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Which parts of your sim racing rig to upgrade first?

If you have just discovered sim racing then you will be aware that there are thousands of hardware options out there. Making the right choices early on can save you a considerable amount of money down the line. Here is what I have learned from my hardware journey.

Disclaimer -
This is just my opinion and the needs and requirements of individuals vary depending on what they want from a sim racing rig. Also, i'm not providing detailed buying guides for each component i'm trying to focus on the order in which I recommend to upgrade your equipment.

If like me you found sim racing though your love of motorsport then it is safe to assume that you have an itch that needs to be scratched and the only way you will be able to get rid of that itch is to go racing. The good news is, despite all of the options and thousands of Euros you could spend on a rig, you don't really need to.

I started on an Amiga with a joystick, moving then to a PC with a keyboard before graduating to a controller. It stayed that way for about ten years before I eventually got my first wheel. Yes, getting the wheel was amazing but I still had a lot of fun using my trusty playstation controller. This guide is for those of you which have decided to take the plunge and start building a rig. What bits should you buy and in what order.

Lets assume a few of things before we start:
  1. You already own a basic/entry level wheel and pedals and are thinking about what to upgrade next
  2. That you predominantly do tarmac road racing. (I will cover rally, drift and other forms of racing at the end)
  3. You're in this for the long haul and you well and truly have caught the sim racing bug.
  4. You already own a computer or console capable of handling sim racing
  5. You can't just dump €10k-€15k on a new rig all at once
  6. You are looking to buy the best you can afford in each category to avoid constant upgrades

OK let's go...

1. A STURDY COCKPIT
I have done it all when it comes to attaching wheels to various desks, wheel stands, and cockpits but knowing what I know now, I would have saved myself a lot of time and money if I just went for a proper cockpit from the off. Trust me when I say it's not particularly fun moving kit from cockpit to cockpit every time you upgrade. So my advice would be find a sturdy cockpit that will grow with your needs.


Simlab p1x.jpg

Pictured above - Simlab P1-X the OG sturdy cockpit

You don't need to spend thousands on this either. Like I said in my Next Level Racing F-GT Elite Review you can pick up very sturdy aluminium profile rigs for around €300 - €400. In principle these rigs are similar in nature to the likes of the NLR F-GT Elite and Simlab P1-X but what you might not get with the cheaper versions are the some of the attention to detail pieces like custom end caps, anodised aluminium profile and custom parts for mounting wheels and pedals.

You don't have to buy an aluminium cockpit to get a sturdy build. The likes of GT Omega, RaceX and TrackRacer all offer sturdy solutions which don't require a lot of effort to put together. However, it must be said that all three of those brands offer Aluminium profile rigs at the top end of their portfolio. This tells you everything you need to know about why aluminium profile is so highly regarded.

So it's for you to decide which features are of most importance for you. One thing you will get with a sturdy rig though is a strong build capable of handling any of your future purchases such as a direct drive wheelbase or load cell pedals.

Tips for choosing a cockpit:
  1. Prioritise rigidity and sturdiness over aesthetics. Future you will be grateful.
  2. If you like driving a variety of cars try to find something with adjustable seating positions
  3. Don't rule out Aluminium profile, it's easier to put together than you think
  4. Make sure to buy a seat that you will be comfortable with. Racing seats look cool but can be quite uncomfortable

2. A MONITOR (or other viewing solution)

OK, hear me out. I know this might not be the second thing on most of your lists but for me, upgrading from a 21 inch office hand-me-down monitor to a 32 inch second hand TV was massive. The immersion factor went through the roof as there was just more screen real estate to focus on. But if I thought that upgrade was good, then nothing could have prepared me for the upgrade I got to an ultra-wide monitor.

Benq Ultrawide.jpg

Pictured above - Benq 35 Inch Ultrawide

Currently I am using the Benq 35 inch ultra-wide and it has been a revelation for me. I have been using this screen for a couple of years in conjunction with entry level, mid-range and top end wheels and pedals, and honestly it's been the biggest factor in increasing immersion.

Now, I said "Monitor or other viewing solution". I get that it will be difficult for people to commit to something like a triple screen set up or VR just off the back of some comments they have seen online. However, these days it's not too difficult to find a sim racing centre or VR experience in a commercial district of most larger towns and cities (at least here in the UK). So you can try this stuff before you buy it.

Tips for choosing your viewing solution:
My advice is. If you can go and try out all solutions. Ultra-wide monitor, Triple Screen & VR and decide which you like best. Once you have made your mind up make this the next thing on your list of upgrades. I would argue all day long that you will have more fun with a Logitech G29 and triple screen/VR than you will with a Simucube 2 Pro and a 21 inch office Hand-me-down

3. PEDALS

This wont be the first time you have heard this but i'll say it again for good measure. A decent set of pedals will not only give you better consistency but also are probably the single piece of equipment that might actually make you faster. I didn't really believe it when I heard people say this but i'm sorry to report it's true.

Just to make sure we are all on the same page at this point. We are really talking about the brake pedal. While a decent accelerator and clutch are important it's ultimately the brake pedal where you will find the gains and increased immersion.

I went from the Logitech g27 pedals with basically no resistance at all, to a set of CSL pedals, then later with the load cell add on. The difference between the two was huge. The most major difference was the fact I could leave the rig for a week or two and come back and get straight on the pace without having to really do any warm up.

Venym Atrax Pedals.jpg

Pictured above - Venym Atrax 3 Peadls

Now fast forward to just a couple of months ago when I got hold of a set of Venym Atrax 3 pedals to test for an RD review (coming soon by the way) and the leap in quality from the Fanatec pedals is just mind blowing. I have the load cell on the Venyms set to 100KG which is getting on for proper race car levels of resistance @Yannik Haustein is running his at 130KG!!

Those numbers are impressive but honestly it's just taking that experience I had moving up from the Logitech to Fanatec pedals and dialling it up by about twenty times. The major difference now is that I am way more consistent over the course of a longer race. I also found myself being a lot more confident under braking which ultimately resulted in quicker lap times.

Tips for buying pedals:
  1. Yes maximum resistance (measured in KG) is important, it's not the only thing to consider
  2. Materials used for construction. You could be putting upwards of 100KG of pressure on the pedal, make sure they aren't built from cheap parts
  3. Mounting solutions. You will thank me later for this. Make sure you get something which is both easy to mount and has options for various pedal plates and cockpits.
4. Wheel Base

Finally, it's time for nice new wheel base. You could argue that this should appear higher up the list and I wouldn't disagree particularly, especially with the likes of Fanatec producing affordable Direct Drive wheel bases at a fraction of the cost of what they once were.

CSL DD.jpg

Pictured above - Fanatec CSL DD

However, I think if you are at the beginning of your journey and you really are in this for the long haul then I stand by my order laid out above. The reason being is that we are still just talking about the wheelbase here. So lets assume you have decided you want a DD wheel base, you still need to buy a wheel. If you're a dumb dumb like me then you will stretch your budget to buy the cheapest wheel you can just so you can experience the shiny new wheelbase, and that is simply not doing your new piece of kit justice.

But think of it this way. If you followed my order you will have a sturdy cockpit capable of handling such forces being exerted by the DD wheel. You will have a viewing solution which matches the level of immersion your new DD wheel offers. And you will have already adjusted to your new pedals which have improved your lap times and consistency.

In my opinion, the wheel base is the icing on the cake.

Tips for buying a wheel base:
  1. A bit like with load cell resistance. Don't obsess over how many newton-meters of torque the wheel base outputs. Most people I know with the best wheelbases on the market still run theirs at around 8-11 which is way below the maximum for most high end DD wheels.
  2. Consider the wheel eco-system. Do you want plug and play solutions or do you want to mix and match manufacturers - No right or wrong answer there, it's down to your preference
  3. Consider mounting options. Does your new wheel need a new mounting bracket? is it front mounted or mounted from underneath?
What other important pieces of tech are needed?

Well it all depends on what your preferences are. Personally I love rally driving so one of the first pieces of equipment I bought was a handbrake. You might also want to buy a handbrake early on if you are into drifting. It is possible to do both rally and drift with just a mapped button press but nothing beats pulling an actual handbrake for those tight turns.

You may also want to chuck in a larger diameter circle wheel for oval racers but honestly I don't know a huge amount about what makes a good choice for oval racing so those that do, please share with us if it's an important piece of the puzzle below in the comments.

Other things to consider are a decent headset with microphone. If you are thinking of racing online with others having an exposed microphone and speakers is a bit annoying for others. Nobody wants to hear your clacky paddle shifts.

I hope this has helped you on your way to building your dream rig. What do you think of my list? Would you rearrange the order? let us all know your own tips below.

If you are thinking of upgrading any of your equipment please consider buying it through the RaceDepartment store. It helps us out a little every time you buy through the links.
About author
Steve Worrell
A motorsport fanatic and sim racer for over 20 years. Content creator for RD, and MD at Simracing.gp. Favourite sims include ACC, AC, RF2, AMS, WRC9 - VernWozza#7419 @vernwozza

Comments

Great article! Choosing the right ‘hardware’ path certainly can be a bewildering process, especially when starting out.

I, like many, started out with an entry level wheel clamped to a table before migrating to a home made wooden rig. I would say this article is spot on, getting a (very) sturdy aluminium profile rig (hand built again) and paired with a proper seat was an absolute game changer. VR took things to another spectacular level and the addition of load cell technology was almost as seismic.

No mention of the essential, and in no way tacky, LED lighting though. You need ropes and ropes of the stuff, garishly multi-coloured and constantly flashing - your lap times will plummet as a result. Also, no coverage of the various cup holders you can get, which is disappointing :);)
 
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For me the best foundation is the rig, which is something I would need to upgrade before considering new pedals and base / wheel. So in that order for me:

1. Rig
2. Pedals
3. Base / Wheels

Of course PC upgrades + monitors are other bits which need to be considered.
 
For me the best foundation is the rig, which is something I would need to upgrade before considering new pedals and base / wheel. So in that order for me:

1. Rig
2. Pedals
3. Base / Wheels

Of course PC upgrades + monitors are other bits which need to be considered.
This is exactly the order I'll be upgrading in now - spent too many years with less than ideal desk clamps (DFGT and then G27 sliding off mid-race!), now have a GT Omega classic stand with a Fanatec setup which is better, but looking to upgrade to an 8020 rig in the new year for something a lot more solid - fed up with things moving around!
 
I'm already in the process of doing this having bought the wheelbase, wheel, computer, triples stand and triples within the last couple years. So for my next upgrade adventure, the path is clear:

1: Rig. This is the absolute #1 upgrade on my wishlist. It'll be alu profile, but manufacturer is unknown...yet. Currectly doing research. What I DONT like about profile rigs though is that they're all prepped for actual race seats and if there's something that gives me back aches outside of a real racecar, its those. Need to research other options that can be bolted on.

2: Pedals. Ready to spend serious money here. They're important, must last for many years and be very adjustable. They're not cheap though :/. Still doing research.

3: Round wheel rim. This is a nice to have item, but it will increase the immersion when driving classic cars. Would have been bought a long time ago if it wasnt for the global stock crisis (Fanatec).

4: Shifter. Again, nice to have but havent been bought yet because I want a rig to bolt it to.
 
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For me the best foundation is the rig, which is something I would need to upgrade before considering new pedals and base / wheel. So in that order for me:

1. Rig
2. Pedals
3. Base / Wheels

Of course PC upgrades + monitors are other bits which need to be considered.
Agreed. I went loadcell brake before I got a rig.. or rather, I had to go rig as loadcell and desk just do not work at all, pushing myself around the room trying to brake..

With a rig you are also suddenly much more open for other types of upgrades, as the new stuff suddenly has it's dedicated place (thinking of H-shifters, handbrakes, button boxes etc).
 
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I will go another direction here ;) Recommendation for guys which:

a) don´t have the room for a rig
b) don`t want spend the money for a rig
c) simply don`t need a rig

If you have still mounted your wheel to a table or similar and you sit on a chair - do you a favor and get at least a good gaming chair (fe. dx racer drift).
Change the chairleg-wheels with fixed ones, so you don´t move while driving.

For me this was a truly gamechanger. Sitting in a good gaming seat feels not much worse than on a rig-seat.

For me the problem with a rig is - i have no room left and i need my pc for far more things than only simracing. And i will not buy a second PC just for simracing.

 
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The list is perfect, 100% agreed. Most of us start with a Logitech combo on a desk, and when we see that we are not letting it go, we start improving. And how is listed is perfect: you get a cockpit for an improved seating position, and plan carefully because that's the chassis that will support all your future upgrades. You then improve visual peripherics, because you need to get your visuals right, it's how you decide to position your car on the track, and getting the correct FoV as high as possible is priceless, specially if you want to drive always from the cockpit (some people say that other camera positions exists, whatever... :p ). Then pedals for improving your most crucial inputs which are the hardest ones to get right, and the ones that cause the biggest mistakes. And finally the wheelbase. A better FFB is always good for inmersion, but it will not nearly impact your perfomance as much as the former 3.


Then, go bonkers with whatever you want to throw at it. Multiple rims, wind simulation, tactile feedback, motion, seat belt tensioners, whatever you want. The sky is the limit (who am I kidding? YOUR WALLET IS!).
 
For me the problem with a rig is - i have no room left and i need my pc for far more things than only simracing. And i will not buy a second PC just for simracing.
If your goal is just to go fast, you don't need a second PC or cockpit. All of my world records are with anti-slip mat + T3PA pedals (no LC) and a T300 clamped to my normal work desk.

264445896_3212894835653254_85365531397679182_n.jpg


If I had space I'd still get a proper rig just because of the convenience, but despite what people say about LC (which more or less requires a mount), cockpits, and direct drive wheels, the benefits from upgrading from this setup are really so negligible as to be meaningless. The vast majority of people would do well to spend more time thinking about their driving technique rather than their sim rig setup.
 
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Great article! About the handbrake… I don’t use the clutch due to my disability, but I’ve found the clutch is a great handbrake in rallying, so if you want to save a few bucks and don’t mind the slight break in immersion, that’s a great solution!
 
Why is the solution for a rig to buy one? Building your own rig, is a very good solution.
I build a very rigid wood rig added real car seat, for almost no money.
It does not look "amazing" but I do not care as it feels great and no one in my friends circle give a sh+++t about how my SIM rig looks like or about SIM racing in general.
Building the parts we can and buying second hand, a lot of stuff available, will save you a lot and get you a great rig.
 
If your goal is just to go fast, you don't need a second PC or cockpit. All of my world records are with anti-slip mat + T3PA pedals (no LC) and a T300 clamped to my normal work desk.

If I had space I'd still get a proper rig just because of the convenience, but despite what people say about LC (which more or less requires a mount), cockpits, and direct drive wheels, the benefits from upgrading from this setup are really so negligible as to be meaningless. The vast majority of people would do well to spend more time thinking about their driving technique rather than their sim rig setup.
Have you ever tried a DD and LC pedals? If so, were you just as fast? Honest question.

Myself I started with a T300 a couple of years ago. But my skills only went up as soon as I got a DD and LC pedals, I just didn't have what it takes with the T300 I guess. So personally I can't agree on the negligable benefits. It was the opposite for me.
 
Have you ever tried a DD and LC pedals? If so, were you just as fast? Honest question.

Myself I started with a T300 a couple of years ago. But my skills only went up as soon as I got a DD and LC pedals, I just didn't have what it takes with the T300 I guess. So personally I can't agree on the negligable benefits. It was the opposite for me.
IMO after a certain basic level of skill, better gear is always better performance. Although after the gear is good enough there comes some diminishing gains; but I think that ceiling is pretty high.

People just like to rationalize that their low end setup is good enough just because some insanely skilled drivers could pull off quick times in sims with easily abused and not so dynamic physics.
 
I had convinced myself that there was no way a full cockpit would fit into the space I have allocated for my equipment. Then I discovered this wonderful device. A tape measure. A full cockpit would be exactly the same size as my desk, chair, books on the floor to get the right distance for my pedals, set up I have now.

I am waiting until Sim-Lab gets the P1-X and all of the associated pieces back in stock. Then it's "move to the big leagues" time.
 
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If your goal is just to go fast, you don't need a second PC or cockpit. All of my world records are with anti-slip mat + T3PA pedals (no LC) and a T300 clamped to my normal work desk.

View attachment 527132

If I had space I'd still get a proper rig just because of the convenience, but despite what people say about LC (which more or less requires a mount), cockpits, and direct drive wheels, the benefits from upgrading from this setup are really so negligible as to be meaningless. The vast majority of people would do well to spend more time thinking about their driving technique rather than their sim rig setup.
I have to ask the question. When you hit the brakes, how do you not roll across to the other side of the room ? Actually, that table is longer that a full cockpit.
 
I will go another direction here ;) Recommendation for guys which:

a) don´t have the room for a rig
b) don`t want spend the money for a rig
c) simply don`t need a rig

If you have still mounted your wheel to a table or similar and you sit on a chair - do you a favor and get at least a good gaming chair (fe. dx racer drift).
Change the chairleg-wheels with fixed ones, so you don´t move while driving.

For me this was a truly gamechanger. Sitting in a good gaming seat feels not much worse than on a rig-seat.

For me the problem with a rig is - i have no room left and i need my pc for far more things than only simracing. And i will not buy a second PC just for simracing.

I too have a situation where my cramped workspace at home is also the place where I do sim racing. I went for this solution: Playseat Challenge + monitor installed on a monitor arm.
When I work, I use a chair and the monitor sits beside by work laptop. The Playseat Challenge with CSL DD base, 2 wheels, pedals and shifter is folded in a corner and takes little space.
WeChat Image_20211223163523.jpg
WeChat Image_20211223163511.jpg

When I play, I open the Playseat Challenge and stretch the monitor arm so that the monitor sits lower and close to the wheel. Voila'.
WeChat Image_20211223155742.jpg

Yes, it takes 5 minutes to set up but it's not the end of the world. Doesn't make me faster but certainly it's more enjoyable.
 
I think everyone's situation is different and therefore your path to sim racing bliss will be different.

2 years ago, I started with a Logitech G920. After that my steps were:
  1. Rig: NLR GT Track
  2. Triple Screen Mount: NLR
  3. Triple Screens: 32" 1440P Dell's
  4. Replaced Wheel & Pedals: Fanatec DD1, Pedals, R300, Formula V2, & Shifter
  5. Replaced Screen Mount: Sim-Lab
  6. Pedal Upgrades: Damper & Bushing Set
  7. Hand Brake: Fanatec
  8. Added Dash: Samsung - Galaxy Tab A - 8"
  9. Added 3rd Wheel: Fanatec McLaren GT3
  10. Button Boxes: DSD Both Sides on Wheel Base
  11. Rumble Added: Buttkicker Gamer 2
  12. Replaced Pedals: HE Sprints
  13. Replaced Hand Brake: HE
  14. Added Sequential Shifter: HE
  15. Headphones: SteelSeries Arctis Pro Wireless Gaming Headset
  16. GPU Upgrade: RTX 2070 to EVGA 3080 Ti
  17. LED Lighting: Costco Light Strips
  18. Smart Lighting: Overhead Hue Lighting
  19. Wheel Display Stands: 3D Printed Fanatec Wheel Display Stands
  20. Computer Upgrade: 8700K to 12700K
  21. NLR Keyboard & Mouse Support (soon to arrive, won from NLR, thank you)
Scary looking at this list.

Future upgrades. And the process starts again.
  1. Rig: TBD
 
I would suggest adding 1 or multiple buttkickers as step #2 after the rig... it's the most immersive and cheapest component you can buy and provide the most bang (no pun intended) for the buck. Of course a motion rig or VR headset, could be considered most immersive, but are very costly.
 

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