Imagine this: You build a solid gaming PC, with a Corsair CPU cooler and a GPU that (hopefully) cost less than your rent. You pick up a feature-packed keyboard from SteelSeries and the most comfortable mouse Razer has ever made. You want to program a couple of macros on the keyboard, check the battery life on the mouse, and see if you can adjust the lighting on the cooler.
Does this seem like a task that requires a program that constantly runs 20+ background processes, uses 72% of your GPU, and secretly hoards 10GB of space on your hard drive? No? It doesn’t? Well, that’s technically correct — you don’t need a program; you need three of them, each of which eats up a lot of system resources and has its own unique set of issues.
But I’m sure you already knew this, if you’ve ever had to install any software for any gaming peripheral, ever. However, since you need to buy into at least one of these software suite-supported ecosystems (assuming you want one of the best gaming mice, gaming keyboards, gaming headsets, etc.) it seems worth exploring which company has the best software ecosystem to keep your rig running as smoothly as possible.
Well, the answer is: none of them.
Yes. Believe it or not, I initially envisioned writing an article ranking the utilities from best to worst. , But then I started doing some research and it ended up taking me two weeks to write this story because every time I tried to go in and look at the software, I found some new, unexpected weird or terrible thing — and then my system would immediately crash, multiple times in a row.
Needless to say, I’m not the biggest fan of gaming peripheral software at the moment. The good news is that while different programs have different issues, they all have enough problems to be tied for worst — so it’s fine to just pick your brands based on hardware.
You might be wondering why these brands make such universally terrible software — when, for the most part, they make very good hardware. I can’t say for sure, but it does seem like it would be challenging to maintain efficient, stable software while also having to constantly add on support for every round of peripheral and component drops. Or perhaps the companies are just trying to highlight how good their hardware is by giving us terrible software in comparison.
Here are the top five most frustrating gaming peripheral apps, and they’re all tied for worst with every other gaming peripheral app:
Asus Armoury Crate
Armoury Crate is Asus’ software suite supporting its ROG-branded components and peripherals, including motherboards, monitors, graphics cards, keyboards, headsets, mice, desktops, laptops, coolers, etc. You can use Armoury Crate to update firmware, configure and calibrate hardware/peripheral settings, and customize RGB using Aura Sync (which is now part of Armoury Crate).
Probably the best thing I can say about Armoury Crate is that I don’t have super strong feelings about it — its interface, usability, impact on system resources, etc. — because I almost never use it. Of course, the reason I almost never use it is because I can rarely get it to work.
Case in point: I’m writing this on an Asus ROG monitor with Aura Sync enabled, and Armoury Crate sees nothing — doesn’t recognize it, can’t control it, nothing. (And yes, my Armoury Crate is up to date, my drivers are up to date, the monitor is listed as supported in Asus’ Armoury Crate FAQ, etc.) And this is actually an improvement — most of my experience with Armoury Crate in the past has been having it crash instantly upon launch.
In addition to not recognizing the products it supports, or managing to stay launched for more than 3 seconds, Armoury Crate is just kind of a mess. (Turns out I lied earlier — in the past hour or so that I’ve been trying to get Armoury Crate to work, I’ve developed some feelings, and they’re pretty strong.) The interface is confusing (and full of unnecessary movable tiles?) and laggy — switching between tabs and clicking through menus is a chore. It also takes up over 1GB on my system for some reason and has suspiciously scheduled a bunch of logon tasks I didn’t ask for.
The cherry on top is that you’ll probably need to use the Armoury Crate Uninstall Tool (opens in new tab) to uninstall it — nothing says “easy to uninstall” like a dedicated uninstaller provided as a separate download. If you have an Asus motherboard, you may need to change some settings in the BIOS, because Asus likes to put the Armoury Crate auto-installer in the BIOS.
Of course, that’s assuming Armoury Crate even recognizes your motherboard — Tom’s Hardware Senior Editor Andrew E. Freedman spent a month unable to turn off the RGB in his PC (when the PC was off) because the software wouldn’t recognize his motherboard. “Eventually uninstalling it and reinstalling it — using their official uninstaller — worked,” Andrew said. “But I couldn’t tell you why.”
I asked my colleagues which peripheral software they disliked most, and while it wasn’t unanimous, and was clearly based primarily on whichever peripheral software had crashed or crippled their system within the last hour, one of the programs that was mentioned multiple times was Corsair’s iCue (currently: iCue 4).
Because what’s more infuriating than trying to download a simple app that will let you change your fan lighting and ending up with the resource-draining, performance-sucking, unsuspectingly huge piece of software that is iCue ?
While Corsair does make peripherals, it’s better known for its components — specifically, CPU coolers, fans, RAM, and cases. So while iCue does let you configure hardware, update firmware, and all that, we mainly turn to it for one thing: RGB. That’s it. Seriously. All we really want is to be able to change the color of the RGB lighting on our fans, maybe program some sort of pastel spectrum animation on the pump — and that’s it.
Now, iCue does let you do this, assuming you can figure out how to use the app’s lighting effects section to create the look you want, without getting overwhelmed by the various lighting profiles, colors, animations, and effects — not to mention using fan order to set up effects that move fluidly throughout your system. But it also uses a lot of, well, everything: resources, memory, space.
It’s hard to determine exactly how much space an app takes up in Windows 11. Windows 11 lists reported app sizes in its settings menu, but this doesn’t tell the whole story (especially since not all apps report their size to Microsoft). But rest assured that iCue is somehow huge for an RGB-controlling companion app — its installer alone is approximately 1GB — and is not sorry. In the installed apps menu in Windows 11, iCue reports its size as 3.54GB. I used SpaceSniffer to confirm that on my system, iCue is taking up around 1.1GB in Program files, and is occupying another 2.35GB in ProgramData.
I can spare the 3.54GB, but I’ll admit that I’m pretty curious to know why iCue needs so much space just to change the colors of, like, seven lights. I know iCue also monitors hardware (unsolicitedly — I didn’t ask for this from my RGB software, Corsair), and this explains some of the app’s heavier resource usage but not its size.
Taking a look at the Corsair folder in ProgramData reveals that approximately all of the space iCue uses here comes from…game integration — game/app developer-created presets to sync your system’s RGB lighting with the game you’re playing. It looks like there are around 30+ supported games (including a 1.64GB “common” folder for generic game integrations). Of the 30+ games supported, I play one — Subnautica Below Zero — but it’s very accommodating of Corsair to go ahead and store 2.35GB of RGB profiles on my PC, anyway.
But squatting in your ProgramData folder probably isn’t even the most draining thing iCue does. Anecdotally speaking, iCue is frequently responsible for using a ton of resources, crashing your system, crippling updates, and…basically everything else.
While I was writing this article — on cue (haha) — iCue apparently corrupted the AMD driver dll of Tom’s Hardware Deals Writer Stewart Bendle, who then had to run Display Driver Uninstaller (DDU) — twice — before he was able to boot to Windows without it crashing within 20 seconds.
The next time your PC feels sluggish, your first step should be to uninstall iCue (and Armoury Crate), and bask in the striking performance gain — you may not even need to do anything else.
Logitech G Hub
Logitech has been in the peripherals game for a long time. And instead of creating one app back in 1994 and adding onto it piece by piece over years and years and years until it became an unrecognizable mishmash of settings, Logitech did the seemingly smart thing and created new apps for new products and lines.
Except now Logitech has something like 12 similar but different apps with overlapping support for different peripheral lines (which are somewhat haphazardly defined in the first place), meaning you’ll need at least three different Logitech apps to configure your keyboard, mouse, webcam, and headset. And somehow none of these apps will be as functional or as intuitive as Logitech’s legacy apps.
But since we’re looking at gaming peripheral software, let’s focus on Logitech G Hub, which is designed to support Logitech G products: gaming keyboards, mice, headsets, controllers, and some random streaming gear (webcams, mics, and lights). G Hub is where you’ll go to configure hardware settings, program buttons and keybinds, adjust audio/mic settings (including Blue Vo!ce software), and play with RGB lighting colors and effects.
At a glance, G Hub actually looks pretty good. But don’t be fooled by its slick, deceptively straightforward-looking interface — with G Hub, Logitech has conveniently taken all of the settings you once knew how to change and turned them into something unnecessarily convoluted and 0 percent intuitive.
After all, why would you want to reprogram keys using something simple, like…your keyboard…when you can instead scroll through several long lists of keys, actions, commands, system…commands, and approximately 3000 other options you didn’t know you never wanted to see? I’m sure there are some people who want to bind pre-recorded Blue Voice sound samples to their mouse buttons — but probably not so many that this warrants an entire built-in menu (especially one that may not even work — I had to wipe G Hub from my PC and reinstall it, twice, before half of the Blue Vo!ce software options even worked in G Hub).
My bigger issue with G Hub, however, is that your hardware is somehow entirely dependent on it. There’s no warning, of course — Logitech graciously allows you to discover this on your own, when G Hub suddenly shuts down and cripples all of your peripherals.
Just the other day, as I was casually playing Elder Scrolls Online using a Logitech G keyboard, G Hub abruptly quit and suddenly none of the assignable keys registered anything. And I don’t mean that my carefully-configured custom keybinds stopped working. I mean the assignable keys on this keyboard — the function keys — apparently have no default keybinds without G Hub, they’re just…empty. G Hub shut down and took my entire function row with it.
While it’s possible to use Logitech G peripherals without G Hub by saving settings to a device’s onboard memory, this only works if you turn the onboard memory on in G Hub — and then quit G Hub while it’s turned on. One might assume that a profile saved to a device’s onboard memory would remain on said device until overwritten. But if you turn off onboard memory in G Hub (which you’ll need to do to adjust any settings), G Hub immediately overwrites your saved profile with the original, default profile, e.g. one with an entirely empty function row, until you turn onboard memory back on.
G Hub also makes some other strange design choices, such as the fact that you can only program a mouse’s G-Shift while in G-Shift mode. Let me explain: G-Shift is Logitech’s gaming-oriented second layer functionality — accessible with the G-Shift key/button (user-programmed) — built into Logitech G mice and keyboards. (It’s Logitech’s version of Razer’s HyperShift, SteelSeries’ SS key, Roccat’s Easy-Shift, etc.)
To program G-Shift, open up G Hub and click the G-Shift toggle at the bottom of the screen. This puts your device in G-Shift mode, which is actually…terrible, because the entire point of G-Shift mode is to be able to program secondary functionality. For example: Why would you need your left mouse button — one of the most accessible buttons — to have primary click functionality in both default mode and G-Shift mode? You wouldn’t, unless an app forced you to remain in G-Shift mode while programming G-shift mode. If you unbind primary click in G-Shift you will no longer be able to click anything, because you’re stuck in G-Shift mode.
You can try to fix this by unplugging the mouse, but I’ve found that this happens to be the one time G Hub immediately saves all changes directly to your hardware. In this case, your best bet is to use a different mouse to rebind your primary click (you can also use Mouse keys, a Windows accessibility feature that lets you control your mouse with your keyboard). Or, if you must, you can also uninstall and reinstall G Hub.
Razer’s Synapse — currently: Synapse 3 — is the brand’s one-stop (sort of) software suite supporting all of its products: keyboards, headsets, mice, webcams, mics, mouse pads, speakers, monitors, desktops, laptops, etc. You can download Synapse from Razer’s website — but you don’t have to, because Razer pioneered everyone’s favorite, not-at-all-infuriating, and previously exploitable practice of prompting an auto-installation of Synapse whenever you plug in a Razer peripheral. Yes, every time. Forever.
And don’t worry, installing Synapse won’t rid you of Synapse 3 pop-ups, because Synapse updates approximately once every 15 minutes and prompts you to do fun things like restart your PC, login to your Razer account, or install a bunch of other Razer apps. You know — for fun!
But maybe you didn’t even realize Razer’s peripheral software was called Synapse, because Synapse is actually part of Razer Central, which also includes an app called Razer Cortex. And while Synapse sort of loosely encompasses Razer’s Chroma apps (for configuring and controlling RGB), it also…sort of doesn’t — Chroma Visualizer definitely shows up as a totally separate process in Task Manager.
Actually, there are several background Razer processes running at all times, including Razer AppEngine, Razer Chroma SDK/Service, Razer Chroma Stream Service, Game Manager Service, Cortex Launcher Service, and RzUpdateEngine. On top of this, Razer also offers a bunch of optional apps — not all of which are free — including THX Spatial Audio, Razer’s Virtual Ring Light, a Streamer Companion App, and something called Razer Axon Beta, which appears to be an animated wallpaper app similar to Wallpaper Engine.
Synapse is pretty robust — maybe too robust — and lets you remap keys and buttons, calibrate performance (on a pretty detailed level), and adjust some lighting settings. However, if you want to customize your lighting beyond one of Razer’s preset effects, you’ll need to use one (or more) of the Chroma apps — sorry, “modules” — inside Synapse.
This is where it starts to get confusing (don’t worry, it only gets more confusing from here), because there are three modules: Chroma Connect, Chroma Studio, and Chroma Visualizer. Chroma Studio is what you’ll need if you want to create custom lighting profiles and effects, and while it has some potential (it has a lot of options, anyway), it is incredibly frustrating to use. Here’s why: Chroma Studio provides several customizable lighting effects, which you can layer to create a unique lighting profile.
However, while Chroma Studio will save your final lineup of effects into a profile, it will not, for some reason, save almost any of the custom settings you used for the profile. This means you can’t adjust (or even really see) the layers in the profile, all you can do is recreate each layer from scratch (and, again, you can’t see what that layer’s settings were, so you just have to…guess), and adjust from there. Yes, it’s bizarre and frustrating and it will potentially make you quit RGB completely and embrace darkness.
As for the other modules, Chroma Connect is Razer’s attempt at creating a unified ecosystem in which you can control all RGB lighting — including lighting on non-Razer hardware and third-party apps. Of course, Chroma Connect can only control lighting on non-Razer hardware and third-party apps that support it. I’ll give you one guess as to whether Razer’s biggest direct competitors support it (no). Chroma Visualizer is an audio visualizer lighting effect — it could definitely be part of Chroma Studio, but…it’s not.
Like most peripheral software, Synapse attempts to combine years and years’ worth of hastily coded updates and side projects into one streamlined, central app. And, if you ignore the fact that it’s actually 15 different processes running in the background, it succeeds (sort of).
But Synapse’s real goal is clearly world PC domination via the most tenacious installer/updater ever created. Synapse has a ton of FOMO — not only will its installer sometimes anxiously pop up in the middle of Windows updates, it also hoards all of the update files it downloads…forever.
The Windows Installer folder on my laptop currently takes up around 10GB, 9.68GB of which belongs to Razer. Now, Synapse is not the only app that’s ever done this, and there are tools to clean the Installer folder. I’m working on it, but so far Synapse’s stockpile of installers has resisted PatchCleaner, CCleaner, and the Microsoft install/uninstall troubleshooter.
(Oh, and the best thing about this is that Synapse updates so frequently it apparently gets exhausted and quits — basically every single time I try to do something that requires Synapse to be running, nothing happens. So I’ll click on Razer’s icon in the System Tray and, yup — “Synapse is not running.”)
SteelSeries GG is a software suite that combines SteelSeries’ peripheral settings app (Engine) with several things that are…not peripheral settings. Here’s a pro-tip: If you’re a hardware company trying to design supporting software that won’t be considered bloatware, don’t throw additional apps into the installation.
In addition to SteelSeries Engine — which lets you scan for firmware updates, configure and customize hardware settings, and includes an illumination section where you can adjust and sync RGB (and also create custom effects) — SteelSeries GG also contains Sonar (an audio app with a gamer-oriented EQ) and Moments (a game capture app). SteelSeries’ Engine is a little clunky (like…all of these apps) — and its focus on details can make it pretty overwhelming for anyone who doesn’t want to spend a lot of time getting to know it.
While you can argue that Sonar is an audio configuration app (it is), and therefore makes sense as part of GG…there’s still no reason to make it a compulsory download for someone plugging in a keyboard or a mouse. And I actually like playing around with Sonar — when it works.
But I’ve been using it with both SteelSeries and non-SteelSeries products for several months and it will frequently just…not work. It doesn’t seem to be consistent in any way — sometimes I’ll turn my headset on and I won’t hear anything no matter what my settings are until I force-quit the entire GG suite; other times I’ll be in the middle of listening to something and my sound will just go out for several seconds before resuming. Earlier today I was talking to one of my colleagues before our morning meeting, and he said I was barely audible — until I switched my mic input away from Sonar.
Sonar can be fun to play around with, but it’s just not reliable enough when I need my audio to work. And it’s not super intuitive when it is working as designed — it tries to wrest control of every audio-enabled device I plug in, from speakers to headsets to webcams. It’s definitely an app I’d prefer to opt-into instead of (not having the option of) opting out. (Engine includes audio settings and an EQ for SteelSeries’ headsets and speakers, anyway, so Sonar really should be purely optional.)
How to Fix It
First — I didn’t mention a number of apps, including (but not limited to): HyperX NGenuity, Roccat Swarm, Cooler Master MasterPlus+, MSI Center, ThermalTake TT RGB Plus, etc. — but rest assured they all have plenty of issues and remain competitive in the race to the bottom. Perhaps I’ll revisit some of these, in-depth, in a Part 2 down the road — but for now I’m not sure my system can take much more (I have a date with the Registry Editor after this; I uninstalled Synapse and it left just enough on my PC that I can’t reinstall it).
I won’t pretend like I truly understand the challenges of creating a piece of usable support software, especially one that needs to be updated every time a new product is released. And while there are third-party apps, such as SignalRGB and OpenRGB, attempting to create stripped-down, manufacturer-agnostic solutions, it’s clearly not perfectly cut-and-dry. But — as someone who tests peripherals and therefore always has at least 17 different pieces of bloated, laggy, space-hoarding software fighting for control on my PC, I have some general tips for improvement:
When I plug a new mouse or keyboard in, I want it to work. That’s all.
I don’t want to be bombarded with prompts to install optional software — let alone, optional, unnecessary software that demands hard drive space, resources, and an internet connection and an account. And I definitely don’t want this to happen every time I plug it in (peripherals are, by definition, devices that are easy to plug in and remove from a PC). If I need to change a setting or customize something, I will download the software.
…And stop auto-updating
There’s no peripheral software update so critical I need an app running 24/7 in the background, ready to update on a dime. Actually — now that I think about it, peripheral software updates aren’t just “not critical,” they’re almost entirely unnecessary unless I want to manually update a setting myself.
No rebooting, internet connection, or account creation required
I shouldn’t have to restart my PC, get online, or sign up for an account to change some settings. I also…shouldn’t have to tell you this.
Don’t fix what ain’t broke
I don’t know why Logitech took a look at G Hub and said “instead of making remapping keys basic and boring, let’s turn it into a fun, maze-like adventure!” I’m just here to change some settings — I don’t mind if it’s a boring, basic process (in fact, I prefer it).
Of all 764 different Logitech webcam apps I’ve tried, there’s one I always come back to: Logitech Webcam Software. It’s extremely basic, dated-looking, and definitely not perfect (nor has it been supported in, like, 10 years). But it’s the only Logitech webcam app with all of the manual sliders in one place, and that’s all I really want. I don’t need a sexy, fun settings menu, I just need…the settings.
I don’t need an ecosystem
I’m not sure why every company thinks they need to have a full software suite of apps and modules, complete with a customizable dashboard with 7 different themes and the option to upload your own background image and a user interface that looks like a cross between Minority Report and Star Craft. I’ve never opened any peripheral software thinking, “wow, I hope this looks cool and futuristic so I can leave it open on my desktop to admire.”
I already have an operating system, and ways to monitor my hardware, and an app that animates my wallpaper — I don’t expect or need (or want) my mouse software to replace that. There’s no need to divert clearly limited software development resources toward projects like the Razer Virtual Ring Light, which is an app that turns your monitor into a “source of illumination” (my monitor is already a source of illumination; I can just open up a blank Word doc). I would rather have one Razer app that could cleanly uninstall from my system instead of seven random apps that have nothing to do with hardware.
I’ll acknowledge there are many challenges to making software that supports a decade’s worth of gaming peripherals, but I don’t think the solution is…more software.
Note: As with all of our op-eds, the opinions expressed here belong to the writer alone and not Tom’s Hardware as a team.