Raspberry Pi 3 Model B
We heart this hardware
You know how it is when you get a new piece of PC hardware—it could be a CPU, a storage drive, or a gaming peripheral—and it just feels life-changing. Suddenly there’s new pep in your PC’s step, or you’re able to do way more on-the-go, or you’re just seriously pumped about a product’s value. Whatever the reason, there are certain parts we hold dear.
Of course, technology marches on, and our hearts are fickle. So several of our picks from last year have been replaced by new gear crushes. Read on to see what PC hardware we treasure these days.
We’ve written about the HyperX Cloud a lot in the past, so its inclusion on this list should come as no surprise to longtime PCWorld readers.
It deserves the praise. For $80 you get one of the most comfortable gaming headsets ever made, and with sound fidelity that punches way above its price. And sure, you could spend $150 for Logitech’s wireless G933, or $300-plus for the SteelSeries Siberia 800 (I’m fond of its hot-swappable batteries). But the point is you don’t have to. The Cloud is an amazing bargain. –Hayden Dingman
I never thought Id be a wireless-mouse person. For years wireless mice were heavy, with poor sensors and poorer response times and a knack for dying right in the middle of a frenzied multiplayer match or boss battle. Logitech has made big strides in wireless the last few years though, and with Powerplay the company has removed the final barrier: battery.
See, Powerplay charges your wireless mouse while you use it, thanks to wireless inductive charging. The charging field covers 90 percent of the mouse pad so it’d be almost impossible to run dry. It’s only compatible with two mice at the moment, but given that the G703 and G903 both use Logitech’s famed PWM3366 sensor? Well, it’s basically like using a high-end wired mouse—without the wire. Amazing. –Hayden Dingman
Corsair K95 RGB Platinum
We already had embedded RGB LEDs under every key. Where could our keyboards possibly go from here? The answer is, apparently, a bright ribbon of light across the top of our planks, a la the Corsair K5 RGB Platinum
It’s over-the-top, sure, but I love the way the K95 looks sitting on my desk. It’s an attractive keyboard. Add in Corsair’s semi-proprietary Cherry MX Speed switch with its ultra-low resistance, plus a slimmer set of macro keys than on the old K90 and the ever-welcome volume roller/media key combo (which Corsair still does best) and this is a keyboard that almost justifies its $200 price tag (or $175 on Amazon). Sure, you could get similar features for cheaper, but thats like saying a Honda Civic is the same as a Lamborghini just because theyll both drive you places. –Hayden Dingman
AmazonBasics Dual Side-by-Side Monitor Display Mounting Arm
When I upgraded to a sitting/standing motorized desk last year, I decided to make one other quality-of-life upgrade and mount my monitors on swing arms. Now I wonder what took me so long.
To some extent it changed my workflow. The ability to turn one monitor vertical or bring one forward to the front of my desk when I’m using it for gaming... it’s both wonderfully novel and immensely practical.
But I’m more impressed by the small, day-to-day tweaks. My neck feels a little stiff? Or maybe my keyboard isn’t quite centered? Just move the monitor to a more natural, ergonomically sound position. Can’t do that when you’re tied to the rigid plastic stands most monitors ship with.
As for the AmazonBasics brand? It’s great. These mounts are equivalent to Ergotron’s, but almost $100 cheaper. –Hayden Dingman
My current phone charges via a USB-C port, but that remains an uncommon scenario among my friends and family. Which means that if I’m out and about without my charger I could be in trouble. Rather than carry a USB-A-to-USB-C cable everywhere, I’ve found it easier to instead buy these adapters, which come in super handy in a pinch.
These adapters are so small, however, that I’ve already lost at least two. So I just stocked up on a couple of these two-packs, which come with Benson Leung’s seal of approval. USB-C charging is still somewhat wild territory, and some cables and adapters don’t always meet recommended specs. Benson is an early adopter’s hero, because he’s been testing USB-C charging equipment for compliance. He even lost aPixelbook in his efforts.
I’m pretty sure I’m going to buy another set within six months, but thankfully these are relatively cheap. –Alaina Yee
Magnetic screwdriver kit
In the dark ages, before I got myself a magnetic screwdriver kit like this one on Amazon, I got by with standard screwdrivers and a telescoping magnet (for retrieving errant screws). The difference this makes is subtle but profound—it makes navigating tight spaces (and my life in general) so much easier, especially since I love small form-factor builds. –Alaina Yee
Raspberry Pi 3 Model B
I failed to secure a SNES Classic preorder. Then I failed to secure an SNES Classic during the actual launch. I’m hoping Nintendo makes good on its promise to produce more SNES Classic units than it did the NES Classic, but in the meantime, I’ve put together my own using a Raspberry Pi 3 Model B. Mine doesn’t have the fancy case that PCWorld videographer Adam Murray used in his RetroPie Build, but it’s a cheerful yellow that reminds me that joy still exists in the world despite Nintendo’s supply shortages.
For more information see our detailed how-to guide for building a SNES Classic Retro Pie emulator.
8BitDo SN30 Controller
One perk of building the RetroPie (besides being able to play games from more platforms beyond the SNES) is wireless controllers. In particular, this excellent Bluetooth replica of the original SNES controller. If I ever get my hands on an SNES Classic, I plan to buy 8BitDo’s Retro Receiver adapter (for around $17 on Amazon) to use this controller with Nintendo’s official console.
Full disclosure: I’ve had some trouble getting the Bluetooth working perfectly on my RetroPie, but as a wired controller, this works like a champ. And given that I can use a much longer Micro-USB cable than that of the SNES Classic’s wired controller, I’m still happy.
Modular power supply
I’m far from achieving the Zen-garden-esque clean-cabling you find in the really slick builds out there, but these days I’ve bitten the bullet and started paying for modular power supplies. The cases I like are pretty compact, so the less cabling in there, the better—from both a clutter and airflow perspective. Plus, it leaves me the option to use different cables. Corsair offers a nice 80 Plus Gold certified PSU that can be found for $100 on Amazon. –Alaina Yee
My phone, tablet, and laptop all have built-in front cameras to use for Skype or Google Hangouts, but when you’re apart from special people for long periods, it’s nice to have a better-quality video feed. For now, I have no dreams of Twitch stardom, so this older (and highly regarded) Logitech C920 model is a better buy than Logitech’s newly launched C922. It’s cheaper by about $30 on Amazon, and I’m guessing its price might drop even further during Black Friday sales this year. –Alaina Yee
Samsung T3 SSD 1TB
Online storage is convenient. You can get to your files from just about anywhere. But I drag around some pretty large files for testing PCs, and I like to back up my 500GB of music frequently and quickly. Online won’t cut it. So instead, I employ the 1TB Samsung T3.
It’s super-small and light, transfers files at 300Mbps over a USB 3.0 connection, and—because it’s solid-state—stands up to any abuse I inadvertently heap upon it. When it comes to sneaker-netting there is simply no better solution than Samsung’s tiny solid-state external drives. –Jon L. Jacobi
Lenovo Thinkpad Stack Power Bank
Of all the Thinkpad Stack modules (including Wi-Fi router, hard drive, Bluetooth speaker) that I reviewed, the one that found a permanent home in my backpack is the 10,000 mAh Power Bank battery. It holds enough juice to recharge my phone, DSLR, etc., several times over, and when not in use, retains its charged state for a long time.
I keep the battery in my backpack with the charger cable already in place, so I can pretty much just attach the phone (or other device), zip the pocket shut, and get on my way. Within 10 minutes, the phone is charged enough to hold a decently long conversation.
Because the Power Bank charges the same way a phone does, via a micro-USB connector (it charges other devices via a full-sized connector), I simply flip the cable and use a car charger to top it off. It’s the one thing I make sure I charge when I’m traveling. –Jon L. Jacobi
Flir One thermal imager
It used to be that a thermal imager was the kind of exclusive, specialized equipment you’d only find in a professional testing environment. But the cost of these devices is about one-tenth what it used to be just a few years ago, making it an indispensable tool for enthusiasts who want to analyze hot spots on a new PC build. And yes, you can also check to see where the insulation is lacking in your home, or pretend you’re the Predator.
My pick of the litter is the Flir One. It’s an attachment for smartphones that blends a visible light image with the thermal image. The blended image looks far superior to the blobby messes other systems force you to interpret . –Gordon Mah Ung
EVGA’s GeForce GTX 1080 SC2 Gaming
If your fetish is telemetry, you’ll love EVGA’s GeForce GTX 1080 SC2 Gaming with iCX cooling technology as much as I do. Packing no less than nine thermal sensors mounted around the GPU, you can graph data from your card to your heart’s content. The iCX reveal’s the card’s RAM, GPU, and VRM readings at a glance, right on the side of the card; fan performance adjusts accordingly. That, and it’s a GeForce GTX 1080—capable of playing everything out today at 2560x1600 resolution. –Gordon Mah Ung
HP Spectre x360 13
I get to test drive a lot of laptops and the one I always seem to gravitate to has been HP's Spectre x360 13. I wasnt a fan of the originalSpectrex360, which I felt was just too heavy and too large. And to be honest, the concept of a convertible didn't wow me either. That is, until the second-generation model arrived. Color me converted.
HP's Spectre x360 13 is now light enough, thin enough, and powerful enough that I'm over the whole Surface tablet thing. I've found that I still use convertibles in traditional laptop mode 95 percent of the time, and the lap-ability of the Surface just doesn't compare to a real clamshell. What's more, the Spectre x360 13 is thin enough that, in the one in 20 times I do this, folding the keyboard back behind the display makes for a perfectly acceptable tablet mode. With its 10-point touch and pen support (in the updated version), Surface can't compare.
The Spectre x360 13 also charges via USB-C like my phone, and unlike Dell's XPS 13 convertible, it features a full-size USB Type A port. TheSpectrex360 13 was also one of the first to support external graphics with its Thunderbolt 3 port—so yeah, if I really wanted to, I could get a very decent gaming experience out of it.
Expectmy full write-up on how well theSpectrex360 13 did on trips from Taipei to Los Angeles soon. –Gordon Mah Ung
A G-Sync or FreeSync monitor
Once you’ve gamed on a variable refresh-rate monitor, it’s hellish going back to a traditional display. Even a game humming along at over 60 frames per second looks terrible.
That’s because FreeSync monitors (which work with Radeon graphics) and G-Sync monitors (which work with GeForce GPUs) synchronize the refresh rate of your graphics card and display, resulting in a buttery-smooth gaming experience devoid of stuttering or screen tearing. FreeSync and G-Sync displays are locked in a standards war, which is a major bummer, but the sheer pleasure of using either one can’t be ignored. These monitors are magical.
G-Sync displays require special hardware and tend to carry a premium price. I’ve been using the 28-inch Acer XB280HK ($600 on Amazon), and the variable refresh rate helps make sub-60fps gameplay much more bearable at 4K resolution. FreeSync monitors rely on software and can be found starting as cheaply as $130 on Amazon for a 22-inch, 1080p display. –Brad Chacos
Samsung 960 Pro
Most people don’t need an NVMe drive, full stop. Don’t get me wrong: Upgrading from a traditional mechanical hard drive to a solid-state drive is the single best upgrade you can make, period. An SSD can make your janky old laptop or desktop feel like a whole new PC. But standard SSDs like the 250GB Samsung 850 EVO ($100 on Amazon) supercharge your boot speeds and program load times as-is. Realistically, pricey NVMe drives just make your file transfer times faster, and you need a cutting-edge motherboard to even boot from one.
Then I used the 512GB Samsung 960 Pro ($290 on Amazon) and hot damn, this thing is face-meltingly fast. Massive data transfers—like games or videos—finish in a flash. Our review called it a ludicrously fast rocket and that’s no joke. Most people don’t need a drive like this; it’s overkill for basic everyday computing tasks. But if you can put this beast to work, it sure is nice. –Brad Chacos
Ryzen 7 1700
AMD’s disruptive Ryzen processors brought 8-core computing to the masses, dragging it down from the lofty $1,000 mark that Intel long charged for an octa-core chip. And in the wake of Intel’s 8th-gen Core processor launch prices have plunged even more. You can pick up the Ryzen 7 1700 for just $300 on Amazon now—and I did just that for my personal rig.
Why opt for the slowest out-of-the-box Ryzen 7 chip rather than a speedier Ryzen 7 1700X ($348 on Amazon) or Ryzen 7 1800X ($440 on Amazon)? Because I’m not afraid to tinker. Unlike its 8-core AMD brethren, the Ryzen 7 1700 comes with a CPU cooler in the box. And unlike Intel CPUs, all Ryzen chips can be overclocked when paired with an X370 or B350 motherboard—and the Ryzen 7 1700 can be pushed just as far as the others. The same 8-core performance for a far lesser price? Yes, please. –Brad Chacos
I hated the Steam Controller the first time I used it. And the second time. And the third time. I hated having to constantly set up game profiles in menus. I missed analog sticks and yearned for my trusty Xbox 360 controller. But after about a week, something clicked—just like my buddy Hayden Dingman said in his Steam Controller review—and now it's a vital component of my PC gaming arsenal.
The Steam Controller still doesnt feel as natural as an Xbox controller in my hands, but it’s unmatched in versatility. Traditional controllers excel in games that were, you know, designed for controllers. But those menus and touchpads that made the Steam Controller so arcane at first blush open up opportunities to play more traditional PC games away from my PC. Thanks to the Steam Controller and Steam in-home streaming, I can now play keyboard-and-mouse-centric games like XCOM 2 and Total War: Warhammer on my TV, or while lying with a MacBook in bed.
Is it a perfect solution? Nope. But the Steam Controller gets the job done, and that’s head-and-shoulders better than prior options. –Brad Chacos
Cooler Master Hyper 212 Evo CPU cooler
The Cooler Master Hyper 212 Evo CPU cooler is downright legendary among PC enthusiasts, and for damned good reason. This gem delivers everything you need to keep your processor frosty even under hefty overclocks, and for roughly the same price as a couple of large pizzas. Sure, you can spend two or three times as much for gigantic air coolers that offer even better performance, or invest in a whisper-silent (and even chillier!) liquid-cooling solution—but you don’t have to. The Hyper 212 Evo is all you need.
Nothing else even comes close to offering this sort of bang for your cooling buck. Unless you’re limited by an esoteric build or cranking your overclocks to blistering new heights, you don’t even need to shop around. Just get a Hyper 212 Evo and you’ll be happy. –Brad Chacos