video games, and tech writer with a particular interest in 3D printers. He's written reviews, how-tos, guides, and news for NME, VideoGamer, WePC, TheNerdStash.