Back to school shopping? Don’t forget the high tech supplies. Even if your student already has a computer, there will always be must-have PC accessories that will make this powerful educational tool even better.
Most computers come with the basics right out of the box. However, to make the most out of what these machines are capable of, there are accessories that either improve on what’s included, or offer new functionality altogether.
Wireless Keyboard and Mouse
If you’re using a wired keyboard or mouse, replacing them with a wireless version is one of the quickest, easiest and most satisfying upgrades to your computer experience.
Cables are annoying, especially when they’re strewn across the desk in plain sight, as they are with a wired keyboard. They get in the way, collect dust and are just plain untidy looking. Upgrade to a wireless keyboard and mouse and do away with two wires for good. Some can even be recharged by USB so you don’t need to worry about batteries and a recharger.
A printer is a true must-have PC accessory, especially for students. Being able to print out assignments at home isn’t just a convenience, it’s often a requirement. Make it an all-in-one printer (with print, scan and fax capability) and you have a photocopier attached to your PC. I find this option especially useful for snapping pristine copies of assignments before my kids start marking up the originals. Just in case …
An inexpensive monotone laser printer is your best bet for fast and cheap text printing, while a colour laser printer offers affordable charts and project-worthy images. If you plan to print digital photos or want to try out specialized media like iron on transfers, you should stick to inkjet printers.
Bluetooth Speaker or Computer Speakers
Chances are your PC’s built-in speaker is far from awe-inspiring. Many desktop PCs are equipped with a single speaker that’s adequate enough for beeps and alerts, but falls short when it comes to playing back music. Even computers that have stereo speakers can usually benefit from an upgrade.
Fortunately, you don’t have to open up your PC and start fiddling with components to make things better.
PC speaker systems offer stereo (and often multi-channel), amplified sound that beats what manufacturers can stick inside a PC case. Simply plug one of these sound systems into your computer’s audio output jack and enjoy the results. Music will sound better, games will sound better and suddenly your PC will offer a compelling movie-watching experience as well.
If you want to skip the wires, opt for a Bluetooth speaker. You still get a nice boost over your PC’s built-in sound capabilities without adding more cables to the mix. You also get the added bonus of having the speaker do double-duty as a portable sound system to use with your smartphone or tablet.
If you own an All-in-One PC or a laptop, it probably has a built-in webcam. If you have a desktop PC, chances are the monitor does not. If you don’t have a webcam, you really should consider picking one up. These things are especially handy for students who are living away from home. With a webcam-equipped PC, they can use Skype to video chat for free instead of having to call their friends and family. And while nothing beats being home for the holidays, with a webcam distant students can come close with a virtual presence.
External Hard Drive
One of the most important accessories you can add to any PC is an external hard drive.
On one hand, having the additional storage space offered by an external hard drive means you don’t have to worry about being choosey with which software you install or what data you keep. External hard drives mean no longer having to worry about the limited capacity of your PC’s own hard drive or SSD.
You also have a way to physically transport vast amounts of data. Want to share your digital photo library? You don’t have to worry about uploading copies to a file sharing site, just unplug the external hard drive and bring the entire collection with you.
Having data easily accessible on an external drive also makes it much simpler to set up a new PC–simply connect the drive to the new computer and everything you need is there and ready to quickly transfer over.
Of course the big win is in data security.
An external hard drive is the ideal accessory for backing up your data. Cloud backups are great, but if something goes wrong –you accidentally delete an important file, your PC’s drive catastrophically fails (it can happen) or your computer is infected with malware– restoring from the cloud can be a lengthy process. Having your data (and ideally a mirrored back of your entire drive so you can completely restore your PC to its pre “event” state) at hand and accessible via a rapid USB 3.0 connection means you can be over the crisis and back up and running in a fraction of the time.
Not many people bother with a UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) for home or small business use, but from my perspective, these devices are one of the best accessories you can buy for your PC. Plugging into a UPS goes beyond surge protection and also gives your desktop PC one of the primary advantages of a laptop—the ability to keep working using the battery when the power cuts out.
How long you can keep working depends on the capacity of battery in your UPS and the power draw of your system (fast CPUs and big displays mean more power required), but even the lowliest UPS gets you a critical advantage: the time needed to save open files and shut down your PC gracefully during a power outage instead of simply having the power cut, losing what you were working on and risking system file corruption.
“I lost my file when the power went out” is the new “my dog ate it” when it comes to late school assignments, so plug your PC into a UPS to avoid having to ever plead that case to a sceptical teacher …
There are more PC accessories and depending on what level of school a student is in and what courses they are taking, what’s “must-have” could also include anything from a USB hub (for plugging in many accessories simultaneously) to a 4K monitor, a headset, Gigabit Wi-Fi router, or a graphics tablet.
The point is, as great an educational tool as a PC is, with the right accessories it gets much, much better.