Friday, April 25, 2008

Practical Tech Accessories You Really Need

A C C E S S O R I Z E Your Tech

Let's face it. You don't really need a $500 iPhone or a $300-400 iPod, or even an $1,800 laptop that will fit inside of a manila envelope. Instead of spending all of your hard-earned money on the glitzy new tech toys that are out now, take care of what you already have first. Here are some recommendations, many of which are items you may not have thought about. These are the tech accessories you really need.

USB to PS2 Adapter/Splitter: If you have a newer computer that has no little round ports (known as PS2 ports) in which to plug in your older mouse and keyboard, there is no need to buy a new keyboard and/or a new mouse. Instead, look for a USB to PS2 adapter. I found many of them on eBay for around $10.00. Then you can keep the mouse and keyboard that you've grown accustomed to and not have to replace them. This adapter can then be used on other computers in the future. Sometimes you can get them in sets of two. It's handy to have an extra. If you want the opposite type of adapter, you can get a PS2 to USB adapter. These are smaller, cheaper and easier to find, but they don't seem to work as well, and the need for these little gadgets is no longer as necessary as it once was.

Laptop Cooling Pad: I have recommended this helpful accessory to many people, and all have been very pleased. It is one of those things you don't think to get when you walk out of the store with a new notebook computer. You just expect it to be cool on your lap, right? Well, as so often happens, even the newest and best laptop runs hot after only a few minutes, making for an uncomfortable experience, especially if you're typing a long document or doing some heavy-duty Web surfing. The way this device works is that you simply plug its cable into the USB port on your laptop, and then place the cooling pad underneath it. Then, its 2, 3 or 4 built-in fans (depending on the model you get) all run and constantly cool your laptop from beneath, which is where it gets the hottest. It works like a cooling stand for your laptop. These pads are not very heavy, and they elevate the laptop about an inch higher, which is also good. No need to plug it into a power outlet, since it runs via USB power. You will wonder how you ever did without it. Price=$15-25.

VGA Monitor Y Splitter: The technical name for this is an HD15M to (2) Female SVGA Y-Cable. You can clearly see what it looks like in the picture below, and if you've ever wanted to connect a 2nd monitor to your computer, or to connect an LCD projector to a desktop computer, this splitter is absolutely essential. Since many people connect laptops to projectors these days, this splitter is not as necessary as it used to be, but any time you want to connect a 2nd video display to your desktop computer, whether it be a 2nd monitor, document camera, projector, TV, etc., this is what you need.








DVI
to VGA Adapter
: If you have an older monitor, but a newer computer, you need to convert the VGA monitor connection so that it will plug into the single, newer DVI jack in the back of your new computer. Maybe you have two monitors (one DVI and one VGA), and you want to connect both to your new computer. There are many variations of why you would need this type of adapter. It's just good to have, with the two different formats of video monitors. Here is a picture of what it looks like. DVI-to-VGA adapters are pretty cheap - so cheap that most video cards come with a free adapter. What's the difference between DVI and VGA? DVI is a digital connection, whereas VGA is an analog signal, so you get a slightly higher quality signal with DVI than with VGA. Generally, you'll find DVI connections on LCD flat-panel monitors as they handle the video signal in pure digital form, while the older CRT monitors will use VGA because the video signal remains analog through the entire monitor. These VGA adapters run around $15.



Laptop Number Pad
:
The Logitech Cordless Number Pad for Notebooks fulfills an important need for many notebook users. As these computers get smaller and smaller (see "ultra portable"), the keyboards also get smaller and smaller. One of the main things missing with a small keyboard is a number pad. Here is a number pad that connects wirelessly, so you can place it anywhere and do your number crunching, just like back when you had one of those old adding machines of yesteryear. Price=around $30-$35. Slighly less on eBay.









USB External Hard Drives: Now here is a wide-open category. USB hard drives may be the most essential accessory of all. But today, you have many choices. Sizes run all across the board. 100 gb, 250 gb, 320 gb, 500 gb, 600 gb, even 1 Terabyte! But for me, the biggest distinction to make is how physically small you want it to be. The choice is between 2 1/2 inches (laptop size hard drive) and 3 1/2 inches (desktop size hard drive). The fact is, both are excellent choices. The advantage of the 2.5-inch laptop-size hard drives is that they are usually USB-powered. There is no need to plug them into an electrical outlet, and they are small enough to carry inside of a briefcase. They generally run a bit lower-capacity and a bit higher-priced than their larger 3.5-inch USB counterparts, but I think the more portable size and USB-power option outweighs the higher price drawback, especially when you look at these options from a vendor like Newegg.com. A 250 gb Western Digital My Passport 2.5" mini hard drive runs $125. A 500 gb Seagate FreeAgent Pro 3.5" runs $145. It is all in what you need in terms of space, and what you can afford. Both are great examples.










USB Flash Drives: Everyone needs at least one Flash Drive, and I'm surprised how many people still don't know what they are, and how useful they can be. Why wouldn't anyone want a device that is small enough to fit inside any pocket, but yet large capacity enough to hold over 1,000 documents and/or hundreds of photos, music, even video clips. They come in all capacities: 1 gb, 2 gb, 4 gb and more. Right now, the 4 gb drives are running $15-30, so do yourself a favor and get the best deal, because you can never have enough of these great backup solutions which are all the size of your thumb, or smaller.Check out my previous blog post about the latest "thumb drives."

Media Cards and Media Card Readers: Most people now have a digital camera of some sort. And most digital cameras have a memory card of some sort. In fact, try opening your camera's card slot to see what type of card you have. Then, make sure you have a memory card reader on your desktop computer or laptop that will read it. More and more portable gadgets are also coming equipped with these memory card readers, but if your computer does not have one, you definitely need it. This eliminates the inconvenient need to connect a USB cable to upload your digital pictures to your computer. With a card reader, just take out the card from your camera, then plug the card into the card reader, and you're all set to transfer your pictures into your pictures folder. One of the newest technology advances regarding memory cards is the hot new product known as the Eye-Fi Wireless 2 gb SD Memory Card, and for $100.00 it can be yours. Here is a USA Today video review of this great card.

But if you just want a card reader that will read every type of digital camera memory card on the planet, look for something like this 50-in-1 Pocket Memory Card Reader/Writer. These range in price from $10-$20 and usually connect through USB power, so there is no need to plug one into the wall.

USB Floppy Disk Drive: OK. I know this is low tech in a big way, but you never know when you might need to copy all of your old floppy disks to that newly-purchased USB hard drive or Flash drive. And you never know when you might need to boot off of a floppy disk. Some older bootable programs require a floppy drive. Older versions of Norton Ghost, for example. Instead of having to throw those old floppy disks away and lose all of that important data, just get one of these USB floppy disk drives for your laptop or desktop computer. Surprisingly they can be quite pricey ($30-$60) unless you buy one on eBay. But they are convenient, and you won't believe how many times your friends will ask to borrow it.

Wireless Travel Router: Here is another one of those handy little gadgets that you wouldn't normally think about buying. Trust me when I tell you that this thing has really saved me over the past few years. First of all, I didn't realize there were this many models (see Top 7 Travel Wireless Routers). I continue to stick with Netgear, and here is the Travel Router that I use. The benefit of having something like this is that you can plug it into any Ethernet cable Internet connection, and it converts your wired high-speed connection into a wireless one. You can then open up your wireless laptop and connect to the Internet from just about anywhere within earshot of your wired connection. Suddenly you have wireless where there wasn't wireless before. And if you're traveling and want to relax in an easy chair while you work, this is a great way to do it. It also works well with Pocket PCs, phones and other portable wireless devices.

So, here you have it. A practical tech accessory package that you really do need, and none of these will break the bank.

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