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My favourite hardware of 2012

My favourite hardware of 2012


I’ve done quite a bit of upgrading in the last 12 months. We’ve seen some fantastic mini-gear released that has made building small and powerful PCs far more rewarding than a year ago. We’ve also seen some monstrous graphics cards, tiny graphics cards, budget-tastic graphics cards, super cheap and super-effective coolers and a whole host of new dinky cases.

In short, upgrading is as affordable today as it has ever been and some gear can make a real difference to your system too. While much of the best gear scored highly or won awards, some things didn't while others weren't even great value. However, they were still brilliant in their own way. Here’s my top ten list of hardware that was awesome in 2012 including some bits of kit that deserves recognition.

1. Asus P8Z77-I Deluxe

We’ve seen a few enthusiast-orientated motherboards over the years but none have been in the same league as Asus' P8Z77-I Deluxe. It's 10-phase power design thanks to its Digi+ VRM daughter board ooze awesomeness and apart from a single expansion slot, it otherwise has all the features you'd expect to see on a full-size Asus premium motherboard such as USB 3, SATA 6Gbps, WiFi and Bluetooth.

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More importantly for enthusiasts, it lacks nothing when it comes to overclocking and was able to keep up with the best full-size boards we've seen. There's now increasing competition when it comes to high-end mini-ITX motherboards, but the P8Z77-I Deluxe is definitely the most covet-worthy.

2. Arctic Freezer i30

Arctic has been in the cooling business for quite a while but has struggled to compete in the mid to high-end air cooling market as well as it has done in the low end with its bargain-tastic Freezer 7 Pro. Thankfully, 2012 saw it return to form and in a big way.

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It's new Freezer coolers (the i30 being made specifically for Intel sockets) are the epitome of great value. They're fairly quiet, easy to install, look good and perform excellently. Even better is that the Freezer i30 costs less than £30 yet performs the same as air coolers costing twice that price. If you're after mega cooling on a budget, look no further than the Freezer i30

3. AMD Radeon HD 7850

The graphics card market is somewhat stagnant at the moment, with few games able to really push the latest hardware, largely due to the fact that current consoles are pretty ancient. It's a tricky time for Nvidia and AMD because unless you're gaming on multi-monitors or at ultra-high resolutions, there's little need for CrossFireX or SLI or indeed to spend much more than £170 on a graphics card.

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Thankfully for consumers, this means that there are some bargains to be had and the sweet spot currently resides in the £120 Radeon HD 7850 1GB. It can handle all our benchmarks at 1,920 x 1,080, offers very low power consumption and is pretty quiet too. It's been a long time since we've seen such great value at less than £150 but if you're after an upgrade from an aging DirectX 10 GPU or in the market for your first discrete graphics card and don't want to spend more than £150, this makes a great buy.

4. Nvidia GeForce GTX 690 4GB

Nvidia's current flagship arrived in a wooden crate that had tech journalists the world-over salivating and confused - desperate to get into the box to see this monstrous graphics card but a little perplexed at how to open it. It was worth the wait and the splinters, though, as the GeForce GTX 690 4GB is easily the fastest graphics card we've seen.

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Not only this, but it looks the part with a large, futuristic cooler and titanium-esque colouring that makes it look like it's worth its price tag. We've seen no microstuttering when we've benchmarked it either, unlike previous generation cards, and it also performs far more consistently than AMD's recent HD 7990 as well. If money is of little consequence and you need the best, look no further than the GeForce GTX 690 4GB.

5. Nvidia GeForce GTX 650 Ti

While we were a little disappointed with the GeForce GTX 650 and GTX 650 Ti's performance, we have to agree with many of the comments you wrote about it in our review. They're some of the cutest graphics cards we've seen and for once, all the wasted space on the PCB has been carved away to reduce the size of this graphics cards to an absolute minimum. They're absolutely dinky and measure barely 15cm in length.

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Sadly their performance is lacking making purchasing them on performance and value terms unwise. The GTX 650 especially, struggles to play games at 1,920 x 1,080 unless overclocked. However in terms of size they punch above their weight so if you're otherwise unable to fit other graphics cards in your case (maybe your making a tiny scratchbuild for example), they could well be the solution to your problems.

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