Hardware Upgrades for $100

By Eric Grevstad | Posted July 30, 2004
PC prices are at record lows, according to Hardware Central's quarterly Grand Openings survey on how much desktop or notebook $1,000 can buy, but many SMBs can't afford to buy a new computer every time the itch for new hardware hits. Besides, upgrading to a bigger hard disk, faster video card or other piece of hardware can add years to the life of an otherwise capable desktop.

So, in the spirit of Grand Openings, we're taking a look at hardware for $100 — enough to enhance your existing technology without killing your budget. We decided to limit our shopping trip to two online sites: PC Connection and Staples.

Back to Basics
Adding more memory is still the easiest and most cost-effective way to boost the performance of a Windows PC. PC Connection's site lists literally thousands of various memory modules billed as "for Gateway desktops," "for Compaq Proliant," or whatever, although Staples does offer a generic 512MB stick of PC2700 (DDR333) or two 256MB modules of PC2100 (DDR266) for $100. You'll find lower prices and more thorough system or motherboard compatibility matching at memory vendor sites such as Crucial Technology or Kingston Technology.

Do-it-yourselfers who don't mind installing a drive in a vacant internal bay will find mass-market retailers ready to sell you storage upgrades. Staples' best buy in our price range was an 80GB Maxtor 7,200-rpm internal hard disk with EIDE/Ultra 133 interface for $90 (a Serial ATA (SATA) version is $100).

However, PC Connection offers a 120GB Western Digital Caviar for $100 and 120GB Hitachi Deskstar 7K250 — both 7,200-rpm drives with 8MB buffers — for $95, as well as the Maxtor 80GB SATA drive for $98.

Shopping at Staples for a $100 DVD recorder yielded only one internal model — a clearance sale TDK DVD1RW drive with 4X write, 2.4X DVD+RW and 2X DVD-RW rewrite and 12X playback plus 16/10/40X CD-RW performance — for $130 with a $30 rebate. (A Memorex 8/4/12X internal DVD+RW burner is $118.)

PC Connection offers a broader selection, including a Toshiba internal DVD1RW (with 8X write and 4X rewrite speeds for both formats) for $100 and a similar Lite-On model for $85. If you don't need DVD recording, they carry an Acer internal DVD-ROM /CD-RW combo drive $87.

Staples struck back with a lower price ($90) on Iomega's external 52/32/52X CD-RW drive with USB 2.0 interface, though PC Connection offered either the USB 2.0 or FireWire versions of EZQuest's Boa 52/24/52X external CD-RW for $100, as well as a $100-after-mail-in-rebate deal on a Kanguru USB 2.0 external DVD1RW.

Flash Fobs and Refurbished Displays
A perfect example of an affordable, gotta-have-it gadget is a USB flash-memory drive or key fob to replace those skimpy, wimpy old floppy disks. PC Connection offered Lexar's 512MB JumpDrive Secure for $95, but Staples narrowly nabbed the value crown with SanDisk's 512MB Cruzer Mini for $90. Want an extra gadget factor? Staples listed the Edge 256MB DiskGo Pen — a USB flash drive in the cap of a pen — for $100, while PC Connection offered Kanguru's and Lexar's 128MB flash drive and MP3 player combos for $90 and $89, respectively.

PC Connection also surprised us by making our $100 cut with a monitor — albeit a refurbished one — the 17-inch Optiquest Q71 CRT. (If you don't mind stopping at 1,280 by 1,024 resolution, a new Acer AC713 17-inch CRT cost $105. We don't count 15-inch CRTs as real monitors anymore, urging users to step up to either a same-size LCD or 17-inch tube.)

Our $100 price ceiling means you can pretty much go to town when replacing your old keyboard or mouse or both. You'll find tons of both corded and cordless optical input devices (instead of rolling-ball mouse technology) to choose from. PC Connection, for instance, offers either Microsoft's Wireless Optical Desktop Elite or Wireless Optical Desktop Pro — the latter with an ergonomic split keyboard, both with a fancy Tilt Wheel Technology mouse — for $90, and lists Logitech's brand-new Cordless Desktop LX 501 combo for $74.

Want to spice up your input with something new? Both vendors stock Gyration's suite with full-sized keyboard and versatile optical-on-your-desk-or-gesture-in-midair mouse ($100 at Staples, $94 at PC Connection). PC Connection also lists Logitech's MX900 Bluetooth cordless optical mouse for $90.

On the Peripherals
Like keyboards and mice, wireless networking gear has become so affordable that's there's no excuse not to let your laptop share your desktop's cable- or DSL-modem connection. Staples sells Belkin's 54g Wireless DSL/Cable Gateway Router and Linksys' Wireless-G Broadband Router, for $80 apiece. If your laptop lacks Wi-Fi as standard equipment, PC Connection was clearing out slower 802.11b wares with an $82 wireless broadband router and PC Card combo from Netgear.

Similarly, you'll find plenty of $100-or-less inkjet printers to choose from. Both stores offer Lexmark's Z816 — rated at up to 22 pages per minute for black and 15 ppm in color, with six-color photo printing via an optional cartridge — for $100, though PC Connection threw in a USB cable. It also had a choice of several Lexmark printer/copier/flatbed-scanner combos, though small-office folks will do better at Staples with HP's OfficeJet 4110, which combines an inkjet printer and copier with sheet-fed scanner and fax machine for $100.

Finally, while Staples offered a bit more respectable and up-to-date hardware selection than we expected, it's not the place to look for a competitive graphics card — its $100 offering is PNY's relatively outdated Verto GeForce4 MX 420.

The same money at PC Connection gets you ATI's own-brand 128MB Radeon 9200 or Diamond's Stealth S100 128MB Radeon 9600 SE, or even a brand-new PCI Express card from Pine Technology (a 128MB GeForce PCX 5300). For TV-watching on the PC, we found ATI's TV Wonder Pro with remote control for $94 and Hauppauge's USB plug-in WinTV tuner for $95.

The mail-order house also smashes Staples when it comes to offering a usable digital camera for $100 — Minolta's Dimage E223, which combines 2-megapixel resolution with a 3X optical zoom lens. The same price gets you Sony's ultra-compact, 2-megapixel model DSC-U30, although that camera has no zoom. The write-up on PC Connection's site proclaims, "A 1X optical zoom lets you get closer to your subject." Presumably by walking up to it.

Adapted from hardwarecentral.com.

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