When we talked about building your own computer, I’ll admit I left you in a bit of a lurch. Sure, now you’ve got an awesome PC personalized for your individual needs and ready to go, but it’s not going to do you much good without some way to interact with it. And let’s be honest: the accessories you choose for the outside of your computer are just as important as what we put inside it – you’ve just got to know what’s out there, and what will work best for you.
We’ll start with what we nerds call human interface devices: gadgets that let you interact with your computer. The three most important should be pretty familiar to anybody who has used a computer before: the monitor, mouse, and keyboard. Still, you have a lot of options available depending on what you use your computer for. Take your keyboard for example: for the average home user, this standard Cherry keyboard should be sufficient. Someone looking to reduce clutter in his or her workspace might instead opt for a wireless keyboard like this compact Seal Shield. Since wireless keyboards are dependent on batteries that could die at an inopportune time and they’re very slightly less responsive, gamers will probably want something more like this Bella USB keyboard, which has plenty of useful shortcut buttons. Any one of these is perfectly viable; it just depends on your individual needs as a user.
While you might not immediately realize it, buying a mouse warrants some thought as well. We gamers love models like this Microsoft four button mouse, since having readily accessible extra buttons can grant a competitive edge in online games. Users that don’t game (or only play casually) will probably be comfortable with something more standard, like this wireless mouse by Logitech or, if you’d prefer to avoid battery power and want to save some money, this basic and very economical model by Microsoft.
Nearly every monitor on the market today is a flat screen LCD display (rather than the old fat CRT monitors of yesteryear – see our previous post on televisions if you want to learn more about LCD technology), which can technically come in any size, from the screen of your smart phone to the 55-inch (and above) monster television sets. For use with a computer, you probably want your display between 15” and 24”. Models like this Acer are relatively economical and will look great without taking up too much space on your desk. If you play video games, use your computer to watch movies, or just need more screen space to work with, this 24” Samsung SyncMaster might be more your speed. Now, monitors certainly come larger than this, but keep in mind that the larger the display is, the larger the pixels are going to be – making for a less-crisp image – and the greater the risk of eyestrain. I wouldn’t go beyond 30”, but the option is out there.
Something easily overlooked but essential is a decent surge protector (not just a power strip). A good surge protector will protect your computer from spikes in electricity caused by malfunctions, tripped circuit breakers, power outages, and even lightning. Any one of these could easily overload and destroy the delicate components inside your machine.
Now that we’ve got your computer up and running and we can interact with it, we’ll need some programs. As a baseline, many professionals and certainly most students are going to need some form of word processing software to type up and spell-check their reports, essays, and documents, such as Corel’s WordPerfect or Microsoft’s Word. If you’re also going to need spreadsheet programs like Excel and personal information managers like Outlook, you can buy the entire Microsoft Office suite – sure, you’re getting a handful of programs you might not need, but depending on how many you intend to use, the entire suite is probably going to end up cheaper than buying three or four of the applications individually.
In the age of ubiquitous internet and lighting-fast email, we’re quickly becoming a paperless society. Still, most high school teachers and college professors still prefer a hard copy of completed assignments, and there are plenty of old-fashioned bosses left in the workforce. There are a wide variety of printers to suit your needs but they tend to come from two main camps: inkjet and laser printers. Which you should choose really depends on how you intend to use your printer: if you’re going to be printing a lot and mainly in monochrome, you’ll want something like this heavy-duty HP laser printer. For most home users, this Dell wireless inkjet will be more attractive – plus it comes with useful bells and whistles if you need them, allowing you to scan and fax as well as print.
With so much of our work done on computers, it has become increasingly important to back up our data and save our work – all it takes is one power failure, and hours if not days or weeks of work can be lost in an instant. Thankfully, we’ve come a long way on that front. Hard drives are hardier than ever before and less likely to crash, programs are better at consistently and automatically saving your work in the background, and the market is full of useful devices to help move and maintain all that precious data. If you’ve got a great deal of information saved on your computer, or it’s especially important, consider buying an external hard drive to use as a backup. This G-Technology external hard drive has an impressive one terabyte (or a thousand gigabytes) of space, and installing it is as simple as plugging it into one of your computer’s USB slots. If you only need to backup a few documents though, or just need a way to easily move them from one computer to another, consider this Kingston flash drive – it will encrypt your files if your flash drive is stolen, and sports an impressive 16 gigabytes of space.
These are just a few of the many useful accessories you can buy for your personal computer, and chances are if you need to do something, your computer can help. What device do you find indispensible in your day-to-day experience?