Price, Performance, And Conclusion
Even the cheapest gaming mouse will run you between $30 and $40, and the best can cost much more than that. Quality gaming headsets can run well over $100, and the most expensive single product in the roundup, Logitech's G19 gaming keyboard, is almost $200.
If you have the money to spend on gear like this, then the price isn't likely to keep you from buying the things you want. But if you're concerned about getting bang for your buck with regard to performance, you may want to ease into the market more carefully and pick mid-range products. See if they really make a difference for you before sinking additional funds on peripherals.
While some of the products in this roundup have features that are, at worst, helpful in some games and, at best, nearly essential in specific titles, the amount of money you have to shell out in order to procure them may not be worthwhile for you, especially when you could take the cash for a programmable keyboard you'll never actually take the time to configure and use it to buy a few more games.
If you're already a fan of gaming peripherals, you're probably already jaded about how expensive they are. There are some notable exceptions, though. I felt that, in the gamepad category, you really do get what you pay for when you bump up from the mid-range to the high-end.
Gaming mice are another exception. Moving from a standard multi-button mouse to a heavier, ergonomically-designed gaming mouse will pay dividends. However, even with gaming mice, the price-to-performance gets difficult to justify when you start finding gaming mice that sell solely on their DPI sensitivity and cost upwards of $100. You'll likely never use the highest DPI settings, and you likely won't notice the performance difference between the top of the class and the second or third runner-up. At that price point, what really matters is whether the mouse feels good to you and works for the way you game.
The goal of this round-up was to determine whether or not premium gaming peripherals really improve your performance, especially compared to standard I/O devices that cost less (and might even come bundled with your machine), but don't include as many twitch-controlling extras. Keeping our tested peripherals spread across similar levels of quality and price helped ensure we weren't comparing diamonds to coal.
The answer is, predictably, that "it depends." Whether or not you should shell out the cash on premium peripherals depends highly on the types of games you play, how engaged you are in those games, and whether or not you see yourself actually getting the value out of those peripherals. For example, if you're a heavy World of Warcraft player, you'll find that programmable macro keys on your keyboard are absolutely indispensable, and the more you use them the more you love them. When you love them that much, you may not mind spending over $100 for a keyboard that supports them. Can you play without them? Sure, but you'll miss them when you do (and your guildmates may not enjoy your performance as much). On the other hand, if you're a heavy FPS player, and games like Crysis and Call of Duty are your favorite titles, you may not find much use in having a dozen programmable keys on the side of your keyboard.
The same conclusion applies to gamepads. I normally don't play with one, but when I did, there were certain games in which I found them incredibly useful and others where I could take them or leave them. While I can see how addictive using a gamepad could be, it really comes down to whether or not you think one would be useful for the games you play, and whether you play those games enough to make the purchase worthwhile.
Whether or not you should shell out money for a premium headset relies not just on the types of games you play but how serious you are about audio quality outside of games. If you're primarily using a headset to occasionally chat with friends during a raid or coordinate among teammates in a multiplayer shooter, you may not care about a headset that delivers rich bass when playing music. If you're serious about audio and voice quality, and if you plan to use your headset for more than just gaming (podcasting, audio recording, etc.), you would do well to pony up and get something on the high-end.
Gaming mice is the only category for which I can solidly suggest that everyone ditch their flimsy mouse and pick up something nicer. The difference in manufacturing quality between the types of mice you're likely to find at the bottom of your local IT guru's file cabinet and the ones that come in packages bragging about sensors and programmable buttons is more than noticeable.
In the end, not a single one of the peripherals I tested, although they were by and large excellent products, would transform a new PC gamer into an expert who could go toe to toe with someone who's been playing for a long time. No keyboard in the world will turn your guild's worst healer into the best with the help of some programmable macros. No gamepad will turn you from a spray-and-pray FPS player into a top-scoring sniper. And no gaming mouse, no matter how high the DPI sensitivity, will make combat in The Witcher easier to handle.
What premium gaming peripherals do is help you customize your playing experience to the way you want to play. If your mouse is too light and flimsy, maybe a Logitech G9 or Gigabyte GM-M8000, with their customizable weight cartridges, will help you find the right balance and heft. If no one's laughing at your jokes over TeamSpeak because you sound washed out, The Razer Megalodon headset gives you discrete control over the microphone sensitivity on the control brick. None of these peripherals will improve your performance all by themselves, but if you have the money to spend and you buy the right product at the right price with the right features for the way you play, you'll have more fun gaming, to be sure.
Follow us on Twitter for more tech news, reviews, and exclusive updates!