PC and Mac add-ons — including ergonomic mice, 4G wireless sticks, Internet-enabled printers, external hard drives and high-definitional webcams — can extend the longevity and functionality of your computer.
The following are a few good recommendations -- and a couple of over-the-top ones, too.
If your hand is getting cramped with your laptop's limited trackpad, consider an "ergonomic" mouse that also gives you speed and precision and multiple buttons to do more in fewer moves.
Logitech's Performance Mouse MX ($99.99), for example, is a super comfortable mouse designed to perfectly fit the contours of your right hand.
The high-performance wireless accessory features Darkfield laser tracking technology for fast and accurate tracking on virtually any surface, plus it offers eight different buttons — including the option to program some of them via the accompanying software.
The small wireless receiver, which snaps into your PC or Mac's USB port, can be left plugged into the computer at all times. Simply connect the microUSB cable to recharge your mouse when you still want to use it or a standard wall outlet when you don't.
What's that? Have a lot more cash to spend on a mouse? Why not buy the world's most expensive one? The Diamond Flower RF mouse from Pat Says Now ($28,999) is casted from 18-carat white gold and set with 59 brilliant diamonds.
Designed for Windows, Macs and Linux machines, the Diamond Flower RF (which stands for radio-frequency) is a wireless 2.4GHz laser mouse, with scroll wheel and multiple buttons, that combines untethered freedom with pinpoint precision (up to 1,200 dots per inch); a slim nano receiver snaps into the USB port of your laptop, desktop or netbook computer.
As you might expect for a product at this price, a certificate of authenticity is included for your records -- and insurance purposes.
Also consider picking up an ergonomic keyboard to help protect your wrists from strain.
If you love chatting over Skype, perhaps it's time to supersize your video and audio quality.
Microsoft's LifeCam Studio ($99.99) is a top-of-the-line widescreen webcam with incredible video resolution — topping out at 1080p HD (1,920 x 1,080 resolution).
A high-quality microphone means you'll be heard loud and clear, too. Talk live via Skype or other supported instant messaging programs, send a video greeting in an email or record a video blog using this camera that clips onto the top of the monitor. Press the button on top of the webcam for one-touch video calling.
Kids should also have fun with the "augmented reality" special effects superimpose funny objects onto a face, such as wild sunglasses or a cowboy hat.
Another great pick is Creative's Live! Cam inPerson HD Webcam ($124.99), also a 1080p HD video camera for computers with 30 frames-per-second fluidity, still image capture at 12 megapixels and quad microphones with noise-cancellation technologies to reduce ambient noise.
Be aware, however, these products only work with Windows PCs. If you're on a Mac, consider the Logitech HD Pro Webcam C920 ($99.99).
Anyone who spends time on the go can probably relate to the pains of mobile connectivity: finding a Wi-Fi hotspot to get online with your laptop, paying through the nose for high-speed access at your hotel or risking a data breach because of a tech-savvy thief creating a "rogue network" you might join because you see it's a free alternative to the airport network.
Instead, many computer users are bringing their own wireless connection with them — in the form of a cellular-enabled "stick" (a.k.a. USB modem) that snaps into an available port on a laptop.
Not only are these small accessories ideal for those who don't want to hunt for a Wi-Fi hotspot, because it's cellular you can even get online in the back of a moving taxi or on a park bench.
Models such as Verizon's Pantech 4G LTE USB Modem ($99.99 on 2-year plan) or AT&T USBConnect Momentum 4G ($29.99 on 2-year plan) have Long Term Evolution (LTE) speeds that rival or exceed your home's broadband Internet connection. Fast speeds mean you can engage in videoconferencing, download large files in mere seconds, stream content smoothly or access data in the cloud so quickly it's as if the files were stored locally.
While liberating because you can get online whenever you like, be aware these 4G sticks only offer these kinds of speeds in select markets -- check your carrier's coverage map -- and you need to pay a monthly fee for data usage.
You might not think there's not a lot of innovation when it comes to all-in-one printers — you know, the ones that also scan, copy and fax, too — but the latest models are not only wireless to print from any room in the house, but you can print from anywhere outside the house, too.
Multifunction printers, such as the HP Officejet 6600 ($119.99), let you send print jobs via your smartphone, tablet or laptop — be it photos of the kids the moment they score a winning soccer goal (if you can forgive the cliché) or send documents, spreadsheets or email messages while commuting to the office on the train -- and the print job will be done before you even step in the door.
HP calls this ePrint technology — you first set up an email address when you install the all-in-one printer — but other companies are beginning to offer similar services. No computer is necessary to use the ePrint feature, though a wireless network is required.
The Officejet 6600 offers print speeds of up to 14 pagers per minute (black) and 8 for color; it supports high-capacity cartridges for a lower cost per page; includes a 35-page automatic document feeder and 250-sheet paper tray; and has a .65-inch touchscreen to access apps and other features and options.
Beefy hard drives
External hard drives come in all shapes and sizes, but if you're the proud owner of a new Mac with Thunderbolt support — and have deep pockets — then you might want to take advantage of the ridiculously fast data transfer speeds.
Designed by Neil Poulton, the LaCie Little Big Disk ($549.99 for 2 terabytes) lets you move data up to 10 gigabits per second, which is 20 times faster than with USB 2.0, 12 times faster than with FireWire 800 or twice as fast as USB 3.0.
Those who work with vast amounts of HD video might opt for an external hard drive with these kinds of speeds, plus this silver and blue peripheral has dual Thunderbolt ports for easy daisy chaining.
Not only is this drive a costly one, but the Thunderbolt cable is sold separately at the Apple Store and Apple resellers for $49.
Alternatively, Windows or Mac users might opt for Western Digital's My Book World Edition II 4TB ($399.99), an external network dual hard drive that can automatically back up your data and let you access it from any location.
Featuring RAID 1 technology to protect your data, this drive plugs into your Ethernet port — with data transfer rates topping 1,000 megabits per second — and can be used by multiple computers on the network.
Big and beautiful monitors
Whether you're on a laptop or desktop, you could always benefit from a larger monitor to plug the computer into.
If you take your entertainment seriously, Samsung's 27-inch Widescreen 3D LED monitor (model # S27A950D; $639.99) offers a vibrant picture with fast (2 millisecond) response times for games and action movies,1080p HD resolution for both 2D and 3D video sources and 170-degree horizontal viewing angles.
The monitor also has eco sensors that automatically turns the monitor on and off as you come and go.
Along with support for Displayport, HDMI or DVI connections, this monster monitor includes a pair of 3D glasses, a built-in sync emitter and DDD's TriDef 3D gaming software.
Some monitors also have an iPhone dock, which frees up a USB port on your PC, props it up for easy use and can immediately play video stored on your smartphone.
The AOC e2343Fi LED Aire ($229.99) is a 23-inch monitor with 30-pin docking station in the center, allow you to drop your iPhone, iPod touch or nano — and charge up the device, too.
Along with the integrated dock, the base of this AOC monitor also includes built-in speakers with SRS Premium Sound.
Not many computer accessories can freak out little kids, but the furry Teddy Bear USB Drive ($28 for 16GB drive) might just do the trick. As the name suggests, this thumbdrive looks like a cute little Teddy Bear at first glance — but when you need to transfer files to or from the drive you pull off the head and stick the body into an available USB port on the Windows or Mac.
Needless-to-say, this funny USB drive is also quite the conversation piece at coffee shops.
Or why not keep your cold ones frosty this summer with the CoolIT USB Beverage Chiller ($25), a clever computer peripheral for thirsty mouse clickers.
Simply plug this coldplate into the USB port of your laptop or desktop computer and it'll cool down to 45 degrees Fahrenheit, the perfect temperature to keep your drinks chilled.
This product draws its power from the computer, so no AC outlet is necessary. Only beer.
- Technology & Electronics