A term you don’t hear very often anymore is “computer peripheral,” which is some piece of hardware that attached to the computer to add some kind of additional functionality. Today, you may not need too many of these external devices anymore, especially as computers and mobile devices have absorbed many of these functions. Do you need a dedicated scanner, or can you just snap a picture of something with your mobile phone? Do you need an external hard drive for backup or do you just store everything in the cloud? (We will talk about “the cloud” in a later post.) Do you need an external webcam or does your laptop have one built in?
Some common categories of external hardware devices you may find useful—or downright necessary—on a daily basis can include:
Wireless Router—This is the device that beams the WiFi signal from your cable modem to the rest of your home. If you have Internet access through your cable company (such as Roadrunner from Time Warner), you will likely have been given a cable modem into which you plug the cable coming into the house. (It can be cheaper in the long run to buy your own cable modem rather than rent them for a monthly fee from the cable company.) To create a wireless network, a wireless router connects to your cable modem and broadcasts the signal that is picked up by the computers and other WiFi-compatible devices in your home, like iPads, iPhones, etc. If you use Apple computers, the router is called an Airport Base Station and can be purchased from the Apple Store online or offline. (Apple Store personnel are pretty knowledgeable and helpful and can readily answer any specific questions about setting up an Airport network.) If you use a PC that runs some version of Windows, you can buy a wireless router at Best Buy, Staples, Walmart, or just about any other big box retailer. Top brands are Netgear, Linksys, and Cisco. They cost, on average, between $50 and $100.
Printer—Although we print fewer and fewer things in the home these days, a laser or inkjet desktop printer can still serve a useful function, and may be essential depending on your business. If you do freelance graphic design, you may need to proof layouts, and sometimes this is better done in print than via onscreen PDFs.
Copier—Likewise, you may not have great copying demands the way many of us used to; we simply create and copy electronic files. And if you only copy things once in a very great while, you can always avail yourself of he local UPS Store or Kinkos, or even the library. If you still need a substantial number of hard copies of things, you can pick up a small desktop copier in Staples and the like.
Fax Machine—Yes, some people still fax things, although that has been almost entirely replaced by emailing documents or using cloud transfer like Dropbox. And, again, if you only rarely need faxing, there is always the UPS Store or Kinkos. Your need for fax capabilities may be dictated by your clients, one or more of whom may still prefer to communicate this way.
(If you do need copying, faxing, scanning, and printing capabilities, you can purchase all-in-one “multifunction” devices at Staples, Walmart, or online.)
External Computer Storage—An external hard drive is a great place to back up files, and the cost of computer storage is always dropping. In 2015, you can get a 2TB (terabyte) drive for $75. (2 terabytes = 2,000 gigabytes.) However, cloud storage may be a good alternative.
Webcam—Webcams are often built in to most recent laptop models, but if not you may need to pick one up (<$100) if you plan to participate in videoconferencing or Skype. Also, the last few versions of the iPhone, iPad, and other smartphones/tablets have built-in videocameras that will let you videoconference.
Whatever Hardware You May Require for Your Specific Business—A high-end scanner? A professional quality digital camera? High-end video and/or audio capabilities? As we advised in a previous post, buy these items as you discover you need them.