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142. Practical computer accessories

By Andrew D. Wright

A computer is an Anything Box of near-limitless potential that can be accessorized to meet the user's needs. And just like in the fashion world, the right accessory can sometimes make all the difference.

Do you have to carry information to and from different computers? From postage-stamp size Secure Digital cards to gum-stick size USB flash drives, large data storage has never been more portable.

Both 2 and 4 GB SD cards and readers are very reasonably priced with larger capacities available. USB flash drives holding 16 GB priced around $60 are locally available.

These are just the thing for carrying reports or multimedia files like MP3 audio or DivX/Xvid video files. Stick the player, the video codecs and the media files on the tiny SD card or USB flash drive and a triple-feature at the movies can fit in your shirt pocket smaller than a pack of matches.

A USB hub can make using USB devices more convenient. Many computers put lots of USB ports at the rear of the computer, buried in a forest of wiring. A multi-port USB hub can sit next to your keyboard where it is handy to get at. It's a good idea to choose a powered USB hub that can support more devices and provide electricity for uses like charging up portable MP3 players. Look for USB 2.0 support for greater speed and be sure to plug the hub into a USB 2.0 port on your computer.

Speaking of providing electricity, one very practical accessory is an uninterruptible power supply or UPS. A computer is a complex collection of sensitive electronic parts that are vulnerable to surges of electrical current. A good quality UPS will provide advanced surge protection not only for the electrical socket but also for the telephone line and coaxial cable.

Many UPSs can plug into one of the computer's USB ports to communicate with the computer and put it into a safe shutdown state automatically in the event of a power outage that lasts longer than the UPS batteries can stay up.

A UPS also serves to smooth out electrical noise and provide a uniform amount of power without current swings up or down. Computers and all other sensitive electronic components will last longer with clean, stable power.

Another useful accessory is an external hard drive caddy. Hard drives are cheaper than ever to purchase and an external enclosure combines the dual benefits of very large amounts of data storage with ease of use and portability. An external hard drive can be added or taken off of a computer in moments and used to provide a place to back up important information for safekeeping.

These days with more and more people storing all their family movies and photos on the computer, it's not a bad idea to have a fail-safe copy of everything somewhere else like in the family's safe deposit box or some other remote protected location.

Hard drives can crash, computers can be lost in house fires but with an off-site backup, a domestic data disaster can be turned into a minor inconvenience. Insurance can buy you a new computer, but those photos of your child's first birthday or the working draft of your novel are irreplacable. For less than a hundred dollars for a hard drive and external enclosure and a few minutes of time now and then, you can have a fallback position.

Out some place using your laptop as a music player but the tinny laptop speakers bite? USB-powered speakers can have surprisingly good sound quality and there's just the one USB cable to plug in.


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Originally published 7 November 2008


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