Let's do a quick look back at the best and worst PC hardware products of 2020. Everything that should be released in 2020 is finally out and we can think about what was an exciting or a disappointing year in different areas. We have 5 categories that mainly cover PC hardware components such as CPUs, GPUs and motherboards, as well as laptop hardware and monitors. This is simply our take on the best and worst products launched in 2020.
Best and worst CPU
Best: AMD Ryzen 9 5950X
Worst of all: AMD Ryzen XT range
In 2020, two major CPU products were launched from both major brands. In April, Intel launched its 10th Generation Core series, also known as Comet Lake, which featured a host of new parts such as the Core i9-10900K, Core i7-10700K, and Core i5-10600K. While Intel increased the maximum number of cores on offer from 8 to 10 cores and slightly increased the peak frequencies, that hasn't changed the conversation about where and when to buy Intel or AMD CPUs too much.
Later, in November, AMD launched the Ryzen 5000 series, which featured its new Zen 3 core design. This architecture update led to a significant increase in the IPC, which in particular improved the single-thread performance, but also achieved a practical improvement overall. While the number of cores stayed the same and AMD hasn't released any more budget-friendly models yet, the Ryzen 5000 range impressed at launch.
When we look at these limits, we believe AMD delivered the more impressive lineup in 2020. Ryzen 5000 CPUs addressed one of the major weaknesses in AMD processor design – single-thread performance – that had affected its gaming impact. With AMD offering an average IPC gain of 16% for Zen 3 versus Zen 2 in our tests, Ryzen 5000 CPUs can effortlessly beat Intel Comet Lake on most productivity tasks and ultimately do essentially game performance.
When choosing the best CPU of 2020, we find it difficult to get past the AMD Ryzen 9 5950X. This is a versatile beast of a processor that offers excellent multi-threaded performance for productivity combined with high-end gaming performance and elite single-thread speeds. A part like the 5950X has no weakness, it's by far the fastest CPU we have in any mainstream consumer productivity platform right now, and since AMD can neutralize Intel's lead in gaming, there's essentially no reason to get an Intel to buy the 10th generation processor after the launch of Ryzen 5000.
It's rare for a single CPU to deliver the best of the best for both gaming and productivity. In the past, high-core processors designed for multithreaded performance have not provided a premium experience for gamers. But AMD did it in 2020 with the 5950X and other parts like the Ryzen 9 5900X. Unfortunately, outside of a brief time-to-market, AMD struggled to keep these CPUs in stock, dampening the excitement and success of the product.
For the worst CPU of 2020, this is an easy decision: AMD's Ryzen 3000XT lineup as a whole, but especially the Ryzen 5 3600XT, which released completely pointless in July, a year after Zen 2 first launched processors.
The only purpose of the XT was to provide a slightly better container with Zen 2 silicon in place. This meant a slightly higher boost clock rate for all three XT parts: 200 MHz for the 3800XT and only 100 MHz for the 3600XT and 3900XT. This resulted in a slight performance improvement of 2 to 4% in certain scenarios. However, in many cases (especially with multithreaded workloads) the performance was virtually identical to non-XT parts.
There's nothing wrong with bringing out new processors to replace old models with slightly better performance, but AMD got this all wrong with pricing. They decided to launch XT parts at an unjustified premium over their discounted predecessors, and often that premium was higher than $ 50. For the vast majority of buyers looking to upgrade their PC or build a new system, the Ryzen 3000XT series wasn't worth the extra money.
Best and worst GPU
Best of all: none that can be bought
Worst of all: Radeon RX 6900 XT
Most of the major graphics card launches in 2020 were consolidated in the second half of the year, and both AMD and Nvidia launched new generation products that incorporated new architectures and technologies.
Nvidia was first introduced in September with the GeForce RTX 3080 and RTX 3090, weeks later with the RTX 3070 and RTX 3060 Ti. AMD responded with the Radeon RX 6800 XT and 6800 in November, then with the 6900XT in December. The focus of both brands was on high-end products at the top of the market. Oh, and there was another often forgotten GPU that launched earlier this year: the AMD Radeon RX 5600 XT, which launched in January. An introduction that everyone would rather forget.
It was a tough choice between all of those GPUs that 2020 was best for. Ultimately, we made up our minds for … nothing. That's right, we really don't think any of these graphics cards deserve a “Best of 2020” award due to their poor availability. Both Nvidia and AMD botched the rollout of these otherwise great new graphics cards, with inventories for every single model to date.
This included the RTX 3080, which was very little available for more than three months. the RTX 3070, which was delayed specifically because of availability but was still difficult to buy; and AMD's Radeon GPUs, which hit the market with virtually nonexistent inventory and grossly inflated prices. If Nvidia and AMD are unable to get their hands on these GPUs in a reasonable timeframe, with issues ongoing into the beginning of 2021, we don't feel it is right to give either of them a top GPU. Because if consumers can't buy your great product, is it really that great?
Now, of course, this has been a complicated year beyond PC hardware and seemingly unprecedented demand. Both GPU manufacturers love to break the blame and point out "high demand" as the reason you can't buy a next-generation product. This is definitely a contributing factor, but if pre-orders haven't shipped on launch day three months after it was released, or if the few available GPUs sell for more than $ 200 above the supposed "MSRP", we don't believe that is good enough.
This is a double shame because some of these products are really great. Depending on your preferences, parts like the RTX 3080, RTX 3070, RX 6800 XT, and RX 6800 are worth buying.
On the worst GPU of 2020, AMD's Radeon RX 6900 XT is the standout feature in this category.
While it was fantastic to see AMD back in the high-end GPU market and they should be commended for their hardware, which is well worth buying over $ 500 for the first time in a long while, is falling the RX 6900 XT flagship as no man's land to the $ 1,000 country and is hard to recommend.
The 6900 XT is stuck because it offers neither the best value for money nor the downright fastest performance on the market. It significantly undercuts Nvidia's RTX 3090 in terms of cost-per-frame – it's $ 500 cheaper and performance is competitive – but it's still a much inferior product than something like the RX 6800 XT, which is only marginally slower and is considerably cheaper. Most customers are far more likely to opt for the cheaper 6800 series than the 6900 XT if that is the main consideration.
For people who have money to burn and just want the best product … well, the RX 6900 XT isn't either. At 4K, the 6900 XT is on average slower than the RTX 3090 and even around 1440p. Additionally, the RTX 3090 has a larger VRAM buffer (24GB versus 16GB), better ray tracing performance, and a more feature-rich platform with access to things like DLSS and Nvidia's NVENC encoder. Those who only want the best should opt for the RTX 3090 and leave the 6900 XT without a home.
Best and worst motherboard
Best of all: Numerous AMD B550 motherboards
Worst of all: Asrock Z490 boards
2020 was a big year for GPUs and CPUs, but we saw a more modest cycle for motherboard adoption. AMD decided against updating the high-end motherboard chipset and instead chose to continue using X570 as the flagship BIOS updates for Ryzen 5000. This was a sensible decision, but it meant we had to test fewer motherboards throughout the year.
However, we saw several other launches. Intel has updated its lineup of 400 series chipsets to coincide with the introduction of 10th generation desktop processors. Hence, we received Z490 and B460 boards as well as several others. AMD focused mostly on mid-range and entry-level chipsets and eventually released the B550 and A520 for basic builds.
There have been many high quality motherboard releases this year, but in particular we have been very impressed with the selection of B550 boards from most brands. There were very few bad products, with most product lines receiving significant updates in VRM quality and overall board design compared to previous generation B450 cards. This resulted in a price hike with the B550 occupying a slightly higher market segment than the B450, although B550 boards were also better suited to high-end builds with high-end processors.
We found it too difficult to pick a particular motherboard as the best overall, but there were a number of great options worth praising. The Gigabyte B550 Aorus Master is a ridiculous B550 board with all the bells and whistles that performs exceptionally well, while products like the MSI B550-A Pro, Gigabyte B550 Aorus Pro, and Asus ROG Strix B550-F Gaming are great options on the budget are friendly and medium-sized markets.
As for the worst motherboard of 2020, we don't want to single out the Z490 as there are plenty of great Z490 motherboards out there that are totally worth buying. However, there have been several standout bad boards in this series from Asrock that see the crown as the worst motherboards in 2020.
For example, the Asrock Z490 Phantom Gaming 4 cannot run the Core i9-10900K at standard frequencies in our Blender stress test. It showed thermal VRM throttling and significantly lower CPU clock speeds than better boards in its price range. But really, all Asrock Z490 Phantom gaming boards have the same problem as the Asrock Z490 Pro4. Being a Z-series motherboard and not being able to run Intel's flagship CPU under standard conditions is totally unacceptable.
Our coverage of Asrock's Z490 motherboards, which included exposing their misleading marketing claiming "unmatched overclocking capabilities", resulted in us being blacklisted by Asrock. This doesn't make the products worse, but it was still disappointing to see.
Laptop hardware (CPU)
Best: AMD Ryzen 7 4800U
Worst: Intel Core i7-10750H
Mobile hardware is having a great year, especially on the processor side. In early 2020, AMD launched Ryzen Mobile 4000 based on the Zen 2 architecture and the TSMC 7 nm process node with chips that were suitable for both gaming laptops and ultraportables. Shortly before the end of the year, Intel responded to thin and light systems with the Tiger Lake U-series, and overall both parts continued to compete strongly.
Towards the end of the year there was something for everyone. With its high IPC and far better clock speeds than previous 10 nm attempts, Tiger Lake offers excellent performance for single-threaded and light workloads. AMD now offers multithreaded workloads with up to 8 processor cores and an excellent selection for workstation-oriented H-series laptops.
While Intel's Tiger Lake processors like the Core i7-1165G7 are impressive, the AMD Ryzen 7 4800U is the best mobile part of 2020 in our opinion for several reasons. The big problem is simply the performance, which we described as incredible and which has been able to transform previously thin and light laptops, which were only suitable for basic work, into competent high-performance workstations with a performance that equals or exceeds the performance of the Intel H-series for more performance 15-inch Machinery.
In the final months of 2020, Tiger Lake was able to recapture the single-thread CPU and integrated GPU performance crown from AMD, but was unable to bring a processor with this transformative effect to the market. We had never seen a product with the multithreaded performance of the 4800U in devices like this before. We must also commend AMD's efforts as the Ryzen 7 4800U came out of nowhere. Before AMD didn't have a competitive mobile processor, it was great to have more than twice the performance of the Ryzen 3000 series.
As for the worst mobile part of 2020, Intel's Core i7-10750H product was the one that impressed us the least. The Core i7-10750H was released after parts like the Ryzen 7 4800H and not only could not outperform the AMD competitor in terms of overall performance, but it was also not significantly faster than its direct predecessors from the two previous generations of the Core i7-9750H and Core i7-8750H.
Intel's problems getting 10nm out the door led to this situation where the H-series update at the beginning of 2020 had to be again a Skylake derivative design built on 14nm. Unlike AMD's 7nm designs, it was completely nondescript and was often used to boot into more expensive laptops. Hopefully parts of the Tiger Lake H-Series will get more impressive and competitive in 2021.
Best and worst monitor
Best: Asus ROG Swift PG259QN
Worst of all: Viotek GFI27QXA
To top off this feature, we have the best and worst monitors of 2020. Another solid category for 2020: Lots of great new releases and technology are taken to a new level, including the release of 1080p 360Hz models and high-end 1440p 240Hz monitors utilizing VA and IPS technology, as well as a new generation of 4K 144Hz panels, which can solve several problems with early adopters. Many of these products are preparing us for a great iteration through 2021 to iron out remaining issues.
We switched between two products that we believe would have advanced the monitor market in 2020. One is the Samsung Odyssey G7 which showed us that a 1440p refresh rate is possible with a VA panel without problems like smudging in the dark. However, we decided not to give this monitor away as it had some flickering issues with its introduction.
Instead, we give the award to the Asus ROG Swift PG259QN. Yes that's right. The best monitor of 2020 is a 1080p display. But this thing seriously impressed us with its combination of the fastest refresh rate we've seen in a consumer gaming monitor, the fastest response times we've tested from an IPS panel, one of the best variable refresh rate experiences that You can get excellent strobing capabilities for the backlight and excellent factory calibration for excellent color performance. Hitting all of these areas in one product is very rare, so Asus deserves this award for its technical efforts.
While the PG259QN is one of the best monitors you can buy, its high price point and lower resolution make it not the monitor we recommend for most casual buyers. Most gamers will be better off with other great monitors like the Odyssey G7 or the LG 27GN950 if they are interested in something high end or the plethora of great budget options we have this year. From a technical point of view, however, the PG259QN feels like a real next generation product.
At the other end of the spectrum is Viotek's GFI27QXA, the worst monitor we tested in 2020. This is supposed to be a high-end 4K 144 Hz monitor, but it brings with it a myriad of problems. For example, there is a strange problem where with overdrive enabled the correct overdrive setting is only applied to half of the monitor. Additionally, it doesn't offer the same responsiveness or color experience as the LG 27GN950 or the same DSC features, and it's almost the same price. At over $ 600, it was one of the worst products we tested in the past year.
- AMD Ryzen 9 5950X on Amazon
- AMD Ryzen 9 5900X on Amazon
- Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070 on Amazon
- Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 on Amazon
- Ryzen 7 4800U laptops on Amazon
- Core i7-1165G7 Tiger Lake Laptops at Amazon
- Asus ROG Swift PG259QN on Amazon
- Samsung Odyssey G7 32 "at Amazon