The best PC hardware we’re using now and why we love it

18 great components we couldn't live without.

SLIDEFEATURED PRODUCTS
  • Logitech G502 Proteus Spectrum RGB Gaming Mouse

    $56.00 MSRP $79.99
    View
    on Amazon
  • AmazonBasics Dual Side-by-Side Monitor Display Mounting Arm

    $189.99 MSRP $189.99
    View
    on Amazon
  • Corsair Gaming K70 LUX Mechanical Keyboard

    $109.73 MSRP $119.99
    View
    on Amazon
  • BenQ 32-Inch LED Monitor

    $498.75 MSRP $999.99
    View
    on Amazon
  • Vastar 58-in-1 Precision Screwdriver Set

    $13.99 MSRP $59.99
    View
    on Amazon
  • Corsair RMx Series 650W Fully Modular Power Supply

    $113.98 MSRP $119.99
    View
    on Amazon
  • Logitech C920 HD Pro Webcam

    $61.99 MSRP $99.99
    View
    on Amazon
  • PE4C V3.0 external graphics adapter

    MSRP $162.00
    Learn more
    on HWTools
  • Samsung T3 Portable SSD 1TB

    $369.99 MSRP $399.99
    View
    on Amazon
  • Thinkpad 10,000 mAh Power Bank Module

    MSRP $40.00
    Learn more
    on Lenovo
  • FLIR ONE Thermal Imager for Android

    MSRP $249.99
    View
    on Amazon
  • Intel Core i7-6800K Processor

    MSRP $441.00
    View
    on Amazon
  • Acer XB280HK 28-inch Display Ultra HD 4K2K Nvidia G-Sync

    MSRP $699.99
    View
    on Amazon
  • Samsung 850 EVO - 250GB

  • Steam Controller

    $34.99 MSRP $49.99
    View
    on Amazon
  • Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO - CPU Cooler

    $29.99 MSRP $34.99
    View
    on Amazon
We heart this hardware

We love all our gear, from our desktop PCs to every last one of our high-tech gadgets, but some pieces of kit hold a very special place in our hearts. It can’t be helped. A component either fulfills its performance promise so spectacularly, or it perfectly satisfies a particular need, or we’re just plain attached to it out of well-worn habit.

The bottom line is, when gearheads are asked to identify which components they simply cannot live without, certain parts immediately come to mind. That was certainly true when we polled the PCWorld staff. See what hardware we treasure, and why. Then let us know which components you can’t live without in the comments.

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  • Logitech G502 Proteus Spectrum RGB Gaming Mouse

    $56.00 MSRP $79.99
    View
    on Amazon
Logitech G502 Proteus Spectrum

Back in 2014 I replaced my previous go-to mouse—the Zowie AM—with Logitech’s G502 Proteus Core. Two years and countless mouse reviews later, I still haven’t found something better (though I’m now using the RGB-enabled Proteus Spectrum).

With the renowned PWM3366 sensor, customizable weights, an oversized scooped shape, three thumb buttons, and a heavily stepped mouse wheel (that can change to smooth on-the-fly), this mouse does everything I need and then some. For people with smaller hands or who like a lightweight mouse, I might recommend something different (like the Logitech Pro Gaming Mouse), but the G502’s still a personal favorite. ­Hayden Dingman

HyperX Cloud
HyperX Cloud

We’ve written about the HyperX Cloud a lot in the past, so its inclusion on this list should come as no surprise to longtime PCWorld readers.

It deserves the praise. For $80 you get one of the most comfortable gaming headsets ever made, and with sound fidelity that punches way above its price. And sure, you could spend $150 for Logitech’s wireless G933, or $300-plus for the SteelSeries Siberia 800 (I’m fond of its hot-swappable batteries). But the point is you don’t have to. The Cloud is an amazing bargain. Hayden Dingman

ab mounts
  • AmazonBasics Dual Side-by-Side Monitor Display...

    $189.99 MSRP $189.99
    View
    on Amazon
AmazonBasics Dual Side-by-Side Monitor Display Mounting Arm

When I upgraded to a sitting/standing motorized desk last year, I decided to make one other quality-of-life upgrade and mount my monitors on swing arms. Now I wonder what took me so long.

To some extent it changed my workflow. The ability to turn one monitor vertical or bring one forward to the front of my desk when I’m using it for gaming... it’s both wonderfully novel and immensely practical. 

But I’m more impressed by the small, day-to-day tweaks. My neck feels a little stiff? Or maybe my keyboard isn’t quite centered? Just move the monitor to a more natural, ergonomically sound position. Can’t do that when you’re tied to the rigid plastic stands most monitors ship with.

As for the AmazonBasics brand? It’s great. These mounts are equivalent to Ergotron’s, but almost $100 cheaper. Hayden Dingman

k70 04 k us
  • Corsair Gaming K70 LUX Mechanical Keyboard

    $109.73 MSRP $119.99
    View
    on Amazon
Corsair K70 Mechanical Keyboard

Over the years, as a hardware reviewer, I’ve used every mechanical keyboard on the market. But the one I shelled out my hard-earned money for is the Corsair K70 with Cherry MX Red switches.

There are several reasons why. I love the volume wheel at the top, which makes it so easy to just slide my hand over from the mouse and adjust the audio level to my liking. I also love the feel of the MX Red switches, which are crisp and light to the touch, and don’t make a lot of clicky noise, either. I also appreciate the adjustable backlighting, comfortable palm rest, and USB pass-through for my wireless headset.

Add it all up and you have the most perfect keyboard ever. The OG version I have is rare and therefore expensive, but Corsair now offers the K70 in a “Lux” version, whatever that means. The RGB version is also super-sweet, but I personally don’t care about fancy lights. Josh Norem

  • BenQ 32-Inch LED Monitor

    $498.75 MSRP $999.99
    View
    on Amazon
BenQ BL3200PT 32-inch monitor

For almost a decade I was rocking a 27-inch Dell IPS monitor. About a year ago I upgraded to a 32-inch BenQ non-IPS panel, even though I do professional photography work.

No, I didn't go insane. I just took a chance on this VA-panel model and must admit it has thoroughly exceeded all of my expectations. For just $500 I got a monitor that is absolutely enormous and has superb color reproduction and viewing angles, at least to my eyes.

Blacks are especially rich and detailed, and I can honestly say I can’t see a difference between what this monitor and an IPS panel offers (ignore the IPS label in the Amazon description; it’s wrong). I also appreciate its humble 2560x1440 resolution. 4K gaming can be great, but I wanted high frame rates, and for me this is the perfect resolution to run with a high-end GPU, and it doesn’t break the bank. The monitor also has every input you could ask for, USB 3.0 pass-through, and a fantastic on-screen display that’s easy to navigate and tweak. All in all, its one of the best investments I’ve ever made and I plan to keep it around for many years to come. Josh Norem

magnetic screwdriver set
  • Vastar 58-in-1 Precision Screwdriver Set

    $13.99 MSRP $59.99
    View
    on Amazon
Magnetic screwdriver kit

In the dark ages, before I got myself a magnetic screwdriver kit like this one on Amazon, I got by with standard screwdrivers and a telescoping magnet (for retrieving errant screws). The difference this makes is subtle but profound—it makes navigating tight spaces (and my life in general) so much easier, especially since I love small form-factor builds. Alaina Yee

rmx 650 07
  • Corsair RMx Series 650W Fully Modular Power Supply

    $113.98 MSRP $119.99
    View
    on Amazon
Modular power supply

I’m far from achieving the Zen-garden-esque clean-cabling you find in the really slick builds out there, but these days I’ve bitten the bullet and started paying for modular power supplies. The cases I like are pretty compact, so the less cabling in there, the better—from both a clutter and airflow perspective. Plus, it leaves me the option to use different cables. Alaina Yee

Logitech HD Pro Webcam C920 Front Shot
  • Logitech C920 HD Pro Webcam

    PCWorld Rating
    $61.99 MSRP $99.99
    View
    on Amazon
Logitech C920

My phone, tablet, and laptop all have built-in front cameras to use for Skype or Google Hangouts, but when you’re apart from special people for long periods, it’s nice to have a better-quality video feed. For now, I have no dreams of Twitch stardom, so this older (and highly regarded) Logitech C920 model is a better buy than Logitech’s newly launched C922. It’s cheaper by about $30 on Amazon, and I’m guessing its price might drop even further during Black Friday sales this year. Alaina Yee

  • PE4C V3.0 external graphics adapter

    MSRP $162.00
    Learn more
    on HWTools
eGPU setup

It’s been about a year since I fulfilled my desire to play games without going broke for the privilege. That’s all thanks to an external graphics card setup for my laptop that includes a PCIe adapter board—the PE4C 2.1a from BpLus (specific board no longer available, but the upgraded PE4C 3.0 is)—and an Asus GeForce 750Ti overlocked edition.

Neither the adapter board nor the graphics card are even close to top-of-the-line, but they get the job done and make games playable on a 5-year-old Lenovo X220. Beyond gaming, the external graphics card makes it easier to use an external monitor for everyday computing. My Sandy Bridge-based laptop would often stutter or freeze when the pathetically weak integrated graphics had to support both the laptop screen and an external display. Now, everything just hums along. –Ian Paul

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Credit: Samsung
  • Samsung T3 Portable SSD 1TB

    $369.99 MSRP $399.99
    View
    on Amazon
Samsung T3 SSD 1TB

Online storage is convenient. You can get to your files from just about anywhere. But I drag around some pretty large files for testing PCs, and I like to back up my 500GB of music frequently and quickly. Online won’t cut it. So instead, I employ the 1TB Samsung T3.

It’s super-small and light, transfers files at 300Mbps over a USB 3.0 connection, and—because it’s solid-state—stands up to any abuse I inadvertently heap upon it. When it comes to sneaker-netting there is simply no better solution than Samsung’s tiny solid-state external drives. Jon L. Jacobi

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  • Thinkpad 10,000 mAh Power Bank Module

    MSRP $40.00
    Learn more
    on Lenovo
Lenovo Thinkpad Stack Power Bank

Of all the Thinkpad Stack modules (including Wi-Fi router, hard drive, Bluetooth speaker) that I reviewed, the one that found a permanent home in my backpack is the 10,000 mAh Power Bank battery. It holds enough juice to recharge my phone, DSLR, etc., several times over, and when not in use, retains its charged state for a long time.

I keep the battery in my backpack with the charger cable already in place, so I can pretty much just attach the phone (or other device), zip the pocket shut, and get on my way. Within 10 minutes, the phone is charged enough to hold a decently long conversation.

Because the Power Bank charges the same way a phone does, via a micro-USB connector (it charges other devices via a full-sized connector), I simply flip the cable and use a car charger to top it off. It’s the one thing I make sure I charge when I’m traveling. Jon L. Jacobi

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Credit: Brad Chacos
GeForce GTX 1070

Have you heard the story of Goldilocks? She tried the GeForce GTX 1080 and found that it was too big. The GeForce GTX 1060? Too small, natch. The perfect card, it turns out, is Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1070. It gives you no-compromise performance at resolutions up to 2560x1440 without breaking a sweat.

While it would be nicer if the spiritual successor to the GeForce GTX 970 were actually available at the $330 price the original GTX 970 cost, you still get a lot of performance for $399. And just to remind you how great a value it is, the GTX 1070 will hang with the GeForce Titan X that Nvidia charged $1,000 for just last year. –Gordon Mah Ung

flir one second gen thermal imaging accessory 2
  • FLIR ONE Thermal Imager for Android

    MSRP $249.99
    View
    on Amazon
Flir One thermal imager

It used to be that a thermal imager was the kind of exclusive, specialized equipment you’d only find in a professional testing environment. But the cost of these devices is about one-tenth what it used to be just a few years ago, making it an indispensable tool for enthusiasts who want to analyze hot spots on a new PC build. And yes, you can also check to see where the insulation is lacking in your home, or pretend you’re the Predator.

My pick of the litter is the Flir One. It’s an attachment for smartphones that blends a visible light image with the thermal image. The blended image looks far superior to the blobby messes other systems force you to interpret . Gordon Mah Ung

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  • Intel Core i7-6800K Processor

    MSRP $441.00
    View
    on Amazon
Intel Core i7-6800K

What, Mr. Bond? Were you expecting a Core i7-6700K? While Intel’s quad-core Core i7-6700K is a great choice for any performance PC, we think the future is going to be about having more cores. That’s based on the move to DirectX 12, which exploits more CPU threads in gaming, and the looming Core Wars once AMD introduces its Zen CPU.

That’s why I insist on having Intel’s Core i7-6800K. It gives me six Broadwell cores (12 threads with HyperThreading) of computing power. Some argue that the older Core i7-5820K is a better bargain, and I don’t disagree, but the price gap between the two chips has started to shrink lately. For users who aren’t into overclocking, the newer Broadwell-cores with the Turbo Boost Max features pay off in performance. Gordon Mah Ung

asus swift pg27aq 4k monitor
Credit: Asus
  • Acer XB280HK 28-inch Display Ultra HD 4K2K Nvidia...

    MSRP $699.99
    View
    on Amazon
  • ViewSonic VX2257-MHD 22-inch 1080p FreeSync Gaming...

    $129.99 MSRP $149.99
    View
    on Amazon
A G-Sync or FreeSync monitor

Once you’ve gamed on a variable refresh-rate monitor, it’s hellish going back to a traditional display. Even a game humming along at over 60 frames per second looks terrible.

That’s because FreeSync monitors (which work with Radeon graphics) and G-Sync monitors (which work with GeForce GPUs) synchronize the refresh rate of your graphics card and display, resulting in a buttery-smooth gaming experience devoid of stuttering or screen tearing. FreeSync and G-Sync displays are locked in a standards war, which is a major bummer, but the sheer pleasure of using either one can’t be ignored. These monitors are magical.

G-Sync displays require special hardware and tend to carry a premium price. I’ve been using the 28-inch Acer XB280HK ($518.90 on Amazon), and the variable refresh rate helps make sub-60 fps gameplay much more bearable at 4K resolution. FreeSync monitors rely on software and can be found starting as cheaply as $130 on Amazon for a 22-inch, 1080p display. –Brad Chacos

  • Samsung 850 EVO - 250GB

  • ADATA Premier SP600 64GB 2.5 Inch SATA III

    $48.99 MSRP $79.99
    View
    on Amazon
SSD

Upgrading from a traditional mechanical hard drive to a solid-state drive is the single best upgrade you can make, period. An SSD can make your janky old laptop or desktop feel like a whole new PC. Seriously.

SSDs eliminate ages-long boot times, speed up how quickly programs open on your PC, supercharge file transfers, and just make everything in your computing life feel flat-out faster. The numbers dont lie.

Even better, SSD prices are finally starting to creep down to affordable levels. A 250GB Samsung 850 Evo—a go-to recommendation in the SSD world—costs just $100 on Amazon. Even using a smaller (and less expensive) SSD, like the 64GB ADATA Premier SP600, to run Windows and your most-used programs (while storing your bulk files separately on a slower hard drive) can give you a big boost in overall system speed. –Brad Chacos

steam controller
  • Steam Controller

    $34.99 MSRP $49.99
    View
    on Amazon
Steam Controller

I hated the Steam Controller the first time I used it. And the second time. And the third time. I hated having to constantly set up game profiles in menus. I missed analog sticks and yearned for my trusty Xbox 360 controller. But after about a week, something clicked—just like my buddy Hayden Dingman said in his Steam Controller review—and now it's a vital component of my PC gaming arsenal.

The Steam Controller still doesnt feel as natural as an Xbox controller in my hands, but it’s unmatched in versatility. Traditional controllers excel in games that were, you know, designed for controllers. But those menus and touchpads that made the Steam Controller so arcane at first blush open up opportunities to play more traditional PC games away from my PC. Thanks to the Steam Controller and Steam in-home streaming, I can now play keyboard-and-mouse-centric games like XCOM 2 and Total War: Warhammer on my TV, or while lying with a MacBook in bed.

Is it a perfect solution? Nope. But the Steam Controller gets the job done, and that’s head-and-shoulders better than prior options. –Brad Chacos

cooler master hyper 212 evo
  • Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO - CPU Cooler

    $29.99 MSRP $34.99
    View
    on Amazon
Cooler Master Hyper 212 Evo CPU cooler

The Cooler Master Hyper 212 Evo CPU cooler is downright legendary among PC enthusiasts, and for damned good reason. This gem delivers everything you need to keep your processor frosty even under hefty overclocks, and for roughly the same price as a couple of large pizzas. Sure, you can spend two or three times as much for gigantic air coolers that offer even better performance, or invest in a whisper-silent (and even chillier!) liquid-cooling solution—but you don’t have to. The Hyper 212 Evo is all you need.

Nothing else even comes close to offering this sort of bang for your cooling buck. Unless you’re limited by an esoteric build or cranking your overclocks to blistering new heights, you don’t even need to shop around. Just get a Hyper 212 Evo and you’ll be happy. Brad Chacos