Racing buddy Tiernan and I recently put together a sim rig for him. Like race cars, sim rigs are never truly complete, so this post is really just documenting version 1.0.
An authentic sim rig needs an authentic seat. So we went to Pick-n-Pull and started picking and pulling. Some of the seats we didn’t choose had water damage from open windows. We eventually found a nice clean seat from a Mitsubishi Eclipse.
The first thing you have to decide is what kind of monitors you’re going to use.
- Single screen
- Triple screens
- VR goggles
I use a single 2560×1080 screen. It’s basically a typical 1080p monitor that is 50% wider. My previous monitor was a 1920x1080p, and it was great. The extra width adds a tiny bit to the immersion, but not that much.
I had an Oculus Rift, but it made me motion sick, so I stopped using it. The sense of immersion was amazing though. When I tried a triple screen setup at Turn2 Racing, I was shocked at how similar triple screens are to full VR. It’s very good and doesn’t give me motion sickness. Projection screens aren’t mainstream, but I can imagine they could be even better.
We decided to build a triple monitor rig.
To make life simple, you should have 3 of the same monitors, and all of the cabling should be the same type. While you can mix HDMI, DVI, VGA, and Display Port, it’s a pain having multiple adapters. Also, mixing analog and digital signals is not recommended. So the first order of business was to match monitors and graphic card ports. Since this was a newly built rig, it wasn’t hard finding a cheap-ish computer and cheap-ish 1080p monitors that played well together.
The computer is a SkyTech Blaze (R3 1200, 8GB RAM, RX580 GPU), and the monitors are Dells. The RX580 has 3 Display Ports, so the cabling is 100% Display Port. The monitor stands came from Amazon, and the fancy power strip was something I picked up at a secondhand electronics store.
Before building the cockpit, we took various measurements of Tiernan sitting in an ideal driving position. Then we drafted some plans to put that into action. Half way through construction, we realized we had cut one piece of plywood incorrectly, and it would require actually purchasing plywood to continue (we were using scraps from an old Lemons theme when the Miata was outfitted as the Can’t Am). So we just said fuck-it and started eye-balling every measurement around a 2×4-inspired design. It turned out pretty robust as the 2x4s were connected with grade-8 transmission bolts picked up at Pick-n-Pull.
I had an extra G25 and DFGT wheel lying around, as well as a G25 shifter and G25 pedals. The pedals have an AP Electrix load cell on them and Bodnar cable, so they feel much better than stock and can be connected independently of the wheel. That’s good because G25 pedals are much better than wheels. I really don’t like Logitech wheels with Assetto Corsa. Thankfully, Tiernan found a Thrustmaster T150 on Craigslist for $30. It came with a shitty 2-pedal system. So we mixed-n-matched to arrive at a pretty good setup.
The project took a couple weeks to build because our schedules didn’t mesh well. I’m sure we could build another one in a day. The all-inclusive cost was about $1250, and most of that was because of the new computer and monitors. With some patient hunting on Craigslist, the price could be cut in half.
I just returned from a visit with Tiernan and got to try out his rig in Assetto Corsa and Forza 7. So how does it work? Pretty darn good. Here’s my report card.
- Cockpit 4/5: This is as good as a static rig needs to be. Sure, the extruded aluminum rigs might look more high-tech, but this does the same job for a fraction of the price. To get a higher rank it would need a button box and cup holder.
- Monitors 4/5: Once the sim is running, it’s very immersive. I thought I had VR goggles on.
- Sound 1/5: The mono speaker isn’t great. A $20 headset would make this a 4/5.
- Wheel 2.5/5: While the T150 wheel is definitely a step up from the G25 and DFGT (in AC at least), there’s a big gap between a T150 and a TS-PC Racer. You can definitely have fun and learn tracks with a T150, but as a tool to train your muscle memory, it’s only okay.
- Pedals 3/5: The AP Electrix load cell brake pedal is better than a spring-n-potentiometer, but it doesn’t have the feel of my PerfectPedal hydraulic unit. The load cell works, but its dynamic range is small. The clutch and throttle are decent.
- Shifter 4/5: I used the paddle shifters on the T150. I actually like paddle shifters on a sim rig. I don’t get much immersion from a fake stick shift.
- Forza 7 3/5: I hadn’t tried it before. It’s not as bad as I thought it would be. The graphics are really good. The force feedback is plausible. The track I tried was Laguna Seca, and it was definitely not laser scanned. I can’t believe they are allowed to use the Laguna Seca branding on a track that is so horribly inaccurate.
Here’s how I would take this rig to the next level.
- USB headset.
- Thrustmaster wheel base, wheel adapter, and eBay wheel. I like having a full-size steering wheel, and it’s cheaper to go this route than getting a Thrustmaster wheel. The downside is not having any buttons. But it’s pretty trivial to make a button box with a $20 Amazon kit and if you want shrink-wrapped solution, a numeric keypad is just $8.
- A PerfectPedal kit is $250 and turns the G25 into a top-of-the-line pedal. But for $250, one can also get a Fanatec pedal set. Hard decision.