It’s amazing how many people think that their monitor is their computer, especially older generations and possibly housewives from Pocatello, ID. (No offense, Pocatello – you’re a lovely little place.) When they’re pleading for the internet to go faster, they talk to their monitor. When they gesture at their PC, they point to their monitor. When they take out the sledgehammer, because they lost yet another document for mysterious reasons that are by no means their fault, they swing it at their monitor.
With the exception of the iMac, they are, of course, wrong. Your computer is the plastic and/or metal box with lots of microchips and whirring bits in it; it’s the thing that actually does the computing. But we should forgive these poor, confused souls, because they’re wrong for a very understandable and fundamental reason – the monitor is you PC’s primary means of communicating with you. Without it, your computer is like a car with no gauges.
Sticking with that analogy, your keyboard, mouse, and speakers are necessary, too, because otherwise the car wouldn’t have a steering wheel, pedals, or radio. Without all of this stuff, the engine will run, but it’s ultimately useless, because it can’t get you anywhere. The same is true of computers – you need all of these accessories (also called ‘peripherals’ in the computer world) in order for your PC to do all of the things you expect it to do.
It’s a given that everyone needs a monitor. But there are two things you should consider in order to find the right one for you. Firstly, how much room do you have? Some desks may not allow for large or heavy monitors, so it’s a good idea to keep that in mind. Second, what will you be doing with your computer? Gamers will want larger monitors that can handle high resolutions (i.e. 1920×1080), as will anyone using graphics-intensive programs or wanting to use their computer as a TV replacement. For everyone else, just find one you like the look of that’s made by a reputable company.
There is one more consideration to make, regarding your monitor. You’ll be plugging it into your PCs graphics card (GPU), which means you should check the type of port your card has – it will most likely be HDMI, DVI, or VGA. The good news is that if you’ve found a great deal on a good monitor that doesn’t have a matching port for you graphics card, there are loads of adapters out there, so you can go to your local electronics store, tell them what two ports you need to connect (for example, HDMI to VGA) and you’re set. HDMI is usually considered to be the best quality of the widely available port-types, so if you have a choice, go for that.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a gamer, a CEO, or a stay-at-home dad – you need a reliable keyboard. You can shout at your PC until you’re blue in the face, but without this bad boy, it’ll never hear you. Keyboards and mice are input devices or human interface devices, meaning they let you communicate with the computer. You’ll use it every time you sit in front of that screen, and if it breaks down, you’ll be stuck until you get a replacement. So lesson one for keyboards – buy quality.
Aside from that, what you get really depends on whether or not you’re a gamer. Gaming keyboards tend to be larger, higher quality, and have extra buttons on them, as well as other small additions to make their hands more comfortable for long periods of use. If you’re not a gamer, or if you’re a game who just doesn’t care about macros and backlit keys, you don’t need one of these, but it might be worth considering one of the more understated gaming keyboards, because they do tend to be better quality.
I highly recommend trying several keyboards out if the opportunity presents itself. They vary wildly in everything from key height to the distance between the keys, and even the layout. These things may seem like small potatoes, but when it comes to something you’re going to use every day, you don’t want to get stuck with something that just feels wrong, and trust me, there are keyboards out there that do.
What about mice? Well, almost everything that applies to keyboards goes for mice as well. Comfort, size, quality, and the number of buttons are all things to pay attention to. If you’re an average user, I strongly suggest staying away from gaming mice with loads of extra buttons, as they can sometimes make you do things on accident. In addition to the mouse, though, you want to make sure you’ve got a solid mousepad. Specifically, you want to make sure that your mouse moves on it easily and that the pad itself doesn’t move around. Also make sure that it’s comfortable, because your wrist may be rubbing on it a lot. Wrist supports don’t work for everyone, but they’re something to consider.
As with monitors, pay attention to how much room you have to work with. It’s no good buying a brilliant keyboard or mousepad that won’t fit on your desk.
Audio output is a bit less of a necessity, although most people will want it. You have two major options: speakers or a headset.
In the speaker category, you’ll find quite a lot of variety, from little two-piece desktop sets to full surround sound kits, but it’s up to you to know what you need. A note if you buy a speaker set made for surround sound – you’ll likely need to mess with the walls in the room, since either shelves or mounting equipment are typically require to put all the speakers up. Also, take note of whether or not you have room for a subwoofer, because a majority of PC speakers come with one.
On the headset side of things, there are a few subcategories which essentially boil down to gaming, wireless, microphone, and basic. If you’re a gamer, get a gaming headset, plain and simple. $60-100 should get you a great set, and while you can go cheaper, you’re risking reduced quality and comfort. You can also get a crazy $300 gaming headset, but it’s simply not necessary. Pay attention to brand reputation – Logitech, Turtle Beach, and Razer are all well-known and respected makers of gaming headsets. These days, you need to pay attention to console compatibility, as well; a lot of headsets are specifically made for Xbox or PlayStation, and not all of them will work with your PC, so stay sharp.
Of course, for the average user, the main considerations are how often you’ll use it and what you need it for. If you Skype with friends a lot and your webcam’s microphone is awful (most are), then you just need a basic microphone headset that you can get for $20 at almost any major retailer. If you just want to listen to music without your roommates yelling at you (or to ignore your roommates while they’re yelling at you), you don’t need to shell out for the microphone, but you might want better quality sound than the Skypers. Again, pay attention to brand reputation. Logitech is a good go-to for reliable, good quality headsets, but they’re not the only option. Do your homework and get the headset that’s right for you.
If you do decide to go for a headset, I really recommend getting a cheap set of speakers to go with them. You never know if you’ll have someone over and want to show them a hilarious YouTube video, or listen to music while you’re making dinner, or maybe ‘watch a movie’ with your girlfriend. You can grab a simple set of speakers with no subwoofer for $20 at Best Buy, for example, and they’re great to have on hand just in case.
Not everyone will need a printer all the time, but they’re not that expensive and can be incredibly useful. It saves you from having to rush to the college library to print your homework, and you can print out Google Maps directions in case your phone or GPS unit dies. If someone sends you a five page e-mail, you can print it to read while eating breakfast. In a world of electronic everything, it’s often a good idea to have a hard copy of stuff, like your resume, tax documents, and school or business papers.
The best part is that personal all-in-one printers aren’t terribly expensive anymore. You can easily get a decent printer/scanner/copier/fax machine for $100 or less. Because everything’s electronic now, a lot of people and companies are demanding scans of your passport, driver’s license, certifications, etc., and being able to scan those in yourself can be extremely handy.
Sure, you’ll have to pay for ink, but that’s in direct proportion to use – if you rarely use it, you’ll rarely buy ink cartridges, and if you use it all the time, then it’s obviously proven its worth, right?
If you do decide to take the plunge, check to see how much ink cartridges cost for any printer you’re looking at, as well as approximately how many pages each cartridge will print. Like cars, some get better mileage than others, and it’s good to know what you’re getting yourself into.
Some motherboards come with this built-in, but if yours doesn’t, you’ll probably want to get a wireless adapter. Basically, what a wireless adapter does is let your PC find Wi-Fi networks, just like your phone or laptop. This can come in handy, since in some places, especially in older homes, you may be lacking easy access to an Ethernet port (the place in the wall you’d normally plug your PC into for internet access).
Wireless adapters mostly vary in two ways – the range and the technology they use. Range will be listed on the box. The type of Wi-Fi the adapter uses will be a letter or two – as of 2016, stick with ‘N’ or ‘AC.’ Anything else will either be really new or really old, but ‘N’ should be good enough for most users. Stick with either Netgear or Linksys, and you’ll be fine.
Most people will have one of these already, probably provided by their internet provider. A router is what you plug into directly into an Ethernet port in the wall, which then broadcasts the Wi-Fi network to the rest of your house. If you’re buying a new one or have had internet issues in the past, I recommend going to your local electronics shop and getting a Linksys or Netgear router. A really solid one will cost around $100, but if you’re on a budget, going a little cheaper won’t hurt performance too much.