Sim Racing Rig #2: Intermediate Rig

In the first post in this series, I went through a set of components that you might want to consider when you are first starting out in sim-racing, so that you can get started as cheaply as possible. In this post, I'll look at some higher quality equipment that comes with a higher price tag.

There are a couple of reasons you might want to look at this price bracket. If you're using your rig as a training tool, then you will find equipment at this level starts to replicate the feel of a real car better, and the experience can be more immersive. That can be important if you're trying to develop specific techniques that you want to carry across to the real world. Alternatively, if your main focus is sim-racing, your enjoyment will still benefit from improved immersion, while a steering wheel with more faithful force feedback and higher quality pedals will allow you to have a better level of control, and better results.

Finally, you might want to look at individual components on this list as upgrades to the Basic Rig, or whatever you currently have. At the end I give some thoughts on which you might want to prioritize and why.

PC - $900

You'll be looking at a AMD Ryzen 5 or Intel Core i5 processor, and an NVidia GTX1660 GPU or similar. Again, RAM is 16GB (there isn't benefit in more) and storage is a 500GB SSD (you can always add more later if necessary). If you want to build your own PC, Pcpartpicker.com's Modest AMD build is a pretty good template here (don't forget to budget for a copy of Microsoft Windows). If you want to purchase a machine, Microcenter's PowerSpec G228, or Dell's Alienware Aurora R11 might be reasonable options.

PC Accessories - $120

There is no point in spending more on a keyboard and mouse, so look to the same $15 Logitech MK120 Combo at Amazon that we recommended for the Basic Rig.

If you want to spend a little more on headphones, I've used the HyperX Cloud Alpha gaming headphones ($100) quite happily for several years. For sim-racing, they are decently immersive, and I can hear the others around me fine. The mic is also good, and so they can hear me.

Wheel - $700+

At this price point, I'd look to Fanatec. They make good quality equipment - it feels sold and works reliably. Decently high force feedback levels will be available, so you should experience little unrealistic clipping, and better pedals and higher fidelity feedback through the wheel will help you control the car better and more consistently. Immersion will also be better - the construction quality materials used are more reminiscent of an actual car than a piece of consumer electronics.

One good option is the Fanatec CSL Elite PS4 Starter Kit, which bundles the CSL Elite Racing Wheel and CSL Elite Pedals for $570. I'd strongly recommend considering the optional Loadcell Kit for an additional $140. This means that the brake sensor will be based on force, rather than position, which is more realistic representation of the brake in a real car, and it will greatly help with braking consistency and immersion.

If you want to push the budget out further, the Fanatec CSW 2.5 base offers higher forces and faster feedback for $550. You will need to buy pedals and wheel rims separately. The Fanatec ClubSport Pedals V3 are decent by all accounts for $360. For wheel rims, the ClubSport Porsche 918 RSR ($400) and ClubSport Formula V2 ($370) are both nice, depending on whether you want to look at closed- or open-wheel cars. All together that'd be $1680.

If you want to go even further, replace any of the pedals above with the excellent Heusinkveld Sim Pedals Sprint for 500EUR (~$580).

Monitor - $400

If you can, it's definitely a good idea to see a monitor in person before you buy it. After all, you're going to spend a lot of time looking at it.

At this price point, you can consider a low-end ultrawide monitor, which will give a give a decent field of view, allowing you to spot apexes and competitors that aren't directly in front of you. Filling your peripheral vision will also provide a great sense of speed.

As before, the main things to care about are field of vision and latency. Look for gaming monitors which will have better latency than regular monitors or TVs, and look for higher refresh rates (75hz is good, 100+hz is better).

Most monitors of this type will come with AMD Freesync, which allows the monitor to adaptively lower the refresh rate without tearing the image if the graphics card can't supply frames fast enough. I'm still not entirely clear on the situation, but it seems like modern AMD and NVidia cards both now support Freesync. GSync, NVidia's similar technology, seems to be on its way to joining Betamax in the place where marginally better, but less supported, technologies go to die.

I haven't used it, but if I was in the market for one, I'd try to find a showroom I could look at the snappily named LG 34BK650-W, a 34" 1080p ultrawide. It supports AMD Freesync and has a refresh rate of 75hz.

Rig - $1150

Lots of choices here. I'm a strong proponent of rigs that are built with 80-20 aluminium extrusion. They tend to be very strong, and they also give you a lot of flexibility to add components to your rig from a variety of suppliers, or even to create your own custom designs.

There are a couple of downsides. To some eyes it's less attractive than all-in-one game seats. For me, my driving room is not my living room, and no-one is going in there to behold the beauty of the furniture.

The other downside is the cost. I think it's safe to say that if you are spending this much on sim racing equipment, it's something you intend to do for a while, and it'll be a lot cheaper to buy a rig that you can expand as you go, than buying something else that looks nice, and then later buying an 80-20 rig anyway. Trust me.

You can build your own, but there are several suppliers that provide everything you need for standard designs. Simlab is excellent, and their GT1-Evo at 400 EUR looks great. You will also need their TV stand (150 EUR), bucket seat bracket (40 EUR), and you will probably want to add a seat slider (40 EUR) and maybe a pedal slider baseplate (150 EUR). The sliders are unnecessary, as you can move the parts anyway, but the sliders make it easier to make adjustments, particularly if more than one person will use the rig. That total 730 EUR (around $850).

It's worth taking a look through Simlab's full list to see what else you might want - mounting points for shifters, button boxes, speakers, buttkickers and so on.

Seats

You will also need a seat. Simlab sell them if you are in Europe, but do not ship to the States. A lot of racing seats are pretty constrictive so if you want one, it is definitely worth going to a dealer in person, so you can try out options and see what works for you. That said, the OMP classic seat ($300) or Sparco R100 ($330) seem like a good starting points. I have an Evo XL QRT, and if anything, it's a bit too large, but there's no real downside. If you want to save money, you might look to a seat from a regular car from a salvage yard - the G-forces in a sim crash are substantially lower than a real one, so as long as the seat is sufficiently rigid, this will be fine, and probably more comfortable.

Total - $3000

For this amount of money, you're getting something pretty special. All the equipment will be good quality and last for many years. Your experience driving in sim will be pretty great, and while there is nicer equipment available, it's probably not going to make you significantly faster above this price point.

Note on Currencies and Customs

A few of the items listed above are priced in EUR and ship from Europe. Be aware that currencies do fluctuate. Also, you will be liable for import taxes on these items. Depending on the shipper, they may invoice you separately for this.

Optional Items

The items below are not strictly necessary, but you might consider adding them to improve your experience.

Buttkickers

Buttkickers are transducers that put low frequency sounds directly into your seat, kind of like a super-effective subwoofer. For sim racing, they really bring engines to life, and they also make running over kerbs quite visceral. That improves immersion. In my case, it also makes the sim-car seem more physical and I find I spin on kerbs less as I'm more respectful of the limits of the car under load in those situations... I'm skeptical myself, reading that, but others have reported similar things.

You should be aware that the sound will travel between rooms and floors, particular in houses with a wood structure. I turn the Buttkicker off if anyone is sleeping in the house.

If you have an 80-20 rig you will probably need a Buttkicker mini LFE ($100), an amplifier (Buttkicker make one for $160, but other options are available), and Simlab mounting plate (14 EUR). You will also need some speaker cable, and you'll need to splice it onto the Buttkicker mini LFE's cables. If you have a tubular steel rig then you can use the Buttkicker Gamer 2 for $160.

You can use a 3.5mm splitter to split the audio signal between headphones and the buttkicker amplifier. It is worth making sure that both left and right signals are being fed to the amplifier - otherwise you only get kerb sensations from one side of the car. I can't remember my solution for this - if it's critical to you, ping me and I'll rewrite this section.

You can also use the SimVibe software which provides an entirely separate bass channel to one or more Buttkickers. You'll need a separate sound card to drive that. Some people swear by it. I'm interested, and when I have impressions to give, I'll give them.

Sequential/H-Pattern Gear Shifter - $250

These don't work as well as the other equipment - most race cars these days use paddle shifters, and most sims focus on these. The big problem with H-pattern gear shifters and sims is that if you shift too fast, the physical gear lever will be in gear, but the simulator will make gear-crunching sounds at you and will be in neutral. It's pretty unintuitive and breaks immersion horribly to sort that out, usually in the middle of corner entry when you are quite busy steering. That said, if you're going to be driving a classic Lotus F1 car, you're not going to want to use paddle shifters are you?

The shifter to get is Fanatec's Clubsport Shifter SQ V1.5 for $250. By all accounts it has a good feel, and can be switched between sequential an H-pattern with a single switch.

Another option is the Thrustmaster TH8A for $170. I have one. I don't love it, but it serves its purpose.

Don't forget to make sure your pedal option has a clutch pedal!

Button Box - $160

As a sim racer, you always want more buttons available. Tweak brake balance. Mute current speaker. Car ahead lap times. There are always more things you could want to access than available buttons. Derek Speare Designs make good quality button boxes, and I'd recommend the DSD Race King for $160.

I definitely would not recommend their button boxes that attach directly to wheels, because I cackhandedly removed the wrong screws from my CSW 2.5 and had to send it for warranty repair a few weeks after I got it. Yes, that's on me. But it made me sad, and I want you to be happy.

Upgrading from a Basic Rig

You might also want to consider individual items on this list as upgrades from a Basic Rig. In this case, it's partly a matter of taste which you would focus on first, but for me, I'd prioritize the things that are going to improve my driving, and then those that improve immersion. I'd say the order of importance is:

  • Pedals. Particularly, a load cell brake pedal. Modulation of braking force in the braking zone for a corner can be quite subtle. Being able to do it consistently, lap after lap, will make a huge difference to your lap time, and you'll feel more comfortable in the car also.
  • Wheel. A mid-level wheel will have enough headroom in torque that it won't clip often. But more importantly, it will respond to torque requests from the sim's physics engine a lot faster. This means you will be able to consistently drive closer to the limit, and have better odds of saving the car when you go over the limit. It will probably feel less "grainy" or "notchy" also.
  • Rig. A good solid rig will improve immersion - it's the difference between feeling like you are driving a car, or feeling like you are controlling a car from your desk.
  • Screen. The main thing to focus on is latency. PC gaming monitors will typically have better latency than TVs or monitors focused on office or design work. Higher refresh rate screens will typically have lower latency (otherwise, what's the point of higher refresh rates). Having a 144hz monitor can make braking points and other marks slightly easier to hit, but the effect is marginal. Resolution makes very little difference.
  • PC. I don't think this is hugely important unless it's a limiting factor for something else in your setup. Even the budget PC will support reasonable graphics settings in VR, and when you're flying through the Italian mountains or wheel-to-wheel racing with this season's foe at Suzuka, you won't notice the difference between pretty good graphics and really good graphics. If you do upgrade PC, the main things to look at are GPU (for higher graphical settings, triple screens, higher refresh rates, higher resolutions) and CPU (if you want to stream).

links

social