The Full Nerd awards: Our favorite PC hardware of 2023
In this yearly penultimate episode of The Full Nerd, Gordon Ung, Brad Chacos, Alaina Yee, and Adam Patrick Murray slipped on their boxing gloves to verbally brawl over what gear moved the needle for the PC in 2023. Performance? Value? Raw availability? Everyone could only agree on one point: The lack of value in graphics cards continues to be a massive bummer.
Everyone has their own definition of what “best” means, but each participant brought his or her own picks for the best PC hardware and software of 2023 before we all hashed out a single winner in each category. It’s not always easy; the debate over the best CPU of 2023 took nearly an hour all on its own. I can’t even imagine what Oscars voters go through!
We trimmed down the list a bit this year so Gordon could join us. Note that this list is separate from PCWorld’s wider best PC hardware and software of 2023; this list is the opinion of our Full Nerd crew only. Peep the categories below, the full episode below that, and a brief description of winners afterwards if you want the results without all of The Full Nerd gang’s screaming and hand-wringing.
Best PC accessory
…avert your eyes if you don’t want the spoilers (and winners!) lurking below!
This was a hotly contested battle between a trio of primary contenders: AMD’s ferocious 16-core, V-Cache-infused Ryzen 9 7950X3D, its smaller (yet still wonderful) Ryzen 7 7800X3D sibling, and the AMD Z1 Extreme chip powering a wave of handhelds like the Asus ROG Ally and Lenovo Legion Go.
It took nearly an hour of passionate debate before we settled on a victor, and even then, there was still plenty of grumbling. But in the end, the Ryzen 9 7950X3D’s combination of a dual-chip, 16-core design and 3D V-Cache on one of those dies enables a true no-compromises work-and-play experience unlike any other. The Ryzen 7 7800X3D is a better value for most people, sure, but no other chip pulls off what the Ryzen 9 7950X3D accomplishes.
For chips, it’s a clean sweep for AMD! In a weird year and a weird generation for graphics cards — one so unorthodox that the Nvidia GeForce RTX 4090 was considered for this honor for an unprecedented second year — only the Radeon RX 7800 XT emerged as a standout. It’s the only true worthwhile 1440p graphics card of this generation after Nvidia fumbled the RTX 4060-series design and RTX 4070’s price. The Radeon RX 7800 XT is much faster than its similarly priced RTX 4060 Ti rivals and even manages to often outpunch the RTX 4070, which costs $100 more. Its ray tracing is pretty darn good too, rivaling the RTX 3080. It’s the clear winner.
Valve’s modest, yet game-changing Steam Deck swept our Full Nerd awards last year, so in 2023, we wanted to crown an OLED monitor since the ultra-luscious panel technology has exploded in availability over the past two years. The Xeneon Flex is not the cheapest OLED around at $1,500-plus, but Corsair’ massive, bendable, mind-blowing monitor was easily the best we’ve tested in 2023, earning itself a victory here. An excerpt from my Xeneon Flex review:
The Corsair Xeneon Flex 45WQHD240 immerses you in ways that tangibly elevate the PC gaming experience. I’ve never played on a monitor that made me feel truly inside game worlds the way this one does. Its delectable combination of blisteringly-fast speeds, elite motion clarity, sterling image quality, perfect blacks, and lush HDR will make your jaw drop, especially enveloped within the custom-tuned curvature of its uniquely bendable display. The connectivity is top-notch, too.
When it comes to multimedia, this monitor oozes excellence. The Corsair Xeneon Flex is one of the very best gaming monitors we’ve ever seen, full stop.
Best innovation: Frore AirJet
We saw the best innovation of 2023 right as the year began, witnessing Frore Systems’ radical solid-state AirJet PC cooling at CES in January. Adam saw it the most throughout the year, and here’s how he summed AirJet up in our PCWorld Best Of 2023 Awards:
When we first saw Frore Systems’ solid state active cooling module at CES, called AirJet Mini and AirJet Pro, we knew that this had a chance to truly revolutionize cooling in electronics. Without getting too deep into the specifics of how it works, know that the AirJet uses MEMS technology, is far thinner than a traditional fan found in something like a laptop, but far outperforms it thanks to immense back pressure that just can’t be achieved with today’s thin fans.
In the months since that show we’ve seen a number of demos with various product categories. The release of the first product featuring this system comes from Zotac in the company’s ZBOX pico PI430AJ with AirJet. It’s going to take a lot to change an industry, but I’d love this technology to be commonplace in the future and continue to drive performance and cooling for our electronic devices for years to come.
Fingers crossed we see more systems (and laptops!) emerge with Frore’s AirJet inside in 2024.
It’s been the best of times and the worst of times for PC gamers in 2023. The good news: You can finally pick up deals on last-gen graphics cards and get gaming without selling an arm and a leg. The downright awful news: The new generation of graphics cards is a snoozer. Not only are the Nvidia GeForce RTX 40-series and AMD Radeon RX 7000-series both painfully high priced, especially on Nvidia’s side, but several of these new GPUs actually run no faster (and sometimes slower) than their predecessors. Nvidia doesn’t even field a true 1440p contender for under $700. It’s a disappointing mess.
Even if you manage to save up enough nickels to grab a new GPU, the gaming experience hasn’t been all that great either, as 2023 was plagued by technical mishaps in a slew of high-profile games, like Last of Us and Hogwarts: Legacy, among many others.
Sigh. Why do we always end this on a bummer? At least those OLED monitors sure are nice.