30 September 2020

Min-Max Driving Sim

I have always wanted a driving sim, especially after reading about fellow driver/instructor Ian Korf's positive experiences, but don't have much space and didn't want to spend a crazy amount of money.

To give you a sense of the driving sim landscape: on the low end, you have wheels without any force feedback (around the $99 mark) to 6-axis full motion sims for >$60k, which are not dissimilar what professional drivers use for training.

Here's what I got:

ComponentPrice (includes shipping & tax)
VendorWhen Purchased
WheelSimXperience Accuforce$1055.64simxperience.comJul 2020
ComputerDell Inspiron 3670$402.37Dell OutletDec 2018
GPUZotac GTX 1080 mini$369.00eBayFeb 2019
PedalsFanatec Clubsport v3$356.60eBayJun 2019
SeatPlayseat Challenge$242.93AmazonJul 2020
VR HeadsetLenovo Explorer$99.00B&H Photo VideoNov 2018
Power SupplyEVGA 500 W1$43.29AmazonJan 2019

I optimized for great driver inputs, e.g. the wheels and pedals. I figured that direct drive is the way to go, and read good things about the Accuforce. Popular alternatives included the OSW (OpenSimWheel) and the Fanatec Podium 1 & 2. I decided against hydraulic pedals (>$1+k, unless you mod your Logitech G920 brake pedal). Looking at options half an order of magnitude lower, the Fanatec Clubsport was the popular choice.

I wanted the sim rig to take up the smallest amount of space and be easy to move, while having a solid mount between the seat and pedals so that the pedals won't slide away from me during braking. The Playseat Challenge was the obvious choice. It even has mounting holes, which are compatible with the Accuforce!

I didn't want to spend very much money or effort on the PC, so I went with a refurbished Dell with passable specs. This unit has a 6-core i5-8500, 8GiB RAM, 1TB spinner, and integrated graphics. Obviously I needed a better GPU to drive the VR headset, so I went with a GTX 1080 (not Ti). It turns out that the current generation of consumer desktops are barely wider than a mATX board, so I need a shorter version of a full-size GPU. Finally, I needed a beefier PSU that the Dell's 300W unit.

If I insisted on building the PC myself, then the components (at the time of purchase, late 2018), would have not been much cheaper. The CPU retailed for $192, motherboard $80, memory $35, disk $40, for a total of $347, which is ~$20 less than the Dell cost before sales tax. (Obviously I would sit the parts on a piece of cardboard instead of getting a case, as well as ditching the optical drive and WiFi, if not integrated into the motherboard)

Finally, for an immersive experience, I went with the (now discontinued) Lenovo Explorer VR headset. I wanted something with at least a 1440x1440 eyepiece resolution since I had a bad experience with the first Oculus Rift, which had an eyepiece resolution of 1080x1280 -- I got extremely nauseous trying to focus on a blurry-to-my-20/13-vision image.

So there you have it! A solid setup, which fits conveniently into any corner:

For its inaugural drive, I spent an hour playing Assetto Corsa driving at the WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in various cars (30min in a NA Miata, then a bit in a McLaren 570S, and the rest in a Porsche GT4 Clubsport). Works pretty well!

Its next upgrade will likely be a yoga mat since the Accuforce's vibrations are felt throughout the Playseat chassis.

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