In previous posts in this series, I have described a set of components that you might want to use as templates for a basic rig that you might use to get started sim racing and a more expensive intermediate rig with higher quality components. In this final post, I'll describe what a top-of-the-line rig might look like, and how much you can expect to spend getting there.
PC - $2000
At this level, you'll be looking at an Intel Core i7 or an AMD Ryzen 7 (or maybe even an i9 or Ryzen 9). For video card, I previously would have recommended a card based on the NVidia RTX 2080 or 2080Ti, but I understand the successor model, the RTX 3080 has some stability issues - these will likely be resolved over time, but at the moment, research carefully (and I will update this section as new information becomes available). Although it won't make much difference at the moment, 32GB and a 1TB SSD are probably sensible at this price point. If you want to build your own, pcpartpicker's Magnificent AMD and Magnificent Intel builds are decent templates, and if you want to purchase, then Microcenter's PowerSpec G466 or Dell's Alienware Aurora Ryzen Edition R10 will be good.
PC Accessories - $1000
As before, for a pure racing rig, there is no reason to go beyond a basic wired keyboard and mouse. Logitech MK120 Combo is $15 at Amazon. You can get a crazy looking keyboard with RGB lighting and mechanical switches I guess. I couldn't tell you which is good though.
Again, with headphones, I don't think there is much point in going beyond the HyperX Cloud Alpha ($100). I love hi-fi, and I love engine noises, but I just don't think racing simulations justify anything higher end than this.
However, I would recommend taking a look at having 3-4 Buttkickers, and using the SimVibe software. Each Buttkicker mini LFE will be $100, and I'd budget the same for amplifiers, although I don't have a specific recommendation. The SimVibe software is $90
Wheel & Pedals - $4800
Definitely look at direct drive wheel bases. The extra torque they offer won't make a huge amount of difference - in fact, most people turn them down to avoid risking injury in crashes. The big difference as far as driving is the speed of the wheel - it's ability to suddenly change the amount of torque it is providing, so that the wheel will tend to move very quickly in oversteer conditions for example, making correcting over the limit a lot more feasible. They also provide far better detail - with no slack in gears or belts they can provide very fine details, even under high continuous torques, and the more information you have about the track and the car's dynamics the better you can drive.
We live in a golden age of direct drive wheel bases with offerings from Fanatec, Accuforce, VRS and Bodnar. My SimuCube 2 Pro for $1500 from SimCraft in the US. From what I've read and seen, they are all excellent, with the SimuCube 2 Pro hitting a sweet spot and beating similar priced competition - it's noticeably better than cheaper alternatives, but above this level diminishing returns start to kick in. That said, I haven't seen any reviewer unhappy with any direct drive wheel base, regardless of what they are used to.
With your direct drive wheel base, you are going to want either a formula wheel rim, a GT wheel rim, or more likely, both. One thing to note is that if you have a Fanatec wheel base, you will be stuck using Fanatec wheel rims for the most part. Otherwise, the world is your oyster. You can repurpose real racing wheels for your rig, but easier is to look at purpose-made sim racing wheels based on real wheel. Your choice will come down to personal taste (and budget). For me, I'd be tempted by the Cube Controls Formula Pro (778 EUR) and GT Pro OMP (688 EUR), and Ascher Racing have the F64-USB (974 EUR).
Finally, you'll need some pedals. Heusinkveld pedals are excellent, and their top-of-the-line pedals are the Sim Pedals Ultimate, at 1100 EUR for a three pedal set. If you want something slightly cheaper, the Sim Pedals Sprint are 578 EUR for a three pedal set, with the main difference being the 65kg maximum brake force rather than 136kg. Unless you are training to drive real F1 cars, you won't need that. Both are fully adjustable.
Monitor - $1200
Ultrawides are possible, but I think triples still beat them at this time, as they fill in slightly more of your peripheral vision, and can give you slightly more information about what the people beside you are doing. VR is also possible - my experience with an Oculus Rift was that it was very immersive, but that after 20 minutes or so of hard racing, my eyes were very sweaty, so not ideal for 30+ minute races. Maybe higher end VR equipment has deals with this better, but I haven't experienced it, so I can't make that recommendation at this time.
In terms of triples, you'll want to look for 144hz refresh rate with Freesync or G-Sync, 1440p resolution, and 27" size. I believe NVidia and Radeon cards both support Freesync these days. I don't have a specific recommendation. I have Dell S2716DGs, which are great. Reviewers didn't like the color fidelity, but I haven't found it an issue for sim racing. Unfortunately, those seem to be discontinued. I've budgeted $400 per monitor, but you may want to spend more. Tom's Hardware's "Best 1440p Gaming Monitor", the Asus ROG Strix XG279Q 27" is $600, for example.
Rig - $2200
Rigs made of 80-20 aluminium extrusion are the best rigs. They are not the prettiest, but they are infinitely expandable, and super-rigid. You can design and build your own, but easier is to buy the pre-designed Simlab P1-X for 750 EUR. You will also need to add a Triple Monitor Mount (200 EUR), bucket seat bracket (40 EUR), seat slider (40 EUR) and pedal slider baseplate (150 EUR). You should take a look through the entire Simlab list when you are ordering to make sure you get everything that you might need.
You will also need a seat. I recommend getting a real racing seat for immersion, although it is overkill as it will never be subject to a real crash that it is designed for. You should go to a dealer in person to try out seats, as you will want to make sure that you get something that is comfortable and suitably sized for you. If you're near Denver, Sonoma or Sebring, I recommend speaking to Wine Country Motorsports - super-helpful.
Total - $11200
Woof. Over $11K on what people will definitely call "a game". It seems like a lot when you put it that way. On the other hand, it's a lot cheaper than even a basic track car, and you'll be able to go drive for an hour in the evening, rather than having to go to the track for entire days. And the equipment on this list will take a long time to go out of style - PCs evolve slower than they used to, and the mechanical parts will give great service for years, and likely won't become outdated. So if you want a top-of-the-line sim experience, this would be how to get it.
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.
Taking it Further
One thing I haven't covered is motion systems. Frankly, I don't know much about them. If you want a good one, I think they start in low 5 digits. I will never have one because my sim-rig is on the upper story of my house which has a wooden structure, and I fear that a motion rig would slower start disassembling it.
A unfortunate trend recently, with the growth in popularity of e-sports, is that there are starting to emerge companies that make very expensive products just because there are some people willing to pay those amounts. Aston Martin, for example, charges $74,000 for their AMR-CO1. Look, it's your money, I love carbon fiber too, and I'm sure those things will look very pretty sitting in Aston Martin showrooms. But that rig does not offer any functional advantage over the rig I've outlined here, and in fact, offers less flexibility. I don't fault Aston Martin for making the thing if there are buyers, but the lesson here is that paying more is not automatically better.