What a year 2022 has been for hardware. After a pandemic-induced drought, the skies finally rained incredible launches upon parched enthusiasts. Whether a holdout for a new processor or graphics card, or an eager fan of portable PC gaming, your patience was richly rewarded.
So for entirely opposite reasons than 2021, choosing our top picks for the annual The Full Nerd awards was once again rough going. The discussion between Gordon Ung, Brad Chacos, Alaina Yee, Keith May, and Adam Patrick Murray got downright heated about our favorites of this year. By the time the team settled on the eight winners for 2022, everyone was downright tired. And maybe a little sad.
Want to know what set off the fireworks? Continue reading for a recap of the results, along with the arguments that set Gordon and especially Brad off. (Sorry, boss.) For the full discussion, check out the video embedded below. Also, keep in mind that these picks are simply the favorites as nominated and voted on in live combat debate by the members of our Full Nerd podcast, which focuses on deeply geeky enthusiast-level tech. Be sure to check out our separate roundup of the best PC hardware and software of 2022 for PCWorld’s wider list of champions.
Best CPU: AMD Ryzen 7 5800X3D
Both Intel and AMD launched heavy hitters this year, with 13th-generation Raptor Lake and Ryzen 7000 blowing past their predecessors on benchmark charts. With how much raw power they offer, you’d think that the top dog Core i9-13900K would have been a shoo-in for this pick. Gordon, our resident CPU reviewer, certainly did.
Unfortunately for Gordon, democracy prevailed. The rest of the crew much preferred the Ryzen 7 5800X3D, AMD’s superb bookend to the AM4 era. Given the 5800X3D’s current street prices, the majority felt this chip offers excellent performance in the areas most people care about—gaming and streaming—while also showcasing AMD’s impressive new V-Cache tech. It also didn’t hurt that this ultra-powerful CPU can slip into your existing motherboard as a fairly easy and low-cost upgrade.
One big thing that came out of this discussion: Each person defining what makes a product a favorite of the year, rather than the best (a shift in theme for these 2022 Nerdies). This becomes very relevant in the next topic, GPUs.
Best GPU: Nvidia GeForce RTX 4090
Poor Brad. On the one hand, 2022 saw the launch of new graphics cards, saving him from yet another year of enduring a win for integrated graphics as our GPU pick. However, on the other hand, he had to spend a lot of effort for the majority to agree on the Nvidia GeForce RTX 4090 as the favorite.
Despite clear evidence of the 4090’s futuristically fast performance, Adam and Keith countered hard with Intel’s new Arc graphics cards as their favorite of the year—despite the A770 and A750 showing up to the table with issues (like drivers). The pair defended Intel passionately, touting the effort (and the attention paid to the mid-range) as worthy of favorite status. Perhaps not best, but favorite.
Let’s just say the conversation got downright emotional fast, lasting nearly twice as long as the CPU discussion and reaching an intense fever point before Adam and Keith finally cracked. (At Alaina’s instigation.) In the end, the GeForce RTX 4090’s face-melting speed and unlocking of all-new gaming experiences—no-compromises ray tracing and 120Hz+ 4K gaming, along with the introduction of AI-powered DLSS Frame Generation—earned this brutal graphics card a hard-won crown. It’s a beast for content creation, too.
Best case: Fractal Design North
Like 2021, a ton of great new cases came available in 2022—and at all sizes. Whether you wanted something small and modular like the Phanteks Evolv Shift XT, a tidy case that supports optical drives like the Fractal Design Pop Mini Air, or a pretty yet meaty box like the Lian Li Lancool III, everyone got something novel and new.
But none were as fresh as the Fractal Design North, a mid-tower airflow case with typical proportions but an original take on a slatted front panel. Rather than plastic or metal, Fractal used wood, with your choice of stain colors. It’ll blend in with most of today’s current home decor, too, given how popular mid-century modern is right now. The Fractal Design North also offers excellent airflow, cooling performance, and buildability. That’s a word, right?
Our only complaint? There’s not a smaller mini-ITX version available. Yet. (Ahem.)
Best PC accessory: Valve Steam Deck
Accessories are defined as items that add value or utility, or enhance the appearance of the primary item. Which means you can count a lot of things that aren’t just keyboards, mice, headphones, and the like. For example: The Steam Deck. Actually, not just for example, given that we picked it as our favorite PC accessory.
Yes, it is a computer unto itself. But for how it’s used in the real world—as a complement rather than replacement for a gaming rig—it’s more an accessory than an independent device, allowing you to continue your games away from your desk (or your home all together). Adam and Keith couldn’t stop speaking enthusiastically about their Steam Decks, and even those of us without one plan to eventually rectify that. Valve actually managed to make a portable gaming handheld a reality, and Linux gaming a reality, all for under $400. Bravo.
Best laptop: Asus ROG Zephyrus G14
Choosing a laptop (much like a computer case) often boils down to your needs and personal taste. Which makes picking a consensus favorite difficult.
But Asus’s improvements to its Zephyrus G14 (plus a hefty assist from AMD’s excellent Ryzen 6900HS and Radeon RX 6800S) helped the company win this category twice with the same model. (Well, technically, the 2020 and 2022 models.) It’s fast, powerful, lightweight, and even sports a futuristic mini-LED display on its exterior for showing notifications, battery life info, music visualizations, and more. At $2,500, this version of the ROG Zephyrus G14 isn’t cheap, but you get a lot in this 3.8-lb notebook. And it’s a fun machine. Seriously, look at that AniME Matrix display on its lid!
Best merch: Paul’s Hardware 8-bit PC gear
Sponsored by: The Full Nerd Outrage Pony T-Shirt
These days, you can buy plenty of fantastic products that not only support your favorite creators, but pay homage to your interests in just the right ways, too. It’s not all t-shirts and mugs, either: Take for example the ratcheting screwdriver from the Linus Tech Tips store or GamersNexus’ perennially popular mod mat.
But for this year, nostalgia won our hearts (and our dollars). Over on the store for Paul’s Hardware, you can find majestic 8-bit renditions of PCs and PC parts. T-shirt, hoodie, or mug—it doesn’t matter which version you choose. We just love how it merges our modern lives with the familiar things of our youth.
Best innovation: 3D V-Cache
YouTube / AMD
Behind every throne lies the true power, and that adage holds for our favorite CPU, the Ryzen 7 5800X3D. Without its revolutionary new 3D V-Cache technology, this top-notch gaming chip wouldn’t—couldn’t—exist. First announced mid-2021, AMD’s brand-new tech adds L3 cache to a chip by stacking it atop the die itself, creating a silicon sandwich full of delicious high-performance.
In the case of the 5800X3D, the use of 3D-VCache technology tripled the chip’s amount of L3 cache compared to its siblings to give it a huge boost to gaming performance. Enough so that the 5800X3D could beat the then-flagship Intel Core i9-12900K—and both Intel and AMD were hesitant to compare their newest generations of processors against this stacked-cache stunner. At this point, the only question we have about 3D V-Cache is when it’ll next appear. We can’t wait to see what a Ryzen 7 7800X3D (or whatever chip appears with this kind of extra fat cache) can do.
Worst trend: Pricing
We mean pricing on new hardware launched in 2022, but really, it’s the cost of everything in 2022. MSRPs keep rising.
Unlike 2021, when prices ballooned due to mining, scalping, logistics woes, and general shortages on goods we all wanted, this year we had to stomach higher list prices for new launches. Of course, not all hardware bloated in price and dropped in value, but GPUs like the $1,200 RTX 4080 and the impending $899 Radeon RX 7900 XT sure feel overpriced relative to their specs. AMD’s Ryzen 7000 processors already received heavy criticism for their perceived high cost. Are we entitled to fast hardware at loss-leader prices? No. But it feels like the insanity will never end.
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