Welcome to the October 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 stuff from our latest System Guide and you 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. Most of our staff has experienced the same conundrum. Our take from looking at both types of displays is 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 on hand at once can be life-changing. If you need that kind of Ozymandias-like density, 27″ is about the minimum panel size where running 4K displays at 1X scaling is useful. A 32″ or larger panel might be ideal. If you choose a smaller 4K display like a 24″ screen, you can enjoy Apple Retina Display-like crispness for text using Windows’ built-in resolution scaling—and you’ll need to take advantage of that feature, since reading text at 1x scaling on a 24″ 4K display will be next to impossible for even the most eagle-eyed out there.
In the past, Windows 7 and 8.1’s resolution scaling didn’t work all that well, so scaling up content to avoid eyestrain wasn’t an ideal way to live with those high-PPI displays. Windows 10, however, does a decent enough job of upscaling your applications that we’re comfortable recommending a 4K display if you don’t need high refresh rates for gaming.
Not all applications or web pages have been updated to look good when they’re scaled up, though. You’re also going to need a top-end graphics card like a GeForce GTX 1070 or GTX 1080 to drive games at anything approaching 60 FPS at 4K, too. Cursory observation on our part indicates it’s not easy to distinguish between games running at 4K and 2560×1440 on the same 27″ 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.
If gaming is your thing, we think it’s better to choose a lower-resolution, high-refresh-rate monitor for displaying one’s exploits right now. 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 1070 or GTX 1080 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. 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.
We’d skip larger ultrawide screens with 1080 vertical pixels, too. The low pixel density of these large screens doesn’t look as good as that of an ultrawide with a 1440-pixel vertical resolution. 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.
Some FreeSync monitors can perform the VRR dance over HDMI, something G-Sync can’t do yet. The first displays with this technology on board are just hitting store shelves now, and we’d expect more and more of them to appear with time. If this is a feature you’re interested in, AMD keeps a full list of FreeSync monitors and their compatible inputs on its website.
There’s also this “4K” thing you’ve been hearing about. In the PC monitor arena, that means a display with a 3840×2160 resolution. If you’ve got to have a 4K display for gaming today, 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.
Current-generation 4K displays have refresh rates that top out at a maximum of 60Hz. The rumor mill’s been abuzz with talk about upcoming “gaming” 4K monitors with high refresh rates for some time now, but we don’t have a great idea of when those monitors are coming to market. If you buy your displays for the long run and have 4K on the brain, we’d advise you to wait for now. That said, we still offer a few suggestions for 4K, VRR-enabled displays.
To make it easier for all you gamers, we’ve separated our monitor recommendations between FreeSync and G-Sync models. Thanks to its alphabetic precedence, FreeSync goes first.
|Product||Type||Refresh range (Hz)||Price||Notes|
|ViewSonic XG2401||24″ 1920×1080 TN||48-144||$249.99||N/A|
|Acer XG270HU||27″ 2560×1440 TN||40-144||$449.99||No height adjustment, no VESA mount|
|Acer XF270HU||27″ 2560×1440 IPS||40-144||$549.99||N/A|
|Acer XR341CK||34″ 3440×1440 IPS||30-75||$849.99||Ultrawide, curved|
|LG 27UD68P-B||27″ 3840×2160 (4K) IPS||40-60||$439.99||Factory calibration, USB Type-C|
FreeSync on the cheap: ViewSonic XG2401
People post those “rate my setup” on the internet all the time, but the fact remains that not everyone can afford a high-end monitor. Thankfully, it’s quite affordable to get into the FreeSync action these day with something like ViewSonic’s XG2401, which will set you back only $250. Despite the affordable price, this 1080p 144Hz monitor still offers a nice stand with height and tilt adjustments, two USB 3.0 ports, and even a pair of built-in speakers. The lower bound of this monitor’s FreeSync range is 48Hz, so you want to be sure that your graphics card is powerful enough to keep the framerate higher than that. Thankfully, it doesn’t take a lot of horsepower these days to pull that off at 1920×1080, and AMD’s LFC tech can kick in on this display if frame rates drop too far.
27″ of goodness: Acer XG270HU
A 24″ monitor may feel a little restrictive these days, so the logical step up is Acer’s XG270HU, a 27″ TN display with a 2560×1440 resolution. This sleek, thin-bezeled monitor is our pick for the sub-$500 FreeSync range. The included stand tilts, but buyers will need to be OK with its fixed height and lack of a VESA mount. Where this monitor shines, though, is in its FreeSync range: 40 to 144Hz, which is wide enough to let FreeSync kick in almost 100% of the time. This display also offers support for FreeSync’s LFC tech.
Going IPS: Acer XF270HU
Modern-day TN panels offer pretty good color reproduction, but IPS displays still offer better colors and wider vertical viewing angles, too. The step up to the Acer XF270HU gets you a 27-inch, 2560×1440 monitor with one of those fancy panels, and Acer throws in six-axis color adjustment for the exceptionally picky. The XF270HU features the same 40-144Hz FreeSync range as the XG270HU above, and it also offers DisplayPort, HDMI 2.0, and DVI inputs. Acer rounds out this display with USB 3.0 ports and a fully-adjustable stand. Its overdrive functionality also works better than you’d expect at high refresh rates. I know that because I’m writing this text looking at an XF270HU.
A wider vista: Acer XR341CK
Acer continues its FreeSync monitor “domination” (at least for now) with the XR341CK. This unit is a little different from the rest of our picks, though. It’s a 34″ ultrawide curved display with a 3440×1440 resolution. This should offer any gamer a great view. Naturally, a resolution of 3440×1440 requires some meaty graphics horsepower to drive it, but the XR341CK’s lower FreeSync bound of 30Hz should help keep FreeSync running when the frame rate goes down. Acer tricks out the XR341CK with built-in speakers, ambient lighting, and a USB 3.0 hub. Pair this beauty with a powerful graphics setup, and you’d probably have the most immersive gaming experience this side of a VR headset.
4K, good color, and FreeSync: LG 27UD68P-B
We’re firm believers that being a gamer doesn’t need to come at the expense of good color reproduction. The LG 27UD68P-B is a good example of a display that covers both those bases. This 27″ IPS monitor offers a 4K panel, a 40-to-60Hz refresh rate with FreeSync support, and a USB Type-C port with device charging capabilities. That’s all good, but the most interesting thing about this monitor is its factory calibration. A certain Scott Wasson has added one of these displays to his test bench, and he says the color reproduction is top-notch. You may be thinking a monitor like this would run you somewhere north of $700, but Newegg is selling it for only $440. We think that’s a steal.
|Product||Type||Refresh rate range||Price||Notes|
|AOC G2460PG||24″ 1920×1080 TN||30-144||$379.99||N/A|
|Dell S2716DG||27″ 2560×1440 TN||30-144||$600.00|
|Asus PG279Q||27″ 2560×1440 IPS||30-165||$799.99|
|Acer XB271HK||27″ 3840×2160 (4K) IPS||30-60||$869.99|
|Asus ROG P348Q||34″ 3440×1440 IPS||30-100||$1,249.99||Ultrawide, curved|
Affordable G-Sync: AOC G2460PG
Variable-refresh displays have a reputation as luxury products, but AOC’s G-Sync G2460PG proves that you don’t have to spend a ton of money to get into the game. This 24″ display offers a 144Hz maximum refresh rate, a USB hub, and a stand with height and tilt adjustments. The 1920×1080 resolution on this display should make it easy to drive with affordable graphics cards like the GeForce GTX 1060.
Going bigger: Dell S2716DG
If you’re looking for something a little more grand than a 24″ monitor, you needn’t look further than the Dell S2716DG. This stylish 27″ display offers thin bezels, a 144Hz refresh rate, a USB hub, and a fully-adjustable stand. Dell covers the S2716DG with a three-year warranty with advance exchange, too (meaning Dell will ship you a new monitor before you turn yours in). We’re fans of Dell’s offerings overall for their build quality, and we expect the S2716DG to deliver.
The monitors above do use TN panels. We think that’s fine for their relatively 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 way over $600 for a G-Sync 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 Dell S2716DG.
King of the 27″ G-Sync hill: Asus PG279Q
Asus‘ PG279Q is among the finest gaming monitors we’ve ever laid eyes on. It uses a 2560×1440 IPS 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. Picky buyers may need to be prepared to complain to Asus customer service if their display isn’t up to snuff.
4K and G-Sync: Acer XB271HK
If you’re looking for the rather exclusive combo of G-Sync and a 4K resolution, consider Acer’s XB271HK. This 27″ IPS display offers a 4K resolution and G-Sync support, all wrapped in a neat-looking package. Acer says the average response time should be around 4ms. The maximum refresh rate is 60Hz, and the monitor includes a USB hub and a pair of 2W speakers. The included stand is fully adjustable, too.
Curved G-Sync: Asus PG348Q
If you want to get a curved, ultrawide, high-refresh-rate monitor with G-Sync, the gorgeous Asus PG348Q wraps all those features into one neat package. This monitor uses a 100Hz, 34″ IPS panel with a mild 3800R curve. While the PG348Q may be the display your eyes have always dreamed of, the $1300 price tag may leave them full of tears. Newegg does throw in an LG projector with the monitor right now, though, which might soften the blow.
|LG 24MC57HQ-P||23.8″ 1920×1080 IPS||$139.99||VESA mountable, no height adjustment|
|Acer G257HU||25″ 2560×1440 IPS||$269.99||No height adjustment|
|Dell U2717D||27″ 2560×1440 IPS||$429.99||Factory calibrated with ΔE<2|
|Dell UP2716D||27″ 2560×1440 IPS||$629.99||10-bit panel, factory calibration to ΔE<2|
|Dell UltraSharp U3417W||Curved 34″ 3440×1440 IPS||$1,019.99||Ultrawide, curved, factory-calibrated|
|Asus PA329Q||32″ 3840×2160 (4K) IPS||$1,199.99||10-bit panel, factory calibrated to ΔE<2|
A cheap workhorse display: LG 24MC57HQ-P
Truth be told, there isn’t much that’s special about the LG 24MC57HQ-P—but that’s a good thing. This 24″, 1920×1080 monitor has an IPS panel and goes for only $140, making it perfectly suitable for basic gaming or office work. That money still gets you a screen with maximum brightness of 250 cd/m² and a claimed contrast ratio of 1000:1. The included stand doesn’t have height adjustment, but we reckon that’s fine. Something’s gotta give at this price point. The monitor does have a VESA mount around back should one feel the need to bring it up a couple notches.
A higher resolution: Acer G257HU
For this set of peripheral staff picks, we’re trying something new. How about a 25″ 2560×1440 monitor? “There is such a thing?”, you might ask. Yes, there is, and you needn’t look further than the Acer G257HU to find it. The dot pitch of this 25″ display works out to 118 PPI—not quite “high-DPI” territory, but close enough. The G257HU is priced affordably at $270, too. The only hitch with this monitor is its tilt-only stand, but once again, the low price implies some cutbacks. Because of that issue, we’d like to give a shout out to the similarly-specced Asus PB258Q for folks who need a fully-adjustable stand and a VESA mount. The PB258Q’s price is normally much higher than the Acer we’re recommending, but a sale could make it more competitive.
Getting serious: Dell U2717D
Above $400, we expect more from our monitors. Our “serious” monitor selection starts with the Dell UltraSharp U2717D. This 27″ display offers a 2560×1440 resolution and an IPS panel. Those may seem like sedate specs so far, but the U2717D justifies its price with a factory calibration. Dell promises an average delta-E under two. Combine that fact with the panel ‘s 99% sRGB coverage, 1000:1 advertised contrast ratio, and 350 cd/m² maximum brightness, and you get an ideal “prosumer” display. The U2717D’s ergonomics are also top-notch: its thin bezels and fully-adjustable stand sweeten an already-nice package. We think this monitor is a great deal at only $420. Dell’s zero-bright-dot guarantee and three-year, advance-exchange warranty put the cherry on top.
Pro-level: Dell UP2716D
No, despite what the model name implies, the Dell UP2716D is not a lower-end alternative to the U2717D we discussed above. Quite the opposite, in fact. The UP2176D offers the same 27″ size and 2560×1440 resolution as its little brother, but this display ups the ante with a 10-bit IPS panel that offers 100% Rec. 709 and 98% DCI-P3 color coverage. That kind of color versatility should make this display suitable for professional-level video work. Dell specs this display with a 1000:1 static contrast ratio and a 300 cd/m² maximum brightness, too. Owners can connect the UP2716D to their PCs using Mini DisplayPort, DisplayPort, and HDMI inputs. For peripheral connectivity, the UP2716D provides four USB 3.0 connectors with one charging port. As we’d expect from a pro-level display, the UP2716D comes factory-calibrated with an average delta-E of less than two.
Getting that curve on: Dell UltraSharp U3417W
If you don’t game but still want a display with a couple acres of real estate, the Dell UltraSharp U3417W might be just what you need. This 34″ curved colossus offers a 3440×1440 resolution and comes calibrated from the box for 99% sRGB color space coverage. The U3417W offers a 1000:1 static contrast ratio and a 300 cd/m² maximum brightness figure. There’s also a USB hub for convenience. The 9W speakers included in the monitor may be a cut above the tinny-sounding things inside most monitors, too. Newegg is selling this beast for $1,109.99. Not a cheap price, but this monitor should be a cut above most others.
Going truly professional-grade: Asus PA329Q
Asus’ PA329Q ticks all the boxes we have on our pro display checklist. Massive 32″ diagonal? Check. 4K resolution? Check. Quantum-dot IPS panel? Yes, indeed. Color reproduction? I’m glad you asked: 100% Rec. 709, 99.5% Adobe RGB and 90% DCI-P3 coverage comes standard. This 32″ monster combines all of those characteristics with a 14-bit lookup table, 10-bit output support, uniformity compensation, Mini DisplayPort and DisplayPort inputs, four HDMI connectors, five USB 3.0 ports, and even a card reader. The PA329Q’s stand offers height, tilt, swivel, and pivot adjustments, too. Asus factory-calibrates this display to a delta-E of less than two, as well. Considering the PA329Q’s monster specs, its price tag really isn’t all that bad.
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 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.
|Rosewill RK-9000V2||$89.99 to $99.99||Cherry MX: Blue, Brown, Black, Red|
|Das Keyboard Professional 4||$161.99||Cherry MX: Blue, Brown|
|Topre Type Heaven||$166.14||Topre capacitive|
Cherry switches and quiet competence: Rosewill RK-9000V2
Rosewill’s RK-9000V2 is a TR Recommended award winner. This keyboard offers the Cherry MX key switches that we know and love atop a metal inner chassis, all in a no-frills, bare-bones package suitable for basic typing duties and gaming alike. This keyboard has long been a long-time favorite among TR staff and gerbils for good reason. The RK-9000V2 doesn’t have a lot of extras, but we aren’t complaining at its price. Buyers get to choose among the four most popular Cherry MX switch types: Blue, Brown, Black, and Red.
All the frills: Das Keyboard Professional 4
Not every typist is happy with a keyboard that’s “just a keyboard.” For those folks, there’s Das Keyboard’s Professional 4 and its loadout of Cherry MX Blue or Brown switches. The sleek chassis offers an anodized-aluminum top panel and a full-length metal “footbar” that should offer a more stable base than those annoying, fragile plastic feet we know and hate. Another handy touch: the Pro 4’s upper-right quadrant contains a volume knob and media playback keys. The keyboard offers N-key rollover over USB, too, dispensing with the need for an annoying PS/2 adapter. To top things off, the Pro 4 includes two USB 3.0 ports in its front edge and a 2-meter cable.
For something different: Topre’s Type Heaven
Next up, we have the Editor’s Choice-winning Topre Type Heaven and its 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 over $160, despite its minimal feature set.
|Corsair K65 Lux RGB||$129.99||Cherry MX Red|
|Corsair K65 Lux RGB Rapidfire||$139.99||Cherry MX Speed w/ 1.2-mm actuation|
|Corsair K70 Lux RGB||$159.99||Cherry MX: Blue, Brown, Red|
|Corsair K70 Lux RGB Rapidfire||$164.99||Cherry MX Speed w/ 1.2-mm actuation|
|Cooler Master MasterKeys Pro L RGB||$154.99||Cherry MX: Blue, Brown, Red|
|Cooler Master MasterKeys Pro S RGB||$134.99||Cherry MX: Blue, Brown, Red|
|Corsair K95 RGB||$179.99||Cherry MX: Brown, Red|
|Logitech G410 Atlas||$105.99||Logitech Romer-G|
Our favorite Cherry-flavored option: Corsair Gaming K65 Lux and K70 Lux keyboards
Corsair’s K-series keyboards are long-time favorites of TR staffers. Editor-in-Chief Jeff Kampman has used the RGB version of the Editor’s Choice-winning K70 as his daily driver for years, and he appreciates the K70’s rock-solid chassis, aluminum top plate, and Cherry MX mechanical switches. That keyboard also features volume and media controls, plus a Windows key lockout and adjustable backlight brightness.
Corsair isn’t resting on its laurels, though, and it’s recently refreshed the K65 and K70 lineups with “Lux” variants. The new boards have keys with a bigger font that lets the underlying LEDs shine through better. The keyboards themselves are otherwise quite similar to their predecessors, down to their generous included wrist rests, and we have no qualms recommending them.
The K65 Lux, on the other hand, offers a tenkeyless design that’s only available with Cherry MX Red switches. I’ve personally felt that having a tenkeyless keyboard helps a lot with RSI while gaming by lessening the angle of one’s mousing arm.
Corsair also offers “Rapidfire” variants of all its Lux models. These boards come with “Cherry MX Speed” switches, which are essentially MX Reds with a 1.2-mm actuation point that should prove a boon in situations that require repeated keypresses. We’ve tested the K70 Rapidfire with our own fingers, and we found the design worthy of a TR Editor’s Choice award.
An RGB LED alternative: Cooler Master MasterKeys Pro RGB
Corsair isn’t the only game in town for quality keyboards with RGB LED lighting. Cooler Master’s MasterKeys keyboards earned a TR Recommended award when we reviewed them earlier this year. The MasterKeys Pro keyboard’s ultra-compact frame and subdued styling (rainbow lighting aside) should score points with many. The keyboards also offer multiple cable-routing options and a solid feel that easily rivals the metal-backed offerings from Corsair. As an added bonus, even though Cooler Master’s software utility for the keyboard is easy-to-use and intuitive, users can configure their boards right from the MasterKeys boards themselves, no software required. The MasterKeys is available in both full-size (Pro L) and tenkleyless (Pro S) versions.
Everything plus the kitchen sink: Corsair K95 RGB
Some readers may look at the options we’ve presented above and think “I want it all.” For you, we have Corsair’s K95 RGB. This humongous, stylish beast offers all the goodness of the K70 series, plus a whopping 22 dedicated macro keys: four for handling profiles and 18 keys for executing macros. We figure that’s enough shortcuts for any game in existence and then some. All the macros and lighting profiles are saved to the keyboard’s memory, too. The Corsair K95 costs a pretty penny at $180, but we figure that’s worth it for those that can use all of its extra keys.
Vivid LEDs and unique switches: Logitech G410 Atlas Spectrum
Like Corsair’s K65 series, 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 we’ve seen.
Logitech’s Windows utility can detect events in certain titles to trigger lighting effects on the keyboard, too. 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.
Ergonomic and living-room options
|Hausbell Mini H7||$37.03|
Ergo-centric: 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.
The recent resurgence of flight, racing, and space simulator games has led to renewed demand for controllers suitable to those games, namely joysticks and steering wheels. We’ve selected options at a number of price points, but we’re not sacrificing quality for affordability here. That’s because these controllers have to move a lot, often violently so. A cheap joystick or steering wheel will quickly illustrate the old “buy cheap, buy twice” adage. We’ve also included a couple of gamepads in our recommendations. Those come in real handy for non-FPS action and platforming games.
|EVGA Torq X5||$26.40||Small and light, ambidextrous design|
|G.Skill Ripjaws MX780||$49.99||Customizable shape, ambidextrous design, RGB LEDs|
|Corsair M65 Pro RGB||$56.99||“Sniper” button, tunable weight, RGB LEDs|
|Cooler Master MasterMouse Pro L||$59.99||Customizable top and side grips, ambidextrous, RGB LEDs|
|Logitech G502 Proteus Spectrum||$59.99||Dual-mode scroll wheel, tunable weight, RGB LEDs|
|Logitech G900 Chaos Spectrum||$138.00||Wired/wireless, ambidextrous, RGB LEDs|
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. Just be sure to pair a mouse pad with this rodent for accurate tracking.
G.Skill Ripjaws MX780
For those who want an ambidextrous mouse that’s a bit more customizable (and flashy) than the Torq X5, 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. For its low price, we think it’s a steal.
Corsair Gaming M65 Pro RGB
For those looking for a more fully-featured rodent, or for those with wider hands, we suggest Corsair’s M65 Pro RGB. This 12,000 DPI optical mouse features a sniper button under the thumb for extra aiming precision when needed, and has a tunable weight system that offers a 20.5-gram range of adjustment. Like the K70 Lux RGB keyboard, the M65 Pro RGB features independently-configurable RGB LEDs that can be set to any of 16.8 million colors. For more information, check out our video review of the previous M65 RGB model, which is similar to its newer brother except for the sensor.
Cooler Master MasterMouse Pro L
They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and the MasterMouse Pro L seems to take a certain black-and-green company’s products as its starting point. That’s certainly not a bad thing, though. The MasterMouse has an ambidextrous design with 5 buttons, and its Avago PMW3360 optical sensor can track surfaces with accuracy up to 12,000 DPI. Cooler Master says this sensor has no built-in acceleration, too.
The MasterMouse’s party trick is its customizability. Not only can the side panels be removed, but the top cover is interchangeable, as well. Cooler Master includes sets of UV-coated and textured side panels in the box along with 130-mm and 125-mm-tall top panels. The company even offers 3D template files for these parts so that gamers can print their own, too. All this configurability should result in a mouse that can be set up just so. Omron switches and four RGB LED lighting zones complete the package.
Logitech G502 Proteus Spectrum
Love them or hate them, Logitech’s gaming mice are undeniably popular. Jeff uses the company’s G502 Proteus Spectrum as his 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 Pro RGB, the G502 features a sniper button under the thumb for precise aiming. The sensitivity of its 12000-DPI optical sensor can also be adjusted on the fly with dedicated buttons.
The G502 Proteus Spectrum is a minor update to the company’s popular 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.
Logitech G900 Chaos Spectrum
The “Chaos Spectrum” moniker might make one think of a mixed-up rainbow, but the Logitech G900 is no laughing matter. This rodent includes almost every trick under the sun. Logitech blessed its highest-end mouse with wired and wireless connectivity, the same 12000-DPI optical sensor from its Proteus Spectrum, and an ambidextrous design with intechangeable button covers. 11 programmable buttons and RGB LED lighting solidify the G900’s gaming cred, and its battery should last up to 32 hours in wireless mode. Perhaps the most surprising bit about the G900 is its weight: despite being a wireless rodent, it weighs only 3.8 oz (or 107g). In the Quake 3 announcer’s words: “Impressive.”
MOBA and MMO mice
|Logitech G602||$49.99||6 thumb buttons, wireless, right-handed|
|Corsair Scimitar RGB||$74.99||12 thumb buttons, right-handed, RGB LEDs|
|Razer Naga Hex V2||$79.99||7 thumb buttons, right-handed, RGB LEDs|
Aficionados of MOBA and MMO-style games might look at our choices above and think “not enough buttons.” Different playing styles beget different hardware, and we’re happy to offer some options for the button-crazy.
We’re kicking off our many-button-mouse offerings with a Logitech model. The G602 is a right-handed mouse with 11 programmable buttons, six of which are located on the thumb area. The wireless connection on this rodent offers a 500Hz polling rate over a 2.4GHz connection, which we reckon is perfectly fine for anything outside of competitive FPS gaming. Logitech says that battery life ought to be around 250 hours in “Performance” mode, and a whopping 1440 hours in “Endurance” mode. Finally, the sensor underneath the G602 can read surfaces at up to 2,500 DPI. At only $50, we think this mouse is a bargain, and it’s real pretty, too.
Corsair Scimitar RGB
We get it. You want more buttons. Okay, sheesh, have the Corsair Scimitar RGB instead. This wired rodent places 12 buttons under the MOBA pro’s thumb. This cluster of buttons can slide back and forth across an eight-millimeter range, possibly making it more comfortable for a range of hands and thumb lengths. There’s a 12,000 DPI optical eye underneath the mouse, and four RGB-LED-lit areas. Five more buttons spread out over the mouse brings the total to 17. All this wizardry commands a lower price than you’d expect: just $75.
Razer Naga Hex V2
We think either the G602 and Scimitar are good choices for most folks, but not everyone can get to grips (heh) with several rows of buttons under the thumb. The Razer Naga Hex V2 does things a little differently by offering seven thumb buttons in a ring around a circular thumbrest. This layout may be more comfortable for some players. Besides the seven thumb buttons, the Naga Hex V2 has a 16,000 DPI laser sensor and RGB LEDs spread across multiple lighting zones. Fair warning, though: the mouse apparently doesn’t store configuration profiles onboard, so players will be dependent on Razer’s registration-required Synapse software for custom-profile storage.
Portable wireless mice
Most folks consider wired mice to be the best choice for gaming, but we appreciate the virtues of basic 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)||$51.99|
|Microsoft Xbox One controller (wireless)||$65.99|
|Microsoft Xbox 360 controller (wired)||$39.99|
|Microsoft Xbox 360 controller (wireless)||$48.99|
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.
There’s been a renaissance of sorts for simulators recently. Back in the ’90s, one of the prime cuts of PC gaming was flight and space simulators. The Falcon and X-Wing series, for example, gave many a player a chance to sit in a virtual cockpit, yanking their joystick around to stay on an enemy’s six. The genre died off a little during the 2000s, but it’s now back with a vengeance. Playing a flight sim with a mouse isn’t the most pleasing experience, though—a joystick is a much better fit for that purpose, preferably as a HOTAS setup (Hands On Throttle And Stick) with a separate throttle control. A good joystick needs to be durable, accurate, and comfortable. With that in mind, we’ve selected some of the best-regarded options on the market.
|Thrustmaster T.Flight Hotas X||$49.99||Detachable throttle controller, weighted base|
|Saitek X52 FCS||$139.98||Dual-spring system, LED display|
|CH Fighterstick + CH Pro Throttle||$125.95 + $122.95||Will live longer than you|
|Thrustmaster Hotas Warthog||$459.99||Airplane FCS replica w/magnetic sensors|
Thrustmaster T.Flight Hotas X
Unlike almost the rest of the whole PC industry, the joystick world doesn’t change all that often. One of the evergreen winners in this market is Thrustmaster’s T.Flight Hotas X controller. This piece of gear is one of the most popular entry points into the flight-stick world. Despite its modest $50 price tag, the Hotas X offers a weighted base, a generously-sized detachable throttle control, and 12 buttons. The joystick offers adjustable resistance and a hat switch, too. The Hotas X can save its button programming on board if you take it between machines, as well. If you’re looking to get your feet wet in the flight or space sim world, the Hotas X should be right up your alley.
Thrustamaster has updated the Hotas X slightly with its T.Flight Hotas 4, which carries essentially the same hardware save for an updated controller. The new version is priced at $70, though, so we reckon you’re better off getting its near-identical predecessor.
The Saitek X52 Flight Control System is one of the company’s longest-running offerings. Its cybernetic look may not be up everyone’s alley, but this HOTAS set delivers a truckload of customization options. The X52’s main stick has a a two-stage trigger, two hat switches, a dual-spring centering mechanism, and grip-size adjustment. The stick’s rudder motion can also be locked in place, too. The X52’s throttle has another hat switch, a ton o’ buttons, progressive travel and adjustable tension. An LCD display on the throttle block integrates with most popular simulators for showing air- or spaceship info without taking up space on the screen. There are more buttons on this thing than you can shake an, erm, stick at. At $140 for the throttle-and-stick set, we think it’s a sensible buy for the serious sim nerd.
CH Fighterstick and CH Pro Throttle
Upon looking at the CH Fighterstick and Pro Throttle for the first time, you might say “that looks like something out of the ’90s!” Well, you’re entirely correct. The CH Fighterstick and Pro Throttle were born decades ago, and they’re still in production today. Its software support ranges from Windows 98 all the way up to Windows 10. How does this make any sense? Simple: if you’re a smart company, you don’t mess with a winning design.
The Fighterstick is modeled after an F-16 plane’s stick. It has three four-way switches and an eight-way hat along with three trigger buttons. All those switches are programmable, too. Meanwhile, the CH Pro Throttle offers two mini-joystick axes along with its main throttle, three main buttons, three four-way hats and an eight-way hat. That’s enough buttons to manage the engines of any ship short of an Imperial Super Star Destroyer.
Where the CH products justify their price tag and continued existence, though, is that they’re essentially unkillable. Go read user reviews for these things, and you’ll find plenty of people saying they’ve been using the same one for years on end, often stating that other fancier-looking products lasted only a few months in their hands. There are even flight-sim players using the original analog Flightstick to this day. If that’s not a testament to good engineering and product design, we don’t know what is. At $125.95 for the Fighterstick and $122.95 for the Pro Throttle, these don’t come cheap, but it’s highly unlikely you or your grand-grandchildren will ever need to buy another.
Thrustmaster Hotas Warthog
Meet the Thrustmaster Hotas Warthog. It looks like it came out of an an actual aircraft—because it did. As you may have already guessed, the Warthog is a replica of the controls inside a certain Republic A-10. The set weighs 14 lbs (around 6.4kg), and it’s almost completely constructed out of metal, including the actual joystick and dual throttle handles.
The stick and throttle use Hall effect magnetic sensors without any gimbals. The joystick’s sensors use 16-bit precision, while the throttles use 14-bit resolution. That’s a lot of different positions to try—if you know your binary, that’s 65,536 positions for each joystick axis and 16,384 for each throttle. On the joystick, Thrustmaster put a 5-coil spring system, 19 buttons, three eight-way hats and one four-way switch, and a dual trigger made out of metal. On the throttle side, there are lockable push-pull handles, idle and afterburner detents, and a “mouse” hat accompanied by 17 buttons and another hat switch. To top it off, the throttle base also has a number of actual metal levels poking out serving as three-way switches. And, of course, the set is studded in indicator LEDs.
The Hotas Warthog will run you a pretty penny, at $460 for the whole set. But if you want an authentic experience with one of the most accurate and heavy-duty HOTAS systems around, there’s no substitute for something that’s pretty close to being “the real deal.” Thrustmaster’s replica HOTAS systems have been fan favorites for the better part of 20 years, and it’s not hard to see why.
The joy of breakneck speed, the sweat dripping down your forehead as you try to hit the apex of that corner and come screaming out the other end. The wind on your hair, oh… wait. We’re talking about racing simulators, of course. Much like with the joysticks we’ve selected, we’ve picked out a few wheels that shouldn’t break when you’re trying to cope with the Laguna Seca corkscrew.
|Thrustmaster TMX||$198.99||Sturdy wheel, plastic pedals|
($59.99 for H-shifter)
|Dual-motor force feedback, stainless steel paddle shifters|
($149.99 for H-shifter)
|Magnetic sensors, “industrial” motor , steel pedals w/ treadplate base
Optional H-shifter has all-metal construction
|Fanatec custom sets||Sky-high||As real as it can get, if you have the cash|
Thrustmaster TMX FF
Not many things in the racing wheel world can be described as “cheap and cheerful,” but the Thrustmaster TMX FF is an exception to that rule. Despite the affordable price, the racing wheel in this set offers an authentic, precise, and stiff feeling. According to user reports, the force feedback is surprisingly good, too. Where this set may come up a little short is in the set of two plastic pedals—after all, something has to give at $200. Despite the pedals’ apparent flimsiness, owners say they still offer a solid enough feel. We think the TMX is a good entry into the racing wheel world.
If you’ve got the cash laying around, though, we suggest you upgrade to Logitech’s G920 set. The steering wheel’s force-feedback system has two motors, and the steering wheel itself and shifters are almost entirely made of stainless steel. That construction extends to the set of three pedals. The presence of the leftmost pedal may confuse many an American, but you can rest assured that it has actual simulator use. If we had to elect a “best bang for buck” set of racing wheel and pedals set, the G920 would be exactly that, at $314. Logitech offers an optional H-shifter, too.
Got $500 and change burning a hole in your pocket? Knock yourself out and grab the Thrustmaster T500RS set. Thrustmaster doesn’t seem to have pulled many punches when designing the T500RS. The steering wheel has 16-bit magnetic sensors and an “industral-grade” 65W force-feedback motor capable of 150 mNm of torque. Pilots can set up to the wheel with up to 1080° (three full turns) of rotation, too. The paddle shifters can best be described as “enormous,” to boot.
As for the pedal set, it’s made of heavy-duty metal, and it’s fully customizable. Drivers can adjust the distance between pedals and opt to have them sticking out of the floor, F1-car style. The brake pedal is reinforced and has adjustable tension. If all this wasn’t enough, Thrusmaster offers an optional, all-metal H-shifter that also packs magnetic sensors. The prices for this set are high, but then again, so’s the quality.
Fanatec custom sets
Any of the above choices can offer you a decent racing simulator experience, but some of our well-off gerbils may yet earn for a little more. Fanatec is a German company with a long pedigree that caters to the serious simulation enthusiast. The Fanatec website offers a couple preconfigured driving sets for eye-watering prices, but the discerning customer will likely opt for a custom-built set with wide selection of wheel bases, pedals, and a dizzying amount of steering wheels–many of them replicas of steering wheels from actual racing cars, too.
Spending somewhere between $600 and multiple thousands of dollars on a custom racing setup may seem ridiculous at first. However, a top-tier CPU or graphics card can cost just as much and will be outdated in a half-dozen years, while a quality Fanatec system could last as long as that Ferrari in the garage.
We appreciate high-quality sound at TR, and we have speaker and headphone recommendations in mind for listening to music, movies, and podcasts at the PC. As far as speakers are concerned, we’ve divided our picks into three categories: compact systems for casual listening, 5.1 sets for surround sound, and affordable studio monitors.
We’d also like to point out that we firmly believe that powered studio monitor speakers are a far superior choice than conventional multimedia setups. For the unitiated, a “powered studio monitor” is very similar to your regular PC speaker: a self-contained speaker with an integrated amplifier. We picked some affordable options from the lower spectrum of studio-grade gear, which we rate as better than almost anything labeled “for computers.” Last but not least, 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||$42.99|
|Creative Inspire T12||2.0 speakers||$69.99|
|Logitech Z323||2.1 speakers||$60.39|
|Logitech Z506||5.1 speakers||$80.98|
|Logitech Z906||5.1 speakers||$339.99|
For basic needs
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. We also mention the Logitech Z323 set in this section as an alternative to the T12s. The Z323’s separate woofer should give bass a little more oomph, and it can be easily tucked away on the floor.
If you’re looking for a 5.1 system to enjoy game and movie soundscapes, we have a couple suggestions from the Logitech camp. The most affordable one is the Z506 set. This surround system rings in just over $80, but it still offers a combined total 75W RMS of power—perfectly fine for a desktop setup, assuming it’s not cranked up too much.
If you can afford it, though, we think you should step up to the Logitech Z906. At over $300, it isn’t exactly cheap, but you get a lot for your cash. The control console offers connections for up to six separate sources in both digital and analog flavors, stereo-to-surround upsampling, and Dolby Digital and DTS decoding capabilities—just the ticket for full digital audio when watching movies, or even games if your motherboard or soundcard supports multi-channel encoding. The speakers are fairly powerful, as well. The sub alone can do 75W of thump, the corner satellites offer 8W of oomph each, and the central channel delivers 16W. If you’re thinking those numbers are small, keep in mind they’re RMS measurements. Logitech includes a remote with the Z906s, too, making this set perfectly usable as a small home-theater setup.
|Mackie CR3||$99.99||3″ woofer, .75″ tweeter, front input|
|PreSonus Eris E4.5||$199.99||4.5″ kevlar woofer, on-speaker EQ, headphone amp, bi-amplified|
|KRK Systems Rokit 5 G3||$299.99||5″ glass-Aramid woofer, bi-amplified|
|Audioengine A2+||$249.99||60W in a tiny 4″ x 6″ package|
Mackie is a well-known name in the mixer and PA speaker world, so you’d think the folks there know a thing or two about amplifiers with speaker cones in front of them. The company’s “CR” offerings are a fairly recent development, and they’ve received high praise from professionals everywhere. We picked out the CR series’ entry-level model, the CR3. These speakers come with 3″ woofers and a 0.75″ tweeter, and they carry a power rating of 50W RMS. That’s quite a lot for a small unit. They’re deceptively chunky, too—unlike most PC speakers, the casing is made out of actual wood rather than plastic. There are plain ol’ RCA and 1/8″ balanced inputs around back, and a stereo mini-jack input at the front. Last but not least, there’s a headphone output for private listening. At $100 for the pair, the CR3s won’t break anyone’s budget while they deliver excellent sound.
PreSonus Eris E4.5
Things get a little more serious with the PreSonus Eris E4.5. These babies have a 4.5″ Kevlar woofer and a 1″ tweeter. Where the Eris E4.5s go above and beyond the Mackie CR3s is that they’re bigger and bi-amplified, meaning they house separate amplifiers for the high and low end. There are EQ adjustments around the back, and the front of the main speaker has an amplified headphone jack and a mini-jack input. These speakers should cover all the bases and then some, but they won’t break the bank at $200.
KRK Systems Rokit 5 G3
What can we say about the KRK Rokit 5s? Well, perhaps “they’re in studios all around the world” is a good converstation starter. “Many professsionals swear by their sound quality” should be a good follow-up. These speakers have a 5″ glass-Aramid woofer which should pack quite the bass punch. The Rokit 5s are bi-amplified—and powerful, too, with 20W for high-frequency signals and 30W on the low end. KRK puts EQ controls on the back of these babies, and sources can deliver their signals to these monitors with RCA, 1/4″ jack and XLR balanced inputs. Seeing as the Rokit 5s are a little more studio-oriented than the offerings above, they don’t offer front-facing volume adjustments or a headphone output. That shouldn’t be an issue with modern mobos or soundcards, though.
The AudioEngine A2+ speakers aren’t strictly studio monitors, nor do they compare directly to our choices above. They’re close enough to monitors that we may as well mention them here, though. They style themselves as “premium powered desktop speakers,” and user reviews suggest they live up to that claim. They’re quite compact (4″ x 6″ x 5.3″, or 10cm x 15 cm x 13.3cm) and offer their own USB audio interface along with the usual smattering of line inputs.
The speaker boxes house a 2.75″ Kevlar woofer and a 0.75″ silk dome tweeter. Don’t let the A2+’s compact size fool you, though: this set packs a 60W amp. Much like babies, the size belies their noise-making capability. Several of our gerbils swear by these when it comes to their grunt-to-size ratio. The only con of the A2+ set is its $250 price tag, which we find just a tad too dear. Having said that, if you want good speakers that fit where no others can, these sound like a good choice.
|Logitech G430||$59.99||Dolby Headphone, DTS Headphone:X support|
|Kingston HyperX Cloud II||$99.99||Light and comfy|
|Sennheiser Game One||$158.55||Available as open-back or closed-back.|
We’ll kick off our headset recommendations with the Logitech G430. This entry-level headset packs a couple of 40-mm drivers and a noise-cancelling unidirectional microphone in a sleek-looking package. The headset offers 7.1-sound virtualization, Dolby Headphone, and DTS Headphone:X modes by way of the included software. The extra-long 7.5′ (2.3 m) cable has a little pod with volume and mute controls, too. While these cans probably won’t make you swoon with aural joy, they tick all the right boxes for $55.
Kingston HyperX Cloud II
If you’re looking for a step up from a generic gaming headset, Kington’s HyperX Cloud II is wildly popular, and for good reason. We liked the Cloud II after spending some time with it during one of our build logs. The Cloud II 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 headset 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 with these.
Sennheiser Game One
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 $170, 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. Last but not least, Sennheiser offers the Game One in both open- and closed-back designs, so you can choose according to your preference.
The most cost-effective way to get high-quality audio is probably to purchase a pair of good headphones. Investing the same amount of cash in a set of headphones instead of speakers will almost invariably yield a superior result. We did the rounds and came up with a mix of headphones across several types and price ranges.
For those not in the know, “open-back” means the headphones’ outer shell is vented, making for a more natural sound at the expense of some bass. Open cans also leak noise into the surrounding environment, making them unsuitable for shared spaces, and they’re also not good for isolation from noisy rooms. On the other hand, closed-back designs completely enclose the drivers. That can mean punchier sound and great noise isolation in exchange for a more claustrophobic sound stage. Different strokes for different folks.
A note on headphone impedance: you’ll sometimes see numbers with a funny “Ω” symbol after them in product literature. That’s the headphone’s electrical impedance rating. Higher-end headphones tend to have higher impedance, which means that you might need a headphone amplifier to drive them properly. That worry should only arise with phones and mobile music players that are meant for cans with 30 to 40Ω ratings, though, or when you’re using higher-end headphones with a particularly high impedance to begin with. Most better motherboards and sound cards have built-in headphone amps these days, anyway. Just check if your output’s Ω-rating matches or exceeds that of the headphones. A slight mismatch is okay, too.
|Sennheiser HD 201||$22.89||Closed-back, 24Ω|
|AKG K240||$69.99||Semi-open design, 55Ω|
|Sennheiser HD 558||$105.00||Open-back, 50Ω|
|Shure SRH 440 Pro||$99.00||Closed-back, collapsible, 44Ω|
|Audio-Technica ATH-m50x||$154.95||Closed-back, 38Ω|
|beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro||$199.00||Closed-back, 250Ω|
Sennheiser HD 201
The Sennheiser HD 201 set is as good a starting point as any. Despite their affordable price tag, these cans deliver decent enough audio quality that should prove superior to most entry-level speaker sets. The headphones are pretty light, too. Owners everywhere praise the HD201s for their great bang-for-the-buck, and we think you willm too.
The AKG K240s are well-known around the audio world as one of the best affordable options for a good set of cans. These headphones routinely receive praise for their comfort and even sound character, without too much of either bass or treble. Their semi-open design ought to provide the best of both worlds, too. Lots of home studio owners use the K240s for checking their mixes. At only around $70, it’s not hard to see why they’re so popular.
Sennheiser HD 558 and Shure SRH 440 Pro
For the ever-popular $100 price point, we picked out two contenders: the open-back Sennheiser HD 558, and the closed-back Shure SRH 440 Pro. Let’s talk about the Senns first. Users often comment on their comfort, and that’s thanks to their feathery 9.2 oz (260g) weight and velour-covered earpads and headband. Reviewers describe this set as having a very detailed midrange, only losing out to higher-end models on the bass side of things. Since the HD558 has apparently been replaced by newer designs, a prospective buyer can get a pair for around $100, a particularly good value.
As for the closed-back Shure SRH 440 Pros, they predictably offer punchy bass. The whole set is collapsible, and both the cable and the earpads are detachable. They’re apparently very sensitive, meaning they can sound loud and detailed with little power driving them. Reviewers also praise their isolation characteristics, making them ideal for situations where you neither want to hear or be heard by the outside world. At $99, we think the SRH 440 Pros’ price is just right.
The Audio-Technica ATH-m50x headphones often end up on the “best of” list for sub-$200 picks. They come as a closed-back, over-ear design that is quite comfortable even in long sessions, according to many a reviewer. The whole contraption is collapsible for easy storage, also. Professionals praise the ATH-m50x’s flat frequency response and excellent definition (separation between instruments). This model has technically had a long run in the market, since it’s the successor to the venerable ATH-m50. We think it’s the best option for around $155.
beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro
At last, we meet. Look at those huge earpads. Do they look comfy? They sure are. The beyerdynamic DT 770 Pros earn high marks for their punchy bass response and high definition, and they offer a comfortable design that should provide aural bliss for hours on end. User reviews at both Sweetwater and Amazon are riddled with studio pros swearing by their DT 770s. These cans go for $200, but they’re often on sale, so you should shop around a little. One note: this model is available with multiple impedances, but we selected the 250Ω version as the higher impedance allows the voice coils to be lighter, which should work out to superior sound reproduction. Most mid- to high-end motherboards and soundcards these days all have headphone amplifiers, but be sure to double-check before you buy.
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 our podcast archive. 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 drive dock to USB thumb drives.
|StarTech.com USB 3.1 hard drive dock||2.5″/3.5″ USB 3.0 drive dock||$54.99|
|Corsair 128GB Voyager Slider X1||USB 3.0 thumb drive||$27.50|
|Corsair 256GB Voyager Slider X1||USB 3.0 thumb drive||$66.00|
|SanDisk Extreme CZ80 64GB||USB 3.0 thumb drive – fast||$32.60|
|Lexar P20 128GB||USB 3.0 thumb drive – fast||$49.99|
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 Corsair’s 128GB Voyager Slider X1 can be purchased for under 30 bucks, and they’re capacious enough to store lots of important files: tax forms, photos, family videos, and so forth. Buying a 256GB thumb drive isn’t insanity these days, too—the 256GB Slider X1 goes for under $70. 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 of those speeds. As a more capacious alternative, we like the Lexar JumpDrive P20 128GB, which is rated for a stomach-churning 400MB/s on reads and 270MB/s on writes. It supports 256-bit AES encryption, to boot.
Other odds and ends
|Edimax EW-7811Un||USB Wi-Fi adapter||$8.99|
|TP-Link TL-WN822N||High-gain USB Wi-Fi adapter||$17.35|
|TP-Link TL-PA8010P||1200Mbps power-line Ethernet adapters||$74.99|
|NZXT Grid+ V2||Fan controller||$29.99|
|Anker 10-port USB hub||60W powered USB 3.0 hub w/ charging ports||$39.99|
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 $10, 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 graphics card or CPU temperature 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.
This is my hub. There are many like it, but this one is mine. I’m talking, of course, about the Anker 10-port 60W USB 3.0 hub. One of these is sitting atop the receiver on my desk, supporting a few vertebrae of the cat resting on it. This powered hub makes all the difference in the world when it comes to the reliability of USB connections, particularly with multiple devices in use. There are 7 regular ports on tap plus and three IQ-enabled charging ports, which fill up mobile devices at a speed best described as “hella fast.” I consider this to be one of the best purchases I ever made, and I’m still kicking myself for not buying it sooner. At $40, it’s a no-brainer.