None of us could be described as audiophiles, and we typically don't review audio gear other than sound cards. That said, we do appreciate high-quality sound, and we have a few speaker and headphone recommendations in mind.
|Cyber Acoustics CA-3602||2.1 speakers||$49.99|
|Creative Inspire T12||2.0 speakers||$65.99|
|Sennheiser HD 558||Headphones||$129.95|
|M-Audio Studiophile AV-40||2.0 studio monitors||$149.99|
|Audioengine A2||2.0 studio monitors||$199.00|
|Alesis M1A Active 520||2.0 studio monitors (USB)||$199.00|
At the budget end of the spectrum, Scott recommends Cyber Acoustics' CA-3602 and Creative's Inspire T12. These are both stereo speaker setups that provide passable, albeit not exceptional, sound quality. Audiophiles need not apply, but those of us watching Netflix shows, listening to podcasts, and enjoying the latest music videos on YouTube should be happy enough.
The most cost-effective way to get high-quality audio is probably to purchase a pair of good headphones. Geoff and I use Sennheiser's HD 555 and HD 595 cans, respectively. The HD 555 used to be the better deal of the two, but it's now been discontinued and replaced by the HD 558. The HD 558 is based on a similar design, and judging by the user reviews at Newegg and other places, it delivers an excellent experience for the money. Just be sure to use a decent sound card. (See our System Guide for recommendations on that front.)
Last, but not least, Bruno Ferreira, our resident coder and musician, has some suggestions for stereo studio monitor setups. M-Audio's Studiophile AV-40 is the least expensive of the bunch, at $150, while the Audioengine A2 and Alesis M1A Active 520 both sell for around $200. The latter has a USB input, so it's possible to dispense with a discrete card and still get good sound quality. No matter which setup you go with, though, these studio monitors should provide terrific audio fidelity for the money.
External storage and backups
We cover internal storage pretty extensively in our System Guide, but backups and external options are the realm of our staff picks. We've singled out a few options here, from a cloud backup service to a drive dock and 5.25" card reader.
|CrashPlan||Cloud backup service||$4.00-$5.99/month|
|Thermaltake BlacX 5G||2.5"/3.5" USB 3.0 drive dock||$40.99|
|Kingston DataTraveler 128GB||USB 3.0 thumb drive||$62.99|
|Rosewill RDCR-11004||5.25" card reader, USB hub||$27.99|
The easiest way to back up your data is probably to use a cloud service. Several of us have signed up with CrashPlan, which lets its customers back up an unlimited amount of data to the cloud for a monthly fee of $4 to $5.99. (The exact price depends on the contract length.) CrashPlan locks up data using 448-bit encryption, and it offers the option to set a private password that won't be kept on the company's servers. The downside of this, of course, is that losing the password means losing access to the data. But the upside is that nobody else, save perhaps for the NSA, should be able to steal your files.
For local storage, we like Thermaltake's BlacX 5G USB 3.0 drive dock. Any internal 3.5" or 2.5" drive can be inserted in the BlacX and connected to a PC via USB 3.0, which is awesomely convenient. And the BlacX isn't just handy for backups; it can also help salvage data on hard drives recovered from failing or inoperable PCs.
Need something more portable? USB 3.0 thumb drives have come down in price quite a bit lately. Offerings like Kingston's DataTraveler 128GB can be purchased for less than $70, and they're capacious enough to store important files: tax forms, photos, family videos, and so forth. Thanks to their USB 3.0 interfaces, these drives also tend to be much speedier than the sluggish thumb drives of old.
Finally, if you're building a full-sized desktop PC, chances are you're going to have some unoccupied 5.25" bays in your enclosure. It may be a good idea to populate one of them with something like Rosewill's RDCR-11004, which offers card reading capabilities and a six-port USB hub (including two SuperSpeed ports). I suppose this doesn't count as external storage in the strictest sense of the term, but hey, it can't hurt.
Other odds and ends
|Edimax EW-7811Un||USB Wi-Fi adapter||$9.99|
|NZXT Sentry 2||Fan controller (touch screen)||$27.99|
|NZXT Sentry Mix 2||Fan controller (mechanical)||$34.99|
Plenty of folks stick PCI Express Wi-Fi adapters in their PCs. However, few are aware that bit-sized USB dongle adapters also exist—and that they're tantalizingly inexpensive. Edimax's EW-7811Un offers 802.11n connectivity for only $10. The small size and lack of external antennae might lead one to think the wireless reception isn't so great, but that doesn't seem to be so. Out of over 900 Newegg reviewers, 72% awarded the dongle four or five stars, and only 13% gave it one star. Either way, at $10, it's not much of a gamble.
Most of the motherboards we recommend in our System Guides have pretty serviceable fan-control features built in, either in their firmware or in the Windows software that accompanies them. The thing is, motherboards only have a handful of fan headers. For systems with more fans than the motherboard can handle, a discrete fan controller is a wise purchase.
We've singled out a couple of recommendations here, both from NZXT. The Sentry 2 is the lower priced of the two; it supports up to five fans at 10W per channel, can monitor internal temperatures, and has a fancy touch screen. The Sentry Mix 2 doesn't have a touch screen (fan speeds are controlled with mechanical sliders), nor does it sense temperatures, but it supports up to six fans at 30W per channel.
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