We see a lot of hardware through the year here at OC3D, and it's good to look back at the products that we really loved. We know that not everyone has the cash to rush out that instant and buy a new piece of hardware, so this is also for those of you who want to know what the best product is in our opinion, without having to read all of our reviews. Although you should read them all anyway as they are lovingly crafted.
So without further ado, here at the bits of tech in the nine major categories that made a bigger impression than the Ridiculously Photogenic Guy in 2012. The bold hardware names lead to our original review if you wish a closer look at why they appeared in our end-of-year roundup.
We start with audio, just because it's alphabetical, but if there is one product that will live long in the memory as the highlight of 2012 it's the SteelSeries Flux. Staggering sound quality and volume, in a customisable, portable package. All for around £60 perfect.
Microlab Solo 7C
For those of you who prefer your audio so the rest of the room can hear it, we heartily recommend the Microlab 7C speakers. They cover the major bases, if you'll pardon the pun, of awesome volume and thumping bass, wrapped up in a package that looks the business, some may find them a little big for their desk but from experience they look epic next to your huge flatscreen TV.
2012 was the year when water, even in a self-contained package, started to edge ahead of air as the cooling weapon of choice. When it comes to plug and play solutions Corsair are at the brand everyone else aspires to beat. The H100i is the successor to the massively popular H100. The Corsair Link software on this allowing monitoring, fan and LED control just showed Corsair listen to their consumers. Enough performance to keep the hottest of chips cool but with a quick change in the software quiet enough for any silent freak.
XSPC D5 RX360 Kit
Such is the wealth of options available on the market there is a lot to be said for a package that takes the decisions out of your hands but still delivers, and the XSPC kit is perfect. The price at first seems high but this is top spec kit for a top spec rig, add on a GPU waterblock of your choice and some flashy angled fittings and you have the makings of an awesome addition to any rig. This kit really does take the hard work out of watercooling.
NZXT Switch 810
We test a lot of cases here at OC3D and most of them have quirks of design or appeal that suit certain applications. The NZXT Switch 810 is not one of those. No matter what you plan to do with it, it's the case for you. It speaks volumes when we all agreed instantly on the best case we tested in 2012.
Caselabs are probably best known for their gigantic cases that would double as a wardrobe in a pinch. With the Merlin they toned down the size to a level most of us would find enough without compromising the build-quality or array of places to route your cables and loop. Even with its smaller size it still gobbled a 480 and a 360 rad both in push pull and still with all that room available.... 2nd year on the trot Caselabs have won a "Best of" case award.
Mini-ITX cases have often been really cheap, or not the kind of thing you'd want nestled in your living room. With the Prodigy case BitFenix threw out all our preconceptions and delivered a case which has all you can desire and also looks the business. Available in a multitude of colours for our modern lives, it's the best compact case around.
Zalman Z11 Plus
At the area of the market we consider the soft centre that most peoples budgets arrive in, there is an absolute saturation of options available. It takes a lot to stand out amongst the crowd and the Zalman Z11 Plus does, with a cool design, some neat features and the all-important sensible pricing.
MSI Z77 MPOWER
For those of you who had the UP7 in the "OC3D Awards" drinking game, sorry. The MSI Z77 MPOWER was a little late to the Ivy Bridge party, yet completely stole the show. It's not that it's the finest overclocking motherboard around, or necessarily the best looking, but the combination of awesome performance, great looks and a eye-popping price-tag make it the most well-rounded of the products in our roundup. Personal preference can lead to people preferring one thing over another, but nobody who buys an MPOWER will be disappointed.
GIGABYTE Z77 UP7
It was a close run thing between this and the MPower but in the end the price of the MPower won through. That isn't to say that the top of the Gigabyte Z77 range isn't a stunner. It's gorgeous, and blisteringly quick. If you've just received your Christmas bonus then this is the purchase that will leave you breathless.
ASUS Z9-PE-D8 WS
Things have been fairly quiet on the LGA2011 front. Considering how many X58 motherboards were released in the first year of release it wouldn't be too much of a stretch to say the latest Intel release didn't capture the imagination. But if you truly need something that will crunch numbers in ways you can barely comprehend, the ASUS Workstation Z9, tested with dual Xeons, will definitely tick your boxes. Although you might be stuck eating beans on toast for the next year.
Corsair Dominator Platinum
Memory performance has reached a level whereby it takes something special to really stand out from the many alternatives. Corsair took the aesthetics of your average RAM stick and blew them into the weeds with the Dominator Platinum. A gorgeous looking kit that backs up the looks with great performance. Without a doubt the best looking memory of all time.
One of the biggest changes from Sandy Bridge to Ivy Bridge was the IMC, and the speeds attainable are now incredible with certain combinations capable of 3000MHz or higher. If you fancy just installing and running, then the Kingston Predator at a blazing 2666MHz is the perfect combination of ridiculous speed in an attractive package, backed by one of the biggest names in the industry.
G.Skill Trident 32GB
Remember when 1GB was "loads o' RAM™"? Amazing how things change. Most phones these days have a gig, and with the easy of 1080P video recording and cameras that would make David Bailey blush, RAM is even more in demand than ever. With the Trident X G.Skill showed you didn't need to sacrifice performance for capacity. By no means cheap, and yet irresistible.
Club3D HD7950 Royal King
Graphics cards are always a tight category and we often tend to prefer ones that just rock up out of the box and blow our socks off. This year though we had two cards that overclocked to the nines, and the best was the Club 3D Royal King HD7950. Coming in at HD7950 money, but with the ability to overclock to GTX680 levels, it is impossible to ignore.
PowerColor HD7990 Devil13
If one GPU is good, two GPU's must be better, and the PowerColor Devil13 left our eyes wide every single time we fired it up. Yes it's not the most cost-effective choice around, but when the performance is this good it's impossible to ignore. When has overkill ever been a bad thing?
Club3D HD7850 Royal Queen
Back to earth, and to a card that is priced within the reach of us mere mortals, the Club3D HD7850 Royal Queen gave a hint at what we'd see from their HD7950. A decent card out of the box, with the overclock in place it was staggeringly good, able to munch through anything you throw at it.
Corsair Neutron GTX
Right back at the start of last year we looked at the Force GT in RAID0, capable of over 1GB/s and we were sorely tempted to stick it in this spot, but the Neutron GTX is more affordable and ticks every box you can want. Blazing speed, excellent reliability and a good warranty. You can't go wrong.
Samsung 840 Pro
The Samsung 830 was a solid performer that found its way into a lot of peoples rigs, thanks to the combination of the speed and the big name. The 840 Pro only improves upon the formula with excellent performance and great value for money.
It's been a while since Razer really wowed us with a mouse, but the Taipan was stunning. An incredible sensor, comfortable and some excellent software. Only the 'green or green' colour choice counts against it and even that we can overlook when the rest of the package is so brilliant.
Roccat Kone XTD
We couldn't separate the two flagship mice from two of the big three companies around. The Kone XTD is an evolution of a mouse we first looked at a couple of years ago, and thanks to some sensor surgery and a slight change in sizing the Kone XTD is still as good as it ever was. Something new next year please Roccat.
CM Storm Quickfire TK
2013 was the year of the mechanical keyboard. So many keyboards with Cherry switches at their heart came through our offices it was very difficult to pick a winner. It might seem strange that we've chosen a compact offering as our big winner, but the combination of design touches, good price, and the ever popular red colour scheme just shaded our award to the CM Storm Quickfire TK.
Razer BlackWidow Ultimate 2013 Edition
Back with a bang could be the tagline for Razer at the end of 2012. The retooled BlackWidow Ultimate 2013 Edition, a lengthy title if there ever was one, had everything you could wish to find in a keyboard. Robust, plenty of customisation and the rarer Cherry Blue MX switches made this a winner. Shame about the price.
So there we have it. We hope you enjoyed this trip down the memory lane of the last twelve months, and perhaps there were a few products here you missed the first time through. We know that our wallets are itching having gone through the many excellent pieces of hardware that we've reviewed here at OC3D. Maybe the gas bill can wait another month.
Let us know your thoughts in the OC3D Forums. We all look forward to keeping you entertained through 2013 and beyond.