You’re a veteran tech geek. Your friends and family always look to you for advice when buying PC gear or gadgets. Yet there’s still stuff you don’t own, and don’t realise you need. Now, it’s true that many of you may have a couple of the items on this list. But there’s likely gear here you don’t have, and didn’t realise you could use.
Note that I’ve defined “peripherals” a little more loosely. Some of these items don’t connect to your PC, and might be called tools in other contexts. But since I use most of them daily in my work, I figured they were just as much peripherals as the keyboard I use to write. Let’s dive in, shall we?
Note that this list is not in any particular order.
USB Hard Drive Dock
If you don’t have one of these, you should get one. Better yet, get one of the newer, USB 3.0 dual clock versions. They make cloning hard drives vastly easier than opening up a case, finding a spare SATA cable and trying to make connections that don’t disturb something else inside your PC.
You just slide your drive in so that the power and SATA connectors mate to the device and plug it in. You’ll need to attach a small power brick, since desktop hard drives use more power than USB can deliver. Versions connecting via eSATA also exist, but I’ve found them to be more finicky than the USB versions.
Powered (not unpowered) USB Hub
The critical word here is “powered.” A powered USB hub is more versatile than an unpowered hub, even if it does require attaching a small power brick to an outlet. If you have a powered USB hub, you can attach various USB-powered devices, and each will get its own trickle current. That’s useful if you need to charge multiple phones and tablets, attach more than one USB powered hard drive and other similar devices. (Watch out, though-some powered hubs may only power a subset of the hubs.)
Monitor Calibration Puck
If you’re into photography or video, you probably have one of these. Even if you’re a casual photographer, you probably watch a fair amount of video on your PC. Unless you’re a pixel-peeping pro, you don’t need a high end version that’s full of bells and whistles. A $US70 Spyder Express Pro gets the job done, and is pretty simple to use.
Small LED Flashlight/Lantern
Most modern enthusiast PC cases sport interiors that are black-on-black. Some motherboards ship with black cables. Some internal peripherals are black. That makes working inside a PC an interesting exercise in squinting.
Modern, tiny LED flashlights are a godsend. The small one is a Fenix LD15, which takes a single AA battery and can pump out 105 lumens. The alien looking green gizmo is a Blackfire Clamplight, which can stand on its own (as shown here) or clamp to the side of a case, directing its light inward. It can also emit up to 100 lumens of exceptionally bright light. I find myself using the Fenix to hunt for small screws or other tiny items I drop on the floor or inside a case. The clamp light is useful in a variety of situations.
Smart (Green) Power Strip or UPS
My production system is attached to an APC750 ES Power-Saving smart uninterruptible power supply. The UPS can detect when I power down my PC, and automagically shut off peripherals attached to certain power plugs. Others can be “hot” all the time. So when I shut down my systems, my monitors and speakers also power down, while my powered USB hub remains on. The PC power connection is still “hot,” so if you merely put the PC to sleep instead of powering down, your peripherals still turn off while the PC itself can still draw enough current to maintain a sleep state.
If you don’t need a UPS, you can get simpler surge protectors that do the same thing, like the SmartStrip shown here. Like the APC UPS, certain plugs completely power down when you shut down or put your PC to sleep.
Kelly Forceps (Hemostat)
Ever find yourself needing to attach a jumper or something like a fan power connector to a motherboard, but your fat fingers can’t quite squeeze into the available space? Enter the Kelly Forceps, aka a Hemostat. These are available and either medical supply stores or electronic stores. I think I got mine at a Radio Shack.
These are better than needle-nose pliers for the job of attaching tiny plugs or fishing a screw out of a small crevice, because they can clamp shut. That means they can hold said tiny plug rigid while you’re trying to insert them. I don’t use this daily, but it’s saved my bacon on multiple occasions. At the very least, it can minimize the need for serious PC disassembly if you just need to attach a power connector.
AA Battery Charger
I use Logitech cordless mice and keyboards, which use AA batteries for power. In particular, the G700 I use tends to eat batteries for lunch. If I used alkaline AA batteries, I’d quickly go broke and have to give up my monthly MMO fees. So I keep my mouse fed with rechargeable NiMH batteries using this device. (Yes, I can connect my G700 to the PC via a USB cable to charge it. But that sounds so…gauche somehow.)
Of course, those batteries also power my Nikon external flash units, various remote controls and those LED flashlights, so it’s not like I’m keeping this around just to charge mouse batteries.
Adjustable Keyboard Tray
Whether you use a sitting or standing desk, an adjustable keyboard tray makes typing so much more bearable. I actually use slightly different heights depending on whether I’m typing or gaming. This Workrite model weighs about 20 pounds, but the spring-loaded mount makes adjustment easy. You can also slide it under the desk surface when you don’t need it.
Smartphone or Tablet
If you’ve got one PC that’s your main go-to system, and it crashes, how do you figure out how to troubleshoot it? In my case, I fire up a search engine on a smart phone and start trolling for solutions on the web. I can do the same with my iPad, but that tends to live upstairs, while I always have my phone with me.
So while a smart phone can be your music player, let you play games while you’re standing in a checkout line at the grocery store or read ebooks, it’s one of the more useful troubleshooting tools. It can even be used as an ersatz flashlight in a pinch.
What you see here is Milwaukee 6546 cordless screwdriver. It’s my most used tool. In fact, I use it so much, I have two of them, as well as backup batteries. While it’s only rated at 2.4v, the amount of torque this thing can produce is startling.
It also costs about $US90. There are other, less expensive cordless screwdrivers out there, but the key thing you need for a cordless screwdriver to be useful for PC building and upgrading is an adjustable clutch.
Let me be clear: do not use a cordless screwdriver on PC gear unless it has an adjustable clutch. I keep the clutch set to the minimum setting most of the time, so I never strip screws-even those awful potmetal screws and mounts in most PC cases.
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