RGB All The Things!
RGB LED lighting remained pervasive throughout component designs in 2018, with only hints of deeper consolidation in control schema. The major motherboard manufacturers continue to dictate lighting control schemes to the rest of the industry through proprietary implementations including ASUS AURA, MSI MYSTIC LIGHT and GIGABYTE RGB FUSION; inroads have however been made by peripheral manufacturers with large install bases such as Corsair.
In contrast, Cooler Master are pushing the Addressable-RGB standard as a means of, if not unifying control schemes, at least making them more inter-operable. Chassis and case fans have gone on sale supporting their standard, but it will require some heavy developer investment (as well as some canny negotiating) to get more manufacturers on board.
TUF Gets Going
The TUF Gaming Alliance grew out of a re-branding initiative by ASUS. No longer a premium label indicating rugged ASUS motherboards, it has been repurposed to be an ecosystem of components with guaranteed stability and inter-operability. Often leaning towards the more affordable end of the spectrum, it has become an excellent way for consumers who aren’t the most knowledgeable to select hardware with peace of mind.
Today fifteen manufacturers engage with the TUF Gaming Alliance, making available TUF memory, storage, cooling, power supplies and cases. All are guaranteed to be compatible with each other and ASUS TUF motherboards, as well as having a broadly similar aesthetic design (which can often be tweaked after purchase).
Cooling Stays Chill
Not much changed in the cooling market, likely following the ‘it is isn’t broke, don’t fix it model’. CPU sockets are unchanged from 2017, so with the exception of more affordable AIO liquid cooling and a more diverse selection of RGB fans, there really hasn’t been any clear avenues for innovation.
A pleasant addition for AMD Ryzen Threadripper users have been the release of more CPU coolers that natively support the TR4 socket and wide-base CPU heatspreader. Increased TDP on the 2nd Generation Threadripper CPUs available from August meant that proper cooling was all the more important; conventional AIO liquid coolers failed to cover the entirety of the heatspreader, and hence not all of the active CPU dies.
In this vein, Cooler Master launched the Wraith Ripper for AMD’s flagship Ryzen Threadripper 2990WX. A beast of copper and aluminium, it’s an air cooler for an extreme CPU complete with RGB lighting.
Mechanical Switches For Everyone
If you bought a new gaming keyboard in 2018 chances are you either opted for one with mechanical switches, or thought long and hard about doing so. Like many other components the prices of mechanical keyboards in 2018 have been eye-watering, often pushing well past the £100 mark that was once the peripherals’ sweet spot. That said, there have been a few bargains to be had if you’re willing to go back a generation.
One aspect that you might not have considered however is that many of those keyboards you had your eye on incorporated switches other than the popular Cherry MX type. Corsair’s partnership with Cherry has meant that they get first dibs on the new switch technologies developed for the consumer market, which has led competing keyboard manufacturers to diversify away from the brand.
Razer have long pushed their own mechanical switch as a core selling point for the BlackWidow. Logitech too have their home-brewed Romer-G, which was integrated into more products this year including some aimed at the pro gaming marketplace. ROCCAT launched the Titan switch in May, pushing unique aesthetics alongside reliable and consistent keystrokes. The first Titan Switch-equipped keyboard, the Vulcan 120, finally became available in November (and you can of course read our review here).
Cooler Master, like Razer, are also in the process of designing and implementing an optical mechanical switch which they call ‘Aimpad’. Unlike the Razer Purple Switches however these are analogue rather than simple on/off, making them complex pressure-sensitive controls. Although they haven’t made it to market yet – the MasterKeys MK851 with optical switches around the WASD zone is currently MIA – they are central to the ControlPad Kickstarter that was launched in October for delivery in May 2019.