Welcome to the April 2015 edition of TR’s peripheral guide. If you’ve put together a PC using our System Guide, and you’re wondering what keyboard, mouse, or monitor to pair with your shiny new system, this is the place to be.
We’ve had a number of worthy keyboards, mice, and displays pass through our labs since our last update, so it’s time for a refresh. Most notably, the first displays with AMD’s FreeSync technology are finding their way onto store shelves. FreeSync promises a slightly cheaper way to enter the world of variable-refresh-rate displays, assuming your PC has a compatible Radeon graphics card.
Where possible, we’re recommending stuff that we’ve personally reviewed, but the vast world of PC hardware keeps us from touching every single product out there. If there’s a hole in our coverage, we’ll turn to reliable external sources for perspective.
If you like this article, don’t miss the rest of our guide series: our main System Guide, in which we recommend internal components and custom PC builds; our how-to-build-a-PC guide, where we walk readers (and viewers) through the PC assembly process; and our mobile staff picks, where we talk about our favorite notebooks and tablets.
Our guides are sponsored by Newegg, so we’ll be using links to their product pages throughout this article. You can (and should!) support TR by using these links to purchase the products we recommend. If Newegg doesn’t stock an item we want to recommend, we’ll link to other resellers as needed.
Where would we be without displays? Not reading this guide, that’s for sure. In general, a good display should have an IPS panel with accurate color reproduction, wide viewing angles, and a decent complement of inputs. The dreaded TN panel is getting much better, however, and we’ve recently reviewed a couple of premium TN displays that hang right with IPS panels for overall quality.
The most notable development in displays of late is the emergence of variable-refresh-rate (or VRR) technology, which greatly reduces unpleasant graphical artifacts like tearing and lag. VRR tech allows for buttery-smooth animation in cases where fixed-refresh displays can make animation seem choppy.
Unfortunately, there’s no universal standard for VRR displays yet. Nvidia is off in one corner with its proprietary G-Sync tech, while AMD and the VESA standards body are sort of mushed together in another with FreeSync and the Adaptive-Sync standard. What’s worse, G-Sync monitors will only work with some Nvidia GeForce graphics cards right now, and FreeSync only works with compatible AMD Radeon cards. Yeah, it’s a bit of a headache, but the result is so, so worth it.
You might also be thinking about a 4K monitor in the near future. We’re happy to report that some of the issues with 4K monitors seem to be smoothing out a bit. For example, dual-tile displays are now pretty rare. More new 4K monitors seem to be using DisplayPort’s single-stream transport feature, which means that the monitor appears to PC firmware, Windows, and games as a single 3840×2160 display, rather than as a pair of lower-res displays. That avoids a lot of headaches, and it’s a feature worth seeking out.
|Acer XB280HK||28″ 3840×2160 TN, G-Sync||$759.99|
|Acer XB270HU||27″ 2560×1440 IPS, G-Sync||$799.99|
|Asus ROG Swift PG278Q||27″ 2560×1440 TN, G-Sync||$779.99|
|BenQ XL2730Z||27″ 2560×1440 TN, FreeSync||$599.99|
G-Sync at 4K: Acer XB280HK
For those who want to live on the bleeding edge of both resolution and VRR tech at once, Acer’s XB280HK is the only way to get there as of this writing. This 28″, 4K display features a TN panel with a 1-ms response time and a maximum refresh rate of 60 Hz. The XB280HK also comes with a fully-adjustable stand and a built-in USB 3.0 hub.
If you’re turned off by the idea of a TN panel in a display this expensive, we’d encourage you to take a second look. We’ve found that premium TN panels are very nearly as good as the average IPS displays these days, so there’s no reason to dismiss the XB280HK based on its panel tech alone. If you’re still not convinced, check out the Acer XB270HU below.
G-Sync and IPS: Acer XB270HU
If the TN panel in the XB280HK above is a deal-breaker, Acer’s XB270HU is a fine alternative. It’s a 27″, 2560×1440 display with an IPS panel. The IPS tech does increase response time to 4 ms, but the XB270HU comes with a fast 144 Hz refresh rate, too. Like its 4K stablemate, the XB270HU comes tricked-out with a height- and tilt-adjustable stand and a built-in USB 3.0 hub.
An Asus alternative with G-Sync: Asus ROG Swift PG278Q
Should either of the Acer displays we recommend be out of stock, or should you dislike their styling, Asus’ ROG Swift PG278Q is an excellent display in its own right. This G-Sync-equipped screen features a 27″, 2560×1440 TN panel with a 1 ms response time and a 144 Hz maximum refresh rate. It also features a fancy OSD control system and a chiseled, angular exterior that makes a statement on the desk. Its lower resolution versus Acer’s XB280HK may be easier to drive for some systems, too.
The first FreeSync display: BenQ’s XL2730Z
If you’re a Radeon owner who’s gotten a little green with envy reading about Nvidia’s G-Sync displays, the wait is over. AMD’s FreeSync tech is making its way onto the market. BenQ’s XL2730Z is one of the first such monitors to hit store shelves. In our review, we found that it provides the same buttery-smooth experience as G-Sync displays do.
The XL2730Z uses a 27″ TN panel with a 2560×1440 resolution and a 1-ms response time, which is all well and good. Just be sure to disable the XL2730Z’s “black equalizer” setting, which messes around with the display’s gamma to the detriment of image quality.
|Acer H236HL bid||23″ 1920×1080 IPS||$139.99|
|Acer K272HUL bmiidp||27″ 2560×1440 AHVA||$349.99|
|Asus PB278Q||27″ 2560×1440 PLS||$449.99|
|Dell P2415Q||24″ 3840×2160 IPS||$499.99|
|Dell P2715Q||27″ 3840×2160 IPS||$580.87|
|Dell UltraSharp U3015||30″ 2560×1600 IPS||$1,099.99|
|Asus PQ321Q||32″ 3840×2160 IGZO||$1,454.00|
The budget pick: Acer H236HL bid
For those who need only a basic display for web browsing and games, we submit Acer’s H236HL bid, a cheap-but-cheerful display with everything the average person needs and nothing else. This 23″ screen features an IPS panel with a 1920×1080 resolution, plus HDMI, DVI, and VGA inputs, for only $140. You do give up VESA mount compatibility and height adjustments, but it’s hard to complain about those omissions for the price.
A cheap 27″ option: Acer K272HUL bmiidp
We’re fans of cheap, no-name 27″ IPS displays with 2560×1440 resolutions here at TR, but our previous pick is no longer available. Thankfully, there’s an even cheaper option around, and it’s from a recognized manufacturer. Acer’s K272HUL bmiidp doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, but it’s got niceties like an on-screen settings display and multiple inputs that the cheap Korean displays usually do without. Still, this Acer lacks height adjustability—it only tilts—but it can be mounted on a VESA-compatible stand or arm if the stock stand isn’t up to muster.
It should be noted that this display uses an AHVA panel from AU Optronics, which TFT Central describes as an “IPS-like” technology, rather than true IPS. Even so, Expert Reviews called the K272HUL bmiidp’s panel “fantastic,” and they found that it reached 99.8% coverage of the sRGB gamut after calibration. At only $350, this display seems like a screaming bargain if you can live with its limitations.
A ritzier 27″: Asus PB278Q
For $100 more than the Acer above, Asus’ PB278Q (not to be confused with the 4K PB287Q) adds some nice features that the cheaper monitor lacks. Asus includes a height-adjustable stand that can switch between landscape and portrait modes, and the PB278Q can also be mounted on a VESA-compatible arm or wall mount.
Like the Acer, this technically isn’t an IPS display. Instead, it’s built with one of Samsung’s PLS panels, another IPS-like technology. For all intents and purposes, though, this is an IPS-equivalent panel. We’ve spent quite a bit of time with the PB278Q, and it has the same rich color reproduction and wide viewing angles as any other IPS-class display. For $449, it’s a premium monitor at a reasonable price.
A pair of 4K options: Dell P2415Q and P2715Q
If you’re ready to make the leap to a 4K display, Dell’s P2415Q and P2715Q seem like good bets to us. Both feature IPS panels, single-tile configurations, and factory calibration that’s supposed to reduce the average delta-E to less than three. They also feature 99% coverage of the sRGB gamut and three-year warranties.
The biggest difference between the two displays is their size: the P2415Q is a 24″ display, while the P2715Q is a 27-incher. As a result, the P2415Q has a higher PPI than the P2715Q. The smaller screen costs less, too.
A professional-grade option: Dell UltraSharp U3014
The UltraSharp U3014 is the latest revision of Dell’s classic 30″ monitor. It features a humongous panel with a 2560×1600 resolution (and thus a taller 16:10 aspect ratio than typical 27″ screens), and it has a plethora of inputs. Dell even built a card reader into this thing. Neither 4K nor G-Sync are part of the program, but you can look forward to stellar image quality without PPI scaling issues to spoil the fun.
Dell’s PremierColor panel (a true 10-bit, AH-IPS affair) can reproduce 100% of the sRGB color space and 99% of the wider Adobe RGB gamut. Dell also claims to factory-calibrate the U3014 to an average delta-E of less than two for color-critical work. The U3014 can even be calibrated in firmware if needed for extra precision.
A 4K 32″ alternative: Asus’ PQ321Q
If you’d like a helping of 4K along with your extra-large display, Asus’ PQ321Q is an intriguing option. Scott describes its unusual IGZO panel as “a thing of beauty, almost certainly the finest display I’ve laid eyes upon.” It’s worth noting that the PQ321Q is a dual-tile 4K display, which can play havoc with BIOS screens and games at times. Asus has a single-tile successor to this monitor in the works. Still, we think the PQ321Q could make a ton of sense for professional content creation work.
We know our keyboards here at TR. Churning out news and reviews requires hours of typing at a stretch, so any flaws or uncomfortable design choices quickly make themselves known under our fingers.
Generally, we prefer keyboards with mechanical key switches, like Cherry’s famous MX clickers. They feel good under all typing conditions, from article composition to heavy gaming, and the wide variety of available switch types makes it possible to get a keyboard with a feel that’s best matched to your preferences. If you’re not familiar with the most common Cherry MX switch types, check out our run-down of the various colors.
We also have a couple of options for those who need an ergonomic keyboard or an all-in-one option for the living room. Read on to find out more.
|Corsair Gaming K70, K70 RGB||$129.99-$169.99|
|Cooler Master QuickFire series||$83.99-$159.99|
|Topre Type Heaven||$150.00|
|Hausbell Mini H7||$35.99|
Our favorite Cherry-flavored option: Corsair Gaming K70
Corsair Gaming’s K-series keyboards are long-time favorites of TR staffers. Both Geoff and I use a version of the Editor’s Choice-winning K70 as our daily driver, and we both appreciate the K70’s rock-solid chassis, aluminum top plate, and Cherry MX mechanical switches. This keyboard also features volume and media controls, plus a Windows key lockout and adjustable backlight brightness.
If a single-color backlight is too tame, Corsair also makes an RGB version of the K70, which adds per-key RGB LED backlighting and some fancy animated effects. When we reviewed the K70 RGB, we found the backlight to be a cool feature, but whether it’s worth the $40 premium is ultimately a matter of personal taste.
No-frills solidity: Cooler Master’s QuickFire series
Cooler Master’s QuickFire XT is another rock-solid, Cherry-equipped option. Cooler Master also offers an accessible tenkeyless board with its QuickFire Rapid, which dumps the numpad for a shorter reach to the mouse.
If you want exotic flavors of Cherry MX switches, like MX Greens, the QuickFire XT is one of the few mainstream keyboards to be offered with them, though availability of keyboards based on the Green switches is spotty.
The QuickFire Ultimate is an excellent alternative, too. It features the same Cherry MX switches as its siblings, plus a beefy chassis and full backlighting. We found it worthy of a TR Recommended award in our testing.
Cherry switches and quiet competence: Rosewill RK-9000V2
Rosewill’s RK-9000V2 is another TR Recommended award winner. This keyboard features the same Cherry MX key switches that we know and love in a slightly more bare-bones package than the Corsair Gaming K-series boards. The V2 refresh of the RK-9000 features a strengthened USB port that might solve the durability issues inherent to the original RK-9000’s USB connector. The RK-9000V2 doesn’t have a lot of extras, but we aren’t complaining at this price.
For something different: Topre’s Type Heaven
Next up, there’s the Editor’s Choice-winning Topre Type Heaven, which is outfitted with Topre’s trademark electrostatic capacitive switches. You can read all about this keyboard and its rather unique switch type in our review. It’s not a mechanical keyboard in the strictest sense, but it provides smoother, quieter action than conventional mechanical designs—without the mushiness typical of rubber domes. The one downside of Topre-equipped keyboards is their cost: the Type Heaven sells for $150, despite its minimal feature set.
The ergonomic option: Microsoft Sculpt
For those who want or need an ergonomic keyboard, Scott recommends Microsoft’s Sculpt. This wireless keyboard is designed with Microsoft’s classic ergonomic layout, but unlike the company’s older, rubber-dome-equipped Natural keyboards, the Sculpt uses high-quality scissor switches.
Scott praises the Sculpt’s organic shape and snappy switch feel, and he says the flat keys require less finger movement to actuate than the taller keys on most conventional keyboards. The Sculpt comes with a separate wireless numpad that can be put into position when needed and stowed away when not in use.
For the couch: Logitech K400, Hausbell Mini H7
Full-size mechanical keyboards are great, but they don’t work well in the living room. Lightweight wireless keyboards with integrated trackpads are much better choices. To that end, we recommend Logitech’s K400 and Hausbell’s Mini H7. The K400 is a nearly-full-sized keyboard with a multi-touch trackpad on its right side, while the Mini H7 is sort of like an oversized remote. Pick your poison.
Mice and controllers
Mice are inherently very personal devices. Like the keyboard, the mouse is under your hand for the better part of the day, so it’s important to find one that’s comfortable for your particular hands and fingers. For that reason, we’ll talk about each recommended mouse’s design and features, so that you can pick the one that best suits your needs.
We’ve also included a couple of game controllers in our recommendations, should you need or prefer one for some games.
|EVGA Torq X5||$49.99|
|SteelSeries Sensei Raw||$50.49|
|Corsair Gaming M65 RGB||$69.99|
|Logitech G502 Proteus Core||$62.99|
|MadCatz RAT 7||$92.57|
|MadCatz RAT 9 (wireless)||$138.99|
EVGA Torq X5
EVGA is best known for its hopped-up GeForce graphics cards, but the company makes solid gaming peripherals, too. The Torq X5 is a featherweight gaming mouse that we deemed worthy of a TR Recommended award. We especially liked its ambidextrous design, rubberized sides, and wide main buttons. Its light weight is perfect for fast-twitch gameplay. EVGA built the Torq X5 around an optical sensor, which some gamers might prefer to laser-based mice.
SteelSeries Sensei Raw
If the glossy white upper shell of the Torq X5 isn’t your thing, or you prefer a laser mouse, the SteelSeries Sensei Raw is a fine alternative at the same price point. Geoff likes its rubberized upper shell and customizable LED lighting, and its ambidextrous design is great for lefties and righties alike. The Sensei’s laser sensor features the requisite on-the-fly DPI adjustments we expect in gaming mice.
Corsair Gaming M65 RGB
For those looking for a more fully-featured rodent, or for those with wider hands, we suggest Corsair Gaming’s M65 RGB.
This laser mouse features a sniper button under the thumb for extra aiming precision when needed, and it has a tunable weight system that offers a 20.5-gram range of adjustment. Like the K70 RGB keyboard, the M65 RGB features independently-configurable RGB LEDs that can be set to any of 16.8 million colors each. For more information, check out our video review.
Logitech G502 Proteus Core
Love them or hate them, Logitech’s gaming mice are undeniably popular. I use the company’s latest high-end rodent, the G502 Proteus Core, as my daily driver. The G502’s long, contoured shape is great for palm-gripping, and the entire surface of the mouse is coated with a rubberized finish for a sure grip. Like the M65 RGB, the G502 features a sniper button under the thumb for precise aiming. The sensitivity of its optical sensor can also be adjusted with dedicated DPI buttons.
Logitech also includes five 3.6-gram tuning weights that can be added to the G502 to get its feel just right. Last but not least, Logitech includes its trademark dual-mode scroll wheel, which can switch between free-spinning and clicky modes on demand.
MadCatz RAT 7
For those who want to tune every inch of their mouse for maximum comfort, Geoff recommends the Editor’s Choice-worthy MadCatz RAT 7. This mouse bristles with adjustment screws that control its length and width. The pinky and palm rests are modular, too. If that isn’t enough tweakability, the body of the RAT 7 can hold up to five tuning weights. This mouse sees by way of a “twin-eye” laser sensor with adjustable sensitivity, and its twin scroll wheels are useful for making short work of large Excel spreadsheets. MadCatz also makes a wireless version dubbed the RAT 9.
Most folks consider wired mice to be the best choice for gaming, but we appreciate the virtues of wireless mice, too. If you move your mouse between machines often or need to keep one in your laptop bag, a wireless rodent makes plenty of sense. With that in mind, our wireless recommendations veer more toward the productivity side of the spectrum.
|Logitech MX Master||$99.99|
Logitech MX Master
Logitech’s MX-series mice are generally regarded as some of the finest non-gaming mice you can buy. The latest iteration of that formula, the MX Master, appears to continue that trend. The Master’s main scroll wheel can automatically switch between clicky and free-spinning scrolling, and Logitech has added another scroll wheel under the thumb for horizontal movement. The Master can also store pairings with up to three different Bluetooth or Logitech Unifying recievers for those who move among different machines frequently.
Logitech M510 and M525
Just need a basic mouse? Logitech’s M510 and M525 should fit the bill. The M510 is a full-sized, ambidextrous laser mouse, while the M525 is a smaller design with an optical sensor that’s best suited for the laptop bag. Both feature Logitech’s Unifying receiver technology, and they have exceptionally long-lived batteries for worry-free operation on the go. Logitech claims that the M510 should be good for two years between battery changes, while the M525 can go for three.
|Microsoft Xbox One controller||$56.80|
|Microsoft Xbox 360 controller (wired)||$29.00|
|Microsoft Xbox 360 controller (wireless + receiver)||$49.95|
Microsoft Xbox 360 and Xbox One controllers
Some games just play better with a controller. For the PC, we think that Microsoft’s Xbox One and Xbox 360 controllers are the best things going. Which controller you buy is ultimately a matter of personal preference and budget, but Microsoft claims the Xbox One controller has 40 improvements versus its predecessor, including a new D-pad and improved triggers with haptic feedback. The Xbox One’s controller is limited to wired operation on the PC for now, though.
If the Xbone controller is too expensive, the Xbox 360 controller is still a fine piece of hardware, and it still has one trump card over the latest and greatest—while wireless support is purporedly coming for the Xbox One controller on the PC, the Xbox 360 controller can be used sans wires today.
Audio, backup solutions, and other useful gadgets
We appreciate high-quality sound at TR, and we have a few speaker and headphone recommendations in mind for listening to music, movies, and podcasts at the PC.
|Cyber Acoustics CA-3602||2.1 speakers||$39.99|
|Creative Inspire T12||2.0 speakers||$51.33|
|Sennheiser HD 558||Headphones||$104.95|
|M-Audio Studiophile AV 30||2.0 studio monitors||$84.99|
|M-Audio Studiophile AV 40||2.0 studio monitors||$149.99|
|Audioengine A2+||2.0 studio monitors||$249.00|
At the budget end of the spectrum, Scott recommends Cyber Acoustics’ CA-3602 and Creative’s Inspire T12. These are both stereo speaker setups that provide passable, albeit not exceptional, sound quality. Audiophiles need not apply, but these speakers should be fine for basic listening needs.
The most cost-effective way to get high-quality audio is probably to purchase a pair of good headphones. Geoff uses Sennheiser’s HD 555 cans, which have been discontinued and replaced by the HD 558. The HD 558 is based on a similar design, and judging by user reviews, it delivers an excellent experience for the money. Just be sure to use a decent sound card. (See our System Guide for recommendations on that front.)
Last, but not least, Bruno Ferreira, our resident coder and musician, has some suggestions for stereo studio monitor setups. M-Audio’s Studiophile AV 30s pack a lot of sound quality into a tiny package for only $85, while the Studiophile AV 40s offer bigger drivers and more power at $150. For an even higher-end option, the Audioengine A2+ sells for around $250. No matter which set you go with, these studio monitors should provide terrific audio fidelity for the money.
External storage and backups
We cover internal storage pretty extensively in our System Guide, but backups and external options are the realm of our staff picks. We’ve singled out a few options here, from a cloud backup service to a drive dock and 5.25″ card reader.
|CrashPlan||Cloud backup service||$4.00-$5.99/month|
|Thermaltake BlacX 5G||2.5″/3.5″ USB 3.0 drive dock||$45.99|
|Kingston DataTraveler 128GB||USB 3.0 thumb drive||$49.99|
|Kingston HyperX DataTraveler 128GB||USB 3.0 thumb drive||$89.99|
|Enermax ECR301||5.25″ card reader, USB hub||$36.99|
|Rosewill RDCR-11004||5.25″ card reader, USB hub||$23.99|
The easiest way to back up your data is probably to use a cloud service. Several of us have signed up with CrashPlan, which lets its customers back up an unlimited amount of data to the cloud for a monthly fee of $4 to $5.99. (The exact price depends on the contract length.)
CrashPlan locks up data using 448-bit encryption, and it offers the option to set a private password that won’t be kept on the company’s servers. The downside of this arrangement, of course, is that losing the password means saying goodbye to your data. The upside is that nobody else, save perhaps for the NSA, should be able to steal your files.
The big caveat with CrashPlan is that its restore speeds may not always be stellar. On multiple occasions, we’ve seen backups transfer at much less than 1MB/s. That may be sufficient for a one-off affair involving small files, but it’s no good for heavy-duty backups.
For local storage, we like Thermaltake’s BlacX 5G USB 3.0 drive dock. Any internal 3.5″ or 2.5″ drive can be inserted in the BlacX and connected to a PC via USB 3.0, which is awesomely convenient. And the BlacX isn’t just handy for backups; it can also help salvage data on hard drives recovered from failing or inoperable PCs.
Need something more portable? USB 3.0 thumb drives have come down in price quite a bit lately. Offerings like Kingston’s DataTraveler 128GB can be purchased for less than $70, and they’re capacious enough to store lots of important files: tax forms, photos, family videos, and so forth. Thanks to their USB 3.0 interfaces, these drives also tend to be much speedier than the sluggish thumb drives of old.
For even more throughput, you can choose a high-performance thumb drive like the HyperX DataTraveler 128GB, which claims speeds of up to 225MB/s for reads and 135MB/s for writes. Practially speaking, the performance is kind of shocking in regular use. It’s like carrying an SSD in your pocket, if you have a USB 3.0 port to take advantage.
Finally, if you’re building a full-sized desktop PC, chances are you’re going to have some unoccupied 5.25″ bays in your enclosure. It may be a good idea to populate one of them with something like Rosewill’s RDCR-11004, which offers card reading capabilities and a six-port USB hub (including two SuperSpeed ports). This may not count as external storage in the strictest sense of the term, but hey, it can’t hurt. The Enermax ECR301 is a good alternative if the Rosewill card reader is out of stock.
Other odds and ends
|Edimax EW-7811Un||USB Wi-Fi adapter||$9.99|
|NZXT Sentry 2||Fan controller (touch screen)||$29.99|
|NZXT Sentry Mix 2||Fan controller (mechanical)||$37.99|
Plenty of folks stick PCI Express Wi-Fi adapters in their PCs. However, few are aware that bite-sized USB dongle adapters also exist—and that they’re tantalizingly inexpensive. Edimax’s EW-7811Un offers 802.11n connectivity for only $10. The small size and lack of external antennae might lead one to think the wireless reception isn’t great, but that doesn’t seem to be so. Out of over 900 Newegg reviewers, 72% awarded the dongle four or five stars, and only 13% gave it one star. Either way, it’s not much of a gamble at $10.
Most of the motherboards we recommend in our System Guides have pretty serviceable fan-control features built in, either in their firmware or in the Windows software that accompanies them. The thing is, motherboards only have a handful of fan headers. For systems with more fans than the motherboard can handle, a discrete fan controller is a wise purchase.
We’ve singled out a couple of recommendations here, both from NZXT. The Sentry 2 is the lower priced of the two; it supports up to five fans at 10W per channel, can monitor internal temperatures, and has a fancy touch screen. The Sentry Mix 2 doesn’t have a touch screen (fan speeds are controlled with mechanical sliders), nor does it sense temperatures, but it supports up to six fans at 30W per channel. Given that most case fans don’t draw anywhere near 10W, we’d probably lean toward the Sentry 2 ourselves.