Best Products of 2012: Cool PC Accessories
This is where we give key peripherals, components, and networking products their due. The competition was particularly fierce in the router market this year, as companies jockeyed for position in both the nascent 802.11ac space and the more established 802.11n segment.
Video card manufacturers answered Intel's challenge—the integrated graphics in Chipzilla's Ivy Bridge processors are actually pretty good—by introducing new GPUs that are amazingly powerful. And there was plenty of action on the printer, keyboard, and mice fronts.
Here are our picks of the best PC components and peripherals.
Intel Ivy Bridge CPUs (microprocessor family)
Intel brings its 22nm fabrication process to the mass market. Though these CPUs sip power, they pack a big performance punch. Desktop systems idling at under 70 watts and laptops delivering 8-hour battery life are practically commonplace now. Ivy Bridge (number 7 on our list) sets a new standard for performance per watt.
Asus RT-AC66U (wireless router)
Ready to make the leap to the fledgling 802.11ac standard? Asus has the fastest router with the most features, including a cloud-storage service that allows you to sync files on any device and provides remote access to any PC on your network. The RT-AC66U is number 9 on our list
Dell UltraSharp U2713HM (display)
This big little monitor (19th on our Top 100) delivers the same number of pixels as a 30-inch model in a more affordable 27-inch package. An LED-backlit IPS panel boasting accurate color, excellent uniformity, and wide viewing angles, it’s an excellent choice for both PC and Mac users, even without a Thunderbolt connector.
This is easily the best mechanical gaming keyboard we’ve tested this year. It’s durable, useful, and just plain satisfying to use, whether you’re playing games or powering through email. If you haven’t upgraded to a fully mechanical keyboard yet, this model—number 27 on our list—is the one to buy.
Western Digital MyBook Thunderbolt Duo (storage device)
If you need a lot of storage right at your desktop, and your computer is equipped with a Thunderbolt port, take a long look at WD’s Thunderbolt MyBook Duo. This dual-drive device (number 28) is available in 4-, 6-, and 8TB configurations with a blistering-fast Thunderbolt interface.
Linksys WUMC710 Media Connector (wireless bridge)
Most 802.11ac router manufacturers expect consumers to buy two of their routers and configure one as a bridge. That’s an expensive and unnecessarily complicated solution. Linksys was a little late to the 802.11ac party, but it arrived with the absolute best product—29th on our list—for the client side.
HP ZR2440w (display)
This 24-inch desktop monitor—35th on our list—has it all: A 1920-by-1200-pixel IPS panel that produces brilliant images with wide viewing angles, an easy-to-adjust stand that can pivot to portrait mode, a four-port USB hub, and an energy-saving LED backlight. It can connect to your computer via DVI, DisplayPort, DVI, or HDMI.
Nvidia GeForce GTX 680 (GPU)
If you find the size and power consumption of AMD’s Radeon HD 7970 objectionable, this Nvidia GPU—number 37—blends the high performance of the company’s Kepler architecture with the terrific efficiency of its earlier Fermi design to deliver a well-balanced powerhouse that’s suited to both gaming and GPU-compute applications.
AMD made a few tweaks to the reference design it originally released in December 2011. This single-GPU card—number 41—now overpowers Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 680 in most of our benchmarks. It’s still too big and consumes too much juice, but we’ll accept the trade-off.
Asus RT-N66U (wireless router)
Hey, we get it. Not everyone is ready to embrace a draft networking standard. If you need a new router, but want to stick with the tried-and-true 802.11n standard, you'll find no better model than the dual-band Asus RT-N66U. For performance and features, nothing else comes close. It's number 43 on our list.
Epson WorkForce WP-4540 (multifunction printer)
This fast, capable, business-minded inkjet multifunction is a leader among the new generation of no-regrets inkjets for the office and is number 63 on our list. The best-balanced among many strong contenders, it brings swift performance, spiffy output quality, and a whopping 580 sheets of standard input. Ink is cheap, too. Low-end color lasers should be worried.
Western Digital My Passport 2TB Drive (portable hard drive)
Cloud storage is great—until you can’t access the cloud. When you need to take a lot of data on the go, Western Digital’s biggest My Passport drive packs two terabytes into a 2.5-inch chassis, and it draws all its power over a USB connection. It's number 66 on our list.
Microsoft Sculpt Touch Mouse (computer mouse)
Windows 8’s emphasis on touch controls will change how you use your computer. If you’re not ready to invest in a touchscreen display, Microsoft’s Sculpt Mouse has a touch-sensitive strip in its middle mouse button that can move the cursor up and down and left to right. It's number 74 on our list.
Razer Naga Expert MMO Gaming Mouse (computer mouse)
Playing World of Warcraft with an ordinary mouse after playing with the Razer Naga will feel like bringing a banana to a knife fight. The 17 programmable buttons under one hand leaves the other hand free to concentrate on using your QWERTY keyboard's WASD keys to move within the game world. It's number 79 on our master list.
Seagate Momentus XT Hybrid (750GB internal hard drive)
By marrying an 8GB SSD with a midsize hard drive, the Momentus XT delivers some of the speed of an SSD with the superior capacity of a mechanical drive. This is a highly recommended laptop upgrade; for desktops, we recommend using a discrete SSD with a second mechanical drive. This Seagate drive is number 93.
Brother MFC-J4510DW (printer)
This printer’s innovative design finally gives Brother a reason to say “follow me,” instead of “me, too.” A wider print head prints more of the page at one time, accelerating performance, while a wider paper path allows paper sizes up to 11 by 17 inches. Best of all, this printer—our number 95 product—uses low-price inks.