Custom PC

Custom PC Awards 2020

By Ben Hardwidge. Posted

Back at the beginning of 2020, when everyday life was rather different to life under the COVID-19 pandemic, we got our heads together to decide which of the products and companies from the past year had really blown us away. Longlists were whittled down to shortlists, and then to nominations of just four products, before we eventually (with much discussion!) agreed on the winners.

It’s been a while since we last did the Custom PC awards, and we had grand plans for an awards ceremony in Cambridge – we even had fancy trophies made up for the winners. Then we had lockdown and it all had to be put on hold. With no end in sight now, though, we thought it was now high time we revealed the winners of the awards, particularly as some of them were decided by you, Custom PC’s readers, rather than the editorial team.

As a result, bear in mind that these are the award winners we picked (and you voted for) in March this year, so they don’t include any products we’ve reviewed in the past six months. Even so, all the award winners are still brilliant and worthy of recognition.

Editorial-voted awards

Decided by Ben Hardwidge, Edward Chester, Antony Leather and Mike Jennings


Lifetime achivement

Corsair

The clever folks at Corsair have been answering the needs of PC hardware enthusiasts for decades, making memory with amazing heatsinks, and even incorporating LEDs into them, well before the current trend. Corsair still makes superb memory today, and it’s since diversified into DIY water cooling, cases, SSDs, fans, system monitors, all-in-one liquid coolers and even air coolers. Offering a huge range of quality enthusiast products, and constantly investing in research and development, Corsair has been a mainstay of Custom PC since the very beginning.

Other nominees
AMD / Asus / Nvidia


Technical innovation

AMD: 7nm chiplet approach to CPU design

AMD had already turned the CPU market on its head when it launched its first two generations of Ryzen CPUs, but the chiplet approach to making its 3rd-gen Ryzen CPUs has completely changed the game. While Intel is still languishing on its 14nm process, AMD has made a scalable 7nm chiplet system, enabling the company to make AM4 CPUs with anywhere between four and 16 cores, while the I/O chip is built on a larger process.

Other nominees
Oculus (Quest VR) / Asus (Crosshair VIII Impact) / Corsair (One i160)


Graphics card

Nvidia: GeForce RTX 2070 Super Founders Edition

Nvidia’s reference cooler design has gone from strength to strength, and the company can now manufacture its own cards under the Founders Edition moniker. The GeForce RTX 2070 Super Founders Edition is well built and well designed, with quiet operation and a two-slot form factor.

It doesn’t have RGB LEDs, but it looks so classy that it hardly matters. At just £489 inc VAT, it also offers a sub-£500 route into ray tracing at 2,560 x 1,440. You get diminishing returns after this point, with the RTX 2070 Super sitting firmly in the performance/value sweet spot.

Other nominees
Sapphire Radeon RX 5600 XT Pulse / Sapphire Radeon RX 5700 XT Nitro+ /
Zotac GeForce RTX 2060 Super Mini

Note:
While the RTX 2070 Super Founders Edition was our favourite graphics card at the time we chose these awards, we would now recommend waiting to see how Nvidia's forthcoming GeForce RTX 3000-series GPUs perform before splashing out on a new graphics card right now.


Best CPU

AMD: Ryzen 9 3900X

AMD is killing it in CPU land at the moment, and making our choice in this category was more a case of choosing between AMD CPUs than choosing between Intel and AMD. Intel’s Core i9-9900KF still had the upper hand in terms of raw clock speed and games performance when we were deciding these awards, but AMD’s 3rd-gen Ryzen CPUs were ruling everywhere else.

Our pick of the bunch was (and still is) the 12-core (24-thread) Ryzen 9 3900X, which is a killer CPU in every respect. You can pick up one for under £400 inc VAT, and its 12 cores rip through heavily multi-threaded tasks, while its 4.6GHz turbo clock makes it a formidable gaming chip.

Other nominees
AMD Ryzen 9 3950X / AMD Threadripper 3960X / Intel Core i9-9900KF


Best value component

AMD: Ryzen 5 3600

AMD’s 3rd-gen Ryzen line-up hasn’t just changed expectations at the top end of the scale, but at the sub-£200 level too. With six cores, 12 threads and the Zen 2 microarchitecture under its heatspreader, the Ryzen 5 3600 offers incredible multi-threaded power for its price, and its 4.2GHz single-core boost clock means it can cope with gaming demands too. It’s an incredible CPU for the price.

Other nominees
AMD Ryzen 5 3400G / Sapphire Pulse Radeon RX 5600 XT / WD Blue SN550


Extreme ultra

AMD: Threadripper 3960X

With its new 7nm chiplet design under its belt, AMD went all out with its 3rd-gen Threadripper line-up, which even goes up to the flagship 64-core 3990X. Most importantly, though, AMD learned some hard lessons about latency and clock-speed boosting from the 2nd-gen Threadripper line-up, with the latest chips handling any job from gaming to massively multi-threaded rendering. It’s the 24-core 3960X that hits the sweet spot for most enthusiast needs, though, costing £1,240 inc VAT and coping with pretty much any computing job you can throw at it.

Other nominees
Gigabyte TRX40 Aorus Extreme / Asus ROG Swift PG35VQ / Thermaltake WaterRAM


Component manufacturer

Zotac

There’s a lot more to making a quality component than cramming it full of LEDs, and Zotac’s approach to graphics cards has really impressed us over the past year. Of course, like any other graphics card maker, Zotac has plenty of top-end overclocked models with bells and whistles, but it’s the company’s ‘Mini’ graphics cards that have earned the company this award.

We’ve tested many of them over the past couple of years, and they’ve consistently been well priced, quiet, small and overclockable. Comparatively, many other budget graphics offerings have horrible blower coolers, but these Mini cards offer an affordable way to get the latest GPU tech without making significant sacrifices.

Other nominees
Asus / Corsair / AMD


Best small form factor product

Phanteks: Enthoo Evolv Shift Air

A year or so ago, most mini-ITX cases were either mini versions of ATX cases, or cube-shaped boxes, but Phanteks had other ideas when it was developing the Enthoo Evolv Shift Air. Taking its design cue from skyscrapers, the Shift Air starts with a tiny footprint and builds up, meaning there’s room for liquid cooling and plenty of airflow in a case that measures just 186mm wide. To top it all off, you can pick up one for under £100 inc VAT.

Other nominees
Asus ROG Strix X570-I Gaming / Asus Crosshair VIII Impact / Lian Li PC-Q37WX


Best case

Phanteks: Eclipse P600S

Phanteks’ Eclipse P600S is an amazing chassis for the money, with features designed with PC builders in mind. From its replaceable front and roof panels, to its superb cable-tidying system, this mammoth case has it all. You can even install ten hard drives in it, and it can accommodate a mighty 420mm radiator as well. Cooling is superb as well, and there’s the option to mount your GPU vertically without being right next to the side panel.

Other nominees
NZXT H700i / be quiet! Pure Base 500 / Lian Li PC-011 Dynamic Razer Edition


Best cooling product

Alphacool: Eisbaer Extreme 280

Alphacool took the concept of the all-in-one liquid cooler about as far as it can go with the Eisbaer Extreme 280. This awesome CPU cooler combines the convenience of an all-in-one liquid cooler with the performance of a full custom water-cooling loop, and you can even expand it, adding other components to the loop.

The integrated pump, which is Alphacool’s spin on the classic Laing D5, is supremely quiet, as are the fans, and the cooling power is phenomenal. It’s not cheap, and you’ll need to measure up your case to make sure it fits, but this is a cracking CPU cooler.

Other nominees
ARCTIC Liquid Freezer II 240 / Deepcool Gammaxx GT / EKWB EK-Kit Performance 240


Best motherboard

ASRock: TRX40 Taichi

There were a load ofcontenders for this category, based on various chipsets, but ASRock’s TRX40 Taichi is the one that really wowed us. Despite having a much lower price than its competitors, the TRX40 Taichi stormed our Threadripper motherboard Labs (see Issue 98, p42), with quiet fans, decent VRM cooling, a well thought-out layout, a hefty backplate and an M.2 expansion card, giving you loads of options for high-speed storage.

Other nominees
Asus ROG Strix X570-E Gaming / MSI Prestige X570 Creation /
Gigabyte Z390 Aorus Pro


Best monitor

Asus: ROG Swift PG35VQ

Asus’ massive ROG Swift PG35VQ might have an eye-watering price tag, but it’s one of few gaming monitors we’ve tested that can deliver the HDR goods, largely thanks to its count of 512 (32 x 16) backlights. Add in G-Sync support and a 200Hz refresh rate, and you get a top-notch gaming monitor. Its 3,440 x 1,440 resolution is ideal for the 35in diagonal, meaning you don’t have to mess around with Windows scaling, and you don’t need as much GPU power as you do for 4K gaming.

Other nominees
Acer Predator CG437K / AOC C24G1 / AOC U2790PQU


Best laptop

Chillblast: Phantom 17

Proving that you don’t need an outrageously angled design to make a great gaming laptop, Chillblast’s Phantom 17 goes all out on quality but keeps ‘gamer’ frills to a minimum. Its superb 17.3in screen has a 144Hz refresh rate and you can spec up the Phantom 17 with a variety of GeForce RTX GPUs, from the RTX 2060 to the 2080 Max-Q. What’s more, you even get a mechanical keyboard inside this portable machine, and its operation is cool and quiet. With prices starting from £1,560 inc VAT for a machine with a GeForce RTX 2060 and a Core i7-10875H CPU, it’s keenly priced too.

Other nominees
Asus ROG Zephyrus S / Razer Blade 15 / XMG Fusion 15


Best networking product

Asus: AIMesh AX6100

Buying a new router can make a massive difference to your online experience at home, whether you’re looking for more bandwidth or better range, and the AiMesh AX6100 delivers on both fronts. It conforms to the latest Wi-Fi 6 standard, and you get two units in the box, which form a mesh to cover your whole home, resulting in incredible long-range performance.

Other nominees
TP-Link Archer AX6000 / TP-Link Archer TX3000E / Synology DS220J


Best peripheral

Corsair: K70 Mk. 2 Low Profile

You’d have to go a long way to better Corsair’s classic K70 design. It has superb build quality, with a classy brushed aluminium top plate, and the layout is spot on, with volume roller and dedicated media controls above the numberpad.

Corsair makes the most of the low-profile Cherry MX switches in this version, which measures just 22mm to the top of the front keys, allowing your wrists to rest at a low angle. Add full key illumination for the RGB lighting, which is customisable in Corsair’s software, and you have a superb, thoroughly gorgeous keyboard.

Other nominees
Corsair Virtuoso RGB Wireless SE / Glorious PC Gaming Model O /
Logitech MX Master 3


Reader-voted awards

Decided by you!


We wanted to give our readers a voice when it came to assessing system builders and retailers, as well as service and support – an area that can be tough for us to gauge as journalists. You voted in your hundreds, and some brands were consistently ahead, with Chillblast, Overclockers UK and PC Specialist getting regular nominations. However, Scan was the overall winner of every award – an amazing feat for the Bolton firm. Well done, Scan

Best online retailer

Scan

Runners-up
Amazon / Overclockers UK / Ebuyer


Best independent system builder

Scan

Runners-up
Chillblast / Overclockers UK / PC Specialist


Best service and support

Scan

Runners-up
Chillblast / Overclockers UK / PC Specialist

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