The gaming world experienced a bit of a resurgence in 2020 that is still seen in the present day. Even putting aside the effects from the pandemic, the affordability and accessibility has arguably never been better. Building a gaming PC can have its downsides, though, and a challenging issue to troubleshoot is input lag or input latency. This is something that’s best measured with standalone hardware, and if this is an issue on your setup you may want to take a look at this latency meter.
Unlike other measurement devices that use the time between a mouse button input and the monitor’s display of a bullet or shooting event, this one looks at mouse movement and the change in the scene instead. This makes it much more versatile than other methods since it’s independent of specific actions, and can be used in any game without any specific events needed to perform the measurement. A camera is placed on the monitor’s top edge and the Arduino-based device sends mouse commands to the computer while measuring the time between those commands and the shift in the image on the monitor.
The project is open source, so with the right hardware it’s possible to build one to troubleshoot latency issues or just to learn more about a particular hardware configuration’s behavior. Arduinos and other microcontrollers have been doing all kinds of things by pretending to be human interface devices like this for a while now. One of our favorites of late was this effects pedal that replicates musical effects on mice and keyboards.
So how do you categorize a beast like gaming on the PC? With decades of titles to pluck from (and the first port of call for most indie titles, too), there's so much to choose from. Gaming on your PC adds the benefits of (nearly always flawless) backward compatibility and console-beating graphical performance — if you've got the coin for it. The whole idea of what a PC is and where you can play it is shifting, too, with the rise of handheld “consolized” PCs like the Steam Deck. We've tried to be broad with our recommendations here on purpose – there are so many great games out there for your PC, consider these some starting points.
Beat Saber is a euphoric gaming sensation that makes the most of virtual reality. You'll swing your unofficial lightsabers at incoming boxes, slicing and slamming them to the beat of the soundtrack. Similar to iconic rhythm-rail-shooter, Rez, which has its own VR iteration, Beat Saber often makes you feel like you're creating the music as you hit your cues. We might have had initial reservations on the soundtrack at launch but new tracks and customizations continue to add to the challenge. There's even a level creator for PC players, making this the definitive version.
Take the weird Twin Peaks narrative of Alan Wake, smash it together with Quantum Break's frenetic powers and gunplay, and you've got Control. Playing as a woman searching for her missing brother, you quickly learn there's a thin line between reality and the fantastical. It's catnip for anyone who grew up loving The X-Files and the supernatural. It's also a prime example of a studio working at their creative heights, both refining and evolving the open-world formula that's dominated games for the past decade.
Disco Elysium is a special game. The first release from Estonian studio ZA/UM, it's a sprawling science-fiction RPG that takes more inspiration from D&D and Baldur's Gate than modern combat-focused games. In fact, there is no combat to speak of, instead, you'll be creating your character, choosing what their strengths and weaknesses are, and then passing D&D-style skill checks to make your way through the story. You'll, of course, be leveling up your abilities and boosting stats with items, but really the game's systems fall away in place of a truly engaging story, featuring some of the finest writing to ever grace a video game.
With the Final Cut, released 18 months after the original, this extremely dialogue-heavy game now has full voice acting, which brings the unique world more to life than ever before. After debuting on PC, PS5 and Stadia, Final Cut is now available for all extant home consoles – including Nintendo’s Switch.
Master Chief's latest adventure may not make much sense narratively, but it sure is fun to play. After the middle efforts from 343 Industries over the last decade, Halo Infinite manages to breathe new life into Microsoft's flagship franchise, while also staying true to elements fans love. The main campaign is more open than ever, while also giving you a new freedom of movement with the trusty grappling hook. And the multiplayer mode is wonderfully addictive (though 343 still needs to speed up experience progression), with a bevy of maps and game modes to keep things from getting too stale. The only thing keeping it from greatness is its baffling and disjointed story.
Who hasn't wanted to captain their own spaceship? Well, after a few hours of FTL: Faster Than Light, you might be rethinking your life goals. FTL is a roguelike, which means every game starts from the same spot. All you have to do is travel through a number of star systems, recruiting crew members and collecting scrap as you make your way towards a final showdown against a stupidly overpowered ship. Gameplay is roughly divided between a map view, where you can take as much time as you like to chart the most efficient route to your goal, and combat events which play out in real-time (although you can and will be using a pause button to slow things down).
Where the real fun comes in is in the narrative, which plays out in two ways. There's the structured side, where every so often you'll be asked to make decisions that may improve or hinder your chances of survival. And then there's the natural story you create for yourselves, as you're forced to decide, for example, whether it's worth sacrificing a crew member for the greater good.
Hades is the first early access title to ever make our best PC game list. It's an action-RPG developed by the team behind Bastion, Transistor and Pyre. You play Zagreus, son of Hades, who's having a little spat with his dad, and wants to escape from the underworld. To do so, Zagreus has to fight his way through the various levels of the underworld and up to the surface. Along the way, you’ll pick up “boons” from a wide range of ancient deities like Zeus, Ares and Aphrodite, which stack additional effects on your various attacks. Each level is divided into rooms full of demons, items and the occasional miniboss.
As Hades is a “roguelike” game, you start at the same place every time. With that said the items you collect can be used to access and upgrade new weapons and abilities that stick between sessions. Hades is on this list not for any reason other than it’s super accessible and very, very fun. You can jump in for 30 minutes and have a blast, or find yourself playing for hours. It's been in early access for well over a year at this point, and is tremendously polished, with a full release expected in the latter half of 2020.
Half-Life: Alyx feels like a miracle. After 13 years away from the franchise, Valve delivered a genuinely thrilling prequel to Half-Life 2 while also charting new territory for VR gameplay. The gravity gloves, its key new feature, is the closest I’ve ever felt to having telekinetic powers. It gives you multiple movement options so you don’t get sick trotting around the expansive environments. Oh yeah, and it’s also absolutely terrifying, banking on the claustrophobic nature of VR. There’s no looking away when a facehugger leaps at you from the dark, or when a horrifically deformed zombie gets in your face. It might sound a bit hyperbolic, but Alyx might end up being one of the most important titles of this generation. Building a big-budget game for a niche VR market doesn’t make much sense for most companies, but for Valve, it’s Tuesday.
Nier Automata takes the razor-sharp combat of a Platinum Games title and puts it in a world crafted by everyone's favorite weirdo, Yoko Taro. Don't worry, you can mostly just run, gun and slash your way through the game, but as you finish, and finish and finish this one, you'll find yourself pulled into a truly special narrative, that's never been done before and will probably never be done again. It's fair to say that the PC release, as is unfortunately often the case, wasn't exactly the best and is still remarkably lacking in options, but it's at least stable now, and trust us when we say this one is unmissable.
Microsoft Flight Simulator came out at the perfect time, when the world was on lockdown and airline travel was an impossibility for most people. Not only does Flight Sim let players pilot a vast array of aircrafts, but it presents the world on a platter in stunning, ridiculous detail. It’s an escape, it’s educational and it’s entertaining – is that what they mean by E3? – and there’s really nothing else on its level when it comes to realistic physics simulations. Pandemic or no, Microsoft Flight Simulator is an incredible achievement with a long tail both inside and outside of the video game industry.
Many were ready to write off the Resident Evil series after the disaster that was Resident Evil 6. What started as the horror game on the original PlayStation had become a bloated mess of an action game. Instead of throwing the whole franchise in the trash and forgetting about it, Capcom took a hard look at what wasn't working, which — surprise! — was basically everything, and thoroughly rebooted the formula. Borrowing from Kojima's PT and, in some ways, Creative Assembly's Alien: Isolation, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is horror through powerlessness. For the majority of the game, you're basically unable to do anything but run from or delay your foes. And that's what makes it so good.
This is an unforgettable ghost-story-slash-murder-mystery with a distinctive old-school graphical style. It's unlike any game we've played in a while, with a low-key musical score and a style of puzzle solving that's like one satisfying, grisly riddle. In Return of the Obra Dinn, you're put aboard a ship, alone. There is, however, a corpse near the captain's cabin. As you track the deceased's final footsteps, leading to yet more grisly ends, you need to figure out what happened. Who killed who? And who is still alive? Special mention to the sound effect that kicks in every time you solve the fates of three of the crew. Goosebumps.
It might be the best open-world RPG out there. Despite now being several years old, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a dense action game that acknowledges the maturity of the player with multiple — occasionally harrowing — storylines, choices that have consequences and almost too much game to wrestle with. It's not perfect; the combat system is rough, frustrating death comes in the form of falling from just a few feet and there's a lot of quest filler alongside many incredibly well thought out distractions. The scope and ambition on display will have you hooked, and once you're done, there are some excellent expansions to check out.
Forza Horizon 5deftly walks a fine line by being an extremely deep and complex racing game that almost anyone can just pick up and play. The game has hundreds of cars that you can tweak endlessly to fit your driving style, and dozens of courses spread all over a gorgeous fictional corner of Mexico. If you crank up the difficulty, one mistake will sink your entire race, and the competition online can be just as fierce.
But if you’re new to racing games, Forza Horizon 5 does an excellent job at getting you up and running. The introduction to the game quickly gives you a taste at the four main race types you’ll come across (street racing, cross-country, etc.), and features like the rewind button mean that you can quickly erase mistakes if you try and take a turn too fast without having to restart your run. Quite simply, Forza Horizon 5 is a beautiful and fun game that works for just about any skill level. It’s easy to pick up and play a few races and move on with your day, or you can sink hours into it trying to become the best driver you can possibly be.
Sure, it’s easier than ever to start your own video game streaming channel, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to be a streamer. There are dozens of factors to consider before pressing that big GO LIVE button on YouTube or Twitch, such as lighting, audio quality, video output and software organization — and that’s just to get on-air. If you want to succeed as a streamer, it also takes practice, charisma, luck and, of course, the proper equipment.
While we can’t help with the patience, natural talent or social factors that determine who becomes a streaming star, we can recommend the tools to make a channel look as professional as possible from day one. If anyone on your gift list is serious about diving into the business of video game streaming, these are the gadgets they’ll be ecstatic to unwrap (and show off on-camera).
Classic. Iconic. Legendary. Whichever descriptor you pick, the Yeti by Blue remains one of the most reliable, ubiquitous pieces of technology in the live-streaming business. The Yeti is a USB microphone, meaning it’s plug-and-play with most rigs, and it has a specific setting (cardioid pattern) that’s great for live streaming. It’s also more affordable than comparable mics while offering high-quality sound and simple set-up.
Some mics are built to blend in with their surroundings, and others are designed to stand out — like the QuadCast S by HyperX. The QuadCast S has a light-up core with customizable RGB effects, adding a pop of color to the screen at all times (yep, even when your queue time hits 10 minutes). It also has an internal pop filter and four polar patterns, including cardioid.
Uncomfortable headphones can destroy an otherwise enjoyable gaming session, and this is extra-true for streamers, who don’t have the time or brainpower to deal with squashed ears. Sennheiser’s Game One headset offers incredibly crisp audio in a cozy, breathable frame, complete with velour earpads that play well with glasses. An open-back design provides 3D sound and lets streamers hear their surroundings without sliding one ear to the side. The Game One is also in the same price range as mid-tier headsets from Razer, HyperX or SteelSeries, but its unique open-acoustic design provides high-quality, crystal clear — and comfy! — soundscapes.
If you’re looking for style and performance in a budget-friendly headset, Razer has you covered. The BlackShark V2 is a relatively affordable gaming headset with everything a streamer needs, from memory foam ear cushions to a detachable mic. This one is a sound-isolating headset, making it good for public streaming spaces with a lot of background noise. Razer knows what it's doing when it comes to gaming accessories, and the Black Shark V2 is a tried-and-true device for any player, all in that classic black-and-green look.
Elgato’s Stream Deck is the piece of equipment that most streamers don’t realize they need, at least until they get one. This little baby is a customizable desktop controller with 15 LCD keys that can be set to launch and manage apps like Twitch, YouTube, OBS, Spotify and XSplit. It’s especially handy for live situations, where streamers need to smoothly swap among programs and monitor multiple apps at the same time.
One thing every streamer needs is a quality camera. Logitech makes a range of reliable webcams, but for streamers today, a good starting place is the C922 Pro Stream. It hovers around $100, and it streams in 1080p at 30fps or 720p at 60fps, with built-in autofocus and lighting correction. The C922 is a workhorse that’ll get the job done with little fuss.
There’s only so much lighting you can squeeze into a single streaming space, and that’s where Razer’s Kiyo Pro comes in. It’s a USB camera with an adaptive light sensor that makes the most of dim, backlit and string-lighted environments, and it’s capable of capturing footage at 1080p and 60fps, or in HDR mode at 30fps. This is a high-quality streaming camera with a wide-angle lens and a sleek circular profile, and it comes with a privacy cover to ensure there are no on-air accidents.
For truly professional-looking streams, a capture card is a must, and Razer’s Ripsaw HD is one of the best. The Ripsaw HD is a plug-and-play device that records and streams gameplay at 1080p and 60fps, while allowing the game itself to hit 4K and 60fps. This is how the experts do it.
Once the basic bits of tech are out of the way, it’s time to add some style to your streamer’s scene. Lighting is an easy way to set the mood and draw the eye of new viewers, and the Line Lamp by Lightsmoon is a classy, unobtrusive option for customizable, multicolor ambiance. The Line Lamp is designed to fit in the corner of a room, reflecting off the walls and making the whole room glow with minimal hardware.
For a mounted lighting option, the Govee Glide Wall Light is the way to go. It consists of six bars that snap together in various configurations, with a range of lighting effects, plus Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant voice capabilities built-in. Govee’s Glide Wall Light is dimmable, customizable and it has six modes that automatically react to music.
Want a quick, easy and cheap way to make a streaming space pop? Get a big, light-up mouse pad. The large RGB mouse pad by REAWUL is an extended mat that measures 80cm by 30cm, easily covering the area of a full-size keyboard and mouse, with light-up edges. The pad has 14 RGB lighting modes with steady and animated options, and it’s powered via USB. At less than $20, this is a steal as well as a showstopper.
It may have been another long year, but the holidays are finally approaching — and, with supply chain issues plaguing retail, it’s best to get your shopping done sooner rather than later. This year we’re all a little burnt out on screens, so the best gifts for kids are things they can hold. But, since this is Engadget, we’re always looking for that tech angle. This year’s crop of tech toys for kids is mostly grounded in the real world, with a few electronic twists to surprise and delight.
Miles Morales in Winter Suit Funko Pop
It’s always good to grab a few stocking stuffers, and Funko makes figures from what feels like every pop culture property on earth. Around here we’re partial to the video game ones, of course, and what’s more festive than this adorable Spider-Man all dressed up for the cold weather? It’ll look great while also adding a bit of geeky holiday cheer to someone’s bookshelf or desk.
For kids who aren’t old enough to build their own lightsaber at Disney’s Galaxy Edge, this kit from Hasbro might be the next best thing. Not only is it way more affordable, but it’s also quite durable, allowing kids and adults alike to reenact their favorite Jedi versus Sith battles with gusto. Best of all, a child can rebuild their lightsaber again and again using different parts, so they can have a customized weapon that fits their mood each day.
Maybe taking care of a small creature was just too stressful for your kid, and you’ve had to console them many a time when the little ghost floating above a tombstone appears. Well, now Tamagotchi has a special astromech droid they can take care of instead, one they have to clean and play a variety of mini-games with. If they don’t take care of little R2, the Jawas will take him away which might still be a bummer but hey, maybe they’ll sell him off to a local moisture farmer with a thirst for adventure.
Kids are cute, but also weird and quirky, so why not get the child in your life something that reflects the more wild side of their personality? Purse Pets are basically living bags that can hold stuff but also blink, purr and even blow kisses at a child when it’s happy. It’s a real eye-catching accessory, one that will have them feeling like they’re on the runway — especially when you activate the Purse Pet’s runway music.
Barbie first went to space way back in 1965 and, while she’s had plenty of spacesuits over the decades, none have been as realistic as this one. That’s because this one is based on real-life space explorer Samantha Cristoforetti, an Italian astronaut who was once the record holder for the longest space flight by a woman. Your kids can reenact her various scientific experiments in space with the doll, then cheer on the real-life Cristoforetti next year as she commands ISS Expedition 68.
It feels like an unwritten rule that every child has to have one of those wooden train and track sets. Why not spice things up a bit by adding in this tech-enabled station that signals the included train to stop and flash its lights, just like the real thing. If your kid is a railfan you can even use the free Smart Tech Sound app to change the sounds to those from famous systems like London, Paris or Berlin.
We were all super jealous of Harry Potter when Hagrid presented him with a lovely snowy owl who would become his mail carrier and friend. However, in real life owls can be pretty messy and aren’t as affectionate. So why not get your loved ones this interactive, life-sized replica instead? She loves to be petted and while she can’t fly, she can safeguard letters for you, only releasing them to people who have the secret code.
The Got2Glow Fairy Finder may look like a slightly fancier mason jar, but it has a special electronic twist. When you open the lid, a fairy will “fly” inside and show up on the front screen. What kind of fairy? It depends on how a child holds the jar and how bright the room is. There are 100 different magical creatures to collect and trade with their friends, so it should keep your kids active and busy for a while.
Your child may not be old enough to drive a real car, but chances are they’ve taken a few spins around Rainbow Road in Nintendo’s Mario Kart video games. And even if they haven’t, they’ll still enjoy playing with the whimsical vehicles from the series, recreated in 1/64-scale so they can fit in the palm of a kid’s hand. All the favorites are here, from Mario to Yoshi and even the often-forgotten Waluigi. Some of the karts even include gliders so kids can simulate some of the more treacherous jumps like Peach’s Castle.
We’ve been a big fan of the Mario LEGO sets since their launch, but now it’s time for his brother to have a little time in the sun. It’s just like having a Super Mario game you can physically build and hold in your hand, complete with platforms, a see-saw and blocks. Luigi will even react to the course thanks to a small LCD screen embedded in his chest, and he’s fully compatible with the other sets so you can build a whole world for him to explore.
You can still call it the Slave I if you want, but the most important thing about this Firespray-31-class spacecraft is who it belongs to: the most feared bounty hunter in the galaxy, Boba Fett. He even has his own show coming out at the end of December. We know that’s a long time to wait, but your family can at least spend part of that time putting together this 593-piece kit that even includes a tiny minifig Boba and Din Djarin from the Mandalorian.
There are toys that laugh, eat, burp and even poop, but there aren’t a lot that give birth. That’s probably because it’s pretty weird, but Spin Master’s Peek-a-Roo also makes it pretty adorable. This plush panda will react to being petted and spoken to by a child and, if the toy is treated well, it produces a tiny baby from the pouch in its stomach. The baby toy will continue to live there once born, popping up whenever its mama is happy.
Advent calendars are a great way to get your kid excited for the holidays, but sometimes the little gifts inside aren’t so great. Why not go full-on nerdy with this Star Wars calendar, which has a smattering of tiny sets your kid has to build alongside minifigs of characters like Rey, Luke Skywalker and a holiday-themed Poe Dameron? The kits will hopefully keep them busy so they’re not asking you how many days are left until the big gift-giving occasion.
Kids love cameras but, with everything digital these days, there’s a little less tactility, which kids also love. Printcams tend to be too expensive for many adults, never mind children, which makes them a no-go — until now. The VTech KidiZoom prints photos for as little as a penny, so it’s not a big financial deal when your child takes 100 photos of their feet. Just make sure you keep them stocked up with fresh paper.
For a few years now, gaming laptops have been some of the most intriguing PCs around. They’ve gotten thinner and lighter, naturally — but they’ve also become vastly more powerful and efficient, making them suitable for both work and play. They’ve adopted some bold innovations, like rotating hinges and near desktop-like customizability. Gaming laptops are where PC makers can get adventurous.
If you’re a professional in the market for a beefy new computer, and you like to play a few rounds of Apex Legends on occasion, it may make more sense to go for a gaming notebook instead of a MacBook Pro-like workstation. You’ll still get plenty of power for video encoding and 3D rendering, plus you may end up paying less than you would for some comparable workstations.
What's your budget?
Your laptop buying journey starts and ends with the amount of money you're willing to spend. No surprise there. The good news: There are plenty of options for gamers of every budget. In particular, we're seeing some great choices under $1,000, like Dell's G15, which currently starts at $930. PCs in this price range will definitely feel a bit lower quality than pricier models, and they'll likely skimp on RAM, storage and overall power. But they should be able to handle most games in 1080p at 60 frames per second, which is the bare minimum you'd want from any system.
Stepping up to mid-range options beyond $1,000 is where things get interesting. At that point, you'll start finding PCs like the ASUS Zephyrus ROG G14, one of our favorite gaming notebooks of the last few years. In general, you can look forward to far better build quality than budget laptops (metal cases!), improved graphics power and enough RAM and storage space to handle the most demanding games. These are the notebooks we'd recommend for most people, as they'll keep you gaming and working for years before you need to worry about an upgrade.
If you're willing to spend around $1,800 or more, you can start considering more premium options like Razer's Blade. Expect impeccably polished cases, the fastest hardware on the market, and ridiculously thin designs. The sky's the limit here: Alienware's uber customizable Area 51m is an enormous beast that can cost up to $4,700. Few people need a machine that pricey, but if you're a gamer with extra cash to burn, it may be worth taking a close look at some of these pricier systems.
What kind of CPU and GPU do you want?
The answer to this question used to be relatively simple: Just get an Intel chip with an NVIDIA GPU. But over the last two years, AMD came out swinging with its Ryzen 4000 and 5000-series notebook processors, which are better suited for juggling multiple tasks at once (like streaming to Twitch while blasting fools in Fortnite). In general, you’ll still be safe getting one of Intel’s latest 10th or 11th-gen H-series chips. But it’s nice to have decent AMD alternatives available for budget and mid-range laptops, especially when they’re often cheaper than comparable Intel models.
When it comes to video cards, though, AMD is still catching up. Its new Radeon RX 6000M GPU has been a fantastic performer in notebooks like ASUS’s ROG Strix G15, but it still lags behind NVIDIA when it comes to newer features like ray tracing. I’ll admit, it’s nice to see a Radeon-powered notebook that can approach the general gaming performance of NVIDIA’s RTX 3070 and 3080 GPU.
If you want to future-proof your purchase, or you’re just eager to see how ray tracing could make your games look better, you’re probably better off with an NVIDIA video card. They’re in far more systems, and it’s clear that NVIDIA has had more time to optimize its ray tracing technology. RTX GPUs also feature the company’s DLSS feature, which uses AI to upscale games to higher resolutions. That’ll let you play a game like Destiny 2 in 4K with faster frame rates. That’s useful if you’re trying to take advantage of a high refresh rate monitor.
NVIDIA’s RTX 3050 is a decent entry point, but we think you’d be better off with at least an RTX 3060 for solid 1080p and 1440p performance. The RTX 3070, meanwhile, is the best balance of price and performance. It’ll be able to run many games in 4K with the help of DLSS, and it can even tackle demanding titles like Control. NVIDIA’s RTX 3080 is the king of the hill; you’ll pay a premium for any machine that includes it.
It’s worth noting that NVIDIA’s mobile GPUs aren’t directly comparable to its more powerful desktop hardware. PC makers can also tweak a GPU’s voltage to make it perform better in a thinner case. Basically, don’t be surprised if you see notebooks that perform very differently, even if they’re all equipped with the same RTX model.
What kind of screen do you want?
Screen size is a good place to start when judging gaming notebooks. In general, 15-inch laptops will be the best balance of immersion and portability, while larger 17-inch models are heftier, but naturally give you more screen real estate. There are some 13-inch gaming notebooks, like the Razer Blade Stealth, but paradoxically you'll often end up paying more for those than slightly larger 15-inch options. We’re also seeing more 14-inch options, like the Zephyrus G14 and Blade 14, which are generally more powerful than 13-inch laptops while still being relatively portable.
But these days, there are plenty more features to consider than screen size alone. Consider refresh rates: Most monitors refresh their screens vertically 60 times per second, or 60Hz. That's a standard in use since black and white NTSC TVs. But over the past few years, displays have evolved considerably. Now, 120Hz 1080p screens are the bare minimum you'd want in any gaming notebook — and there are faster 144Hz, 240Hz and even 360Hz panels. All of those ever-increasing numbers are in the service of one thing: making everything on your display look as smooth as possible.
For games, higher refresh rates also help eliminate screen tearing and other artifacts that could get in the way of your frag fest. And for everything else, it just leads to a better viewing experience. Even scrolling a web page on a 120Hz or faster monitor is starkly different from a 60Hz screen. Instead of seeing a jittery wall of text and pictures, everything moves seamlessly together, as if you're unwinding a glossy paper magazine. Going beyond 120Hz makes gameplay look even more responsive, which to some players gives them a slight advantage.
Not to make things more complicated, but you should also keep an eye out for NVIDIA's G-SYNC and AMD's FreeSync. They're both adaptive sync technologies that can match your screen's refresh rate with the framerate of your game. That also helps to reduce screen tearing and make gameplay smoother. Consider them nice bonuses on top of a high refresh rate monitor; they're not necessary, but they can still offer a slight visual improvement.
One more thing: Most of these suggestions are related to LCD screens, not OLEDs. While OLED makes a phenomenal choice for TVs, it's a bit more complicated when it comes to gaming laptops. They're limited to 60Hz, so you won't get the smoother performance you'd find on a high refresh rate screen. And they're typically 4K panels; you'll need a ton of GPU power to run games natively at that resolution. OLED laptops still look incredible, with the best black levels and contrast on the market, but we think most shoppers would be better off with an LCD gaming laptop.
A few other takeaways:
Get at least 16GB of RAM. And if you're planning to do a ton of multitasking while streaming, 32GB is worth considering.
Storage is still a huge concern. These days, I'd recommend aiming for a 1TB M.2 SSD, which should be enough space to juggle a few large titles like Destiny 2. Some laptops also have room for standard SATA drives, which are far cheaper than M.2's and can hold more data.
Normally we'd recommend getting your hands on a system before you buy, but that's tough as we're in the midst of a pandemic. I'd recommend snagging your preferred system from a retailer with a simple return policy, like Amazon or Best Buy. If you don't like it, you can always ship it back easily.
If you can't tell by now, we really like the Zephyrus G14. It's compact, at just 3.5 pounds, and features AMD's new Ryzen 5000-series chips paired together with NVIDIA's latest graphics. It's a shockingly compact machine, and while its 14-inch screen is a bit smaller than our other recommendations, it looks great and features a fast 144Hz refresh rate. We also like its retro-future design (some configurations have tiny LEDs on its rear panel for extra flair). While the G14 has jumped in price since last year, it’s still one of the best gaming notebooks around. The only downside: It doesn't have a webcam, which can be inconvenient in the era of never-ending Zoom calls. Still, it's not that tough to attach an external camera. (If you want something bigger, consider the Zephyrus G15.)
We've been fans of Dell's G5 line ever since it first appeared a few years ago. Now dubbed the G15, it starts at just over $1,000 and features all of the latest hardware, like Intel's 11th-generation CPUs and NVIDIA's RTX 30-series cards. (You can also find AMD's Ryzen chips in some models.) It's a bit heavy, weighing over five pounds, but it's a solid notebook otherwise. And you can even bring it into mid-range gaming territory if you spec up to the RTX 3060.
Razer continues to do a stellar job of delivering the latest hardware in a sleek package that would make Mac users jealous. The Blade 15 has just about everything you'd want, including NVIDIA's fastest mobile GPU, the RTX 3080, as well as Intel's 11th-gen octa-core CPUs and speedy quad-HD screens. You can easily save some cash by going for a cheaper notebook, but they won't feel nearly as polished as the Blade.
While we've seen some wilder concepts from Acer, like its 360-degree hinge-equipped Triton 900, the Triton 500 is a more affordable bread and butter option that doesn't break the bank. This year, it’s bumped up to a 16-inch display, giving you more of an immersive gaming experience. It’s relatively thin, weighs just over five pounds , and it can be equipped with Intel's 11th-gen CPUs and NVIDIA's RTX 30-series GPUs. Acer's build quality is as sturdy as ever, and it has most of the standard features you’d need in a gaming notebook.
Take everything we loved about the Razer Blade 15, scale it up to a larger 17-inch screen, and you’re pretty much in gamer paradise. If you can live with its six-pound weight, the Blade 17 will deliver the most desktop-like gaming experience that you can find in a notebook. It’s relatively slim, and it’s perfect for binging Netflix in bed. The Blade 17 is also a smart choice if you’re editing media, as its larger screen space makes it perfect for diving into larger timelines. It’s not for everyone, but sometimes you just want to go big or go home, right?
The Nintendo Switch is pretty popular, but its included Joy-Cons aren’t for everyone. Some players feel the detachable controllers are a bit small for their hands. Many players miss having a regular D-pad. Whatever your reasons for wanting to upgrade your Switch controller situation, know that there are alternatives — it’s just a matter of picking the one that fits your needs. We tested out a bunch of Switch controllers to see which are worth your money.
For casual gaming: Joy-Cons
Honestly, there’s a lot to like about the included Joy-Cons. They come right in the box and can be separated from the system so two people can play. The system also includes a special gamepad grip so you can hold them in your hand like any standard controller. So if you are in fact, happy with your Joy-Cons, there’s no need to switch them out. Just tweak them a little depending on your needs. Find them a tad too small? FastSnail’s matte rubber shells can make them a little easier for large hands to hold, and Hori’s Analog Caps can make the thumb sticks grippier.
There’s really no good way to replace the Joy-Cons entirely with a third-party copy. Some Joy-Con-like controllers won’t connect wirelessly, while others lack key features like vibration or an NFC reader. But there are some tradeoffs that are worth it. For example, if you like to play a lot of 2D platformers in handheld mode, Hori’s D-pad controller will restore the beloved cross-shaped directional button to your gameplay. If you’re looking for something that’s also more comfortable in your hand, the company’s $50 Split Pad Pro is also worth a look. It has a D-pad on the left side and a more ergonomic grip than your standard set of Joy-Cons. But it also makes the entire assembled Switch a lot chunkier.
If you like to play your Switch with groups (or you’ve experienced the dreaded “drift” issue), chances are you’ve picked up one or two extra pairs of Joy-Cons. Which means you’re going to need a place to charge the spares. PowerA makes an excellent $25 charging station that can be plugged into your Switch dock (or any device with a USB port) and handles four Joy-Con-like controllers at once — that includes third-party gamepads as well as Nintendo’s own Switch-compatible NES controllers (see below).
Sometimes you just want a standard controller to play your favorite action titles — and standard in 2020 means something like you’d get packed in with an Xbox, with grips for the heels of your hands, shoulder buttons and triggers, two thumb sticks, a set of four buttons on the right and a D-pad on the left. Nintendo knows that, which is why it created the Pro Controller. This first-party gamepad pairs easily with the Switch and features a D-pad on the left, while still maintaining features like the infrared sensor and vibration that might go missing on third-party alternatives. The only downside is the $70 price, but avid players of games like Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild will appreciate the refined controls and increased comfort.
While you can plug your Pro Controller directly into your Switch dock to charge, it’s not the most elegant solution. PowerA also makes an attractive $25 dock that accommodates both Joy-Cons and the Pro Controller, which should keep your gaming area nice and tidy.
When the price of the Pro Controller is a bit rich for your blood or out of stock, PowerA makes its own version with the same arrangement of buttons. The Enhanced Wireless Controller skips the rechargeable battery in favor of AAs, which has its downsides, but at least when it runs low on juice you can just pop in a new pair of batteries and get right back to gaming. Unfortunately, there’s no USB-C port to connect with so you’ll have to pair the device wirelessly — which can be finicky and may take a few tries before your Switch recognizes the controller. It also lacks vibration, so you won’t get tactile feedback in games where it’s helpful. And the plus and minus buttons are placed a bit closer to the center, so those with smaller hands will have to reach a bit further to press them.
If you’d prefer not to have to recharge — or buy batteries for — your gamepad, PowerA also makes a wired version of the same controller that connects via USB. It’s got the same look and feel, but you won’t have to struggle as much with getting your console to recognize it, and there’s no potential for wireless lag, making it ideal for fast-paced shooters and fighting games. The included cord is 10 feet long so it should reach most couches just fine.
While most third-party controllers tend to mimic the Xbox style of gamepad, anyone more familiar with the PlayStation’s distinctive DualShock design will probably prefer the $50 Pro 2 from 8BitDo. The retro-styled controller has the same general layout as the classic SNES gamepad, but adds twin thumb sticks, palm grips, back buttons, control remapping and even sensitivity adjustments. It’s truly the Swiss Army knife of Switch controllers.
For old school gaming: Niche and retro controllers
Twenty years later and the preferred controller layout for Super Smash Bros. players is still the one made for the GameCube, which is why today it’s still possible to buy new gamepads straight from Nintendo. The Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Edition GameCube Controller is identical in layout and design to the original gamepads, though now it connects via USB so it can be used with the Switch. The only downside to the reissue is that it doesn’t come in a bold shade of purple anymore.
However, if you’re still sporting a classic GameCube controller with its proprietary connector, you can also pick up an adapter that will let your Switch accommodate up to four old-school gamepads. Nintendo sells one on its store, but the Y Team controller adapter is also a good alternative that costs less and can be bought at Amazon.
But you might not want to be tethered to your console — especially if you have fond memories of kicking back on your couch with a Wavebird in hand to play GameCube games like Super Smash Bros. Brawl and Killer 7. PowerA’s Nintendo GameCube-Style wireless controller is the closest you can get to recreating that feeling short of plugging a few RF dongles into a GameCube adapter.
What if your retro tastes go even further back, say to the NES and SNES era? If you’re subscribed to Nintendo Online, you have access to over 100 classic titles, so you might want a more “authentic” controller to use with them. Nintendo Online subscribers can buy retro-style wireless gamepads directly from the company, though the $60 set of two small, rectangular NES controllers will remind you why we’ve moved on from that design. The dog-bone shape of the $30 SNES model is more hand friendly and can still be used with the NES games, so it’s a better use of your funds should you decide you want to recreate your childhood gaming experiences.
If you don’t need an exact copy of your beloved childhood gamepads it’s worth looking at 8BitDo instead: It makes a variety of classic-styled controllers that add just enough modern features to make them useful for a wider variety of games. Its models are almost all wireless, and there are some design changes to make the controllers more comfortable and easier to use. We’ve already recommended the DualShock-like Pro 2, but the $45 SN30 Pro also offers features like dual thumb sticks and vibration in the dog-bone controller style.
If you’re looking for something more portable, however, the $25 8BitDo Lite is smaller and swaps out the thumb sticks for two D-pads, keeping the four button arrangement on each side. It’s great for 2D games and it even matches the color scheme of the Switch Lite.
Before you try any of the controllers listed in this guide, remember to update your Switch to the latest firmware — the 8BitDo controllers will run on any version, but the PowerA gamepads need your system to run at least version 6.0.0.
There's never been a better time to be a PC gamer, especially when it comes to laptops. Gaming notebooks are lighter, more powerful and cheaper than ever before. They're particularly useful for students because their beefy hardware could be helpful for rendering video and doing any other schoolwork that would make super-thin ultraportables sweat. You can find some general advice on choosing gaming laptops in our guide. In this piece, you'll find a few selections specifically geared towards school use.
Are gaming laptops good for college?
As stated above, gaming laptops are especially helpful if you're doing any demanding work. Their big promise is powerful graphics performance, which isn't just limited to games. Video editing and 3D rendering programs can also tap into their GPUs to handle especially demanding tasks. While you can find decent GPUs on some productivity laptops, like Dell's XPS 15, you can sometimes find better deals on gaming laptops. My general advice for any new workhorse machine: Get at least 16GB of RAM and the largest solid state drive you can find. Those components are both typically hard to upgrade down the line.
The one big downside to choosing a gaming notebook is portability. For the most part, we'd recommend 15-inch models to get the best balance of size and price. Those typically weigh in around 4.5 pounds, which is a significantly more than three-pound ultraportables. Today's gaming notebooks are still far lighter than older models, though, so at least you won't be lugging around a 10-pound brick. Also, if you're not into LED lights and other gamer-centric bling, keep an eye out for more understated models (or make sure you know how to turn those lights off).
Best midrange for most people: ASUS Zephyrus G15
The Zephryus G15 has all the power you'd want in a gaming laptop, at a price that's more reasonable than higher-end options. It's a slightly larger follow-up to last year's favorite for this category (the G14), but there's still lots to love. The G15 features AMD's latest Ryzen 5000 processors, along with NVIDIA's RTX 3000 GPUs. And, judging from our benchmarks, it manages to make good use of all that power. It also has a fast 165Hz 1440p screen, which is ideal for playing games at high framerates. The G15 doesn't have a webcam, but its solid specs and performance more than make up for that.
For years, Razer has staked a reputation for building gaming laptops that look as good as MacBooks. And that's still true. Razer's Blade 15 features a sleek and sturdy metal case, an impressively understated design (unless you really kick up those RGB keyboard lights), and just about all the power you'd want in a portable gaming powerhouse. If money is no object, you can equip the Blade 15 with Intel's latest 11th-gen processors, NVIDIA's powerful RTX 3080 and either a 240Hz QHD or 360Hz HD screen.
While you'll pay a bit more for the Blade 15 compared to some other models, you've still got a few different price points to work with. The entry-level model starts at $1,699 with an RTX 3060 GPU and 144Hz 1080p display. That's certainly enough power for most games and creative apps. If you're looking for something a bit smaller, Razer's new AMD-powered Blade 14 looks compelling as well.
A stylish mid-range option: Alienware M15 R5 Ryzen Edition
Alienware's M15 notebooks have made for solid options over the last few years, but the R5 Ryzen Edition adds something new to the mix with AMD's latest processors. Basically, you can expect slightly better multi-core performance from this machine, compared to its Intel-equipped siblings. The Alienware M15 still retains the brand's signature, sci-fi-like aesthetic, making the R5 Ryzen Edition a great option if you want a notebook that’s also distinct (without looking garish like cheaper offerings).
While Alienware has established itself as a solid premium brand, Dell's cheaper G-series notebooks are worth a look for anyone on a budget. In particular, the G5 15 continues the trend of delivering very capable hardware under $1,000. Sure, the case may contain a lot of plastic, and the screen doesn't offer all of the latest niceties, but for the price it's hard to find something much better.
Best no-limit gaming laptop: ASUS Zephyrus Duo 15 SE
Taking the idea of a gaming laptop to the absolute extreme, ASUS's latest Zephyrus Duo combines AMD's latest Ryzen mobile processors with all of NVIDIA's great RTX 30-series hardware. And, true to its name, it has two screens: a gorgeous 15.6-inch main display, and a very wide secondary panel right below. That opens up a near desktop-level of multitasking, since you can have windows spread across both screens. That could be useful for browsing the web and keeping an eye on Twitter at the same time. (Or, perhaps squeezing in a game of Overwatch while following an online lecture on the other screen. We won't tell anyone.)
Apparently unsatisfied with existing video game input devices, game designer Rob Santos created his own using, what else, fidget spinners. His system combines a spinner and five buttons on a pair of controllers to interface with Flock Off, an arcade game loosely based on Flappy Bird.
To register spinner input, a magnet is embedded on each lobe, triggering a Hall effect sensor three times per revolution when spun. An Arduino in each control box reads these signals, then sends this information, along with button inputs, to the game via USB accessible through a serial port.
Although using the Uno means that the game must be programmed especially for this type of input, Santos notes that using an HID-capable board, such as the Leonardo, would give it the capability to act as keyboard input by itself.
RubberArms is an experimental rubber band game, created by Robin Baumgarten at the Global Game Jam 2017 in Yverdon-les-Bains, Switzerland.
The controller uses a conductive rubber cord from Adafruit that changes resistance as it’s stretched. This resistance is measured by an Arduino Micro/Leonardo (or a Teensy 3.2), which acts as a USB joystick sending signals to Unity3D. (The game is coded in Unity3D using Spring Joints and Line Renderers.)