With a pandemic raging across the globe, 2020 was a tough year not only for humanity but for the tech industry. A toxic combination of production problems, shipping issues and increased demand led to shortages of many key components and devices including most graphics cards and, name-brand webcams and AMD CPUs of all generations.
Despite these challenges, we saw some amazing new products released this year, from AMD’s groundbreaking Ryzen 5000 series with its Zen 3 architecture to a 360 Hz gaming monitor and 17-inch ultraportable laptop. 2020 even brought us a new flavor of Raspberry Pi.
To help you remember some positive things about the past year in tech, we’ve sorted through all the products we tested and highlighted the ones that really stood out by offering best-in-class features, value or innovation. These are Tom’s Hardware’s Best of 2020.
Best CPU: AMD Ryzen 5 5600X
AMD's Zen 3 architecture marks its biggest IPC advance in the post-Zen era, allowing AMD to fully eclipse Intel for the first time since the Athlon 64 days. AMD's Ryzen 5000 processors take the lead in every metric that matters by surprising margins, including 1080p gaming and single-threaded performance, setting a new bar for desktop PC processors. AMD's higher-end Ryzen 9 5950X and 5900X are impressive brute-force performance monsters, but the Ryzen 5 5600X stands out as the best processor of the Ryzen 5000 stack and earns our nod for the best CPU of the year.
With a mere six cores and 12-threads, this processor outperforms Intel's once-dominating 10-core 20-thread Core i9-10900K in 1080p gaming, but at a $300 price point that now brings flagship gaming performance to the mainstream masses. Given its price point, the Ryzen 5 5600X also delivers outstanding performance in threaded workloads, like content creation and productivity applications.
Unlike Intel's 14nm chips, the 7nm Ryzen 5 5600X sips power, making it easy to cool so you have a cooler, quieter PC, and is the most power-efficient processor we've ever tested. Simply put, the Ryzen 5 5600X is the mainstream processor to get if you’re after class-leading performance at an accessible price point. — Paul Alcorn
Best Graphics Card: Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080
It's been quite the year for new graphics cards — at least the end of the year. After a slow burn for the first half of 2020, filled with rumors and delays, Nvidia dropped the Ampere hammer and GeForce RTX 3080 in September. It's one of the biggest single generation improvements in performance we've ever seen from GPUs, surpassing the previous generation 2080 Ti by 40 percent or more in some games.
The price perhaps was too good to be true, because every new Ampere GPU has been sold out for months. The same goes for AMD's new RDNA2 GPUs, and even previous gen hardware, but that's a separate story. The point is that if you want the best graphics card that's at least in the realm of the possible, it's the GeForce RTX 3080. It delivers true next-gen performance, particularly with next-gen tech like ray tracing and DLSS. It can't beat the RTX 3090, but at less than half the price, it's the right choice for gaming and hardware enthusiasts. — Jarred Walton
Best Gaming Monitor: Asus ROG Swift PG259QN
Asus put its money where its mouth is this year, becoming the first to release a 360 Hz gaming monitor. Alienware’s AW2521H is also available now, and we’re still awaiting 360 Hz panels from Acer and MSI, but the Asus ROG Swift PG259QN kicked things off with a successful and impressive offering of the world’s fastest monitor.
For many, particularly those without one of the best graphics cards, nearing 360 frames per second (fps) is just a dream. But for players with the graphics horsepower to go beyond 240 fps, a 360 Hz monitor will notably aid your game. During our testing, graphics stayed smooth and focused, even if we were moving around rapidly. With control lag and motion blur becoming nonfactors, this monitor offered the best motion resolution we’ve ever seen. — Scharon Harding
Best 4K Gaming Monitor: Asus ROG Swift PG43UQ
High-res gaming is already exciting, but the Asus ROG Swift PG43UQ upped the ante by also adding fantastic HDR capabilities and image quality. As a gaming monitor, the PG43UQ checks all the right boxes, including up to a 144 Hz refresh rate and your choice of G-Sync Compatibility or FreeSync. It even edged out the Acer Predator CG437K, another excellent 144 Hz 43-incher, in our input lag test by 2ms.
As a strong HDR screen that could replace your TV, it gets even better. That’s thanks to an edge array backlit panel that hit 1,084 nits with HDR content and an impressive 878.1 nits with SDR. Now that’s a bright screen. The PG43UQ also outshined the competition with a dynamic dimming feature that made the scenery games look more lively. With a gaming experience that even felt more immersive than a curved ultrawide, this 4K monitor made a mark on 2020. — Scharon Harding
Best Gaming Laptop: Asus ROG Zephyrus G14
The Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 was announced at CES 2020, released shortly thereafter, and rocked our expectations of what a mid-range gaming notebook can be. Asus had an exclusive on the AMD Ryzen 9 4900HS, and its power, combined with an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 Max-Q, made for strong performance and stellar battery life. It offered good looks - even if the AniMe Matrix display option was a bit gimmicky, and the design also featured a comfortable keyboard.
For under $1,500, it gave a lot of other gaming notebooks a run for their money. Perhaps the most notable downside is the lack of a webcam, so you would need to buy an external one, perhaps one of the best webcams. Not only was the Zephyrus G14 one of the best gaming laptops we saw this year; it was one of the best AMD-based laptops we've ever seen, period. — Andrew E. Freedman
Best Ultrabook: Dell XPS 17 (9700)
After a decade, Dell brought back the XPS 17, and there was no better time for it. In the midst of a pandemic, lots of people need laptops, and right now, a big honkin', 17-inch screen is extremely helpful for getting work done.
The InfinityEdge bezels make the XPS 17 feel smaller than it really is, and highlights the bright, vivid, 16:10 display. Options up to an Intel Core i7-10875H and Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 Max-Q offer plenty of performance, and even gaming-grade power if you are willing to pay the hefty price for it. — Andrew E. Freedman
Best SSD: Samsung 980 Pro
Samsung may have arrived late to the PCIe 4.0 SSD party, but the company tends to deliver a home run SSD every time it steps up to the plate. The Samsung 980 Pro lives up to that reputation by delivering class-leading performance and value with unrivaled PCIe 4.0 speeds that reach up to 1 million IOPS and 7 GBps of sequential read/write throughput, all wrapped in an affordable svelte M.2 package.
Samsung pulled off this impressive feat by leveraging its latest homegrown components to offset the fact that it switched from MLC to TLC flash for the newest Pro model. Samsung’s new Elpis SSD controller, paired with the company’s 1xx-Layer flash, helps to set a new bar for performance from a PCIe 4.0 SSD, but also comes with all the trimmings, like a five-year warranty paired with respectable endurance ratings and robust security features. The end result is a fast, efficient design that runs cool even under heavy workloads, making it the best SSD of 2020. — Paul Alcorn
Best Gaming Keyboard: Corsair K100
Most of us don’t strictly need the abundance of features that Corsair’s top-end K100 clacker delivers. But if you’re looking for a colorful, feature-rich control deck for your work and play, this optical-mechanical board is tough to beat. For your fast-paced gaming needs, you get a 4,000Hz polling rate, excellent Corsair-made switches, and a handy bank of programmable keys along the left edge.
Above the Corsair K100’s keys, aside from the familiar media buttons and pleasing metal volume rocker, sits the RGB-adorned iCue control wheel. Like a big old volume knob with a button at its center, this wheel can be customized for games, or anything else. As someone who often edits images, photos, and occasionally video, I found it most useful as a zoom control, letting you get right down to fine detail with a flick of the wrist, fix that errant pixel or two, then spin back out to get a good look at the touched-up big picture. — Matt Safford
Best Gaming Mouse: Logitech G Pro X Superlight
The G Pro X Superlight is Logitech’s ultra-lightweight answer to its long-adored G Pro Wireless, finally giving the company the lead in wireless gaming mice across weight categories. It uses Logitech’s Hero sensor for wireless connectivity that’s indistinguishable from playing with a wired connection, and it boasts 25,600 CPI versus the 16,000 CPI its predecessor had at launch.
The tradeoff here is that the G Pro Wireless’ ambidextrous design is gone, so this mouse is best for righties. But if you are right-handed, this 2.12 ounce, 5-button mouse is so comfortable and easy-to-use that our reviewer had a hard time believing that it was actually real. — Michelle Ehrhardt
Best Gaming Headset: Corsair HS60
Why restrict rumble to your hands? That’s the question posed by Corsair’s HS60 Haptic Headset, and it’s a damn good one. Even as innovations like Sony’s DualSense controller redefine what rumble means, the truth of the matter is that controllers can only stimulate your fingertips. But combine good controller rumble with a haptic headset, and suddenly the sense of immersion gets even deeper.
The HS60 Haptic Headset isn’t the first headset with rumble — Razer’s been selling one since 2018 — but it is the most recent, and for our money, the best. While the earcups do come in a camo design that might not be to everyone’s taste, the headset’s ability to physically rumble in response to in-game audio more than makes up for any aesthetic missteps. Combine that with clear audio and a noise-cancelling boom mic and you’ve got an easy choice for the best headset of 2020. — Michelle Ehrhardt
Best Console: Xbox Series X
The Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 both debuted this fall, and frankly, this award could have gone to either console. In our face-off between the two systems, The Xbox Series X won by a hair. It has one of the most elegant console designs ever, despite its size. On paper, it's the most powerful console you can get (though we'll see in the future how games take advantage of that) and its cooling system is whisper quiet.
But it's killer app is compatibility with Xbox Game Pass, giving you updates to tons of games on a subscription, so you'll never be at a loss for what to play. It also guarantees day and date access to Xbox Game Studios games. Of course, if you're looking for exclusives, the Playstation 5 is still where it's at. — Andrew E. Freedman
Read: Xbox Series X Review
Best Kids Computer: Raspberry Pi 400
With a radical departure from the standard form factor, the Raspberry Pi 400 is the ideal way to introduce the Raspberry Pi and all of its programming and electronics goodness to younger makers. By placing the Raspberry Pi 4 inside the keyboard chassis, the setup is simplified and ready for use in moments.
Compatibility with HATs and accessories requires an adapter, but this small extra cost is well worth it. The $100 kit version comes with everything you need to get started with the Raspberry Pi — including a mouse, microSD card, power supply and the official handbook — and makes an ideal gift. — Les Pounder
Best Raspberry Pi Accessory: Adafruit BrainCraft HAT
Adafruit’s BrainCraft HAT is an impressive accessory for your Raspberry Pi 4. Developed as an easy introduction to machine learning and AI projects, BrainCraft HAT can be used to design and test image or sound recognition apps. It can even power a home-made Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa speaker.
The BrainCraft HAT features grows with the needs and knowledge of the user. If we add an official Raspberry Pi camera, we can use it to identify objects using TensorFlow Lite. Need more processing power? Add Google’s Coral TPU and your Raspberry Pi machine learning project will become a powerhouse! — Les Pounder
Best PC Case: Lian Li Lancool II Mesh
We’ve seen a few excellent cases this year. But it’s tough to top the five stars we gave Lian Li’s Lancool II Mesh, thanks to its excellent thermal performance, great cable management, and thoughtful internal layout. It also comes with three fans (plus a built-in controller) and a tempered-glass side for a very reasonable $89.
For that price, you get tank-like build quality and materials, plus lots of flexibility so that your build can grow and change without having to find a new home. The only real downsides (for some) are the lack of RGB and the fact that it costs $15 extra to add a USB-C port at the top of the case alongside the two standard USB-A plugs. — Matt Safford
Best Motherboard: ASRock X570 PG Velocita
The X570 chipset isn’t new, but with the launch of Zen 3 CPUs like the Ryzen 5 5600X, companies released a slew of updated options on the platform, and ASRock’s X570 PG Velocita is our favorite of this new bunch. Selling for around $265, it lands in the mid-range in terms of X570 prices, but packs Wi-Fi 6/2.5GbE, premium audio, eight SATA ports and power delivery that was able to overclock our top-end Ryzen 9 5950X without issue.
It also brings ample RGB options and performed well in our testing, too. The chipset fan is audible out of the box. But a quick tweak in the bios can fix this, without any real worries about cooling. — Matt Safford