As we bid farewell to the disparate collection of hours, days, and months we've come to know as 2021, let us pour out a wee dram and raise a glass in salute to the best PC gaming hardware released this year. In some ways it's not been a golden year for PC hardware; it's never been harder to build a new rig than it is right now, for example.
But despite the continual horror of the GPU market, and the fact that new budget hardware seems to have vanished in a puff of logic, there are still things to celebrate. If you've ever wanted to kit your system out with the sort of speedy SSD previously only available to data centre IT managers, then now is certainly the time. Likewise, Intel's return to CPU form with its Alder Lake gamble seemingly paying off in the form of the impressive Core i9 12900K and the outstanding Core i5 12600K processors should bring a smile to the face of any gamer.
Competition is good for everyone, and if AMD and Intel are properly going toe-to-toe with high-quality gaming silicon, instead of one or other of them being on the ropes, the future is looking very rosy indeed.
There have also been excellent monitors, gaming laptops, and a host of quality new peripherals passing across our test benches this year, and we're here to really celebrate those goodies that have pleased us the most. Over the past week we've been highlighting our nominations for the best products in ten key categories. And, while some have been a little tough to pick a winner, others have been completely obvious from the beginning.
I mean, the best graphics card 'released' in 2021 is almost a purely theoretical award in these GPU starved times of ours… But whatever, now is not the time to wallow in the gloom of the chip shortage, it's time to end the suspense and dig into the PC Gamer Hardware Awards Winners of 2021.
Best gaming laptop of 2021
Razer Blade 14
The first AMD Ryzen-based gaming laptop from Razer, and sadly the only way you can get a Ryzen powered laptop from Razer. It’s gorgeous, svelte, and manages to cram a whole lot of power under that sleek little 14-inch hood. Both the 1080p and 1440p display versions have fantastic refresh rates (144Hz and 165Hz respectively) which help make the most of the impressive framerates it can pump out. Of course battery life isn’t the greatest when gaming, but that’s the case with most of today’ gaming laptops.
Gigabyte Aorus 15G XC
Setting aside the poor webcam placement Aorus laptops are known for, this is a very tasty machine. It’s a little bulkier than the slinky Blade 14, sure, but it remains very quiet and consistently achieves immense frame rates, as well as delivering serious compute performance productivity-wise. That’s matched by a superb 240Hz screen and a generally well-thought-out overall spec.
Best gaming monitor of 2021
For a VA panel, the S2722DGM has a strong inherent contrast. And coupled with a great 165Hz refresh rate, on a 1500R curved, 1440p panel that spans 27 inches across, it’s one of those all-round winners you can get for very little cash. With AMD’s FreeSync Premium, it’s a great choice for those packing an AMD GPU. The only real drawbacks with this one include a lack of HDR support (for what that’s worth on a PC monitor), and a 2ms grey-to-grey response, where most competitive gamers would regard 1ms GtG as the only option when it comes to gaming monitors. Still, for $270/£260, it’s a great panel for the money.
Gigabyte Aorus FI32Q
The Aorus also offers 1440p resolution at 32 inches across, but isn’t curved like the Dell. It boasts a little more colour accuracy, however, along with boatloads of additional features. It’s 165Hz refresh rate can be overclocked to 170Hz, in case that wasn’t enough already. It’s also got some rear RGB lighting effects going on, and although they’re a little underwhelming it’s a nice touch. Plus the monitor is quite gorgeous in and of itself. With both FreeSync and G-Sync compatibility, this is certainly a worthy challenger.
Best graphics card of 2021
Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 12GB
The cheapest RTX 30-series graphics card for the desktop, the RTX 3060 12GB still isn’t cheap enough to be classified as truly ‘entry-level’. You can build a great gaming PC around this GPU, at least, and make the most of Nvidia’s great Ampere architecture. The RTX 3060 comes with a surprising stock of VRAM for its pay-grade, too—the RTX 3060 has greater memory capacity than the RTX 3080, though it is slower GDDR6 fitted on the cheaper card. Our biggest concern with the RTX 3060 ultimately comes down to how close the RTX 3060 Ti is. But that card came out last year, leaving the RTX 3060 12GB as our pick for 2021.
Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 Ti
The RTX 3080 Ti is the granddaddy of gaming graphics cards—unless you count the RTX 3090, but we don’t talk about that. Okay, the RTX 3080 Ti is really the second-tier GeForce GPU for Nvidia, but it’s no doubt a powerful card and capable of bringing the Ampere architecture in nearly its best form to bare. It’s quite pricey, even if you ignore today’s near-ubiquitous price hikes, but there’s no doubt it makes 4K gaming look easy.
Best CPU of 2021
Intel Core i5 12600K
The Core i9 12900K may be the high-end chip for those who don’t want to compromise, but for the vast majority of gamers, it’s this Core i5 you’d want in your next gaming PC. Game performance is on par with the top-tier CPU, and importantly often faster than AMD’s best offerings, all without being quite so greedy when it comes to power or anywhere near as expensive. The configuration of six performance cores and four efficient ones works well too, offering up 16 threads in total.
Intel Core i9 12900K
This is the flagship chip of Intel’s 12th Gen Core family and features eight performance cores alongside eight efficient ones. Altogether you’re looking at 24 threads with 30MB of L3 cache to play with and a Max Turbo frequency of 5.2GHz. It also just happens to be an absolute monster when it comes to performance—managing to create some serious space between and AMD’s top offering in games. It’s a bit power hungry, but otherwise a phenomenal chip.
Best microphone of 2021
Epos B20 streaming mic
From it’s sleek design down to its software, this one’s a beauty. While it’s a little more expensive than the other nominees, we feel the exceptional sound quality, four different pick-up patterns, and user-focused Epos Gaming suite software justify the price. There’s a little background hiss at times, and it’s not the greatest with shock absorption, but it’s so easy to use, and even has a built in sidetone so you can check your own voice.
Movo UM700 USB
The Movo UM700 is a nice chunk of simple, quality equipment for the $100 price tag. When I say chunk, I mean it in the bulky sense, too, as this is one of the more unwieldy of the lot. Still, it’s a pretty darn versatile piece of kit, with multiple polar pattern choices. And although it may not come with any software, there’s minimal setup for those just looking to plug and chat. It’s certainly earned its place in this years hardware awards.
Best motherboard of 2021
Gigabyte X570S Aorus Master
The ‘S’ refresh of the X570 chipset does away with the active cooling requirement of the original chipset, making for quieter motherboards that use passive cooling to keep your PCIe 4.0 SSD chilled. This update to the brilliant X570 Aorus Master boasts support for up to four M.2 slots, with the top slot being raised for added airflow. The whole bottom half of the board is now covered in heatsinks, to help with cooling, and it just so happens to look amazing. The 14-phase power delivery is beefy too, making this a great option for high-end builds.
ASRock Z690 Taichi
It’s early days for Intel’s Alder Lake platform, and that means motherboard manufacturers may not have nailed every aspect of the new chips—nothing a few BIOS updates won’t sort of course. Not that there’s anything obviously wrong with this ASRock motherboard, apart from its bank balance-worrying price tag. Still, if you’re after a serious machine, then this is the motherboard to do it, with a phenomenal 20-phase power design, some great networking support and a sweet overall design.
Best SSD of 2021
Seagate FireCuda 530 2TB
Seagate has been a mainstay in the storage space for years but hasn’t really done much to draw attention to itself in the SSD space until the FireCuda 530 dropped. And drop it did. This is a phenomenally impressive PCIe 4.0 SSD that posts some of the strong synthetic numbers around, with transfer speeds of up to 7,300MB/s and it isn’t bad when it comes to real-world performance either. It’s on the pricier side of the market though.
Adata Gammix S70 2TB
PCIe 4.0 NVMe SSDs run hot, so some form of cooling is a good idea, and Adata is clearly not messing around when it comes to the S70 and has slapped a chunky heatsink on it to help keep things running cool. With read speeds of up to 7,400MB/s and writes of 6,400MB/s, this is certainly a speedy offering. It’s generally available for less than the heatsink packing competition too.
Best gaming mouse of 2021
Razer Basilisk V3
Scoring a 90 in our review, this mouse won over reviewer Kizzy for its top sensor, ergonomic design, 4-way HyperScroll wheel, and showy new RGB lighting. It certainly has a lot to say for itself for $70. While that price won’t net you wireless capability, you get up to 26,000 CPI, tons of customisability, and that all-important lighting. The Basilisk doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but we didn’t need it to. It’s a great improvement on Razer’s already stellar lineup.
SteelSeries Prime Wireless Pro Series
Coming up close to the score of the Razer is the SteelSeries Prime Wireless Pro Series. This mouse delivers that wireless connection we so desperately desire in 2021, though with it comes an expected price increase. There’s so much to like about the Prime Wireless, though, including its feel under hand, great connection stability, and solid battery life. It’s not so flashy as some, but it’s an understated beauty.
Best gaming keyboard of 2021
Wooting Two HE
The Wooting Two HE is a lot more than meets the eye. It harnesses the power of magnets to deliver analogue key control, and that means exactly what you think it means. Each key stroke is measured on a sliding scale—you gently press the W key and you’ll walk in-game. You smash the W key to bits and you’ll run. You have to set it up in-game, however, and that can be a little tricky depending on the specific title, but it offers some great features otherwise to make good use of its analogue functionality.
Read our Wooting Two HE review.
Razer Huntsman V2
This is the newer version of the Huntsman, though it includes and improves on the feature set of the premium Huntsman Elite. The key switches are Razer’s Optical Purple or Red—clicky or linear, respectively—and use the power of light itself to deliver an incredibly swift actuation. There’s definitely more Razer could do with the optical switch, we feel, but it’s built a admirable and fully-featured keyboard in the Huntsman V2 nonetheless. That makes it a worthy runner up in 2021’s gear of the year.
Best gaming headset of 2021
This is the first homebrew flagship from Epos, and the company’s gone all out. New features include 42mm drivers, a removeable and flippable microphone, and open- and closed-back options. It’s a premium headset, too, which means it’s a little on the expensive side for a wired model, but it feels like it’s a high-end headset. It’s comfortable, lighter than previous Epos models, and we found little wrong with it in our review.
Razer Barracuda X
You’d think PC Gamer would be all about the gamer aesthetic, and, well, we are. But that doesn’t preclude greatness in products that shun that style, and the Barracuda X is Razer bringing the essentials and little else. It’s wireless, so that’s a big plus, and it’ll connect to a whole range of devices with a handy USB Type-C dongle. It also offers great audio quality, comfort, and a decent battery. Compared to some wireless headsets it’s not too pricey, either. All the makings of a great wireless headset, then.