The Top Tech of 2013
All told 2013 has been a pretty good year when it comes to new bits and pieces to buy for your PC. We've had powerful new graphics cards, efficient new processors, a multitude of great cases and much more besides. So over the next few pages we'll be taking a look back at the highest highlights of the last 12 months.
There's no overall winner in this list, but we have seperated things out into sections for slightly easier reading. First up is components, then cases and cooling and finally peripherals. Don't agree with our choices? Let us know in the comments.
AMD Radeon R9 290X
AMD Radeon R9 290X Review
AMD has been playing second fiddle to Nvidia for a couple of years now, when it comes to outright single-GPU performance, and particularly following the launch of the monstrous Nvidia GeForce GTX Titan
. That wasn't a trend the 290X entirely broke when it arrived in late October but it did finally bring enough performance that it made Nvidia sit up and pay attention. Combined with a hugely more competitive price than either the Nvidia GeForce GTX 780
or Titan it gave the GPU market the shakeup it was crying out for.
Sure, the reference cooler is awful, causing the card to run too hot and noisy, and it has taken too long for AIB cards to start to become available but as a singular impact on the GPU market it really did the business.
Nvidia GeForce GTX 780 Ti
Nvidia GeForce GTX 780 Ti Review
While AMD may deserve the plaudits for its graphics card's competitive performance/price, it's still Nvidia that sits pretty at the top of the charts and indeed it has produced three stunning graphics cards in the last 12 months, any of which we could've chosen to highlight.
The Nvidia GTX Titan started it all off, debuting a stunning looking card - with its windowed, metal cooler shroud and illuminated logo - that absolutely blew away the competition for single-GPU performance, and it was surprisingly power-frugal and quiet too. However, with it priced at as-near-as-damn-it £850 it was a little too brazen for our liking. Heck, it still costs £800, even though its performance has been surpassed.
Next came the GTX 780, a card that offered very close to the performance of the Titan but that cost two-thirds as much. It even kept the same excellent card design and cooler, making for a truly special card. However it was still very pricey.
Finally came the GTX 780 Ti, a card that few expected and even fewer could have predicted the performance of. It arrived shortly after AMD had all its fun with the launch of the 290X and promptly went and stomped all over the idea that AMD was competing with Nvidia's best. This card not only beat the GTX 780 and 290X but even outstripped the GTX Titan, offering performance that was some 5% faster but at the same price as the GTX 780.
It's for this reason we've chosen to lavish this card with praise. It may still be mighty pricey - it performs around 15% faster than the 290X but costs 30% more - but with such astonishing performance we simply had to give credit where it's due.
Intel Haswell Review
You may be wondering why we haven't specifically highlighted one of Intel's new Haswell chips here - the 4770K
perhaps - and the answer is that while it produced a nice step forward in performance, no particular Haswell chip stands out when it comes to desktop use. Across the range it's just a nice incremental upgrade.
Where the real impact of Haswell has been felt is on the mobile side of things. In one fell swoop the use of Haswell has increased battery life on laptops by huge amounts. The most recent MacBook Airs are the most extreme example - though not unrepresentative - with the 13in model going from a 7 hour battery life to 12 hours! That's simply phenomenal.
Now, you may argue that's a bit irrelevant to a desktop PC focussed website, but if we reflect on how long ago it was that a new CPU really made a big impact on PC performance - whether desktop or laptop - we'd be looking back a fair while. As such it's great to see a step change in at least one sector of the market.
Also, let's not forget the big leap in GPU performance that came with Haswell. For those interested in small form factor PCs Haswell finally provided enough grunt to make gaming at least a possibility without shifting to an AMD alternative.
Samsung SSD Evo
Samsung SSD Evo Review
The first stage of the SSD revolution has largely been and gone, with affordable 128GB 'boot drives' having been available for a couple of years - any performance PC worth its salt has long since been equipped with one. However, the next stage of the operation - the wholesale ditching of hard drives for SSDs - has been limited by the high price of high-capacity drives. This year that changed with the arrival of the Samsung SSD 840 Evo range.
With capacities of 120GB, 250GB, 500GB, 750GB and 1TB and prices of £75, £140 £260, £380 and £470 respectively they offer a size/price point to suit almost anyone, finally providing the opportunity for a full system to be installed on a single drive, whatever your budget. A few other models arrived around the same time offering approximately 1TB capacities but none offered the range of capacities or competitive pricing.
Crucially, what the SSD 840 Evo range also offers is great performance. For any given capacity they essentially offer class-leading performance. All told, they're a clear highlight of the last 12 months.
MSI Z87 G45 Gaming
MSI Z87 G45 Gaming Review
Given that desktop Haswell hasn't offered the kind of performance improvement that warrants a rush to upgrade, the motherboard market has equally felt a little flat this year, but that's not through lack of effort on the part of the mobo manufacturers. There have been countless superb models this year - with Asus' ROG boards being highlights, as ever - but the standout ATX model we've encountered is the MSI Z87 G45 Gaming.
This board doesn't offer a huge number of bells and whistles - even lacking on-board buttons for power and reset - but this is reflected in its modest £115 price. Instead it has a really sensible selection of features backed up with great overclocking performance and a superb layout. The icing on the cake is a simple but effective visual design. Top stuff.
MSI Z87I Review
MSI's design team was clearly on a roll this year... For much the same reason we've picked the MSI Z87 G45 Gaming as our favourite ATX motherboard of 2013 we've also chosen one of the manufacturer's boards for our ITX crown.
The MSI Z87I is, like the G45 Gaming, a modestly priced board, coming in at just under £100. But, just like its bigger brother, it is a really sensible package. Where features are included they're really useful, such as in-built Wi-Fi, and where performance is concerned it's plenty capable enough, with overclocking potential that's on par with far more expensive boards. Finally, the choice of all black hardware is again really sensible.
Should 'sensible' be the choice word for two of our favourite products of the year? Well when you're talking about motherboards, whose key role is to offer a stable and long-life platform to buiild the rest of your system around, we'd strongly argue it is.
Asus Maximus VI Impact
Asus Maximus VI Impact review
We know, we know - what's with having two mini-ITX motherboards, right? Well, although the MSI is a superb buy we simply couldn't let the year pass without giving credit to what arguably was one of our most anticipated products of the year, Asus' ROG mini-ITX motherboard, the Asus Maximus VI Impact.
All us bit-tech staff have got a bit of a mini-ITX itch at the moment and the arrival of an ever lust-worthy ROG board was just the implement required to scratch it.
Packed with premium hardware the Maximus VI Impact is a class-leader on just about every front. Perhaps its two most prominent features, though, are its two daughter boards. On one side is a beefed up power regulation board that provides a whopping 10 power phases for superb overclocking potential, while on the other is a Hi-Fi sound card with 110dB SNR on the headphone DAC and 115dB SNR on the lineout jack.
Essentially this board offers everything you could hope for in a mini-ITX form factor.