Australian PC Awards 2022 winners: the best of the best in PC
The annual Australian PC Awards give us an excellent opportunity to consider the year past and spotlight the things that were better than the others.
It’s always fun for us to do this, and we hope you’re inspired to do an upgrade or two as we run through the finalists, the highly commended candidates, and the winners.
These awards cover all the products released in Australia through 2021 and were judged by members of the Australian editorial team here at PC Gamer, along with our friends at Future sister publications APC, TechRadar, TechLife Australia, and PC PowerPlay.
Narrowing the finalists took a long time, and the many pros and cons were carefully considered. This year, value for money played a larger-than-usual role in determining the winners. Where we feel it was deserved, some almost-made-it products and companies scored a highly commended position if they didn’t win, though not all categories yielded standout gear to occupy the lower steps on the podium.
We extend a huge congratulations to the teams behind the winners, always striving to make good gear, and that pleases us immensely to see and be able to acknowledge.
2021 was a big year for motherboard releases, though mainly on the Intel side, with not one but two significant launches during the year. Things were quieter on the AMD side, with the refreshed X570S chipset and a few B550 latecomers.
Intel’s 500 series motherboards may have been overshadowed by Z690 and 12th-gen CPUs late in the year, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t some excellent 500-series boards. Just as noteworthy was the long-awaited inclusion of memory overclocking on B560 boards, many of which surprised us with their step up in quality.
But in the end, Z690 was Intel’s hero. Z690 boards include more storage and advanced connectivity options compared to Z590. Add DDR5 and PCIe 5.0 support, and Intel leads the way. Z690 boards took a step up in price, but the high-quality Z690 boards blur the line between mainstream options and the neglected HEDT segment.
AMD X570S boards represent the best and last AM4 motherboards. For the most part, they are fully mature, with refined BIOS and up-to-date feature sets. And they’re not done yet, as AMD’s V-cache CPUs are still to come in 2022.
Best Motherboard Maker
Best Value Motherboard
Today’s best Asus ROG Strix B560-F Gaming WiFi deals
Best Premium Motherboard
Today’s best MSI MPG X570S Carbon Max WIFI deals
2021 saw the release of some great graphics cards. As more and more gamers use high refresh rate screens, the need for faster graphics cards was more apparent than ever. Indeed desirable cards like the GeForce RTX 3080 Ti met the requirements of gamers with ultra-wide and 4K screens, while more affordable cards like the RTX 3060 and RX 6600 set a new 1080p 60fps baseline.
Image scaling technologies such as DLSS and FSR and ray-traced lighting effects went mainstream, but, sadly, any discussion around the state of the GPU industry can’t ignore the unprecedented challenges that continue to blight the industry.
The one-two punch of pandemic-related supply chain issues and surging mining demand meant that fewer cards made their way into the hands of gamers. It’s a sad state of affairs when a supposed mid-range card like the RTX 3060 sold for over AU$1,000. Saying that 2021 was a lost year for PC gaming isn’t an exaggeration.
2022 is already looking much better as we look towards the launch of next-generation GPUs, not just from Nvidia and AMD, but relative newcomer Intel.
Best Graphics Card Maker
Best Value Graphics Card
Today’s best MSI RTX 3060 Gaming X deals
Best Premium Graphics Card
Today’s best Gigabyte Aorus GeForce RTX 3080 Ti Xtreme deals
Intel dominated the CPU market in 2021. The reception of high-end 11th Gen Rocket Lake CPUs was lukewarm, but 11th-generation mid and entry-level options were some of our favorite CPUs. They dominated the lower end of the market without competing options from AMD.
AMD was quiet, but what it did release, notably the 5000G series APUs, were well received. The Zen 3 cores performed well at their price points, but their trump card was a solid integrated graphics performance. In a year with no truly affordable GPU options, the ability to game without dropping massive money on a discrete card was very welcome.
But the best CPUs of the year came late in 2021. A resurgent Intel fired its best shots in years with its 12th Gen Alder Lake CPUs. Their hybrid architecture and multi-threading prowess saw them erase the lead AMD had built while offering class-leading single-threaded and excellent gaming performance. The accompanying feature-rich Z690 platform with its DDR5 and PCI Express 5.0 support leaves Intel well placed for the battles ahead.
Best Value CPU
Today’s best AMD Ryzen 5 5600G deals
Best Premium CPU
Today’s best Intel Core i5-12600k deals
2021 saw PCIe 4.0 NVMe SSDs (with a whopping 6,600 MB/s write speeds) properly hit the market while PCIe 5.0 support started appearing on motherboards. Still, it was customary to see mismatched PCIe version 3, 4, and 5 components in many systems. Meanwhile, the mechanical drive world continued to wait for next-gen, huge-capacity, heat-assisted magnetic recording (HAMR) drives to appear.
The external storage market witnessed SanDisk and Samsung offer increasingly speedy USB-C 3.2 Gen 2 drives with 1,000+ MB/s read/write speeds. This opened the door to new applications, like the rapid transfer of massive game files on consoles and PCs and boosting professional media workflows.
Synology’s NAS featured heavily in 2021 but not always for the right reasons. On the one hand, its DSM 7 operating system finally left beta, bringing some welcome enhancements. However, it didn’t launch any new SOHO NAS boxes, which left the door open for QNAP to lead the hardware charge. Meanwhile, the new brand TerraMaster impressed us with a budget offering. Synology also went rogue and launched its own (expensive) hard drives and said that only these and (a limited number of) certified third-party campaigns would work in their future NAS boxes.
Best Internal Storage Maker
Best External Storage Maker
Best SOHO or Home NAS
Today’s best QNAP TVS-675 deals
2021 was another excellent year for laptop innovation and prebuilt desktop systems. In addition to Intel and AMD offering integrated GPUs that were powerful enough for light gaming, Nvidia’s 30 series GPUs significantly boosted laptop graphics capabilities and allowed laptop makers to customize power-draw and overall performance fully.
Apple wasn’t content to rest on the success of its M1 processor launch, releasing the M1 Pro and M1 Max processors on an updated MacBook Pro range.
And, if that wasn’t enough, the price of high-end screen technologies has come down to the point where you’ll regularly see OLED, professional-level HDR, and faster refresh rates on laptops that aren’t in the ultra-premium price ranges.
Best Value Laptop or 2-in-1
Today’s best Microsoft Surface Laptop Go deals
Best Premium Laptop or 2-in-1
Today’s best Apple MacBook Pro 14-inch (2021) deals
Best Gaming Laptop
Today’s best Asus ROG Zephyrus G15 GA503Q deals
Best Desktop PC Maker
Peripherals & Components
Best Memory Maker
The tail end of 2021 saw DDR5 make its debut. DDR5 availability is improving, though it will remain low in volume compared to DDR4 in 2022. Sadly, component shortages left DDR5 as little more than a footnote in the market for all but the ultra-enthusiasts. At least you could buy DDR4 supporting Z690 boards, which probably saved Intel from a rather embarrassing launch.
2021 saw DDR4 memory reach its final state of maturity. The pricing of 2x8GB DDR4-3200 memory kits dropped to their lowest-ever levels and was primarily oblivious to semiconductor supply shortages. So much, so that slower kits are hardly any cheaper. Even DDR4-3600 doesn’t carry much of a price premium, and 3600MHz low latency memory is an excellent sweet spot for all Intel and AMD DDR4 systems.
We also saw the release of some speedy kits up to and even over DDR4-5000. These kits are aimed at overclockers, and their vast expense and tiny, if not non-existent, performance gains make them irrelevant for most users. Nevertheless, such speeds are an impressive illustration of how far DDR4 has progressed since its launch in 2014.
Best Cooling Product
Cooling is one of those things that doesn’t tend to change much year over year. The same fundamental principles apply. Depending on what your case will accommodate and the TDP of your CPU, you should generally try to buy the best cooling you can, within reason.
Some trends did emerge. All manufacturers began to sell ultra-luxurious and very expensive coolers, complete with head-mounted customizable screens. They look fantastic, but they cost a lot, and some don’t cool any better than units costing half the price.
Air cooling remained perfectly viable. A high-quality air cooler will last you as long as it remains compatible, and there’s no reason that a good 2021 air cooler won’t last you for many years to come.
2021 did introduce the brand-new Intel LGA 1700 socket, which meant that users with older coolers needed to obtain an updated mount. There were also concerns that the base plates of some coolers weren’t adequate to cover the larger heat spreader and elongated die of 12th-gen CPUs. Such problems are mostly unfounded, though.
Today’s best Thermaltake ToughLiquid Ultra 360 AIO deals
For the top echelons of gaming professionals, 2021 was the year when 360Hz displays became commonplace and upped the ante on those hair-trigger response rates.
For the rest of us, though, 2021 was when you started to see WQHD and 4K monitors offering HDR colors and 100+Hz refresh rates for prices that make it hard not to want to upgrade.
Thanks to the next-gen consoles and ongoing lockdowns, we also thank the next-gen consoles and ongoing lockdowns, weeased TV-monitor hybrid displays. These impressive fresh rates pushed immersion in PC gaming.
Today’s best MSI Optix MPG321UR-QD deals
Keyboards continue to be not only a highly competitive space but also one that is continuously evolving. Mechanical switches are most definitely here to stay. Still, as enthusiasts get more and more knowledgeable about choosing the right button, we’re seeing more and more keyboard companies come to the fray.
In 2021 many more of the niche, keyboard makers came to our attention, while many traditional leaders in the space have struggled to keep their products fresh and relevant. Not much more can be added to a conventional keyboard, so seeing how the likes of Logitech and Asus have made efforts to stand apart has led to a re-evaluation of the market. Like the once-dominant Corsair, some manufacturers now find themselves with some considerable catching up to do.
Today’s best Akko 3098B keyboard deals
Another hotly contested area of hardware, where the innovations can make or break a product, is the humble mouse. Mechanical switches and RGB lighting are firmly embedded in the space, so what does it take for a mouse maker to stand out from the pack?
It’s a matter of degrees when it comes to mice, complicated by it being an intensely personal choice – all the new bells and whistles don’t count if a mouse feels bad under your hand, or its ‘click’ doesn’t feel right.
As always, it’s the gaming space that truly pushes mouse hardware, but a good gaming mouse is, these days, supremely versatile, able to match users click for click, whether gaming or working, and, these days, often both!
Today’s best Razer Basilisk V3 deals
Best Gaming Headset
How we listen to games and media on our PCs is another highly personal space, and personalizing how we hear has been a critical theme of headphone development over the last few years. Positional audio may not matter much to non-gamers, but it becomes essential if you want to play competitively. Similarly, while RGB lighting on a device most of us don’t even look at while we’re using it may seem excessive, there’s no mistaking how striking an exemplary lighting implementation can look.
But when it comes down to it, audio quality and comfort are the two most important aspects of any pair of cans, especially if you consume a lot of media on your PC – we certainly do these days. So, again, manufacturers are being forced to continually innovate headphone feature sets in a competitive market, which means consumers remain the winners.
Today’s best Creative SXFI Air Gamer deals
Best PC Case
The trend towards high-airflow mesh designs intensified, with most of the exciting and top-selling cases now featuring a full-front mesh and usually three 120mm or 140mm fans. It also seemed that ATX case makers increasingly recognized the need to accommodate 360mm radiator AIOs.
There was shrinkage, too, with much smaller m-ATX and m-ITX cases. Moreover, an apparent increase in the number of compatible compact motherboards on the market indicates small but well ventilated, yet somehow not cramped, is the holy grail – one which the Lian Li PC-O11 Air Mini managed with aplomb.
Some drama played out through the opening months of 2021, with some owners of Nzxt H1 cases reporting that they suddenly caught fire. It turned out that screw holes in the circuit board could allow direct contact between the metal screw and the board’s traces, which led to immediate shorting and combustion for some unfortunate owners. People’s champion Steve from Gamer’s Nexus took up the cause and publicly shamed Nzxt into issuing a recall and proper fix.
Today’s best Lian Li PC O11 Air Mini deals
2021 was a good year for routers in that not only did the technology move incrementally forward but there was a WiFi 6 option to suit everyone. At the very top end, Asus produced another mega-mesh, two-node-with-backhaul-channel setup that outperformed the market, but what was perhaps most notable about it was the dramatically lower launch price than its predecessors.
We were also pleased to see a return to over-the-top, spaceship-like flagships, with TP-Link’s GX90 gaming router leading the charge – a refreshing sight after so many wallet-friendly, boring boxes. However, we still greeted new budget entries from Mercusys and Huawei, which offered some screaming performance at meager prices. The year also welcomed D-Link back to the ‘good product maker’ fold with its crowd-pleasing EXO DIR-X3260 router that finally offered decent features and performance at a reasonable price.
There were many notable new takes on the technology with potentially useful WiFi 6 PCIe cards and USB sticks boosting the connectivity of older computers. While most mesh systems were meh, we liked TP-Link’s Deco Voice, including a built-in Alexa microphone and speakers. It felt like a version 1.0 model, but the potential was there.
Today’s best ASUS ZenWiFi XD6 deals
We look for many things when we choose where to spend some money – and 2021 certainly proved to be a trying time for the nation’s shops. Stock shortages and endless waiting lists for many items, including (and most notoriously) graphics cards, meant they needed to do something special. We quickly saw many resellers set up excellent and often daily updating of the stock situation, and by all accounts, service remained friendly and helpful.
Much remained beyond their control, including the terrifyingly high prices of graphics cards, and we were pleased to see that most shops were in line with each other, indicating the margins were slim for the front line of the supply chain.
2021 was when Facebook had so many front-page scandals that it changed its name. It was also the year many of us had to Google the word ‘fungible’ and then followed up with why on earth non-fungibility was so expensive. It was the year of the metaverse, and it was the year of sold-out tech equipment thanks to an ongoing global chip shortage. It was the year Facebook and Google threatened to drop the Australian market rather than pay for local news content. It was also the year one of our publications, APC, had its moment of excellence, releasing its 500th issue of the magazine.
Despite all the hurdles of a seemingly endless pandemic and the other complications thrown at it throughout the year, the PC space still managed to have a cracker of a year. Apple-designed a battery-powered laptop CPU that was more powerful than any other consumer laptop processor put out by Intel or AMD. Windows soft-launched a new OS that wasn’t a complete flop, and GPUs and monitors started working together to deliver HDR games and media.
For the person, product, or technology that advanced the PC more than any other in 2021.
When we visited MSI at the 2019 Computex show, our local rep told us that the company was about to embark on a significant expansion into many new areas but do it well with only quality products.
And 2021 was the year that it spectacularly bore fruit. MSI delivered on its promise and far exceeded our expectations, proving itself as a true giant of the PC scene and a name to be trusted to produce well-designed, engineered, and priced products across almost every part of the PC landscape.
Successfully entering highly competitive areas like monitors and SSDs is no small feat. The R&D and engineering challenges mean these aren’t markets you can half-heartedly throw gear into and see what sticks. MSI promised to aim high, and it did. The cases are beautifully designed and impeccably engineered. Their monitors are innovative and built around the latest technologies. MSI hit the SSD market hard, with the Spatium range spanning budget to Premium and featuring nine products. And MSI power supplies now make it possible to build an almost entirely MSI-only PC.
Meanwhile, MSI kept kicking goals with its laptops, with the gaming models routinely delivering class-leading performance. MSI motherboards routinely score at the top of our testing. They are imposing in the budget category, offering boards that, by rights, should be priced as Premium but are usually blessedly affordable. At the same time, the peripherals and accessories range grows and grows, and it’s all excellent gear.
It’s been a thrill to watch MSI expand its range so dramatically in such a short period, tackling some of the most difficult-to-get-right areas and coming through with products that are a statement of intent that excites us for the years ahead.
The company that impressed us the most, overall, in 2021.