The Appeal of Using One PC Gaming Peripheral Ecosystem
Last night, I was standing around in the local Best Buy looking at peripherals on sale to try and figure out what I’m going to review next. As I thought it through, I realized that I have a completely absurd and inefficient problem, familiar to both longtime PC gaming enthusiasts and those like me who review tech peripherals: I have way too many different game company software packages installed.
Razer Synapse. Roccat Swarm. Logitech G Hub. EPOS Surround Sound control thing I can’t remember the name of. HyperX Ngenuity. All of these are running all of the time on my computer, not to mention dormant installs from Turtle Beach, JBL, and one or two others.
Every Tuesday night I play games for a few hours with a friend. He very calmly waits for me while I sort through the huge list of abandoned headset output choices on my computer to get my voice chat running, and while I shut down all the peripheral software I’m not using that evening. It’s ridiculous, and I can’t do it any more.
Flexibility is one of the apparent strengths of the PC platform, even as Microsoft is hinting they want to take a lot of that away. You can use a keyboard from Logitech, a mouse from Razer, and a headset from HyperX, and no one can tell you otherwise. Of course, this means you’ll have three different programs installed if you want all the functions of those peripherals, and that you might slow down your PC as a result. And it’s a nightmare to control and customize when you have to click through page after page, app after app.
There’s an inherent appeal to buying all of your peripherals from one company and they all know it. They’ll all match physically. They’ll often be designed for better gameplay together through thousands of hours of R and D. And you’ll only have to run one extra piece of software to control everything. Of course, the company will be happy to have your support, so they all design their UI and systems explicitly to encourage this buying behavior. You can use different devices sure, but you won’t have the best and easiest experience as someone else who goes all in on their fandom.
I’m doing everything I can right now to get any muck out of my life, and so having only one thing installed for my personal non-reviewing gaming time sounded great. Here are my thoughts on several of the different major PC peripheral ecosystems and software out there, and who I ultimately chose to go with.
Synapse is the reigning king of peripheral software, and it’s not just an app for controlling RGB anymore. Rather, Razer has built it out into a true ecosystem, with multiple facets and a dramatic amount of options. It ties together settings across the whole Razer family, and it can also interface directly with games to allow developers to craft custom effects, control layouts, and audio profiles.
It also comes with Razer Cortex, a combination PC booster and deal-finder, that also used to contain a questionable crypto-mining initiative.
As it has been around the longest, it also has one of the largest userbases, and thus it generates a lot of daily hate online. I’ve never had much trouble with Synapse, and many of Razer’s modern products allow users to store settings locally on their device’s memory after running the software just once, which is a surprising concession I usually only see from the smaller companies.
Up until just a few weeks ago, HyperX’s software was in the worst place possible. A quick glance around online reveals nothing but disaster. Heck, recently while reviewing a HyperX keyboard, I decided to reformat my machine just to get their software to recognize all of my HyperX peripherals at once. Now, my machine was overdue for this procedure…but I’m far from the first person who has had to jump through hoops this large to get this thing to work.
Fortunately, a new recent software update brought dramatic improvements to Ngenuity. It runs much faster on my machine now and includes an option to make it minimize into the system tray (finally!). Some of HyperX’s devices allow for profiles to be stored in the hardware, but others don’t…and some of their oldest still-on-sale headsets like the original Cloud Flight don’t have any software control at all, so they still have some way to go.
I completely love Swarm, in spite of how intense and full of buttons it is. It has a high degree of flexibility and overwhelms users with powerful settings, which is exactly what I expect from a hardcore PC gaming app.
It’s also the home of AIMO, Roccat’s excellent smart lighting system. AIMO is one of the easiest light systems to configure outside of Razer’s, with true one-click setup that still manages to look great. Unfortunately, AIMO is also one of the most psychologically manipulative systems out there, with a little bar showing your current “AIMO Level” that goes up as you buy more Roccat stuff. Devious!
Swarm has years of development behind it and still receives quick updates…which is why I was very surprised when I learned that they’re abandoning it in favor of a new system called Neon, starting with the recent Syn Pro Air. Neon seems fine so far, but since it has no way to talk to Swarm, it breaks the chain for customers that are deeply invested in this system. Roccat promises Neon will support more of their stuff soon, but I sort of wish they had waited to launch it till it was closer to Swarm in terms of functionality.
Logitech G Hub
I’ve seen nothing but anger about this online, and compared to the other choices above, it is a little bit simple and janky. I revisited Logitech’s G Pro headset recently, and about fifty percent of the time the software wouldn’t talk to the headset until I rebooted it. It also has a terrible implementation of DTS Headphone X inside it, which has more or less been replaced by the version built into Windows.
Logitech should consider scrapping or overhauling this system sometime soon, in my opinion. I’m sure some folks love it but it hasn’t ever really clicked with me. And I still think the Blue Voice software offers too many choices for most users.
This is in the middle of its own Roccat-style overhaul, and it has been rebranded as…”GG.” Okay, fine, sure. I think it’s trying to be too many things to too many people, bundling in a video capture app that replicates functions many gamers will already have through their video card or the Windows game bar.
I guess they’re going for the same sort of massive ecosystem feel as Synapse, but I’m not sure if a capturing system is the way to do it.
On the plus side it finally has more robust support for direct game control of lights on SteelSeries peripherals, so maybe they can get more direct game integrations like Razer. Personally, I’m waiting for SteelSeries to release a truly new headset design instead of rehashing the same Arctis lineup over and over again. Those are still very good, sure, but they haven’t been good enough to get me to buy a SteelSeries peripheral in over a year. The Arctis Prime is just an Arctis Pro with different ear pads!
I’m sorry, I got off track.
Making the Big Choice
Faced with making a stupid decision that most people may not have to, I decided to go with Razer. Best Buy had both the Huntsman TE keyboard and BlackShark V2 headset on sale, and I haven’t yet reviewed or experienced them.
I shoved all the other software off my system through the magic of the uninstall button, plugged in the new peripherals, and Synapse picked them up right away with no issue. I didn’t even have to reboot my machine. And I saved a bunch of RAM and processing time to devote to games.
Again, I know that not everyone is in this weird hole that plagues reviewers and hardcore gamers. But I’ve still learned a humbling lesson about how flexibility is sometimes a weird deception. I no longer need to have a million different things running if I just want to change the sensitivity on my mouse, and I now totally understand users often want to buy everything from one company and be done with it. I used to strongly prefer optimizing every aspect of my setup, building a weird pile of parts with different logos and RGB systems. But between my positive experiences with the pre-Neon AIMO system recently, and the last day and a half using Razer stuff, I don’t know if I can go back.
I mean, of course I will install other software during a review (I’m a professional!), and maybe that’ll send me careening back to someone else’s platform, but for now I’m really enjoying the tremendous ease of using this Razer stuff, and having only one icon to click on when I want to change a setting. It might only save me a few seconds every day, but that’ll add up over a lifetime of gaming.