Published: April 5, 2020
Planning a new Half-Life: Alyx PC build? You're far from alone. If there ever was a recent new release worthy of upgrading your gaming computer for, or to get into VR for in general, this really is it. Now the dust has settled on the historic launch last week, the reviews have poured in, with everyone and their pet headcrab harping on about how Valve really did pull off something incredible - again.
We've carefully studied and analyzed performance benchmarks and what testers and reviewers have had to report about performance in the game using various hardware configurations, and in this special gaming PC build guide we'll cut the fluff and break down what you need to know to choose the best value PC parts to make the most of this epic title - no matter what your budget.
Whether you're buying or building a budget PC for Half-Life: Alyx to use with a good cheap VR headset like the Samsung Odyssey Plus, or you're building the ultimate PC to run the game on maxed settings and/or on high refresh rates like 120Hz or 144Hz (only available with the Valve Index headset) to experience Half-life: Alyx to the fullest, we'll explain what specs you require for the performance level you seek.
As a huge HL fan myself who fondly remembers playing HL1 as a teen (loved it so much I even made a silly little 2D RPG game for fun based on HL1's story in my programming days), and also as a huge advocate and firm believer in the VR medium being the inevitable future of essentially ALL entertainment (not just gaming), the overwhelmingly positive reactions to Half-Life: Alyx was a relief to see and I'm so glad they pulled it off (not that I ever doubted them).
That contentment hasn't left as I write this over a week post-launch; despite not being able to play the game myself right now (soon!), I've watched the first hour of perhaps 10 different "let's plays" on YT to see people's reactions, with this one being my fav as his reactions are priceless but also because he uses the continuous movement option instead of teleporting (which makes for the best viewing). Check it out to see what all the fuss is about, but I wouldn't go too far in because this is a game you don't want spoiled.
But besides the endless relief-filled, joyful reports and passionately positive reviews of the game everywhere online, many of which scoring the game near perfect, performance benchmarks with various CPU and GPU setups are also now in from various testers and we've now had time to analyze a good chunk of data to bring you this guide.
We also have two separate, supplemental articles to this main PC build guide, so check these out too for further tips on choosing the best headset and GPU to make the most of HLA:
Before we get into the hardware requirements to run Half-Life: Alyx on higher visual settings, let's first go over the official minimum specs provided by Valve themselves which are quite lenient overall considering this is not only the best looking VR game ever made, but the fact that virtual reality games are typically a fair bit more demanding compared to regular PC titles.
Though most who want to play this epic new VR game will do whatever they can to go at least a little beyond these bare minimum specs required to just run the game, the good news being reported by testers and players is that PCs covering these basic minimum specs can play the game smoothly on low settings, and that that it won't get in the way of experiencing this pivotal moment in VR history.
Official Half-Life: Alyx System Requirements
Are the Minimum Specs Good Enough for Half-Life: Alyx?
Yes and no, but let me explain. It's one thing to know the official minimum required specs for a game, but it's another thing to actually have those specs (or similar, equivalent parts) and get a good enough experience that won't get in the way of enjoying the game. When you get a PC That just covers the minimum specs of a game, you're forced to use lower visual settings (and sometimes the straight-up lowest settings possible) to get a smooth, playable frame rate and experience.
Some games have a fairly significant change in appearance on different visual settings, while others don't. With games like Fortnite or League of Legends where the graphics quality really don't matter to the far majority of players as it's all about the gameplay (and getting the highest frame possible, which is not the same as graphics quality). But in other games that rely more on the quality of the graphics and visual effects for an immersive experience, gaming on low graphics settings can be a fairly significant trade-off that can lower the overall experience of the game for some people.
However, with Half-Life: Alyx, it's a pleasantly different story. Let me explain further.
VR is all about immersion and the more realistic the graphics (textures, animations, effects, reflections, shadows, etc) the more you feel like you're right there in Alyx's boots dodging pesky headcrabs in those creepy corridors. So the graphics do matter a lot. But the great news is that the low settings preset in this game is actually widely reported as not being much of a noticeable step down from higher settings like medium or high.
Heck, multiple gamers concur that even running the game maxed out on ultra settings only makes an ever so slightly noticeable difference compared to low settings. Yep, at first glance, low and ultra settings don't immediately look too dissimilar. I mean, there is a difference if you look real closely, and during more hectic scenes with more special effects.
But the point is, playing Half-Life: Alyx on lower settings likely won't get in the way of the experience.
The main reason why the low settings really isn't bad at all and hardly looks different to higher settings unless you REALLY look for it, and the reason why it won't get in the way of immersion, is because all of the presets (low, medium, high, and ultra) actually have the texture quality setting cranked up to high.
Therefore, while I didn't predict I was going to say this on the site, and I thought I'd be recommending something like an RTX 2060 graphics card as the bare minimum GPU to fully enjoy the game, I can wholeheartedly recommend gamers building a cheap budget gaming PC for this game if strapped for cash with a lesser GPU than the RTX 2060 (so long as it at least covers the minimum required specs of course; see details below).
Sure, if you can afford it, those higher settings will provide higher quality shadows, animations, particles, shadows, and reflection, among other things, but buying or building a cheap PC for Half-Life: Alyx really is still worth it, and it won't be a waste of the monumental gaming experience that Alyx is. Anyway, let's move onto our actual recommended specs for Half-Life: Alyx if you're buying new modern hardware for the game.
The following recommended Half-Life: Alyx PC builds are based on analyzing as many performance benchmarks and reports of the game as possible, and are the best value combinations of components for different budgets when building a PC for Half-Life: Alyx. All builds below have been checked for compatibility.
They are very close to our more general best gaming PC builds for the month series, but slightly tweaked based on the requirements of Half-Life: Alyx for different visual settings and refresh rates. We highly recommend reading that guide in conjunction with this one too, as it contains a lot of tips for beginner builders plus alternative parts if a certain part below is unavailable. The Half-Life: Alyx PC builds below have a few slightly different CPU and GPU combinations, different Half-Life style cases in the spirit of the franchise, and other minor adjustments.
Of course you can choose any style of case you like so long as you ensure it's compatible with all the other parts (and ideally choose a good quality gaming PC case with good airflow and 2 fans minimum). But the cases we've featured below will surely please the more long-time oldschool Half Life fans wanting a cool orange and black color scheme to match the franchise theme, and more importantly they don't just look the part but are high-quality options as well (be Quiet cases are excellent choices known for top notch airflow).
Also, there's no need for RGB lighting with most of the Half-Life themed builds below, so that's another thing different with these builds compared to our other recommended builds on the site. But that's assuming you do end up deciding on a case without a see-through window.
I mean, who cares for RGB lighting when you're plugged into the matrix? If you do still want RGB to admire in your rig, for the times when you're not deep inside VR wonderland, some of the Be Quiet cases do indeed have versions that come with a see-through window though, so the choice is yours. Anyway, let's get into the builds and every specific part we recommend based on your budget and performance aims.
Swipe to Scroll the Builds:
|Component||Low Settings Gaming PC||Medium Settings Gaming PC||90Hz High Settings Gaming PC||90Hz Ultra Settings Gaming PC||120Hz Gaming PC (High)||144Hz Gaming PC (High/Ultra)|
|Headset||Samsung Odyssey Plus
Oculus Rift S
|CPU||AMD Ryzen 5 1600 AF
AMD Ryzen 5 2600
|AMD Ryzen 5 3600||AMD Ryzen 7 3700X||Intel Core i7-9700KF
Intel Core i7-9700K
|Intel Core i9-9900KF
Intel Core i9-9900K
|Intel Core i9-9900KS|
|CPU Cooler||Stock||Stock||Stock||Cooler Master 212 Evo BLack||Dark Rock Pro 4||Cooler Master Hydro H150i Pro RGB|
|Motherboard||ASRock B450 Pro4 (ATX)||MSI B450-A Pro Max (ATX)||Asus TUF X570-Plus WiFi (ATX)||MPG Z390 Gaming Edge AC (ATX)||ASUS Rog Strix Z390-E (ATX)||Asus Maximus XI Hero Z390 (ATX)|
|RAM||Corsair Vengeance 16GB 3200MHz (2x8GB)||Corsair Vengeance 16GB 3600MHz (2x8GB)||Corsair Vengeance 16GB 3200MHz (2x8GB)||Corsair Vengeance Pro RGB 32GB 3200MHz (2x16GB)|
|Graphics Card||Gigabyte GTX 1660 Super 6GB OC
Zotac GTX 1660 Super 6GB OC
|EVGA RTX 2060 KO 6GB
Zotac RTX 2060 Super Mini 8GB
EVGA RTX 2060 Super SC 8GB
|Zotac RTX 2070 Super 8GB Mini
Asus RTX 2070 Super 8GB OC Evo
|EVGA RTX 2080 Super 8GB Black
Asus RTX 2080 Super 8GB OC Evo
|EVGA RTX 2080 Ti 11GB XC Ultra
MSI RTX 2080 Ti 11GB Ventus GP
|Titan RTX 24GB|
|SSD||Crucial MX500 (M.2)
WD Blue 500GB (M.2)
Crucial MX500 (2.5")
|Sabrent Rocket 1TB (M.2, NVMe)
Silicon Power 1TB (M.2, NVMe)
Western Digital SN550 1TB (M.2, NVMe)
|Samsung 970 EVO 1TB (M.2, NVMe)|
|Power Supply||Corsair CX550M (Bronze)||Corsair CX550M (Bronze)
Corsair CX650M (Bronze)
EVGA Supernova 650 G3 (Gold)
Corsair RM650x (Gold)
|EVGA Supernova 750 G3 (Gold)
Corsair RMX RM750x (Gold)
|EVGA Supernova 850 G3 (Gold)||Corsair RM1000x (Gold)|
|Case *||Corsair 200R||be quiet! Pure Base 600||be quiet! Silent Base 601||be quiet! Silent Base 801||be quiet! Dark Base PRO 900 Rev. 2|
|Add Ons||Half Life Logo Sticker for Case (here, here, here, or here) + Spare Underwear|
|Prebuilt Alternative||Recommended 2020 Prebuilt Gaming PCs|
Swipe to Scroll the Builds
Every classic Valve releases is simultaneously a programming and technical achievement in its own right. This time is no different, and Valve genuinely deserves the mass applause and appreciation it's been getting this past week for not just producing the best VR game to date, but as mentioned earlier, for also making it nicely optimized for low to mid-range hardware (and therefore as accessible as possible to as many gamers as possible).
So if you're on a budget and looking to build the best cheap PC build for Half-Life: Alyx, I'd say go for it, and the recommended specs above (in the far left column) is what we can recommend for a smooth experience on low settings. Performance testers around the web concur that Half-Life: Alyx is indeed completely playable with a system that only covers the bare minimum specs, as well as the fact that low settings really doesn't look all that bad in this particular game.
The minimum required graphics card Valve states is a GTX 1060 6GB or a RX 580. For the latter, it's specifically the 8GB versions of the RX 580, as the mention of 6GB as the minimum required amount of VRAM from Valve (not to be confused with RAM) eliminates the RX 580 4GB models.
Anyway, since the GTX 1060 is an older GPU, for a modern day current GPU you're looking at the GTX 1660 which is similar in performance to a 1060 6GB (but faster). But while the GTX 1660 is fine for a cheap PC build to game on low settings, I would suggest the GTX 1660 Super to give your rig some breathing room and to avoid your frame rate dipping at all costs which can lead to motion sickness (or just a generally unpleasant experience).
See Also: How to Assemble a PC for Beginners
There's a chance the GTX 1660 is enough to avoid that scenario, again assuming you stick to low settings, but if you want to be absolutely sure then I highly suggest the GTX 1660 Super version which isn't much more money but provides a nice boost in performance that's actually quite close to an RTX 2060. Combined with a great value yet still capable cheap CPU like the Ryzen 5 1600 AF or Ryzen 5 2600, 16GB of RAM which is plenty and covers the minimum of 12GB, and a supporting set of great value components (motherboard, SSD, case, and power supply) and you have a very good cheap rig that won't let you down for this VR epic.
Is the Ryzen 5 1600 AF Good Enough for Half-Life: Alyx?
In the table you'll see our minimum recommended CPU for Half-Life: Alyx is either the Ryzen 5 1600 AF (not to be confused with the older 1600) or the Ryzen 5 2600. Either is just fine, but around its standard $85 (US) price point, the 1600 AF is the better overall bang for buck as performance is very close to the 2600 and you therefore would hardly notice a difference between the two. They're both 6 core, 12 thread processors, and both great value.
While you do ideally want a stronger CPU like the Ryzen 5 3600 for this game and for other VR titles in general (which aren't as well-optimized as Half-Life: Alyx), both the 1600 AF and the 2600 processors are enough to play the game with decent performance if you're on a budget (again, on low settings though).
As mentioned, Valve have continued their impeccable history of technical prowess by making Half-Life: Alyx very well optimized. Not only does that mean you can get away with using the absolute bare minimum specs and still get a smooth, good-looking experience ('cause low settings ain't that bad), but you also thankfully won't need crazy high-end hardware to play the game nice and smooth on higher settings like medium, high, and even ultra (though flawless ultra performance, especially when using the Valve Index's very demanding 120Hz or 144Hz modes, will require beefy specs as you'll see later).
So, to build something better than the bare minimum build above, in order to get super smooth performance on medium settings, you should look to buy an RTX 2060 or RTX 2060 Super, or an AMD equivalent (Radeon RX 5700 or 5700 XT). If I had to recommend just one of these GPUs for this level of performance, I'd pick the RTX 2060 Super.
The RTX 2060 Super is a decent step up from the standard RTX 2060 to ensure a consistent 80/90FPS (depending on your VR headset's refresh rate) at all times on medium settings. With a standard RTX 2060, you could be just fine for flawlessly smooth performance on medium settings, but it could be too close for comfort (pun intended).
Remember that unlike with normal games, in VR your system needs to stay at a certain frame rate consistently at all times in order to take advantage of the full refresh rate (ie 80Hz with the Oculus Rift S) to avoid issues like stuttering or even motion sickness. So ideally you want a GPU that is a fraction higher than what you actually need, just to be on the safe side. Plus, personally I'd also choose the RTX 2060 Super over the RX 5700 or 5700 XT despite these cards offering excellent performance vs price, due to the fact that owning a NVidia GPU at present has a slightly less chance of driver issues (and NVidia tends to be ever so slightly more reliable in past VR titles). Just my opinion, though.
Is a Ryzen 5 3600 Good for Half-Life: Alyx?
The 3600 is the most popular mainstream gaming CPU on the market today, and for good reason as it offers unbeatable price vs performance at its sub $200 price tag. But is it enough for the first ever AAA VR game? You bet. As already discussed, Half-Life: Alyx runs super well on mid-range hardware, and that means a mid-tier CPU like the Ryzen 5 3600 is thankfully more than enough for good performance.
You could also use the Ryzen 5 3600 for the next build below if you wanted to cut costs on that setup (ie with a RTX 2070 Super), though that's assuming you're playing on a standard VR refresh rate of 90Hz or lower. If you own the mighty Valve Index and want to run its super smooth 120Hz or 144Hz refresh rates, you'll definitely need a beefier CPU. While actual screen resolution doesn't require more powerful CPUs, and relies solely on your GPU, refresh rates are different and do in fact tap into processing power of lot.
That said, upping to a Ryzen 7 3700X processor will put you in a better "future proof" position with your rig (meaning you wouldn't need to upgrade for longer), as well as being better for other VR games that are less optimized than Alyx. Speaking of the 3700X, let's get into the next recommended PC build for Half-Life: Alyx using that exact CPU.
Moving on up and if you're aiming to buy or build a gaming computer for high settings in Half-Life: Alyx, and want nothing but flawlessly smooth performance for the best experience and enjoyment, you should be eyeing off the excellent RTX 2070 Super graphics card along with a Ryzen 7 or Intel i7 CPU. The best bang for your buck in this category is the Ryzen 7 3700X, which is very close performance wise to the i7-9700K but for a fair bit less money.
These components will provide enough grunt to maintain that holy 90FPS mark at all times on high settings with headsets like the Valve Index or Samsung Odyssey Plus (both of which offer 90Hz mode). The Oculus Rift does 80Hz, so it won't be hard for the RTX 2070 Super to dominate that 80FPS performance level.
Ultra settings is something to consider for a build like this, and you might be okay, but to ensure a constant 90FPS on maxed settings like that then we recommend the next build tier below. Just don't think you need ultra settings to fully enjoy this game (heck, even medium or low settings looks decent remember), so buying or building a "mid-range" VR gaming PC like this (in normal gaming terms it's definitely a high-end PC) is enough power to satisfy a large chunk of VR gamers for years to come.
That said, if you really, really crave those ultra maxed-out settings for the highest quality visual effects, shadows, reflections, and so on, or you want to run the impressively high refresh rates that only the Valve Index can offer (120Hz or 144Hz) for the absolute smoothest VR experience known to man, let's move on to the true powerhouse builds for those fortunate enough to afford them.
If you want to build a PC for Half-Life: Alyx to run its maximum visual settings ("ultra" settings) you should look to buy either an AMD Ryzen 7 like the 3700X or an Intel Core i7 like the 9700, 9700K, or 9700KF. Assuming normal pricing, the 3700X is the better value of them all, however despite what anyone says you will get slightly better gaming performance from an Intel i7, hence why it's included as our top pick for this particular build tier in the table above.
You also need a very strong GPU to make 90Hz ultra work in this game, and that translate to a RTX 2080 or bust. Specifically, the RTX 2080 Super is what we'd recommend first and foremost, as assuming normal pricing it essentially eliminates the standard RTX 2080 from consideration with significantly better performance for only slightly more money.
The classic GTX 1080 Ti is also a good option here if you have the option to get one of those, as performance is very similar to the newer RTX 2080 Super. Some will say the RTX 2080 Ti is needed to run ultra settings on 90Hz in Half-life: Alyx, but from my research it seems a RTX 2080 Super is enough firepower to get the job done (when paired with a excellent CPU like a Core i7 or Ryzen 7).
If you'll be rocking the best PC VR headset on the market, the Valve Index, and want to run its impressive 120Hz refresh rate (and on high/ultra settings as well), you're going to need to step things up further with your specs as it's no easy task to achieve a consistent 120FPS in VR (no matter how well optimized a game is).
Your choice of GPU is as important as ever for such a task, but this is also where CPU grunt matters almost as much because high refresh rates like 120Hz or higher heavily rely on your CPU to keep up (just like with normal non-VR gaming where 144Hz+ requires a solid CPU).
I mean, you still need a good CPU to get a consistent 90FPS (Valve Index has a 90Hz mode too, as well as 80Hz), but when you stretch the target to 120FPS or higher, a high-end CPU is absolutely crucial. That means you ideally want the king of gaming CPUs - 9900K family I'm looking at you. Sure, a Ryzen 9 3900X or even a Core i7 9700K would likely be fine, however the 9900K means you won't be leaving anything to chance for your high demands.
As for the graphics card when building a gaming PC for 120Hz in Half-Life: Alyx (on high or ultra settings), you should be looking squarely at the mighty RTX 2080 Ti as anything less is going to struggle at this level. Sure, the game is well optimized as mentioned, but that doesn't mean it's not a demanding game. VR is more demanding than non-VR games, and especially for reaching high frame rates to make the most of 120Hz or 144Hz modes.
Is 16GB RAM Enough for a High-End Half-Life: Alyx Build?
The official minimum hardware requirements list 16GB of RAM, so just like when building any respectable mid-range gaming PC or higher, make sure you have at least that amount in your rig. But for a high-end or extreme PC build like this, you may wonder how much performance gain you'll get from having more than 16GB (if any). As far as I know, this hasn't been tested yet in HLA, but I'm sure someone will at some point.
So my best guess on this is that it's not going to make a difference, and 32GB is not needed even if you're looking to play in 120Hz or 144Hz. I mean, you could get a few extra frames with 32GB RAM, but for most people that doesn't warrant the money spent on 32GB vs 16GB. But if you're also streaming, or doing a ton of multitasking on your rig (not just VR), then by all means go for 32GB if you can afford it as there are applications that will take advantage of that extra memory (video editing and 3D production/rendering as well). Plus, 32GB is future proofing you too and means you don't have to upgrade down the line. But for just gaming, 16GB will likely last you a good few years, and even for VR, so stick with that if you want to be cost-effective.
If you read what I said about the hardware requirements for 120Hz above, you can probably imagine what the go is here. Yup; ridiculous levels of performance require equally ridiculous hardware components. Remember that with VR games your rig is essentially outputting to two screens (one per eye), meaning a whole heap of pixels for your GPU to render.
It's kinda like running normal games in 4K 144Hz on high/ultra settings - very tricky to achieve (sometimes possible with current hardware) and something that really only a dual-GPU SLI build can do in the more demanding games. No, so far Half-Life: Alyx does not support SLI, so the next best thing is to look at the single most powerful gaming GPU on the market right now.
Of course, I speak of the Titan RTX, an almost always overkill buy for even the most demanding of gamers. It doesn't provide a huge amount more performance than the RTX 2080 Ti, so it's not exactly worth it in general if you judge it purely on price vs performance.
But extreme measures like 144Hz on ultra for a AAA VR game calls for genuinely extreme components, so it's worth a look if you're lucky enough to be able to go all-out with your build. I mean, sure, you could run 144Hz mode on the Valve Index with a RTX 2080 Ti.
But would you get a consistent 144FPS on ultra settings with that GPU? It's quite doubtful, so if you're craving such demanding FPS levels, the overly expensive, highly NON bang for buck Titan RTX is likely the only card that would execute on such craziness.
In theory that is, as it doesn't seem like anybody has tested this as of the time of writing, though you bet we'll update this section if we find out more (and do let us know in the comments if you have such info; much appreciated). As for your CPU, there's no better gaming CPU than the 9900KS at present, and spending more on a HEDT CPU isn't going to net you more performance. But you do you want to get 32GB of RAM to fully maximize performance, because at this type of "budget" (or the complete lack of one), why not?
That wraps a special build guide for a very special game that will (hopefully) spark a bunch more full-length AAA VR games in the near future. It's ironic that I've probably done more painstaking research and analysis on this game in the past week than any human should ever do in their lifetime, though I'm yet to actually play the game myself. But not long for me now.
To say I'm pumped to play it is the biggest understatement ever written on the site, with the only other time in my life I remember being this excited to play a new game being OOT as a kid. Funny enough, though unsurprising to me as I know that anyone else who also experienced OOT as a kid knows just how good it was at the time, I stumbled across this review of Half-Life: Alyx on Steam just before:
"You know that feeling you had as a kid waking up early on a saturday to go boot up your Nintendo 64 and play The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time? Yes? Well guess what? Half-Life: Alyx actually achieved giving me that feeling again. And that is a monumental achievement unclocked for someone who has played everything ever made since 1982."
But to me, Half-Life: Alyx isn't merely the first true great VR game that I have no doubt I will thoroughly enjoy. It's also a glimpse into the future of the limitless possibilities and opportunities VR opens up for not just insanely fun active entertainment, but for literally every industry and aspect of life. No matter what anyone tells you, despite not having a time machine and being able to tell you what year 1244 was like, it really is a super cool time in history to be alive, with tech like VR being just one of many reasons why I say that.
So whatever you do, go and experience Half-Life: Alyx for yourself in whatever way possible, even if you have to go to a local VR arcade when they open back up again. You'll be glad you did and might just agree that VR is the inevitable future of, well, everything. Anyway, if you need further help buying or building a good PC for Half Life Alyx (or for VR in general), feel free to ask and I'll personally help out. Good luck and hope the guide helped.
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Cybersecurity is becoming an increasingly important issue in the digital age, and installing a VPN is one easy way to improve the security and privacy of your PC. VPNs can also help for gaming. NordVPN is the one I use and can recommend. For more on VPNs see my gaming PC software guide.
Indie game dev currently working on an atmospheric VR FPS adventure with Unreal Engine (to be announced soon here for anyone interested in VR FPS's). Also likes writing about gaming and hardware.
Favs of all time are OOT, Perfect Dark, MGS1, MGS2, GE007, DKC2, THPS3, WC3, HL1, HL2, and KOTOR, with the most recent addition to my list of immortals being the VR masterpiece Half Life Alyx. - Julz