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Best motherboard for gaming in 2023: Reviews and buying guide

We Help You Find The Best Gaming Motherboards For Your Needs

01

ASUS ROG Maximus Z790 HERO

ASUS ROG Maximus Z790 Hero

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02

ROG Crosshair X670E Extreme

ASUS ROG Crosshair X670E Extreme

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03

ROG Maximus XIII Hero Z590

ROG Maximus XIII Hero Z590

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READ MORE: Motherboard parts explained

You may stumble across this page and be unsure how to navigate through a motherboard correctly as it may come across as a tricky obstacle to hurdle! especially when choosing one of your CPUs but we’ve got you covered.

Best Motherboard for Gaming in 2023: Products at a glance

ASUS ROG Maximus Z790 Hero

Form factor

ATX

Power stages

24+1 phase

Connectivity

10 GbE LAN, WiFi 6E, audio, USB4, USB-C, DisplayPort, Thunderbolt 4.

PCIe Gen 5

GPU X16 and M.2

DDR5

Yes

ASUS ROG Crosshair X670E Extreme

Form factor

EATX

Power stages

20 + 2

Connectivity

PCIe Gen 5

M.2 & PCIe x16 slot

DDR5

Yes

ROG MAXIMUS Z790 EXTREME

Form Factor

E-ATX

Power stages

24+1

Connectivity

USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 Type-C and front-panel connector with Quick Charge 4+ up to 60W, eight USB 3.2 Gen 2, and two PCIe 5.0 x16 SafeSlots

PCIe Gen 5

Yes

DDR5

Yes

ASUS ROG Maximus Z690 Hero WiFi

Form Factor

ATX

Socket

LGA 1700

Chipset

Z690

DDR5?

Yes

ROG Maximus XIII Hero Z590

Intended Build

High-end

Form Factor

ATX

Socket

LGA 1200

Chipset

Z590

Sit back and read through our article, and by the end, you’ll be ordering the best motherboard for your needs.

If you are still a little unsure as to what may be compatible with what, then you can check all of your components are compatible with each other if you need to.

Best Motherboard for Gaming in 2023: Top Picks

01

ASUS ROG Maximus Z790 HERO

ASUS ROG Maximus Z790 Hero

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CHECK PRICE

02

ROG Crosshair X670E Extreme

ASUS ROG Crosshair X670E Extreme

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CHECK PRICE

03

ROG Maximus XIII Hero Z590

ROG Maximus XIII Hero Z590

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CHECK PRICE

Best motherboard for gaming 2023

Here we will list the best motherboards for gaming in 2023. This includes picks from all over the spectrum, incorporating both high-end enthusiast options and budget options.

ASUS ROG Maximus Z790 HERO 

High-end best Z790 motherboard

ASUS ROG Maximus Z790 HERO 

ASUS ROG Maximus Z790 Hero

Form factor

ATX

Power stages

24+1 phase

Connectivity

10 GbE LAN, WiFi 6E, audio, USB4, USB-C, DisplayPort, Thunderbolt 4.

PCIe Gen 5

GPU X16 and M.2

DDR5

Yes

Pros

24+1 phase VRM design

10 GbE LAN port

5 M.2 slots

DDR5

PCIe Gen 5

Cons

Expensive

ASUS’ Maximus motherboard lineup has always been a favorite among enthusiasts and that remains true with the Z790 series. The ASUS ROG Maximus Z790 HERO is a top-tier motherboard that boasts impressive features and a powerful delivery system.

The VRM design of the Z790 HERO is very robust with a 24+1 phase VRM and 105A power stages, all beneath large VRM heatsinks. In essence, this motherboard can handle even the most challenging 13th Gen Intel Raptor Lake CPUs, even when overclocked.

Apart from the sturdy design, the Maximus Z790 HERO comes packed with premium features. It includes a 10 GbE LAN port and WiFi 6E to fulfill all your networking needs, and storage is handled by five M.2 slots as well as numerous SATA ports. Additionally, the board features two Thunderbolt 4 ports on the rear I/O, which is a nice addition.

Regarding aesthetics, the board is designed with gamers in mind as it displays the characteristic ROG design language. The pixelated ROG script on the I/O cover looks particularly attractive when installed in a chassis.

Overall, the ROG Maximus Z790 HERO is a remarkable motherboard with very few weaknesses. The only significant concern is its price, which is relatively high compared to the other alternatives available on the market.

ROG Crosshair X670E Extreme

Best AM5 motherboard

ROG Crosshair X670E Extreme

ASUS ROG Crosshair X670E Extreme

Form factor

EATX

Power stages

20 + 2

Connectivity

PCIe Gen 5

M.2 & PCIe x16 slot

DDR5

Yes

Pros

Sleek design

Efficient power stages

Tonnes of connectivity

DDR5

Cons

Expensive

The Crosshair X670E extreme is a feat of engineering in its own right, it’s probably the highest-end AM5 motherboard you can own, next to GIGABYTE and MSI. 

We know that the Asus X670E ROG Crosshair Extreme features VRMs based on Infineon ASP2205 power management IC (PMIC) and Vishay SIC850 110A smart power stages. Also, the Crosshair Extreme will feature a 20 + 2-stage power delivery system.

The Crosshair obviously ships on the DDR5 RAM standard, out with the old and in with the new DDR5 memory technology. 

You can expect PCIe Gen 5 support on its 16x slot and PCI Gen 5 support for compatible M.2 drives too. Making for ultra-fast storage and almost real-time GPU communication times. 

ROG MAXIMUS Z790 EXTREME

Best Intel motherboard

ROG MAXIMUS Z790 EXTREME

ROG MAXIMUS Z790 EXTREME

Form Factor

E-ATX

Power stages

24+1

Connectivity

USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 Type-C and front-panel connector with Quick Charge 4+ up to 60W, eight USB 3.2 Gen 2, and two PCIe 5.0 x16 SafeSlots

PCIe Gen 5

Yes

DDR5

Yes

Pros

Strong power stages

PCIe Gen 5

Heightened DDR5 speeds

Lots of connectivity

Cons

Very expensive

The Maximus Extreme features a 24 + 1 power stage setup with dual ProCool II power connectors and premium metallic capacitors. Designed to take overclocking to the next level. 

We have PCIe Gen 5 support on a single M.2 SSD slot and both of the PCIe X16 slots, bringing greater speeds to the likes of GPUs and NVMe SSDs respectively. 

The Maximus is equipped with DDR5 support up to 7600MHz, making the Maximus one of the best motherboards for DDR5 too.

The Maximus is also teeming with connectivity, here are some of the connectivity you can expect to find on the Z790 Extreme: Thunderbolt 4 USB Type-C and front-panel connector, USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 Type-C and front-panel connector with Quick Charge 4+ up to 60W, eight USB 3.2 Gen 2, and two PCIe 5.0 x16 slots.

ASUS ROG Maximus Hero Z690 WiFi

Best last-gen Intel motherboard

ASUS ROG Maximus Hero Z690 WiFi

ASUS ROG Maximus Z690 Hero WiFi

Form Factor

ATX

Socket

LGA 1700

Chipset

Z690

DDR5?

Yes

Pros

6400+ (OC) MHz max memory speed

4X 32GB DDR55 DIMM slots (128GB total)

20+1 power stages (90A)

Great for overclocking

Cons

Less power stages than the most premium models

Very expensive

The ASUS ROG Maximus Z690 is a fantastic premium motherboard and the best Z690 you will find. This latest iteration features everything you need to get the best out of your Intel 12th Gen Alder Lake CPU.

If you’ve no interest in buying a 12th Gen CPU then we’d probably recommend going for a Z590 instead, but the Z690 offers maximum future-proofing.

Equally, if you’re looking to pick up a lower-end Intel CPU this board probably isn’t worth your money either, as you wouldn’t make the most out of the features available here which are geared (and priced) with high-performance users in mind.

The ASUS ROG Maximus Z690 board comes with an LGA 1700 socket as befitting an Alder Lake-compatible motherboard. As far as motherboards go it has a fairly striking look, between the integrated aluminum I/O cover and Aura Sync RGB lighting system.

The board comes with all the features you’d want for a high-performance, premium board with a robust power solution of 20+1 power stages rated for 90 Amps and a sizable VRM heatsink, not to mention ASUS’ Intelligent Control technology (essentially AI overclocking) and ROG water cooling zone.

Ports include PCIe 5.0, PCIe 4.0, Dual Thunderbolt 4 USB-C, as well as a ROG Hyper M.2 card with Gen 5 M.2 support. Although we would have liked to have seen 10GB Ethernet support in a motherboard of this price range, the 2.5GB will do for most users.

ROG Maximus XIII Hero Z590

Best budget Intel motherboard

ROG Maximus XIII Hero Z590

ROG Maximus XIII Hero Z590

Intended Build

High-end

Form Factor

ATX

Socket

LGA 1200

Chipset

Z590

Pros

5-way optimization

High performance networking

Solid overclocking potential

Cons

Can get quite hot

The Asus ROG Crosshairseries has been quite popular over the years, and this X570 chipset is likely to follow suit. This board comes after the anticipated release of the new Ryzen chips with provision for PCI-e 4.0 and lightning-quick storage. The Hero overall is an excellent board with few weaknesses to differentiate it from the rest.

The design appears to be similar to the Formula motherboard as the base without the display and excessive VRM water block. The motherboard is incredibly aesthetically pleasing as you would expect from the ROG department. The large heatsink features an RGB ROG logo, as does the I/O shroud, making the motherboard pop visually.

We see 2.5G LAN support along with Intels WIFI 6. You also get a Type-C USB port, a BIOS flashback button, and a clear CMOS button to take away some of the overclocking headaches RAM can bring.

Overall the Asus ROG Crosshair VIII Hero is packed with features and performs as well as some of the best. This board and its plethora of USB ports is an excellent board and a fantastic alternative to the Godlike for performance and financial reasons. The layout of This motherboard is great, the RGB is catchy, and it’s better than its predecessor.

MSI B450 Gaming Plus MAX

Best budget AMD motherboard

MSI B450 Gaming Plus MAX

MSI B450 Gaming Plus MAX

Intended build

Budget build

Form factor

ATX

Overclocking support

Yes

Socket

AM4

Chipset

B450

Pros

Excellent build quality

Overclocking capabilities

Good value

Cons

Only 802.11 AC WiFi

one NVME

The MSI B450 Gaming Plus MAX is officially the cheapest budget range board on our list, however, don’t be totally fooled by the price tag. MSI has had to make some compromises to achieve the low price range but they have kept the core features gamers are most concerned about.

With 64GB of 4,133MHz RAM supported, this board is perfect for an AMD Ryzen build. Having said that, you can still make use of the excellent features to pair this board with any of the Ryzen 3rd gen CPUs. You won’t even have to update the BIOS either.

MAX means this board is already updated to the latest BIOS so you can simply pop your new chip into this motherboard without the fear of a none boot.

Unfortunately, the Gaming Plus only comes with 1 M.2 slot meaning future expansion is going to be fairly difficult if you’re looking at using multiple M.2’s. It’s easy to let them off though seeing as though it comes to shelves at such an affordable price.

One of our favorite boards here at WePC that’s great for anyone looking to build a decent first-time gaming rig.

Best Budget motherboard for gaming

There are a few types of motherboards to choose from, if you’re on a tight budget, you’re sometimes better off looking for the last generation of technology to save a buck or two. This isn’t always possible, however, as in the case of the Ryzen 7000 series, there’s only one motherboard generation currently.

Wherever possible, you’re going to want to pick up an Asus Prime motherboard, take this for example:

ASUS Prime Z690-P

05

The best Budget z690 motherboard

ASUS Prime Z690-P

ASUS Prime Z690-P

Form Factor

ATX

Socket

LGA 1700

Chipset

Z690

DDR5?

Yes

Pros

10+1 power stages

2x Thunderbolt 4 USB Type-C

Cons

Less power and features than ATX models similarly priced

The ASUS Prime Z690-P is the best budget option on the list for a DDR5-compatible motherboard, with its supported speeds limited to 6000Mhz. However, it is an updated version of one of the most dependable boards on the market.

With support for DDR5, PCIe 5.0, and Thunderbolt 4, this motherboard offers a high-quality experience that won’t disappoint. The board also boasts impressive features such as 14+1 power stages, Wifi 6, and 2.5Gb Ethernet, making it an excellent value compared to some of the more expensive boards listed.

This is the 12th generation variant of the ASUS Prime, although it’s a great choice for 13th gen users looking to save a buck on the motherboard choice.

All ASUS prime motherboards are teeming with features, and offer an impressive level of connectivity for the price.

What to look for in a good gaming motherboard

When looking for a good gaming motherboard, there are several factors to consider. Here are some of the most important ones:

Socket compatibility: Check if the motherboard supports the CPU socket type you have or plan to purchase. Intel and AMD have different socket types, so you need to make sure the motherboard matches your CPU.

Chipset: The chipset is responsible for connecting all the components on your motherboard. Make sure the chipset is compatible with your CPU and supports the features you need, such as overclocking.

VRM: The voltage regulator module (VRM) is responsible for delivering power to the CPU. A good VRM with high-quality components will provide a stable and efficient power supply to your CPU, which is important for overclocking.

RAM compatibility: Check the motherboard’s RAM compatibility and the number of slots available. Ensure it supports the speed and capacity of RAM you plan to use, and has enough slots for future upgrades.

Expansion slots: Determine what additional components you might want to add in the future, such as graphics cards or network cards, and ensure the motherboard has enough expansion slots to support them.

I/O ports: Look for a motherboard with a good selection of input/output (I/O) ports, including USB 3.0 or higher, audio jacks, Ethernet, and HDMI or DisplayPort for video output.

Cooling: Ensure the motherboard has sufficient cooling options, including fan headers and heatsinks, to keep your components running cool during intense gaming sessions.

By considering these factors, you can choose a gaming motherboard that meets your needs and provides a solid foundation for a high-performance gaming PC.

Best motherboard for gaming: Things to Consider

Now that you’re aware of the best options available to you, you’re going to have to choose a gaming motherboard that best suits you and your needs.

If you’re asking yourself, ”What motherboard should I get?” we’d like to make sure you know what makes a good gaming motherboard because there are a lot of factors to consider.

Here at WePC, we believe an educated consumer is an empowered consumer!

Form Factor

The physical footprint may be something you need to consider when choosing your motherboard. If you’re tight on space, you may want to consider a smaller-sized ITX computer case.

If you’ve got plenty of room and want to build an impressive system, then going for a larger form factor could be beneficial.

Whatever your case may be, there are several main types of form factors that motherboards come in. Including mini-ITX motherboards, micro ATX, ATX board, or E-ATX motherboard.

Socket

Every motherboard is going to have a specific socket type. This is the physical slot on the motherboard that holds your CPU in place. You’re going to have to match up the socket type of your motherboard to your CPU making sure they are compatible.

Trying to fit the wrong processor into the wrong socket type can cause fatal damage to your components, and no one wants that.

To make sure your CPU and motherboard are compatible, check the specs.

Chipsets

A large factor when determining which motherboard is right for you and your needs is the chipset. Your chipset is a key factor in determining which features your motherboard comes with.

This ranges from PCIe lanes to SATA ports, and even overclocking support. Even if your processor allows overclocking, if the motherboard’s chipset doesn’t support it, then you won’t be able to do it.

With AMD & Intel having non-compatible sockets and chipsets, it’s always worth making sure that your latest hardware components are compatible. Especially when new RAM, motherboards, and CPUs are being released on an all too regular basis.

Let’s take a look at some chipsets from both Intel and AMD. So you can find the best AMD motherboards, or the best choice of Intel ones depending on your preferred platform.

Intel

AMD

Memory

When it comes to checking memory compatibility, you need to pay attention to four things: Max supported memory, memory speed, multi-channel support, and how many memory slots are on the board.

Check the specs against the motherboard, this will let you know precisely what the motherboard will support when it comes to speed and how many memory slots there are.

Memory Location

Also, some motherboards will have their memory slots a little closer to the CPU than others. Once in a while, this can cause an issue with the CPU heatsink.

If you have a larger-than-normal heatsink for your CPU, you might want to make sure it won’t barge into your memory slot area.

PCI slots

Peripheral Component Interconnect, or PCI, is the physical slot in which you can expand the capabilities of your basic system.

This includes, but is not limited to things like:

NVMe expansion cards

There are two types of PCI slots: PCI and PCI Express (PCIe). The PCIe slot is a larger, faster version of the PCI slot.

Basic expansion cards such as a wifi adapter only require a much smaller PCI slot, while larger, more powerful cards such as your graphics card, require a larger and more powerful PCIe slot.

Making sure you have enough PCI slots for all of your components is important.

If you’re running multiple GPUs and want to add in say a network and a sound card or an NVMe expansion card, you might have to check to make sure your motherboard has enough slots to accommodate.

The other thing to look for is plenty of spacing. If you’re planning on running multiple GPUs that are large, you may need PCIe slots that are further apart to allow for adequate space.

Fan Headers

The last thing you need to make sure of is that you have enough fan headers for everything you plan on running.

If you’re running a lot of fans, or maybe RGB controllers, you’re going to have to make sure you have enough headers on the motherboard to support this.

If you’re interested in learning more about motherboards, then you can read all about how motherboards are made, as well as what all of the main components do.

Zen 4 CPUs

AMD’s Zen 4 CPUs require a brand new motherboard to function, they will not fit in your old AM4 motherboard, so you have very little choice in the way of saving money as you can with Intel. You HAVE to pick up a new motherboard. 

Fortunately, AMD has built-in AM4 cooler compatibility, so that’s one thing you don’t have to upgrade at least.

Which Gaming Motherboard Is Best For You?

So, you know the motherboards available to you, but which one is the best fit for you? Let’s take a moment to talk about that.

High-end gaming motherboard

A high-end motherboard would be for someone who is either looking to push their gaming performance to the next level or needs something to help with their content creation.

The benefits of a high-end build include:

More PCIe lane bandwidth, allowing for faster gaming and processing

More expansion ports

Better quality components to handle the increased usage

Mid-range gaming motherboard

Buying a mid-range motherboard would be a good investment for anyone who doesn’t need all the bells and whistles of a high-end board, but still wants solid performance out of their machine.

The benefits of a mid-range build include:

More cost effective

Smaller components meaning less space required.

Large component availability since the vast majority are more budget focused.

Budget gaming motherboard

Those that are interested in budget motherboards are probably looking for something that will get them up and running without breaking the bank.

Ultimately, budget boards make compromises to accommodate such low prices. However, that’s not always a bad thing.

The two budget boards we’ve recommended are from reliable providers, and have plenty of room for add-ons, making them very versatile and good value for money.

Learn how to enable TPM 2.0 here.

Does the motherboard affect PC performance?

Motherboard choice has a significant impact on PC performance because it serves as the foundation and central hub of the system. The motherboard determines the type of CPU and memory that can be used, affects the speed of communication between components, and governs the system’s power management and overclocking abilities.

The number and type of expansion slots, ports, and storage options provided by the motherboard also have an impact on overall performance and functionality. A high-quality motherboard can help ensure that the components in a PC work together effectively and deliver optimal performance, while a poorly chosen motherboard can limit the potential of even the best components and result in a system that’s unstable or unreliable.

The compatibility and stability of the motherboard can impact the performance and longevity of the entire system, so it’s important to choose a well-made, reliable motherboard that is appropriate for the specific needs of the system.

Should you choose a motherboard or CPU first?

It depends on your specific needs and budget. In general, it’s recommended to choose your CPU first, as this will determine the motherboard options available to you.

The CPU is the “brain” of your computer, and its specifications will determine the type of motherboard you need, such as the socket type, chipset, and supported RAM speeds. Once you’ve chosen your CPU, you can then look for a compatible motherboard that meets your needs in terms of features, price, and brand preference.

However, if you have specific requirements for your motherboard, such as a certain size or particular features, you may want to start with the motherboard selection and then choose a compatible CPU.

Best motherboard for gaming FAQs

Here are some of the most commonly asked questions about the best motherboards for gaming.

Do I need an expensive motherboard for gaming?

You do not necessarily need an expensive motherboard for gaming, but it depends on your specific needs and requirements. A mid-range motherboard with decent features and compatibility can be enough for most gamers.

However, if you plan to use high-end components such as the latest processors, graphics cards, and fast RAM, you may need a more expensive motherboard that supports these components and provides better stability and performance.

In general, it’s essential to choose a motherboard that fits your needs and budget. If you’re on a tight budget, you can still find a decent motherboard that meets your gaming requirements without breaking the bank.

Can motherboards affect gaming performance?

The motherboard itself does not directly improve gaming performance, but it can indirectly affect gaming performance in a few ways.

First, the motherboard determines the compatibility and support for different components, such as the CPU, GPU, RAM, and storage devices. A motherboard that supports faster processors, more powerful graphics cards, and higher-speed RAM can result in better gaming performance.

Second, the motherboard can affect the stability and reliability of the system, which can impact gaming performance. A high-quality motherboard with better power delivery, cooling, and other features can ensure that the system runs smoothly and without crashes or other issues, which can improve gaming performance.

Finally, some motherboards come with additional features that can enhance gaming performance, such as built-in sound cards, network controllers, and overclocking tools. These features can improve the overall gaming experience and potentially boost performance.

Can you overclock all motherboards?

It’s important to research and chooses a motherboard that is capable of supporting the level of overclocking you want to achieve. Additionally, it’s important to note that overclocking can void your warranty and potentially damage your hardware if not done properly, so it’s recommended to proceed with caution and follow appropriate safety precautions.

Final Word

You’re in good hands with every motherboard here. We like to think that we made the right choices here, but if you have any other suggestions please don’t hesitate to let us know.

The motherboard is the most important part of your PC, and it’s best that you don’t scrimp on it, the motherboard ties everything together, it’s the very foundation of your PC as you know it. Don’t let your motherboard choice suffer just to save a few bucks.

You're reading Best Motherboard For Gaming In 2023: Reviews And Buying Guide

Best Webcams 2023: Top Picks And Expert Buying Advice

However, most laptops still ship with a 720p webcam, so a 1080p webcam can be a step up—what better way to stand out from the pack on your next Teams call? There are even premium models with integrated ring lights for a few dollars more. Other, more expensive options feature 4K resolution or higher refresh rates, which will make a noticeable difference to both you, your friends, and your colleagues.

We haven’t tested every one of these webcams, but we’ve picked the best webcams based on specs and bundled extras, including our own reviews. You can also refer to our separate story on the best Windows Hello webcams to buy a webcam for videoconferencing and to log you in to your PC. We’ve taken two recommendations from that list, however, and added them here: a premium and budget webcam with Windows Hello. You might be surprised to see one recommended as a best webcam, period — because it is.

Anker PowerConf C200 – Best overall webcam

Pros

2K (1440p) resolution

Adjustable field of view

Solid low-light performance

18-month warranty

Cons

Lacks 60fps support

Anker software is necessary for full control

Color balance is middling

Best Prices Today:

We’ve replaced the Logitech C920e as our best webcam pick if only because Anker simply offers so much more for less. First off, Anker’s PowerConf C200 provides an upgraded 1440p resolution, better than 1080p to make you look clearer and more professional. Second, this webcam offers an adjustable field of view (65, 78, and 95 degrees) meaning that you can manually crop out portions of the background you don’t want to be visible.

The PowerConf C200 includes noise-cancelling mics and an integrated privacy shutter, which turns off the whole device—a plus, if you’re concerned about a bad guy somehow hacking your mic and listening to your conversations with your family, boss, and pets. You can even adjust the mic pickup to focus on you, versus omnidirectionally.

Reviewers have some concerns about the color accuracy, but the low-light performance makes up for it—you shouldn’t need a ring light. For all this, and for about $60? That’s a solid deal. There’s an upgraded C300 model for an additional $40, but we think this is a better deal.

Logitech C920e Business Webcam – Best overall webcam, runner-up

Pros

Three-year warranty

Exposure and color controls

78.5-degree viewing angle

1080p

Cons

Lacks 60fps support

Best Prices Today:

The 1080p Logitech C920e webcam is the most recent version of the venerable Logitech C920, probably the most iconic webcam of the last few years. Confused about whether you should buy the C920e or the C920s? Logitech describes the C920e as a business camera, and the C920s as the consumer version—they’re otherwise identical, save that the C920e has a three-year warranty versus a two-year warranty, while costing the same. The C920e reportedly offers lighting and color controls that the C920s does not, as well.

Both cameras use a narrower 78.5-degree viewing angle, which focuses on your face better than webcams that use a 90-degree viewing angle. It’s also an autofocus camera, which helps justify its higher price. The C920e connects to your laptop using a USB-A cable measuring 5 feet.

Aside from a lack of 60fps support, this is still a great webcam. We prefer it, in fact, to Logitech’s most recent webcam, the Logitech Brio 305, which is slightly more expensive and lacks the 1.2X zoom the C920e offers.

A number of Asian companies are starting to match what the C920e offers on paper, but its superb video quality could be harder to mimic. You can refer to our Logitech C920 review for more information.

Monoprice 2K USB Webcam – Best budget webcam

Pros

Fantastic price

2K resolution, with autofocus

Works well as a laptop webcam

Bonus ring light

Cons

Review unit broke after a fall

Tends to overexpose the user

Lousy mic quality

DIY privacy shutter

Best Prices Today:

Monoprice appears to have discounted this webcam to $34.99, and for that price it’s hard to pass up. Our review of this webcam, below, points out its flaws: It tends to overexpose the user, even without the integrated ring light, and the mic quality is poor. The DIY privacy shutter is a little goofy but works fine.

Honestly, if you’re the kind of person who can look past a few quirks, there’s a lot to like here. The 2K (1440p) / 30Hz resolution looks even sharper than a 1080p cam, for one. You will tend to look blown out a bit if you use and are lit by an external display. As a plain-Jane webcam that hooks onto your laptop screen, however, the white balance evens out just fine.

The mics are one of its irredeemable flaws, though. If your laptop has an integrated mic, you may find that it’s better than what Monoprice’s webcam offers. After our review, we accidentally flipped it backwards off the display, and it stopped working.

Read our full

eMeet SmartCam C960 – Best budget webcam runner-up

Pros

Great value

1080p, 30Hz

Cons

Not so great in low-light scenarios, especially with color

Middling mic

Stick-on privacy shutter

Best Prices Today:

The eMeet SmartCam C960 is the most popular webcam on Amazon at press time, and for good reason—it’s been around since the early days of the pandemic.

The 1080p Smartcam C960 used to be a 1080p, 30Hz webcam that shipped with a small tripod. The upgraded model now offers a “stickum” DIY privacy shutter, which it lacked before.

We test webcams in both a dimmer, basement office as well as in a brighter, upstairs room. We’d recommend the latter as the best environment for using the eMeet SmartCam C960, though you can buy a ring light to help brighten the image. (You can also just use a monitor, and just use a blank Windows Notepad window to generate a bright white box.) This is what a budget webcam gets you: a great price, albeit with compromises.

Read our full

Anker B600 Video Bar – Best premium webcam

Pros

65, 78, and 95 degree viewing angles

Built-in speaker, microphone, and light bar

Adjustable settings for brightness, contrast, and more

Privacy shutter

Swivel mount

Cons

30fps

Too heavy for use with a laptop screen

Best Prices Today:

The price tag on Anker’s premium B600 video bar may cause double-takes. But this webcam packs in the features. Inside is a 2K resolution camera, four-microphone array, speaker, and built-in light that also serves as a privacy guard—and you get a high level of control over all the hardware.

Capacitive buttons on the device let you mute the mic, adjust the intensity of the light, and turn the light on and off. Though a bit fiddly, they work and solidly cover the basics. There’s an LED light that indicates the mic’s status, too.

The companion AnkerWork app expands your settings. Choosing between viewing angles of 65, 78, and 95 degrees is fast, as is downscaling the default resolution from 2K to 1080p, 720p, or 360p. You can also tune the brightness, sharpness, saturation, and contrast of your video feed, alter the light bar’s color temperature, and set the light’s brightness to auto adjust based on ambient conditions.

This webcam is an extremely nice all-in-one solution, so long as you’re parked at a desk. (This video bar and its swiveling mount require a monitor for proper support.) The camera is clear and crisp, the speaker gets plenty loud, the mic holds its own against many laptops and earbuds, and the light is handy in dark rooms or for balancing out harsh backlighting. You can use the B600 as a speakerphone, too, eliminating problems with other callers hearing themselves as they speak.

OBSBOT Tiny PTZ 4K – Best premium 4K webcam

Pros

4K webcam with 1080p/60Hz options

Extensive configurability

Excellent 360-degree face tracking as you move around a room

Manual pan and zoom

Good mics

Cons

No privacy shutter, just a privacy mode

Autofocus can be slightly soft

Best Prices Today:

The OBSBOT Tiny 4K certainly ranks among the best webcams you can buy, 4K or not, period. It offers so much: 4K video, a 60fps option (albeit at 1080p), and the real magic: an automated gimbal that physically rotates and dips the webcam to center your face.

The Razer Kiyo Pro Ultra, a competing 4K camera, provides what we’d consider to be a superior picture. But the OBSBOT simply offers more for less, combined with a really well-designed software utility to get the most out of your webcam in any situation. We’ve used it for making video calls, but anyone interested in streaming should also consider this webcam, as well as the Razer Kiyo Pro.

Read our full

Razer Kiyo Pro Ultra – Best premium 4K webcam runner-up

Pros

‘DSLR-quality’ imaging

4K options, HDR too

Terrific configurability

Lens cap as well as a privacy shield

Cons

Whew, that price!

Average mic quality

No Windows Hello

Limited purchase options; just chúng tôi for now

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The Razer Kiyo Pro Ultra claims to offer DSLR-quality images, and boy, it comes pretty close! Unfortunately, many webcams have a wispy, ghosty effect when capturing video, and you’ll find none of that here—you’ll look like a professional caught on camera. This is simply one of the best webcams you can buy, though you’ll pay for the privilege, too.

The Razer Kiyo Pro Ultra captures video at 4K at 30Hz or 1080p at 60Hz, using autofocusing technology that does a great job. HDR is also an option, though you’ll probably prefer to turn off this option. The field-of-view varies between 72 degrees and 82 degrees, depending on the resolution. Manual pan and zoom are available, but you might wonder why the camera can’t orient itself toward your face automatically. Otherwise, the Razer Synapse software offers an absolute ton of configurability.

About the only thing that could stand to be improved is the mic—you may prefer using your laptop’s mic instead.

Read our full

NexiGo N980P – Best webcam for wide-angle

Pros

60fps

120-degree viewing angle

Privacy shutter

Cons

Lack of fine adjustments

Best Prices Today:

This fixed-focus 1080p webcam captures frames at a smooth 60 frames per second, as opposed to the more standard 30fps. You’ll look smoother and more lifelike as a result. The camera also captures at a 120-degree angle, which might not be ideal for a home user but can work quite well in a living room or conference room. This webcam is very highly reviewed on Amazon, with reviewers praising it for its color balance but criticizing it for its inability to be finely adjusted.

It’s still a fixed-focus camera though—if you want an autofocusing model we’d recommend you pay about $100 for the upgraded NexiGo N680p instead.

Logitech Brio 4K Ultra HD Webcam – Best premium webcam for Windows Hello

Pros

Sharply detailed resolution with vibrant colors

Wide-angle field of view

Infrared-based facial recognition

Cons

Expensive

Best Prices Today:

If we’re being honest (and price is no object) the Dell UltraSharp webcam above would be our top pick for a Windows Hello webcam — a webcam that not only can show you off on Zoom or Teams, but can also log you in via biometric identification. But Logitech’s also feeling the heat, and it has lowered the price of its Brio 4K as a result. We can’t help but recommend it.

The Brio 4Kstill ranks highly among premium webcams, primarily because it’s one of the few autofocusing webcams that captures in 4K resolution. The Brio includes a ton of features to make you look great, and its Windows Hello support will log you in in a snap.

Read our full

MouseComputer Facial Recognition Webcam – Best budget webcam for Windows Hello

Pros

Inexpensive, but decent quality

Cons

720p resolution

You may need to disable your PC’s own webcam

Best Prices Today:

Our separate story on Windows Hello webcams offers cheaper options than the MouseComputer webcam, but the image quality of the webcam itself appears to be better—or, conversely, the competition is fudging on whether they offer true 1080p resolution. In any event, this $65 or so webcam seems to offer what you’ll need, plus Windows Hello functionality.

Users have complained that you’ll need to make sure Windows is up to date and that your webcam is directly plugged into your laptop. There’s no privacy shutter, unfortunately.

A standalone 1080p webcam can’t add Windows Hello to your system, but it can greatly improve how you look on your next Zoom call. Here’s what to look for. You’ll probably ask yourself: Should I prioritize a 60fps webcam over an autofocusing webcam? What about 4K? We’d say that if you have to choose one, prioritize a 1080p webcam, then a higher refresh rate, then jump up to 4K. If you can get more than one feature, great! Unless you’ll be moving about a lot, a fixed-focus webcam will do just fine.

You might not have thought about it, but consider, too, that looking like you’re on television will subtly lend you authority. People gravitate toward celebrities, and a 4K, 60Hz webcam is basically what your TV offers. If you’re an executive or making sales calls over Zoom or Teams, a premium webcam may give you an edge. That’s why professional streamers use them, after all.

Adjustable or fixed focus

Don’t worry about fixed-focus, as virtually all webcams have been pre-configured at a focal length that’s about the distance between your face and your laptop or monitor. You’ll need to account for this with tripods, however, or pay a little more for an autofocusing webcam. Autofocus webcams are handy for situations where you may be moving about the room, but beware distracting webcams that frequently refocus.

Higher frame rates

A standard webcam captures video at 30 frames per second, and will look “normal.” You’ll notice the smoothness of a 60fps camera though, and so will people you’re on a video call with.

Field of view (FOV) 

The camera’s field of view can vary. A 90-degree FOV helps people focus on you (and perhaps not the mess you’ve hidden off to the side). A 110-degree or higher FOV works better for group shots, although distortion can become a problem the wider your FOV gets. A 65-degree FOV may be perfect if it’s just you.

Think of a 90-degree FOV as one that would show two people seated side-by-side at what you would consider a “standard” distance from a webcam, or a foot or two. A 110-degree FOV can show three people, squeezed a bit close together. Keep in mind that many videoconferencing applications offer the option of virtual backgrounds, which eliminate visual clutter.

Privacy shutter

These devices are not a privacy threat, for the simple reason that they can be unplugged easily. Most have a flip-down privacy shutter, but you could always put tape over the camera or drape it with a dark cloth. 

Ring lights

Yes, integrated ring lights are now a thing on premium webcams, and worth the money if lighting is a challenge for you. While the integrated light will certainly help with lighting, a big bright display in front of you can serve a similar function. You can also purchase a ring light separately.

Windows Hello

You may have used Windows Hello with a fingerprint reader or another laptop. The camera simply “recognizes” you, logging you in. It’s exceptionally convenient. We have a separate article on the best Windows Hello webcams.

Tripod bundle

With so many webcams on the market, manufacturers are trying hard to differentiate their products. The new trend is a small tripod, which gives you more options for mounting the camera. Not all webcams include this, Normally, however, you can simply clip the webcam to the top of a display or a laptop with its “jaws” clamp.

AI

There’s a potential wild card that may be attached to webcams in the future: artificial intelligence, specifically Windows Studio Effects. Right now, the current Surface Pro 9 (5G) uses the AI capabilities in the Qualcomm Snapdragon processor to apply background blue, automatic panning effects, and more. (Our review discusses this.) Other laptops that use Intel Core and AMD Ryzen processors don’t include AI capabilities—yet. Specific models in the 13th-gen mobile Core and AMD Ryzen 7000 Mobile series include some basic AI capabilities, and future processors in both families may offer AI capabilities and therefore Windows Studio Effects.

What this essentially means is that we’d expect future webcams to pan and zoom automatically to keep you in the frame. Few do this today, however.

FAQ

1.

Do you need Wi-Fi for a webcam?

Yes and no. These webcams all connect to your computer directly, via a USB port, and you can record video from them while offline. Your computer will then need to be connected to either ethernet or to Wi-Fi for you to be able to chat with a friend or business partner, however.

2.

Can a webcam work without a computer?

Some webcams can work without a computer, but not all of them. USB webcams, featured here, connect via USB to a computer and require it to operate. USB webcams are most often those used for video chat or live streaming from your computer on websites such as Twitch.

IP webcams however, can connect directly to a network, router, or modem and do not require a computer at all in order to work. IP webcams are most often used as security cameras or for live feeds that upload directly to the cloud. Those are separate products, however, and not the same webcams we’re talking about here.

3.

How do I connect my webcam to the internet?

For USB webcams, it will be as simple as plugging the camera into your computer’s USB port, downloading the firmware, and then connecting to the internet via your computer.

4.

What software do I need to connect my webcam?

The Best Credit Card Processing Reviews Of 2023

Nearly every credit card processing company has some sort of free equipment offer. Some processors give you a terminal if you sign a contract while others have a free placement program in which you borrow the equipment.

Accepting free equipment sounds like a great way to save money but as a perceptive businessperson, you know that “free” often isn’t really free and you need to do the math to determine whether the free offer is the best option for your small business.

Purchasing Credit Card Processing Equipment

Buying processing hardware outright is nearly always your best bet. Although it may be a big upfront cost, it’s less expensive and less restrictive over time than other equipment options. You can keep your purchasing costs low by shopping around for the best price, choosing a basic terminal instead of a fancy POS system and asking if used equipment is available for purchase.

As you shop around for equipment, find out if the equipment is proprietary or “locked.” This is an important consideration because you don’t want your purchased equipment to be unusable if you switch processors. If you already own unlocked equipment or decide to shop for new or used equipment online, ask your new processor how much it charges to reprogram the equipment, including shipping and handling costs and how long the process takes. Many processors offer this as a free service.

Free Credit Card Terminals

Although “free” sounds fantastic, even the best processors may require you to sign a contract in return for free equipment. The best contract terms for free equipment are one year and then go forward on a month-to-month basis. Most free equipment contracts last for three years and many renew automatically for two-year terms. Some companies require you to sign up for a different pricing plan if you accept free equipment.

Also, some processors may charge you the full price of the terminal in addition to an early termination fee if you end your relationship with the company before your contract expires. Before accepting free equipment, consider whether being tied to a contract or paying higher processing costs is worth cutting out the purchase price of the equipment.

Free Placement Programs

These may sound like a good deal and many processors offer this option but, as with free equipment offers, you might be required to sign a long-term contract. When your contract expires or you switch processors, you have to return the equipment.

Many free placement programs charge monthly fees and some have additional monthly minimums that you must meet to avoid penalty fees. Be sure to request the contract and a list of all the fees associated with the program, such as insurance or maintenance fees, to read over before you agree to such an arrangement.

Leasing Equipment

Many processors encourage you to accept a lease on equipment because it’s a very lucrative arrangement for them. Some reps give persuasive reasons for leasing equipment, such as “it’s like a cell phone plan” or “many customers choose to lease for tax reasons.” However, consider every other option carefully before you lease equipment as this is generally one of the worst decisions a small business can make when setting up credit card processing.

Consider these leasing myths and truths:

Leasing myth No. 1: It’s like getting a cell phone because if the equipment breaks, the processor will replace it.

Truth: While this is technically true, most equipment comes with a manufacturer’s warranty and you might be able to purchase an extended warranty or insurance. If your purchased equipment breaks while under warranty or insured, the manufacturer replaces the equipment anyway, according to the terms of the warranty or insurance.

Leasing myth No. 2: It’s easier to update to the newest model if you lease your equipment.

Truth: This myth assumes that if you purchase equipment, you probably keep it longer than the four-year term of your lease. The processor expects that when your lease expires, instead of purchasing your existing equipment, you’ll take out a new lease on new equipment. However, the money you save by purchasing the equipment outright puts you in a better position to buy new equipment when it becomes available.

Leasing myth No. 3: Leasing is better for tax write-offs since you’ll have an expense that you can write off yearly instead of a one-time purchase.

Truth: The long-term expense of leasing is still higher than the cost of purchasing equipment outright, even if you factor in the tax write-offs you expect to receive. If you’re considering leasing for these tax reasons, do the math to verify that the costs and savings are what they’re purported to be.

Remember, leasing is short-term cheap and long-term expensive. You’ll often find that you could have purchased the equipment several times over with what you paid over the life of the lease. Additionally, most equipment leasing contracts are noncancelable, which means that you can’t return the equipment ― and you pay a fee to get out of it. Even if your business fails, you return the equipment and you get out of your processing contract, you’ll still be held personally responsible for the remaining time on your equipment lease.

5 Best Cables For Motherboard To Buy

5 Best Cables For Motherboard To Buy

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If for whatever reason your PC’s motherboard cable failed on you, or if you’re building a new PC from scratch, you will need to buy some new motherboard cables that are good and that will last for a very long time.

Normally, whenever you buy a motherboard, it should come packaged with all of the cables that it needs. However, if you don’t trust those packaged deals, then you should check out our list of the best cables you could buy for your motherboard.

Keep in mind that there are several cables that go in and out of a motherboard, so this list contains a few of each category.

Note: Deals are subject to change. Keep in mind that the price tag often varies. We recommend going on the vendor’s website to check the price. Some of the products may be out of stock by the time you’ve made your purchasing decision. So, hurry up and hit the buy button.

Extend cable length of existing power supply

Every wire is individually sleeved in white

Compatible with all PSU’s

The cable is sensitive to physical damage

Check price

The Silverstone PP07-MBW is an individually sleeved extension power cable set with a single Motherboard 24-pin connector that is useful for systems with larger cases.

It behaves within regular limits, and the design is great for users that have open-case PCs and want their cable management to look sleek and smooth.

Lengthens the connection between an existing power supply and the 24 pin connection on a motherboard

24 PIN POWER CABLE extends the power connector from an ATX power supply to a motherboard power connection to provide

Strain relief on the connections of your computer case components

Great to route the motherboard power cable away from a CPU fan

Overall low-quality materials

Check price

The Cable Matters 24-Pin ATX Power Supply Extension Cable provides you with a convenient way of extending the cable from an SFX or ATX power supply.

You can also use it to extend the length of the ATX 24-Pin power supply cable for better cable management for better airflow from the fan.

Specifically designed to connect motherboards and host controllers to internal Serial ATA hard drives and DVD drives

Fast SATA III Speeds of up to 6 Gbps

Backward compatible with SATA I, II, III hard drives

Can reach connections in small cases

Has a flexible jacket to allow an efficient and organized installation in tight computer cases

Plugs bend fairly easily

Check price

Expert tip:

Because it is easy to install, it is a great cable to buy when having multiple PCs to wire up, and you can install your latest hard drives fast and efficiently, and thanks to the latching clips, they will stay there securely.

Connects the latest Serial ATA hard drives or optical drives to a power supply

Ideal for those that want to install PCs quickly

Can connect new SATA HDDs and optical drives to older power supplies with 4 pin Molex ports

Compatible with 5V SATA devices connecting to 12V ATX power supplies

Isn’t build to last

Check price

When it comes to straightforward computer building, you need all the appropriate tools for the job. This includes a cable that can easily connect ATA hard drives or optical drives to a power supply.

If that’s all you need, then you should get the Cable Matters 4 Pin Molex to SATA Power Cable, as it is built to do just that, and it does it while respecting performance standards.

End 1 has an IDC 40 Female port

End 2 has 2 IDC 40 Female port

Wire gauge of 30 AWG

Meets or exceeds all safety requirements and is both UL and RoHS-rated

May be subject to mispackaging

Check price

The StarTech IDE and EIDE cable is an IDE cable designed to connect internal devices in your computer to the Motherboard while providing better overall airflow.

You can use this cable to connect CD-ROMs, zip drives, hard drives, DVD-ROMs, CD burners, etc, and it is indeed built to last and work within and above standards.

If the motherboard is considered the heart of the PC, then the cables that go to and from it are probably the blood vessels, and we all know how good it is to have those in healthy conditions.

The same can be said about motherboard cables, so you always want to have the best available.

It’s enough for just one of those cables to fry and one component, if not the entire PC, will be out for the count until you can find a replacement.

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4 Best Gaming Keypads To Buy In 2023

Table of Contents

So, what should you look for in the best gaming keypad?

Ergonomics

.

Your keypad should fit perfectly in your hand and feel comfortable to use. Since you’ll probably be using it for a decent amount of time during each gaming session, you need an ergonomic keypad that won’t cause strain on your hand and wrist.

Backlight

.

A backlight is essential if you’re going to be playing in the dark, at least until you memorize the layout of your keypad.

Price.

Pricing is one of the key factors in any purchase decision. In this article, we’ll include budget-friendly and top-of-the-line models so that there’s a choice for everyone.

1. Best all-around keypad: Razer Tartarus Pro

The Razer Tartarus Pro is Razer’s high-end gaming keypad. Featuring an all-new, cushioned rubber dome and a full array of programmable keys and buttons, the Tartarus Pro is the perfect companion for any gamer looking to take their gaming experience to the highest level.

With customizable macros and a comfortable palm rest, the Tartarus Pro also features an ergonomic design to give you maximum comfort during those long gaming sessions. The Razer lighting system offers a wide range of customizable lighting effects, with 16.8 million color options, allowing you to personalize your gaming experience.

When it comes to keys, there are 32 fully programmable keys, an 8-way directional thumbpad, and Razer’s pressure-sensitive optical switches (the same used in the latest Razer Huntsman keyboard).

Pros of the Razer Tartarus Pro

Ergonomic design for maximum comfort

Customizable macros and unlimited RGB lighting via Razer’s Synapse software

32 customizable inputs including a scroll wheel and D-pad

LCD display for easy access to settings

Compatible with Windows, Mac, and Android

Features dual-function keys that can perform differently based on actuation force

Cons of the Razer Tartarus Pro

Software can be difficult to use

Some keys need long stretches to reach

No media controls

Lacks anti-ghosting features

2. Runner up: Razer Tartarus V2

The Razer Tartarus V2 is almost identical to the Tartarus Pro, so we’ll keep this section short. The major difference between the two models is the switch type. The Tartarus V2 uses mecha-membrane switches that have non-adjustable keypresses, in contrast to the Pro’s optical switches.

The Tartarus V2 is slightly older than the Tartarus Pro and is available at a cheaper price tag.

Pros of the Razer Tartarus V2

Ergonomic design and membrane keyboard for maximum comfort

Customizable macro keys and unlimited RGB backlighting via Razer’s Synapse software

32 customizable inputs including a scroll wheel and D-pad

LCD display for easy access to settings

Compatible with Windows, Mac, and Android

Cons of the Razer Tartarus V2

Software can be difficult to use

Some keys need long stretches to reach

Keys have only one actuation point

Note: Many users prefer the Razer OrbWeaver Chroma over the Tartarus Pro or Tartarus V2. Unfortunately, the OrbWeaver has been discontinued — but it can still be bought second-hand via Amazon or eBay. The OrbWeaver has mechanical keys rather than optical switches but comes with highly adjustable hand, thumb, and wrist rests for ultimate comfort.

3. Best budget keypad: Redragon K585 DITI Keyboard

Over the last few years, Redragon has begun making a name for itself as a producer of gaming peripherals. The difference with the K585 is that it’s more of a gamepad-style keyboard than a gaming keypad. It’s essentially a half-sized keyboard, available at a much lower price point than Razer’s models, making it the best budget choice on this list.

The main thing that sets the Redragon K585 apart is that it’s wireless. With a 2.4 GHz wireless connection and decent battery life, you can play for up to 20 hours, even with the RGB backlighting on.

Pros of the Redragon K585

Mini 47-key layout (60% of a typical ANSI keyboard)

Detachable wrist-rest

7 macro shortcut keys

Choice of Outemu Blue or Brown mechanical switches (similar to Cherry MX blue and brown)

Great design

Cons of the Redragon K585

Software is hard to use and barebones

Can’t be used in place of a keyboard, but not as ergonomic as its competitors

4. Best wireless keypad: Gamesir VX2 Aimswitch Gaming Keypad

The Gamesir VX2 is a wireless, one-handed mechanical keypad. It has 36 mechanical keys (smaller than a tenkeyless board) that features a single analog stick. The mechanical keys are TTC Red Switches (similar to Cherry MX Reds).

Interestingly, the VX2 comes with a PM23360 laser gaming mouse with 12,000 DPI and a polling rate of 8,000 Hz. The VX2 is also easy to plug and play with a wireless Bluetooth adapter and a long-lasting battery.

Pros of the Gamesir VX2

Compatible with Windows 7/8/10, Xbox Series X, Xbox One, PS4, PS5, and Nintendo Switch

Low-latency gameplay

Ergonomic design

RGB backlighting

Customizable via the Gamesir G-Crux app

Cons of the Gamesir VX2

Expensive – almost as pricey as Razer’s high-end keypad

Lacks media keys

Lacks customizable configurations

The Best Gaming Keypad

Laptop Buying Guide: Selecting The Right Laptop For You

Perhaps no common computer product has as many variations, with as wide a performance range, as the modern laptop PC. From tiny netbooks to big and powerful desktop-replacement systems, the differences in pricing, features, and performance are staggering. Follow our comprehensive guide to make sure you get the laptop that’s right for you.

Buying a new notebook can be tough because you have so many options to consider, and no shortage of reasons for purchasing one. Maybe you’re about to head off to college and you need to take notes in class. Perhaps your current laptop labors when running today’s applications, and it’s time for an upgrade. Or maybe you’re happy with your desktop PC, and you want a companion device for surfing the Web from your couch. Even if you know what you want to do, with so many laptop models available it can be hard to decide among them. The potential for confusion is enough to make you choose something that just looks cool or happens to be available on your warehouse store’s shelf–but that approach can end in heartache.

In Video: How to Buy a Laptop

It’s best to start by deciding which category of laptop you’re most interested in. Laptops fall into four main categories: netbooks, ultraportables, all-purpose laptops, and desktop replacements. The laptop category that is right for you depends on the kind of user you are.

Netbooks

For their intended purpose, netbooks are a great choice. They aren’t powerful enough to do everything you need a PC to do, but are rather meant to be companions to your main PC. Small and light enough to carry around all day, they’re the perfect device for taking notes in class or surfing the Web on a commuter train. A typical netbook weighs about 3 pounds or less and has a screen size of 6 to 10 inches. Most cost around $300 to $400.

Most netbooks are based on Intel’s Atom line of processors. These chips can run the standard Windows operating system you’re accustomed to and all your usual applications, but they’re not very fast compared with more-expensive Intel CPUs such as the Pentium Dual-Core and Celeron found in ultraportables, or the Core 2 Duo and Core i5 found in all-purpose or desktop-replacement laptops. Couple this limitation with the fact that netbooks typically have only 1GB of RAM (very few offer 2GB as an option), and you’re looking at pretty slow performance.

A netbook is fine for simple Web browsing or word processing, but it struggles on streaming video, editing photos, or running multiple applications simultaneously. And if you’re thinking of playing 3D games, forget it: The majority of netbooks use Intel’s integrated graphics chips, and not very good ones, at that. Some netbook models may have one of nVidia’s Ion GPUs (graphics processing units), which are a lot better at handling graphics and decoding video, but even these won’t play the latest and greatest games well, especially in combination with the low-power Atom CPU and limited RAM. Alternatively, some netbooks now supplement their Intel GPUs with a Broadcom decoder chip that does nothing but speed up video playback and improve its quality; if you want to use your netbook to watch a lot of Hulu or YouTube videos, you may want to pay a little extra for this option if it’s available.

One more drawback: Netbooks almost never have an optical drive, so you can’t play DVDs or load software off a disc without buying and using an external, USB-attached DVD drive.

Ultraportables

Slim and light, ultraportable laptops are a step up from netbooks. Sure, in choosing an ultraportable over a netbook you tack on maybe a pound of weight, but that added weight means a more powerful processor, more RAM, and often a larger screen. These systems are ideal for users who need a fuller PC experience but still want a machine that’s easy to carry around. Screen sizes vary, from around 11 inches to 14 inches, but models with larger screens are usually considered “ultraportable” only if they’re especially thin. You can expect an ultraportable to weigh from 3 to 4.5 pounds, typically; battery life extends from 4 to 6 hours. Prices generally land in the $600-to-$800 range, but some superthin models with larger screens can cost more than $1000.

Compared with netbooks, ultraportables have more processing power. Ultraportables use either dual-core CPUs–the same as you might find on an all-purpose laptop–or low-voltage processors from Intel or AMD that aren’t as powerful as what you find in bigger notebooks (or more expensive ultraportables) but are far more capable than Atom netbook processors. Most ultraportables have 2GB to 4GB of RAM, too. As a result, ultraportables perform a lot better than netbooks on everyday applications, and they’re far more suited to running multiple applications at once.

In the name of saving weight, cost, and battery life, many ultraportable laptops stick with integrated graphics chips that lack the oomph to handle modern games or video decoding. Still, it’s not too hard to find ultraportable PCs with dedicated GPUs from nVidia or ATI; typically these laptops are powerful enough to run modest 3D games, and they do an excellent job on accelerating video.

If you’re interested in playing DVDs, or if you often need to load software from a disc, you’ll want to make sure to look for an ultraportable with an optical drive. In slimming down, many ultraportables these days have omitted the optical drive, but you can find some models (typically the pricier ultraportables with dual-core CPUs) that incorporate them (unlike netbooks, which eschew the optical drive entirely).

All-Purpose Laptops

Models in the all-purpose laptops category are, well, all-purpose: They’re large and powerful enough to serve as your everyday computer, but portable enough to accompany you when you’re on the go. This category has more options than almost any other class of laptop. You can find durable ruggedized laptops for business travel, convertible laptops with reversible screens that turn them into tablets, gaming laptops, cheap notebooks, expensive and stylish laptops, and more.

You’ll find a wide range of prices as you shop for a general all-purpose laptop. Low-cost models can be as cheap as $400, but piling on extra options or choosing a system with a sleeker body or a better processor and graphics configuration can drive the price to $1500 or more. Optical drives remain standard, and Blu-ray Disc drives are optional on many all-purpose laptops.

You can get an all-purpose laptop with almost anything you desire, if you’re willing to pay for it. Some have integrated graphics, others have drastically more powerful discrete mobile GPUs that will let you play the latest 3D games. Want a Blu-ray drive and an HDMI output so that you can hook the laptop to your HDTV? Some models have those features. Looking for 1TB of hard-drive space? You can get that, too. A touchscreen? Check. The array of features and options is dizzying. Manufacturers sometimes prepackage sets of features into specific laptop models for sale, whereas companies such as Dell, Fujitsu, HP, and Lenovo give you some level of customization of your laptop, so you can buy a configuration that best matches your needs.

Larger screens and more-powerful processors mean shorter battery life, though. Most all-purpose laptops last from 2 to 5 hours on a charge, depending on the model and how you use it; playing games and using Wi-Fi drains the battery faster than light Web surfing does, and cranking up the display’s brightness shortens battery life considerably.

Desktop-Replacement Laptops

A desktop-replacement laptop (also known as a power laptop) is just what it sounds like: a larger laptop aimed at people who need the performance and large display size of a desktop computer but want to be able to move the machine from room to room easily. Screen sizes start at 16 inches and go up to 18.4 inches; models with higher screen resolutions are ideal for photo or video editing. Don’t expect to carry one of these notebooks around with you all day, though–typically they’re too large to fit in a regular backpack, and at 8 to 12 pounds they’re tough on the shoulders. Consider these laptops as being more “luggable” than “portable.”

The processors in these beefy laptops are typically top-of-the-line, either dual-core or quad-core chips whose performance rivals that of the CPUs found in all but the most powerful desktop computers. Discrete graphics chips from ATI or nVidia are standard on most desktop replacements, too. If you pick the right power laptop, you can play even the most demanding modern games. As for the amount of RAM, 4GB is the bare minimum. A hard drive of 500GB or more is common, while some laptops have up to 1TB of storage.

Of course, all of that power comes at a price. The battery won’t last long (typically 2 hours or less with heavy use), so you shouldn’t stray too far from an outlet. The high-power CPUs and GPUs run hot, too, making it uncomfortable to rest a desktop replacement notebook on your lap. And then there’s the literal price: Cheap models may cost $1000 or less, but a nicely loaded desktop replacement will easily push $2000 or more.

This category is really for two types of people: Gamers, who need tremendous CPU and GPU power to play the latest titles, and professionals (such as video editors, photographers, or engineers) who need large displays and lots of horsepower to do their work.

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