Digital Crave

Best upgrades and add-ons for your computer

Digital Crave

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Is your computer getting on in years? You're not alone.

And so you've got one of two choices: if cash is tight, you'll need to stick it out for a while longer and deal with what you have, but those with the budget might consider buying a new PC or Mac, typically ranging in price from $600 to $1200.

There's a third option, however: You can still breathe new life into your aging computer by picking up the right add-ons and accessories.

Some are designed to boost performance — such as more system memory (RAM), a better graphics card for desktops or new battery for laptops — while others can spice up your time spent with your PC or Mac, such as a bigger monitor, new mouse or keyboard, external hard drive, speakers, HD webcams, gaming controllers, USB hubs or decorative skins.

And hey, if you need a little extra incentive to treat yourself to a new peripheral, remember they can often be used with a new computer when you're ready to take the plunge.

The following is a look at a few recommended hardware accessories to add to the functionality and longevity of your computer.

System memory, hard drives and video cards

While they might not be as sexy as a sleek new monitor or designer laptop skins, adding more memory — be it RAM or hard drive space — can really help boost performance of an older computer. And you don't need a degree in computer engineering to add both kinds of memory to a laptop or desktop.

The former helps speed up tasks -- resulting in less latency when launching and running programs -- plus it helps with multitasking, too. But you'll need to know what kind of system memory your machine takes (probably DDR3) and whether you're buying for a laptop or desktop (laptop RAM is smaller). RAM can often be snapped into its slot on the motherboard without requiring any tools; if you don't want to do it yourself, take it to your local electronics retailer and have them do it for you. 8 gigabytes (GB) of RAM typically costs $40 to $50.

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Buying a new hard drive is ideal if you're running out of storage or want to back-up files for safe keeping. An external drive usually plugs into an available USB port on the laptop or desktop, but some desktop PC owners might add an internal hard drive. External drives are more popular as you don't need to open the computer and you can use it on multiple computers.

Yahoo! Shopping recently looked at six recommended hard drives (with a twist), but another good consideration is WD's My Passport Edge portable hard drive (from $99.99 for 500GB) that delivers fast USB 3.0 speeds, an auto backup feature, password protection and hardware encryption. Available for PC or Mac, My Passport Edge is small, thin and rugged, and doesn't require AC power — whatever the computer provides through the USB connection is sufficient enough.

Similarly, the Seagate Slim Portable Drive ($99.99 for 500GB; for PC or Mac) is dubbed the world's slimmest portable external hard drive. As thin as a pencil, this drive can back-up important information with one click on the Seagate Dashboard software, or be used to schedule automated backups at a particular time (such as 3am every other day). Users can also download photo albums and videos from social networks, such as Facebook and Flickr, to store offline.

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As far as graphics performance goes, desktop PC owners who love computer games often upgrade their video card to something with more umph. One of the more popular solutions today — among those who can afford it and know how to swap out video cards — are PCI Express graphics cards based on Nvidia's GeForce GTX 680 technology, with prices hovering around $500 or so.

For two to three times to cost, there's also AMD's FireGL V7350, V8650 and V8750 graphic cards — but don't try to install one of these beasts on an out-of-date computer.

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Mice, keyboards and webcams

If your mouse is still tethered to your computer, it's time to cut the cord with a wireless mouse — which you can pick up for as low as $5 these days (yes, for real). But because they're battery powered, consider picking up rechargeable batteries as it'll be easier on your wallet (over time) and the environment, too.

Wireless mice usually require a small transceiver to be plugged into the laptop or desktop, however, and as such uses up one of the valuable USB ports on your PC or Mac. Instead, a Bluetooth mouse is more ideal as it could pair with a Bluetooth-enabled laptop or tablet, and thus does not require a transceiver whatsoever.

Microsoft's new Wedge Touch Mouse ($69.95), for example, is a compact, wireless and unique-looking Bluetooth mouse that offers fluid, four-way touch scrolling in every direction — making it ideal for navigating through Windows 8's new home screen and its live tiles. BlueTrack technology means the mouse tracks on virtually any surface.

To preserve battery, the Wedge Touch Mouse automatically shuts down when your computer or tablet is turned off.

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But be aware this mouse is really tiny — measuring just 2.39 x 2.11 inches — so be sure to try it out at retail just in case it's not for you.

Alternatively, gamers might opt for Razer Imperator ($79.99), a high-precision wired mouse that can track 6,400 dots per inch with its dual sensor system (laser and optical) — perfect for online shooters. A rubberized, contoured thumb grip provides added control. Keep in mind, however, this mouse is for right-handed users only.

Speaking of gamers, one of Logitech's best-selling gaming keyboards is the G19 ($199.99), which houses a built-in, color and adjustable GamePanel LCD (320x240 pixels) that can display in-game information to dozens of games (yes, including World of Warcraft). It can also show computer details, photos or videos, if desired.

The ergonomic keyboard also includes 12 programmable keys, macro options (to map multiple commands to one button press) and two USB 2.0 ports.

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Love to Skype with friends, family or coworkers? Y! Shopping recently looked at three different HD webcams to bump up the video and audio quality, from companies like Microsoft, Logitech and Creative.

Speakers, monitors and USB hubs

Whether you're into music, video games or movies, treat yourself — more specifically, your ears — to a great-sounding computer speaker set-up.

Add some boom to your room with the Logitech Z523 ($99.99), a 2.1-channel speaker system (including a 6.5-inch subwoofer) that delivers 40 watts of total power. While you can use your computer to adjust volume, convenient on-speaker controls include power, volume and amount of bass, plus there's extra jacks for a portable devices and headphones.

If you've got a bigger budget, the Bose Companion 5 Series speakers ($399.99) is a higher-end 2.1 solution (including loud subwoofer) that sounds like a 5.1 system thanks to the hideaway Acoustimass module to deliver a surround sound experience.

Included with these clear-sounding and well-balanced computer speakers are desktop stands, cables and a wired control pod that puts volume and mute functionality at an arm's reach (and includes a port to easily connect a smartphone or iPod).

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Bigger is better when it comes to computer monitors, and the good news is prices are dropping fast. For example, you can now pick up a 27-inch widescreen LED monitor from LG for $249.99 (model # E2742V). This flat-panel model features 1080p HD quality (1,920 x 1,080 resolution, 16:9 aspect ratio) a 5,000,000:1 contrast ratio (resulting in exceptionally deep blacks and rich colors), up to 250 cd/m² brightness, fast 5 millisecond response times and a 170-degree viewing angle. This Energy Star-certified PC monitor includes both a digital and analog connection (HDMI, DVI and VGA).

Mac owners with deep pockets, on the other hand, can pick up the 27-inch Apple Thunderbolt Display for $999. Steep price aside, this screen is absolutely beautiful its 2,560 x 1,440 resolution, LED backlighting and glossy finish that makes, photos, videos and games pop. Other features include a FaceTime HD camera, stereo speakers with high-quality audio, three USB 2.0 ports and a FireWire 800 port, a Gigabit Ethernet port and a Thunderbolt port to attach other Thunderbolt devices, such as an external hard drive.

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Most laptops only offer two USB ports but you can easily get four more with an inexpensive USB hub. There are hundreds of models available, -- most between $10 and $30 — including the Belkin 4-port USB Travel Hub ($29.99), a portable solution capable of USB 2.0 speeds (480 megabits per second). No external power is needed: simply plug the male USB connector into the side or back of the laptop (PC or Mac) and then connect up to four devices in the available female ports.

If you need more ports and faster speeds, the Targus 7-port Combo USB Hub ($69.89) lets you transfer files up to 5 gigabits per second via one of its three USB 3.0 — ideal for large HD video files — and also includes four USB 2.0 ports for other devices. Compatible with PCs and Macs, laptops and desktops, this powered hub also includes an AC plug and 5-foot cable to connect to the computer's USB port. Despite its versatility, this Targus hub measures just 4.25 x 3.0 x 0.9 inches.

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