10 essential PC peripherals
19th Jul 2007 | 23:00
The best add-ons and upgrades for your computer
Ah, the humble PC.
It truly is a modern Jack of all trades. But as much as you can do with your basic off-the-shelf desktop or notebook, there's lots of stuff it can't do. Or can't do well.
So here we've listed our 10 favourite treats for your PC. These add-ons and upgrades will transform your computer from simply being Jack, to being master.
Some are practical, some are fun, some are groundbreaking, and some are simply indulgent. But all 10 of these products are great at what they do, and none of them will break the bank.
The prices listed are average street prices; for our full review of each of our top 10 PC essentials, click on the product name.
5.1 speakers. £200. What does it do? Brings 5.1 surround sound output to your PC, getting over one of the major problems of multi-speaker setups by having wireless rear speakers. Why would you buy? Because every single person who has ever bought a 5.1 speaker system has thought it was great until they had to figure out how to trail wires around the room to the rear speakers. In addition, sound quality is strong for PC speakers and the Z-5450 set look impressive too.
Graphics tablet. £65. What does it do? Allows you to ditch your mouse - and theoretically even your keyboard - and use a tablet and pen combination instead to control your PC. Why would you buy? Despite its quirky name, this graphics tablet is one of the most elegant and serious alternatives yet to the mouse/keyboard ergonomic nightmare. If you're worried about RSI, it's worth the learning curve.
USB security computer. £95. What does it do? It's a Linux-based computer on a USB stick that takes over your computer's entire security needs, freeing up a huge chunk of system resources. Why would you buy? If you want to slow down even the fastest PC, install a complete security suite on it. The Pico takes that burden away, using all its own resources for security so you don't have to use any of yours. Speed and security receive a boost.
Media-burning software. £40. What does it do? Takes the pain out of creating all kinds of optical media, whether audio, video or data. Comes with loads of its own transitions, menus, backgrounds etc. Why would you buy? Think of how many times you're going to use your computer's CD- or DVD-burner in the next 12 months. Now imagine each time being quick, painless and successful - no matter what's going on the disc. That's Easy Media Creator 9. It's the only piece of software that's so practical, so useful and so affordable that it pushed its way into this list of hardware.
Graphics card. £130. What does it do? Gives your PC's graphics a boost over integrated solutions, allowing you to play recent games at decent settings. Is compatible with DirectX10, the graphics standard of Windows Vista. Why would you buy? It makes sense to have an up-to-date DX10-compatible graphics card for when Vista finally gets its drivers sorted out. It also delivers strong mid-range performance for anyone not willing to shell out for a top-end card. More on page 2...
External hard drive. £100. What does it do? Significantly boosts your available storage, without requiring you to fit a new drive inside your PC. Why would you buy? Large media collections can eat up storage space. The DriveStation is an affordable and effective way to give yourself more room - up to 1.5TB more - in a portable form.
PC steering wheel. £150. What does it do? Turns any driving game into a brilliantly realistic experience, complete with gearshift and pedals. Looks amazing. Why would you buy? Well, you'd have to be serious about your driving games to warrant spending this kind of money. But if you are, you simply won't find a better setup for anywhere near the same price. And it looks simply spectacular.
Inkjet printer. £85. What does it do? It's a hybrid five-ink printer that does a great job with photos and documents. Why would you buy? Once you've bought a printer, there are three things that make a difference: quality, speed and cost. And in all three areas the iP5300 outdoes its main rivals, making it a great all-rounder that will meet all your printing needs.
Cooling. £30. What does it do? Quite simply, it keeps your motherboard from getting too hot. Why would you buy? Even at this price, it may seem overkill for many casual users, and perhaps it is. But if your computer does a lot of work, you need to make sure it remains well ventilated. If you're looking at some of the other items on this list, you should look at this too.
Sound card. £60. What does it do? Improves significantly on your computer's on-board sound, and adds the possibility of up to 7.1 audio. Why would you buy? This isn't a card for serious audio creation, or perhaps even hardcore gamers. But if you've never had a separate sound card, the cost is a small price to pay for the noticeable improvement to the audio your PC produces. Gives you significantly improved control over your audio too.
Reviews originally appeared in PC Plus, PC Format and PC Answers magazines.