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Best Entry-Level Direct Drives <€500 [2023]

Best Entry-Level Direct Drives <€500 [2023]

, par Alex Myastan, 28 min temps de lecture

A look at the best value direct drive wheel bases available in the entry-level market. Find the perfect match for your budget.

Published: 19 September 2023.

In the dynamic realm of sim racing, the chase for unparalleled realism has always been the focal point, setting it apart from other gaming experiences. The transition from the vibrant discussions in the early days of iRacing forums to the sophisticated direct drive wheel bases of the present day illustrates the relentless pursuit of authenticity and innovation in the sim racing community. 

This voyage, propelled by technological breakthroughs and the spirit of open-source collaboration, has ushered in an era of affordable yet potent direct drive wheel bases, bringing the pulsating reality of motor racing straight into the homes of enthusiasts. 

In this article I’ll also introduce a measure, called TPE, which is aimed at assessing a direct drive’s value-for-money, and will note its current limitations. So let’s take a look at the products that fit this entry-level criterion, and find out which product provides 12 N·m of torque at under <€500. (It’s the Sim-plicity 12C, I don’t like clickbait type writing.)

JUMP TO SECTION

 

From Washing Machines to High Performance Teams

Once upon a time, belt and gear-driven wheel bases ruled the roost, offering reliability and a satisfactory simulation experience. Yet, the aspiration for enhanced strength, longevity, and fidelity guided enthusiasts towards the realm of direct drive technology, a concept initially seen in household appliances like washing machines. This technology, renowned for its frictionless operation and superior power, heralded a more instantaneous and realistic portrayal of car steering dynamics, ushering in a golden era in sim racing (and laundry).

Intense session racing esports team reglages
After an intense session racing in esports, your clothes definitely need a wash... in a washing machine... with a robust and dependable motor... mhm...

 

Progress Brings Accessibility

In recent years, the sim racing community has witnessed a remarkable evolution in the development of direct drive wheel bases, with direct drives being offered at lower and lower torques (Moza has a 3.9 N·m bundle coming out soon).

Wheel bases with lower torque present a unique blend of benefits and limitations that can shape your sim racing journey in different ways. As mentioned, they provide an attractive entry-level price point, but on the other hand, they, of course, fall short when it comes to certain elements of realism. Most notable is that they will clip during torque spikes, meaning a tough turn and an epic crash might have uniform force feedback at the base's peak level.

Downside of affordability clipping feedback experience
The downside of affordability: You’ll experience clipping which will reduce the range of feedback you can feel. (Y-axis is N·m with the positive and negative representing clockwise and anti-clockwise force feedback. The X-axis is time.)
 

In a fortunate turn of events, the modern automotive industry has gradually steered towards power steering in the last 30 years, a move that means low torque bases are better suited to driving modern cars than those old lumps of beautiful steel. Also, to preserve a degree of feedback intensity, you can opt to employ smaller steering wheel rims. This strategy, while potentially enhancing the perception of force feedback, might alter the genuine feel and responsiveness to larger rims, similar to those used in rally for example. 

Regardless, these low torque alternatives mark a substantial step forward in authenticity when compared to their belt and gear-driven predecessors. They also symbolize the swift pace of progress and innovation that is currently sweeping through the sim racing hardware industry, offering a promising and balanced gateway into the vibrant world of sim racing.

Of course, given this rise of sim racing popularity and the standard for robust design, there is an active second-hand marketplace in the sim racing industry, which makes the jump into sim racing less financially worrying.

 
Pros Cons
Attractive entry-level price point Clips during torque spikes, leading to uniform force feedback during tough turns, crashes etc.
Adequate for simulating cars with power steering and smaller steering wheel diameters (for e.g. F1) Falls short in certain circumstances (for e.g large rally rims or cars without power steering)
The general high standard of direct drive builds means there is an active second-hand market for resale value to fund your upgrade
 

Our second-hand marketplace is global, has no listing or ad fees and uses a built-in escrow system. Note we take an 8% commission on each transaction.

The Manufacturing Players

The trajectory of direct drive technology is adorned with the efforts of several trailblazing manufacturers. Firms like Granite Devices (Simucube) ignited the open-source movement, nurturing community collaboration and innovation (unfortunately Simucube don’t yet have an entry-level offering… here’s hoping!). The market witnessed the rise of powerhouses like Fanatec, which embarked on in-house development, unveiling a plethora of products that transformed the sim racing landscape. 

Newcomers like Simagic, Sim-plicity, Moza Racing and very recently Cammus, persist in pushing the limits, offering products that cater to diverse budgets and tastes. As we stand on the brink of a new epoch, the synergy between these manufacturers and the community foretells an exhilarating future for sim racing.

Although you won’t find a Simucube for under <€500, this article will look at every single other wheel base in this budget bracket.

For more detail on the history of direct drives, be sure to check out the three part series at BoxThisLap.

Every Direct Drive Under <€500: A Comparison Table

And introducing a totally questionable measure of value, TPE (Torque Per Euro)

This uses a linear regression based on every single wheel base on the market, and then suggests the expected price based on the number of peak Newton metres it provides. To be precise, this TPE value measures how overvalued or undervalued the product is according to its actual price vs the predicted price, as a percentage - positive values are bad i.e. overvalued, negative values are good i.e. undervalued (note all prices used are excluding VAT, so that we can compare fairly, and all the prices are taken from the manufacturer's site, except for the Cammus LP8 and the Simagic Alpha Mini whose prices were taken from resellers.).

❱ ❱ ❱   Scroll to the right   ❱ ❱ ❱
Name Price (ex VAT) Torque Value (TPE) PC PS Xbox
Moza R3 TBA 3.9 N·m N/A
Moza R5 €349 5.5 N·m -5%
Moza R9 €469 9.0 N·m -5%
Fanatec CSL DD €290 5.0 N·m -17%
Fanatec CSL DD Pro €415 8.0 N·m -9%
Fanatec GT DD Pro €495 8.0 N·m +8%
Cammus C5 (rim incl.) €270 5.0 N·m -23%
Cammus LP8 DDWB €415 8.0 N·m -9%
Simagic Alpha Mini €495 10.0 N·m -6%
Sim-plicity SW4C €280 4.0 N·m -11%
Sim-plicity SW6C €297 6.0 N·m -23%
Sim-plicity SW7C V2 €328 7.0 N·m -22%
Sim-plicity SW8C €417 8.0 N·m -9%
Sim-plicity SW10C V2 €432 10.0 N·m -18%
Sim-plicity SW12C V2 €476 12.0 N·m -21%
Logitech G-Pro (rim incl.) €908 11.0 N·m +61%
Asetek La Prima €718 12.0 N·m +19%
Cammus DDWB15 €697 15.0 N·m -2%
❱ ❱ ❱   Scroll to the right   ❱ ❱ ❱

 

 

We have plenty of Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals, from a variety of manufacturers including Moza Racing, Cube Controls, Sim-Lab and more. Check out this article with tables that specify which products and brands have discounts, and how much those discounts are. It also contains some general tips for tactically approaching the Black Friday craze.

Moza Racing (R3, R5, R9)

Soon to be released R3 bundle with 3 N·m direct drive, pedals and wheel
The soon to be released Moza R3 bundle comes with a 3 N·m direct drive, the lowest on the market yet.
 

The MOZA R3, R5, and R9 are all crafted from aviation-grade aluminum, promising durability and endurance. They feature the MOZA Pit House control center, which facilitates customization and fine-tuning of settings. Additionally, they all offer limitless wheel rotation and high encoder resolution, ensuring precise and realistic steering feedback.

The R3 bundle (Price TBA), with its 3.9 N·m motor, wheel and pedals, will likely stand as an excellent entry-level package, especially appealing to Xbox gamers and beginners due to its compatibility and user-friendly features. The R5 (€349, -5% TPE), with a 5.5 N·m motor, strikes a balance between power and affordability, offering a lightweight design without compromising on torque, although it is limited to PC platforms, as is the R9. This R9 (€469, -5% TPE), equipped with a 9 N·m motor, offers the most powerful and immersive experience, introducing innovative features like zero latency wireless technology.

Moza Racing’s products, constructed with aviation-grade aluminum alloy, are both durable and sleekly designed. The intelligent temperature control system and high encoder resolution across are notable. Moza has done well to impose themselves in this entry-level market, giving Simagic, and particularly Fanatec, something to think about.

Fanatec (CSL DD, CSL DD PRO, GT DD PRO)

CSL DD breaking the barrier for entry-level direct drives
The CSL DD, the product that broke the barrier for entry-level direct drives.
 

The CSL DD (5 N·m), CSL DD Pro (8 N·m), and Gran Turismo DD Pro (8 N·m) offer detailed and instant force feedback. They all feature the Fanatex patented FluxBarrier technology, which optimizes motor efficiency, precision and smoothness with the aid of a high-resolution contactless Hall-position sensor. Additionally, they all offer a substantial degree of rotation, up to 2520 degrees, which is electronically adjustable, and have a fanless cooling system.

These products are compatible with a wide range of Fanatec peripherals, allowing for a customizable setup. The other side of this coin reveals an ugly face: either you’re stuck in the Fanatec ecosystem, or you have to spend more to buy the podium hub QR converter for compatibility with other steering wheels. 

The CSL DD (5 N·m) is the most affordable option at €290 (-17% TPE), offering a torque of up to 5 N·m, which can be extended to 8 N·m (The so-called “CSL DD Pro”, -9% TPE) with the additional purchase of the Boost Kit. This makes it a flexible option for those that want to start small, but that have an inkling of an appetite for more force.

The Gran Turismo DD Pro, the most expensive option at €495 (+8% TPE), offers 8 N·m of torque and is officially licensed for PlayStation consoles, making it a premium choice for PlayStation users - a rare offering not only in this budget bracket of direct drives, but all budget brackets. (Note there is also a GT DD 5 N·m, but all of them are shipped as bundles with rims.)

In general, Fanatec products are known for their high-quality build, utilizing materials like carbon fibre-enhanced composite for the steering axis and aluminium for the wheel base housing, ensuring durability and a premium feel. The brand also offers a comprehensive ecosystem, with a wide range of compatible peripherals and accessories, allowing users to build a setup that suits their preferences and needs (but locks them in).

Fanatec has very few resellers, so unfortunately we don’t have any of their products in stock. Check out their main website to see where to buy in your region.

Cammus (C5, LP8, DDWB15)

Triangular based Cammus LP8, a curious newcomer
The triangular based Cammus LP8, a curious new-comer.
 

Cammus has very recently come on to the wheel base scene, with their C5, LP8 and DDWB15 all released within the last year. Their plan so far has been to bring novel designs like buttons on the LP8 and DDWB15 faces, an integrated rim and base like the C5, or the triangular profile of the LP8. They have done so without compromising on build quality, while offering excellent value.

The Cammus C5 (€270, -23% TPE) stands out for its unique design where the direct drive motor is integrated into the steering wheel itself, a feature not seen in other direct drives. This design choice allows for cost savings, especially in shipping, making it the cheapest 5 N·m drive on the market, without even factoring in the current discount, nor the fact it comes with a steering wheel rim (albeit fixed to the unique base).

The Cammus LP8 (€415, -9% TPE) boasts a maximum torque of 8 N·m and a unique, triangular compact design, which, turns out, is great for knee space when mounted below. Its compatibility with a 70mm mounting pattern allows for direct mounting of a wheel without the necessity of a QR system, a feature that sets it apart from Moza, Fanatec and Simagic. It has well-fitted parts and a sturdy build that promises longevity, although heat might be a concern in longer sessions, putting that longevity into question.

Cammus as a brand is now being recognized for its innovative approach to the design and functionality. Most interesting at present is how intent they are on breaking into the market: although the prices in the table are non-sale prices, Cammus are placing massive discounts to entice early adopters. As of writing this, the C5 has a 29% discount and the DDWB15 (€697 pre-discount) a mind boggling 44% discount (that’s the only reason it is included in this “entry-level” article). This gives these direct drives respective values of -45.1% TPE and -45.9% TPE.

I don’t have any good reason why we aren’t stocking Cammus yet - we’ll work on it.

Simagic (Alpha Mini)

Simagic Alpha Mini, the Mini version of the 15 N·m Alpha
The Simagic Alpha Mini, Simagic’s replacement of the M10, and the Mini version of the 15 N·m Alpha.
 

Simagic has been relentless in its pursuit of innovation, constantly iterating and improving upon its offerings based on user feedback. This is evident from the transition from the M10 wheelbase to the Alpha Mini, where they have addressed previous issues and introduced a smoother servo motor experience (compared with the M10’s stepper motor). 

The Simagic Alpha Mini (€495, -6% TPE) stands out with its next-generation features including a 200 MHz processor, a maximum torque of 10 N·m, and a high encoder resolution of 262144ppr, promising an ultra-fast response time with virtually zero latency. However, it falters slightly in terms of accessibility for beginners, with a complex array of settings that might overwhelm those new to sim racing.

Simagic has managed to carve out a niche for itself in the sim racing world. Its commitment to offering high-quality products with detailed force feedback and robust construction has garnered a loyal customer base. The brand's focus on innovation and responsiveness to customer feedback indicates a progressive approach in the sim racing industry.

Sim-plicity (SW4C, SW6C, SW7C, SW8C, SW10C, SW12C)

Sim-plicity SW Compact offerings
One of Sim-plicity’s SW Compact offerings, the old SW7C.
 

Sim-plicity is notable for two things in my eyes. One, the comprehensive range of products across torque levels. Beyond the products listed here, they have products that stretch through the teens, 20s and 30s - I’m talking about torque of course. But guess their highest torque motor? That’s right, a 65 N·m beast. (The SW65 Pro is in beta, but I imagine it is also experimental in purpose.)

The second thing it is notable for is it pretty consistently represents good value for money according to the questionable TPE measure (Their products mentioned here have an average of -17% TPE). But, I figured Sim-plicity would be a good use case to demonstrate that not everything is about Newton metres. 

Sim-plicity is attractive due to their varied offerings catering to different needs and budgets. The direct drive wheels are built around the reliable MiGE motors, which are known for their industrial applications beyond sim racing, promising durability and performance. However, one review of the SW7C+ model noted that, despite its potential, its force feedback quality is questionable and it had a tendency to heat up uncomfortably during extended use - which is a general concern for the compact series featured here, as they do not have high encoder resolutions (they come in 2500 and 5000 ppr configurations, in contrast with Moza’s 32000 ppr across their three entry-level products).

Sim-plicity stands out in the market for its focus on delivering a range of products that cater to different user needs and budgets. The use of MiGE motors, a standard 70mm PCD on the shafts, and the will to experiment are all in the spirit of open-source - Sim-plicity sticking to principles that the sim racing industry is founded on is admirable. However, they seem to fall short to the more polished offerings from their competitors.

We don’t stock Sim-plicity as it seems they don’t have resellers, and it also seems everything they make is made to order.

So what’s next for TPE?

Sneak preview of full data set with regression line
Here’s a sneak preview of the full data set with the regression line I used. There are a couple of outliers I have excluded, can you guess which?
 

At present this measure is nothing but a crude estimation of value-for-money, and I think its value is that it demonstrates it’s not all about those Newton metres. At present it’s most obvious shortcoming is not including fidelity via encoder resolution, but there are several other factors that influence the value of a direct drive. In the article I teased earlier, I’ll look to incorporate at least this factor (although some companies are tight with the information…), and I’ll also explain the mathematics behind the measure, while applying it to every direct drive on the market.

What about the Logitech G-Pro, Asetek La Prima and Cammus DDWB15?

I included the Logitech G-Pro (11 N·m) and Asetek La Prima (12 N·m) because they are comparable in torque to the top of the entry-level direct drives, but they come short in value. The G-Pro has a +61% TPE (granted it comes with a steering wheel) while the Asetek has a +19% TPE, both overvalued by quite a bit

The curious thing here is, how will these fare when more factors are taken into account? One thing is for sure though, the Cammus DDWB15 on its current discount falls into the entry-level bracket, and that is certainly value-for-money.

Best Entry-Level Direct Drive for Xbox

There are only three options: The upcoming Moza R3 (3.9 N·m), the Fanatec CSL DD (5 N·m) or the CSL DD Pro (8 N·m). It’s really important to note, however, that compatibility with Xbox requires there to be a licensed chip installed in the steering wheel rim.

Best Entry-Level Direct Drive for Playstation

The Fanatec GT DD Pro is your only option. Note that in contrast with Xbox, Playstation requires a licensed chip to be installed in the wheel base, and this is the only wheel base with the functionality in the entry-level bracket. The next cheapest option is the Logitech G-Pro at around 1100 after tax.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, the choice is yours. Hopefully this has provided a useful overview of what’s out there, but be sure to research products in more detail before purchasing them: You can see some of the references below that I’ve used.

Also stay tuned to see our deep dive into all direct drives to determine which has the best bang for buck (force for funds?).


Mots clés

SIMPLACE KNOWLEDGE BASE 

We aim to create a comprehensive repository to help you make your sim racing gear decisions. Check out some of our other detailed articles:

> A Beginner's Guide to a Sim Racing Setup: This article provides an overview of your entire setup.

> Best Sim Racing Cockpits: This article recommends the top ten cockpits for all budgets and compares ~70% of all the cockpits on the market in a simple table.

> The Wheel Base Guide: A comparison of every single wheel base on the market. We show the torque, platform compatibility, price and other relevant information in tables. We also have an article that analyses the value of entry-level direct drives, and one that recommends Xbox wheel bases.

> The Steering Wheel Guide: See types of wheels and the other considerations when buying one. We also have one that ranks the 12 Best F1 Steering Wheels.

> The Wheel Compatibility Guide: See the bolt patterns and QR Hubs of all the major wheel and wheel base brands.

> The Shifter and Handbrake Guide: A comparison of every sim racing stick shifter and handbrake on the market.

> The Pedal Guide: A comparison of all the budget and entry-level pedal sets, and the most popular mid-range and high-end pedal sets on the market.

> How to Earn Money in Sim Racing: An overview of the various ways in which you can get income from your favourite hobby.

We also publish sim related news, like analysing the value of the Fanatec ClubSport DD, reviewing the Fanatec QR2 or looking at the latest WRC updates. You can also find articles about us, like this article about our visit to the recent ADAC Sim Racing Expo.

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