Welcome to the March 2016 edition of our peripheral staff picks, where we recommend the best monitors, mice, keyboards, and more to complement your PC. If you’re loading up your shopping cart with parts from our latest System Guide and want to finish off your system with some worthy peripherals to match, this is the place to be.
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 PC components and custom 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, phones, 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.
Monitors: an introduction
If you’re considering a monitor upgrade right now, you may be wondering whether to choose a 60Hz 4K monitor or a high-refresh-rate, lower-resolution display. I was in the same spot recently. Having used a 60Hz 4K monitor and a high-refresh 2560×1440 monitor side-by-side over the past few months, I think that most people will be happiest with a lower-resolution, higher-refresh-rate monitor unless they specifically need the extra pixels from a 4K screen.
4K monitors do have some advantages. To start, a 4K display is like having four 1080p screens on one panel. That’s insane information density, and if your work involves coding, media editing, or research, being able to have tons of information at hand at once can be life-changing. If your eyes can tolerate the tiny text that comes with running a 27″ to 32″ 4K display at its native resolution, it’s possible that one of these monitors might be a good choice. Larger 4K displays like the Wasabi Mango UHD430 might make sense for folks with less-than-perfect eyesight, but the Mango is closer to a TV than a PC monitor, and it might be hard to fit on the average desk.
Display scaling has gotten a lot better in Windows 10, but not all applications or web pages have been updated to look good when they’re scaled up. You’re also going to need a top-end graphics card to drive games at anything approaching 60 frames per second at 4K, too. Honestly, I can’t distinguish between games running at 4K and 2560×1440 on the same 27″ 4K screen, but using a lower resolution doesn’t save games from running into the display’s 60Hz refresh-rate cap or falling out of its narrow variable-refresh-rate range. It’s not an ideal experience.
Higher-refresh-rate 4K displays will most likely arrive late this year with DisplayPort 1.3 on board, along with more precise information about the performance of next-generation graphics cards from Nvidia and AMD. Once we know more about how these displays will work together with that next-gen graphics hardware, we’ll feel more comfortable about recommending 4K monitors to a wide audience again.
For monitors that are mostly going to display one’s gaming exploits, I think a high-refresh-rate monitor is going to make a much bigger difference for the gaming experience than the jump from 2560×1440 to 4K will. That’s especially true if you’ve got a powerful graphics card running older titles. Motion on a high-refresh-rate display just looks smoother (sometimes stunningly so), and the extra speed can make games feel more responsive, especially twitchy first-person shooters.
With that in mind, we think the the best of all worlds for gaming displays right now is a 144Hz, 2560×1440, variable-refresh-rate (VRR) display powered by Nvidia’s G-Sync or AMD’s FreeSync tech. These displays offer buttery-smooth motion at lower framerates thanks to their VRR mojo, and they can also provide smoother motion with higher frame rates when a graphics card is really churning out the pixels. You really should consider pairing one of these displays with that GTX 980 Ti or Fury X you’ve got on your shopping list if you’re looking for the best gaming experience possible.
Ultrawide monitors are increasingly popular choices for many, too. If you simply want a wider-than-normal display without going to dual monitors, a 34″ ultrawide screen provides more horizontal space for side-by-side windows than a conventional 16:9 display does. We’d skip larger ultrawide screens with 1080 vertical pixels, though. The low PPI of these large screens doesn’t look as good as an ultrawide with a 1440-pixel vertical resolution.
Ultrawide curved displays can provide a more immersive view of whatever’s on screen, since they gently wrap around the viewer’s field of vision. That’s great for games and multi-monitor setups, but it’s not so good for applications like graphics editing where straight lines need to be straight.
With those introductions out of the way, let’s get to our recommendations.
Since we last checked in on the FreeSync versus G-Sync wars, Nvidia still hasn’t chosen to implement FreeSync support in its graphics cards. Gamers who want to experience VRR magic with GeForces will need to invest in a G-Sync display. G-Sync monitors offer a gaming experience that’s just as smooth as their FreeSync competitors, to be fair, but these displays often cost quite a bit more than their FreeSync competitors for comparable specs.
Meanwhile, AMD has brought FreeSync’s feature set more on par with G-Sync by adding low frame-rate compensation (LFC) to the protocol’s toolbox. LFC’s software algorithm looks at frame times and sends additional frames to the display as needed to keep motion smoother when frame rates drop below the display’s minimum refresh rate. This improved method is a much-needed bit of polish. LFC only works on displays whose maximum refresh rates are at least 2.5 times that of their minimum FreeSync refresh rates, though, so monitors with narrow FreeSync ranges (like 40 to 60Hz) are out of luck.
Compatible FreeSync monitors will also be able to sync up with Radeons over the common HDMI port this year. The first of these monitors are just hitting store shelves now, but we’d expect more and more of them to appear with time.
|AOC G2460PF||24″ 1920×1080 TN, 144Hz, FreeSync||$259.99|
|AOC G2460PG||24″ 1920×1080 TN, 144Hz, G-Sync||$364.99|
|Asus MG279Q||27″ 2560×1440 IPS, 144Hz, FreeSync||$569.99|
|Asus PG279Q||27″ 2560×1440 IPS, 165Hz, G-Sync||$799.99|
|Acer XB271HU||27″ 2560×1440 IPS, 165Hz, G-Sync||$769.99|
|Acer XR341CK||Curved 34″ 3440×1440 IPS, 75Hz, FreeSync||$999.99|
|Eizo Foris FS2735||27″ 2560×1440 IPS, 144Hz, FreeSync||$1,289.00|
|Asus PG348Q||Curved 34″ 3440×1440 IPS, 100Hz, G-Sync||Not available yet|
Variable-refresh on a budget: AOC G2460PF and G2460PG
Variable-refresh displays have a reputation as luxury products, but AOC’s G-Sync 0G2460PG and FreeSync G2460PF prove that you don’t have to spend a ton of money to get into the game. The $260 price tag on the G2460PF is especially appealing if you already own a FreeSync-compatible Radeon graphics card or you’re looking to build an inexpensive gaming PC. These 24″ displays both have 1920×1080 resolutions, so they’re not hard to drive for today’s midrange graphics cards.
These monitors do use TN panels. We think that’s fine for their affordable price points. TN panels have gotten a lot better over the past few years, and something has to give if you’re not going to pay over $500 for a VRR display. For folks who don’t need to edit images or media on a regular basis, these monitors appear to be decent enough performers out of the box. In the unlikely event someone will stick a calibrator on the front of these displays, they seem to snap into sRGB conformance just fine. Tom’s Hardware got good results from calibrating the G2460PG, and we’d expect similar performance from the G2460PF.
27″ FreeSync: Asus MG279Q
If you want a bigger screen and more resolution to go with your Radeon graphics card, the Asus MG279Q looks like a logical step up to us. This excellent display uses a 2560×1440 IPS panel with a 144Hz maximum refresh rate. Its one limitation is a FreeSync range that spans 35Hz to 90Hz, although that range is still plenty wide enough to accommodate the lower frame rates where VRR really struts its stuff. Check out our video review for all the details.
If you play games where refresh rates higher than 90Hz are a common occurence, Asus’ slightly less expensive MG278Q can perform FreeSync over a wider 42-to-144-Hz range, according to PC Perspective’s review. To get there, the MG278Q does use a TN panel, but PC Perspective found that this screen snaps into sRGB compliance just fine if calibration is required. That panel’s slightly narrow viewing angles are likely the MG278Q’s only flaw.
Premium FreeSync: Eizo Foris FS2735
Eizo’s 27″ Foris FS2735 isn’t officially available in the USA yet, but we have one in our labs for review and we’re quite impressed with it. The black levels, uniformity, and color reproduction of the FS2735’s 144Hz IPS panel are all outstanding. The FS2735 isn’t quite the “set it and forget it” holy grail of FreeSync monitors, but its two FreeSync ranges (35 to 90 Hz and 56 to 144 Hz) are useful for keeping the display in the VRR sweet spot with different types of games.
The FS2735 can also be used in a strobing-backlight blur reduction mode that’s quite unusual to see in a FreeSync monitor. If you want the cream of the crop for FreeSync displays—or just a really nice gaming monitor, period—the FS2735 is well worth a look. We expect nothing less for this display’s $1289 suggested price.
Curved FreeSync: Acer XR341CK
Want a curved vista to go with your IPS FreeSync display? Acer’s XR341CK delivers. This 34″, 3440×1440 monster can run at variable refresh rates up to 75Hz. It’s got a monster price tag, too, at about $1100, but there’s nothing else quite like it on the market.
Acer tricks out the XR341CK with built-in speakers, ambient lighting, and a USB 3.0 hub. Pair a couple of these beauties with a powerful graphics setup, and you’d probably have the most immersive gaming experience this side of a VR headset.
King of the G-Sync hill: Asus PG279Q
I’m working on a full-length review of Asus’ PG279Q, but here’s the short version: it’s among the finest gaming monitors I’ve ever laid eyes on. It uses a 2560×1440 IPS-type panel with a 144Hz refresh rate, and it keeps gray-to-gray response times to 4ms. If 144Hz isn’t fast enough already, an option in the PG279Q’s menus lets owners overclock the screen to 165Hz. For games like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive that can run at those kinds of frame rates, the PG279Q is unparalleled in its smoothness and responsiveness. For $800, we’d expect that kind of awesomeness, but it’s still something to behold. The IPS panel offers great viewing angles and accurate colors, too.
Nvidia’s G-Sync tech means that the PG279Q remains buttery-smooth across a broad range of frame rates. Unlike some FreeSync displays, the PG279Q can do the variable-refresh dance across its entire 30- to 144-Hz (or 165-Hz) range, no questions asked. That range is helpful in titles like Grand Theft Auto V where maxing out the eye candy can be challenging for today’s graphics cards.
One word of warning: some PG279Q owners have complained that they’ve had to play the panel lottery with this display. Some PG279Qs seem to be fine, while others reportedly exhibit backlight bleed and regions of poor color consistency. The PG279Q I have in my labs doesn’t have those problems, but picky buyers may need to be prepared to complain to Asus customer service if their display isn’t up to snuff.
A premium G-Sync alternative: Acer XB271HU
If the Asus PG279Q is sold out or you prefer a more aggressive-looking display, the Acer XB271HU looks like a good alternative to us. Like Asus’ monitor, the XB271HU offers a 165Hz maximum refresh rate, an IPS-type panel, and Nvidia G-Sync. If you’re extremely particular about color, the XB271HU also offers six-axis calibration adjustments in its on-screen display for fine-tuning, an unusual feature in a gaming monitor. Overall, we’d expect performance similar to the PG279Q from the XB271HU.
Curved G-Sync: Asus PG348Q
If you want to get a curved, ultrawide, high-refresh-rate monitor with G-Sync, Asus’ PG348Q wraps all those features into one neat package. This monitor uses a 100Hz, 34″ IPS panel with a mild 3800R curve. The one catch: it’s not on sale in the United States yet. When it does arrive, we’d expect a price tag well over $1000.
Variable-refresh-rate displays, continued
4K variable-refresh-rate options
|LG 27MU67-B||27″ 3840×2160 IPS, 60Hz, FreeSync||$597.99|
|Acer XB280HK||28″ 3840×2160 TN, 60Hz, G-Sync||$799.99|
|Samsung U32E850R||32″ 3840×2160 PLS, 60Hz, FreeSync||$881.68|
|Asus PG27AQ||27″ 3840×2160 IPS, 60Hz, G-Sync||$899.99|
|Acer XB321HK||32″ 3840×2160 IPS, 60Hz, G-Sync||$1299.99|
|LG 27UD88-W||27″ 3840×2160 IPS, 60Hz, FreeSync||Not available yet|
Like we advised in our introduction, we think it’s best to hold off on buying a 4K display for now. If you’ve got to have a 4K display for gaming today, though, it makes sense to consider one with variable-refresh-rate technology. G-Sync and FreeSync alike will smooth out animation at the relatively low frame rates that graphics cards will hit in 4K. A little tuning of graphics settings will help keep frame rates within the relatively narrow VRR ranges on these screens—usually 40 to 60Hz with FreeSync displays and 30 to 60Hz with G-Sync.
Acer just introduced the XB321HK, a 32″ 4K monitor with G-Sync. This monitor might be easier to view than a 27″ or 28″ screen for folks with less-than-perfect eyesight. The XB321HK uses an IPS panel with a 60Hz maximum refresh rate. You will pay for those extra inches, though. The XB321HK is selling for about $1300 on Newegg right now.
Asus’ PG27AQ is also available now. This 27″ 4K display also comes with G-Sync and an IPS panel, and it’s a fair bit more affordable than the XB321HK at $900. This monitor lacks Ultra-Low Motion Blur, a strobing backlight mode that some gaming monitors offer as an alternative to G-Sync (the two can’t be used simultaneously). It’s otherwise got an attractive feature set at a reasonable price.
Acer’s XB280HK soldiers on as our choice for an entry-level 4K G-Sync option. This 28″ monitor uses a TN panel with a 1ms response time. That makes it one of the more affordable VRR 4K monitors out there right now at $645 or so.
For Radeon owners, the options in the 4K VRR space aren’t nearly as diverse. LG’s 27″ 27MU67-B uses an IPS panel, but it can be hard to find in stock. Samsung’s $900 U32E850R is a pretty appealing 31.5″ display with an IPS-type panel for those whose eyes can’t deal with the pixel density of a 27″ screen.
LG has a new 4K FreeSync display in the works called the 27UD88-W. This display has some neat features like a built-in USB Type-C port with fast-charging and display-input support for compatible machines. Its refresh rate still tops out at 60Hz, and LG hasn’t specified its FreeSync range yet. If you’re stuck on getting a 27″ 4K FreeSync monitor with an IPS panel, the 27UD88-W could be worth waiting for.
|Acer H236HL bid||23″ 1920×1080 IPS||$179.99|
|Dell U2415||24″ 1920×1200 IPS||$319.99|
|Asus PB278Q||27″ 2560×1440 PLS||$409.99|
|Dell U2715H||27″ 2560×1440 IPS||$529.99|
|Dell P2715Q||27″ 3840×2160 IPS||$590.99|
|LG 31MU97-B||31″ 4096×2160 IPS||$1,099.99|
|Dell UltraSharp U3415W||Curved 34″ 3440×1440 IPS||$799.99|
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 $165. You do give up VESA mount compatibility and height adjustments, but it’s hard to complain about those omissions for the price.
An affordable 27-incher: Asus PB278Q
We’ve long been able to feature cheap 27″ displays in this guide, but it seems like the days of sub-$400 27″ monitors are on hiatus, assuming they’re not over entirely. Prices for entry-level 27″ displays have largely risen to the same level as our past step-up pick, the Asus PB278Q, so that monitor is now the entry point for our 27″ recommendations. This monitor uses an IPS-type panel and includes a fully adjustable stand with tilt and swivel. For about $410, this is a premium monitor at a reasonable price.
Pre-calibrated 24″ and 27″ screens: Dell U2415 and Dell U2715H
If you need assurance that your monitors are ready to go out of the box, the IPS panels of Dell’s Ultrasharp U2415 and U2715H are both factory-calibrated to cover 99% of the sRGB color space at a delta-E of less than three. The major question, then, is how much resolution you want and how much you want to spend. The 1920×1200 U2415 is reasonably priced at about $260, while the 2560×1440 U2715H sells for around $530 right now.
A conventional 4K option: Dell P2715Q
If you’re ready to make the leap to a 4K display, Dell’s P2715Q seems like a good bet to us. This monitor uses an IPS panel, a single-tile output, and factory calibration that’s supposed to reduce the average delta-E to less than three. It also features 99% coverage of the sRGB gamut and a three-year warranty.
Professional-grade: LG 31MU97-B
Much as the Dell U3014 stood out in its day, spending $1000 or more on that display doesn’t make a whole lot of sense any more. For similar money, LG’s 31MU97-B offers full DCI 4K (4096×2160) resolution, true 10-bit color support, 100% Adobe RGB coverage, and 97% DCI P3 coverage. What’s more, editors can view their work side by side in two different color spaces. For example, that feature lets designers see how work created in wide color gamuts will look when it’s targeted for sRGB.
If all that sounds like garbled nonsense, you probably don’t need the 31MU97-B. It doesn’t come with gamer-friendly features like FreeSync or G-Sync, and its pro features will be wasted on Word or Excel wrangling. Print, imaging, and video pros will all appreciate the 31MU97-B’s virtues, though.
Getting that curve on: Dell UltraSharp U3415W
If Acer’s XR341CK is too rich for your blood, the Dell UltraSharp U3415W could be a good alternative. Aside from the lack of FreeSync, it carries practically identical specs to Acer’s curved colossus.
The U3415W’s 34″, 3440×1440 IPS panel still offers a wraparound view, and the $900 price tag is just a little easier to swallow.
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 K70, K70 RGB||$119.99-$169.99|
|Cooler Master QuickFire series||$79.99-$149.99|
|Logitech G410 Atlas Spectrum||$129.99|
|Topre Type Heaven||$154.83|
|Hausbell Mini H7||$35.99|
Our favorite Cherry-flavored option: Corsair Gaming K70
Corsair’s K-series keyboards are long-time favorites of TR staffers. I use the RGB version of the Editor’s Choice-winning K70 as my daily driver, and I 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.
Vivid LEDs and unique switches: Logitech G410 Atlas Spectrum
Logitech’s G410 Atlas Spectrum lops off the number pad for an easier reach to one’s mouse. This mechanical board uses Logitech’s proprietary Romer-G mechanical keyswitches. They’re tactile but not clicky, somewhat like Cherry’s MX Browns, and they feel great for both gaming and extended typing alike.
The neatest thing about the Romer-Gs may be their backlighting design, though. Each key stem doubles as a light tube to focus the output of the RGB LED under each key. That design reduces light bleed around the bottom of the key caps while making the letters and markings on the board more vivid. If you’re really picky about the quality of the backlighting on your keyboard, Logitech’s design is the best-looking of any I’ve seen.
Logitech’s Windows utility can detect events in certain titles to trigger lighting effects on the keyboard. For example, kick off a police chase in Grand Theft Auto V, and the G410 will blink its function row in red and blue. The utility can also sync lighting effects across other Logitech peripherals. Turn on the scrolling-rainbow effect common to many RGB LED peripherals these days and the software can be configured to automatically apply the same effect to the user’s Logitech mouse and headset, too.
No-frills solidity: Cooler Master’s QuickFire and MasterKeys 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.
Since our last peripheral guide update, Cooler Master has introduced its Cherry MX blue-equipped QuickFire XTi, which offers dual-color, per-key LED backlighting that can be customized to produce shades of red, blue, and purple. If you’re not interested in Corsair’s RGB keyboards but still want a light show, the QuickFire XTi could be just the ticket.
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.
Cooler Master’s MasterKeys Pro L and Pro S boards are also TR Recommended award winners. These Cherry MX RGB-equipped boards offer the full range of backlight color and animation options we’ve come to expect on today’s gaming keyboards. Like the QuickFire XTi, the MasterKeys boards expose a great deal of their buttons and dials through shortcuts on the hardware itself. That’s handy if you regularly take your keyboard out and about and don’t want to fuss with a software utility to manage its custom settings.
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, we have 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 unique switches 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, we recommend 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.
TR staffers praise the Sculpt’s organic shape and snappy switch feel, and 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||$54.99|
|SteelSeries Sensei Raw||$59.99|
|G.Skill Ripjaws MX780||$59.99|
|Corsair Gaming M65 RGB||$69.99|
|Logitech G502 Proteus Spectrum||$79.99|
|MadCatz RAT 7||$94.99|
|MadCatz RAT 9 (wireless)||$139.99|
|MadCatz RAT Pro X||$199.99|
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. We appreciate 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.
G.Skill Ripjaws MX780
For those who want an ambidextrous mouse that’s a bit more customizable (and flashy) than the Torq X5 or Sensei Raw above, G.Skill’s Ripjaws MX780 could be a good choice. It includes magnetic snap-on side panels that change the mouse’s shape to fit lefties and righties alike, and it’s studded with RGB LEDs that can be customized to show your colors of choice. Its tunable weights, adjustable rear grip, on-board memory, and 8,200-DPI laser sensor make it appealing for gamers, as well.
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 Spectrum
Love them or hate them, Logitech’s gaming mice are undeniably popular. I use the company’s latest high-end rodent, the G502 Proteus Spectrum, 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 hold. 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.
The G502 Proteus Spectrum is a minor update to the company’s G502 Proteus Core. The Spectrum adds RGB LED backlighting to the Logitech logo and DPI indicator LEDs. Logitech still includes five 3.6-gram tuning weights that can be added to the G502 to get its feel just right. Last but not least, the Spectrum uses Logitech’s trademark dual-mode scroll wheel, which can switch between free-spinning and clicky modes on demand. Since the mice cost more or less the same online right now, we’re recommending the Spectrum for its blinkenlights.
MadCatz RAT 7, RAT 9, and RAT Pro X
For those who want to tune every inch of their mouse for maximum comfort, we recommend 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 called the RAT 9.
If the RAT 7 and RAT 9 aren’t customizable enough for you, MadCatz just released its RAT Pro X, which comes with a dizzying array of side panels, scroll wheel tires, friction-reducing feet, adjustment points, and even a choice of swappable sensor modules for the truly insane. The Pro X’s $200 price tag makes it among the most expensive mice you can buy, but if you need the total tweakability it offers, that could be a small price to pay.
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 M510 and M525
Logitech’s M510 and M525 should fit the bill for basic wireless mice. 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 (wired)||$42.99|
|Microsoft Xbox One controller (wireless)||$69.99|
|Microsoft Xbox 360 controller (wired)||$29.00|
|Microsoft Xbox 360 controller (wireless)||$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 over its predecessor, including a new D-pad and improved triggers with haptic feedback. If the Xbone controller is too expensive, the Xbox 360 controller in its wired and wireless forms is still a fine piece of hardware, too.
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. We’ve also thrown in a microphone for those who need high-quality recordings of their own voice.
|Cyber Acoustics CA-3602||2.1 speakers||$39.99|
|Creative Inspire T12||2.0 speakers||$51.33|
|Kingston HyperX Cloud||Headset||$79.99|
|Sennheiser HD 558||Headphones||$108.98|
|Sennheiser Game One||Headset||$149.99 (white), $166.99 (black)|
|Monoprice Large-Diaphragm Condenser USB microphone||Microphone||$99.99|
At the budget end of the spectrum, we recommend 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. Sennheiser’s HD 558 is a good step into the high-end headphone world. Judging by user reviews, these cans 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.)
If you’re looking for a step up from a generic gaming headset, Kington’s HyperX Cloud is wildly popular, and for good reason. We liked the related Cloud II after spending some time with it during one of our build logs. The Cloud is as light as its name suggests, and its closed ear cups block out environmental noise so the wearer can focus on the game. The regular Cloud is a basic stereo headset, while the Cloud II comes with a USB sound card that can emulate 7.1 surround sound and some extra ear pads to suit the wearer’s taste. We don’t think you can go wrong either way.
Sennheiser knows a thing or two about headphones and microphones, so it’s no surprise that the company’s Game One headset is pretty darn good in both regards. Unusually for “gaming” headsets, the Game One uses open earcups that don’t isolate the wearer from the environment. Audiophiles like open headphones for their “airier” sound, so it’s no surprise that the Game Ones sound fantastic with pretty much any genre of music. They’re equally competent at transmitting the subtle audio cues that one needs to hear when an enemy is sneaking up from behind in Counter-Strike. The Game One’s built-in microphone sounds good and does a decent job of keeping background noise down, too. This isn’t a cheap headset at $150, but if you only want to keep one pair of headphones on your desk for music and gaming alike, the Game One is a solid choice.
For extra voice-recording fidelity, our podcasters have used Monoprice’s Large-Diaphragm Condenser USB microphone. This mic plugs right into a PC’s USB port for easy setup, and you can check its sound quality by listening to former Editor-in-Chief Scott Wasson’s voice in any recent podcast episode. A dedicated stand and pop filter are wise add-ons for this mic.
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.
|SOS Online Backup||Cloud backup service||$8 per month|
|StarTech.com USB 3.1 hard drive dock||2.5″/3.5″ USB 3.0 drive dock||$54.99|
|Kingston DataTraveler 128GB||USB 3.0 thumb drive||$40.99|
|SanDisk Extreme CZ80 64GB||USB 3.0 thumb drive||$32.54|
|Rosewill RDCR-11004||5.25″ card reader, USB hub||$23.99|
For cloud backups, we used to recommend Crashplan, but after some bad experiences with that service, we’ve taken a look around the web and discovered that SOS Online Backup may be the way to go, according to PC Magazine’s in-depth review. It’s a little pricey, at $8 per month for unlimited storage, but it offers some benefits that cheaper services don’t, like an unlimited version history for archived files, end-to-end encryption, and class-leading upload speeds.
More and more motherboards come with USB 3.1 ports, and one of the better use cases for that speedy standard is moving large amounts of data around. We went looking for an affordable USB 3.1 hard-drive dock and found a solid-looking model from StarTech. For quick local backups or data recovery, a hard drive dock like this is handy to have. One that allows the user to get those jobs done faster sounds like a winner to us.
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 SanDisk Extreme CZ80 64GB drive, which claims speeds of up to 245MB/s for reads and 190MB/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.
Other odds and ends
|Edimax EW-7811Un||USB Wi-Fi adapter||$9.99|
|TP-Link TL-WN822N||High-gain USB Wi-Fi adapter||$18.15|
|TP-Link TL-PA8010P||1200Mbps power-line Ethernet adapters||$69.99|
|NZXT Grid+ V2||Fan controller||$29.99|
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.
For homes or offices where weaker Wi-Fi is a problem, TR’s Adam Eiberger recommends TP-Link’s TL-WN822N adapter. This dongle has a pair of relatively large antennas that might provide a signal boost in areas where the tiny Edimax adapter above can’t. For less than $20, you can’t really go wrong.
Another alternative for working around weak Wi-Fi signals is to go with a pair of power-line Ethernet adapters. Several TR staffers have played with this concept to bring fast connectivity to parts of their homes where it’d be impractical or messy to run an Ethernet cable, and they’ve all been pleased with the performance of this solution. TP-Link’s 1200Mbps kit costs $70 or so, but the company also makes 200Mbps and 500Mbps adapters if you’d rather spend less.
If your motherboard doesn’t have great built-in fan controls or you’ve exhausted its complement of headers, an external fan controller is good to have. We’re dropping the manual models we’ve recommended for ages in favor of NZXT’s modern Grid+ V2. This tiny box houses six three-pin fan headers, each of which is individually controllable. For monitoring and control purposes, the Grid+ hooks into a USB 2.0 header on the motherboard. Owners can then set fan curves for each of those six fan headers in NZXT’s free CAM utility using the system’s CPU or graphics card temperatures as a reference point. Those controls are similar to the best you can get baked into a motherboard. At just $30, the Grid+ is a great value.