We’re leaving 2021 with mixed feelings. While the great chip shortage rages on, making it nearly impossible to grab a new graphics card at retail price, it’s not all bad news. Brands are still putting out some of the best hardware we’ve seen to date, from lightweight gaming mice to RTX-adorned gaming laptops and CPUs that usher in support for next-generation technologies.
We saw the introduction of DDR5 RAM and some musings about PCIe 5.0, despite Intel only just joining the PCIe 4.0 bandwagon earlier this year. Eve and Asus duked it out to debut the first gaming monitor with HDMI 2.1 and 4K at 144Hz has since become more widely available as a result. And AIO coolers got even cooler, with the MSI MEG CoreLiquid S360 bringing a screen that also plays .mp4 videos as well as gifs.
With some products barely even touching shelves, we’ve avoided the fanfare of an awards ceremony, but still wanted to showcase our favourite hardware from the year.
So, without further ado, here is a small selection of the best PC gaming hardware in 2021:
Nvidia GeForce Now RTX 3080
It goes without saying that the best graphics card in 2021 is the one you can get your hands on, but Nvidia’s cloud gaming solution comes in a close second. With the newly introduced RTX 3080 subscription, you can get the beauty of a new GPU without slotting one into your system. If your broadband can keep up, you can crank settings up to ultra at 1440p resolution and still maintain a silky smooth 120fps without breaking a sweat. Better yet, the MSRP of an RTX 3080 is equivalent to three years’ worth of the subscription, giving it incredible value for money.
Intel Core i5 12600K
You’d be forgiven for thinking it was just a weird fever dream that Intel released its 11th generation Rocket Lake CPUs this year but it’s true, team blue really did go at it twice in 2021. Alder Lake leaves takes the cake, however, as the 12th generation gives us a mid-range marvel with the Intel Core i5 12600K. It supports DDR5, is future-proofed with PCIe 5.0 compatibility, and outperforms AMD chips that cost more than double.
SteelSeries Rival 5
2021 wasn’t short of good mice to choose from, but few impressed us more than the SteelSeries Rival 5. Sporting a similar shape to the now legendary G502, the Rival 5 hits the perfect middle-ground between ergonomics and macro buttons at just 85g – which is especially important since gamers demand the lightest clicker possible. If you want a wireless experience, you’re probably better off with the SteelSeries Prime Wireless, but otherwise, the Rival 5 is one of the best all-rounders you can wield.
Razer Kraken V3 Hypersense
Haptic feedback is a staple in the best PC controllers, but it’s still largely absent from other gaming PC peripherals. Razer’s trying to change this with its second-generation Hypersense feedback, which makes for one of the best gaming headsets of the year. The Razer Kraken V3 Hypersense has marked improvements over the original Nari, tuning the vibrations just right to give you an immersive experience. This works by enhancing the bass, much like a subwoofer, so you can feel every gunshot and explosion. On top of that, it has beautiful RGB lighting on top of a clean look, comfy pads, and a clear, detachable microphone.
Eve Spectrum 4K
It’s no secret that PC is our platform of choice here, but we have to extend a big handshake to Sony and Microsoft for giving technology a much-needed push with their new consoles. 4K resolution at 144Hz is finally becoming an accessible standard for gaming monitors, and the crowdfunded Eve Spectrum is at least partially responsible for leading the charge. Colours pop, movements are smooth, and the stand is sold separately for those that already own an arm. You’ll need a graphics card that can keep up the pace to make full use of it, but with Nvidia DLSS, AMD FSR, and eventually Intel XeSS making things much easier, higher resolutions and refresh rates are within reach.
You can attach the word ‘gaming’ to just about anything nowadays, but the Secretlab Magnus earns its title as the best gaming desk – and not just of 2021. It follows the same design philosophy as Secretlab’s gaming chairs, with every inch of the surface feeling premium. It’s made of solid metal, which means it’s not fun to lug up a set of stairs but it is the perfect companion to a wealth of magnetic accessories, from cable feeds to a headset hanger or an RGB lighting strip to a full desk-length leatherette mouse pad. Even if you opt to use it without any fancy additions, its cable tray helps keep things neat.