reviewtrs october 2015 peripheral staff picks

TR’s October 2015 peripheral staff picks

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Welcome to the October 2015 edition of our peripheral staff picks, where we recommend the best monitors, mice, keyboards, and more to complete your PC. If you’re loading up your shopping cart with parts from our latest System Guide and want to finish off your system with some worthy peripherals to match, this is the place to be.

Where possible, we’re recommending stuff that we’ve personally reviewed, but the vast world of PC hardware keeps us from touching every single product out there. If there’s a hole in our coverage, we’ll turn to reliable external sources for perspective.

If you like this article, don’t miss the rest of our guide series: our main System Guide, in which we recommend PC components and custom builds; our how-to-build-a-PC guide, where we walk readers (and viewers) through the PC assembly process; and our mobile staff picks, where we talk about our favorite notebooks, phones, and tablets.

Our guides are sponsored by Newegg, so we’ll be using links to their product pages throughout this article. You can (and should!) support TR by using these links to purchase the products we recommend. If Newegg doesn’t stock an item we want to recommend, we’ll link to other resellers as needed.

Where would we be without displays? Not reading this guide, that’s for sure. In general, a good display should have an IPS panel with accurate color reproduction, wide viewing angles, and a decent complement of inputs. The dreaded TN panel is getting much better, however, and we’ve reviewed a couple of premium TN displays that hang right with IPS panels for overall quality.

Variable-refresh-rate displays are still gaining steam. Since we last surveyed the marketplace, Dell has announced its plans to produce a G-Sync display that’ll arrive this month, and LG has incorporated AMD’s FreeSync tech into an appealing 4K display that we’ll examine in our recommendations.

Graphics card and monitor manufacturers still haven’t agreed on a universal standard for VRR displays, though. Nvidia is off in one corner with its proprietary G-Sync tech, while AMD and the VESA standards body are sort of mushed together in another with FreeSync and the Adaptive-Sync standard. Intel has announced its intent to support Adaptive-Sync at some point in the future, though, and the weight of that company’s support has the potential to tip the VRR wars in Adaptive-Sync’s favor.

For now, G-Sync monitors only work with some Nvidia GeForce graphics cards, and FreeSync only works with compatible AMD Radeon cards. Yeah, it’s a bit of a headache, but the result is so, so worth it.

You might also be thinking about a 4K monitor to pair with a top-of-the-line graphics card. We’re happy to report that some of the issues with 4K monitors seem to be smoothing out a bit. For example, dual-tile displays are now pretty rare. More new 4K monitors seem to be using DisplayPort’s single-stream transport feature, which means that the monitor appears to PC firmware, Windows, and games as a single 3840×2160 display, rather than as a pair of lower-res displays. That avoids a lot of headaches, and it’s a feature worth seeking out.

Finally, curved displays are becoming more and more popular. They’re especially good for creating sweeping multi-monitor vistas that wrap around for a more immersive experience. We’ll consider a couple of these monitors in both VRR and non-VRR flavors in our recommendations.

Variable-refresh-rate displays

Product Type Price
Acer XB280HK 28″ 3840×2160 TN, 60Hz, G-Sync $799.99
Acer XB270HU 27″ 2560×1440 IPS, 144Hz, G-Sync $799.99
Asus ROG Swift PG278Q 27″ 2560×1440 TN, 144Hz, G-Sync $669.99
Samsung S24E370DL 24″ 1920×1080 PLS, 60Hz, FreeSync $249.99
Asus MG279Q 27″ 2560×1440 IPS, 144Hz, FreeSync $579.99
LG 27MU67 27″ 3840×2160 IPS, 60Hz, FreeSync $549.99
Acer XR341CK Curved 34″ 3440×1440 IPS, 75Hz, FreeSync $1,099.99

G-Sync at 4K: Acer XB280HK
For those who want the highest resolution possible in a G-Sync-enabled display, Acer’s XB280HK is still the only way to get there. This 28″, 4K display packs a TN panel with a 1-ms response time and a maximum refresh rate of 60 Hz. The XB280HK also comes with a fully-adjustable stand and a built-in USB 3.0 hub.

If you’re turned off by the idea of a TN panel in a display this expensive, we’d encourage you to take a second look. We’ve found that premium TN panels are very nearly as good as the average IPS displays these days, so there’s no reason to dismiss the XB280HK based on its panel tech alone. If you’re still not convinced, check out the Acer XB270HU (or consider the 4K, FreeSync LG 27MU67 and its IPS panel, as long as you’re willing to pair it with a Radeon graphics card).

G-Sync and IPS: Acer XB270HU
If the TN panel in the XB280HK above is a deal-breaker, Acer’s XB270HU is a fine alternative. It’s a 27″, 2560×1440 display with an IPS panel. The IPS tech does increase response time to 4 ms, but the XB270HU comes with a fast 144 Hz refresh rate, which might make up for that slightly more laggy spec. Like its 4K stablemate, the XB270HU comes tricked-out with a height- and tilt-adjustable stand and a built-in USB 3.0 hub.

An Asus alternative with G-Sync: Asus ROG Swift PG278Q
If either of the Acer displays we recommend are out of stock, or you dislike their styling, Asus’ ROG Swift PG278Q is an excellent display in its own right. This G-Sync-equipped screen features a 27″, 2560×1440 TN panel with a 1 ms response time and a 144 Hz maximum refresh rate. It also features a fancy OSD control system and a chiseled, angular exterior that makes a statement on a desk. Its lower resolution versus Acer’s XB280HK may be easier to drive for some systems, too.

Be aware, though: Asus has announced an IPS-based follow-up to this product, and we expect to see it in stores soon.

Affordable FreeSync: Samsung S24E370DL
FreeSync displays seem to be on the cusp of affordability in absolute terms, not just relative to their G-Sync competitors. Samsung’s S24E370DL looks to be leading that charge when it arrrives in November (you can pre-order one today).

For just $249, this display offers a high-quality 1080p PLS panel and wireless charging for Qi-compatible devices through its stand. The S24E370DL’s maximum refresh rate is only 60Hz, but we’re not complaining about that when buttery-smooth VRR goodness can be had for this little money.

FreeSync and IPS: Asus MG279Q
For a step up from the Samsung display above, Asus’ MG279Q should be an excellent bet. This 27″, 2560×1440 IPS display can run at up to 144Hz (though it tops out at 90Hz in FreeSync mode). Check out our video review for all of the details.

FreeSync and 4K: LG 27MU67
LG’s 27MU67 ticks several boxes we want to see in a high-end display: FreeSync, 4K resolution, and a 27″ IPS panel. Despite that high-end feature set, the 27MU67 doesn’t carry a premium: its $550 price tag is lower than the MG279Q’s, and it’s comparable to that of 4K non-VRR displays. If you can assemble the pixel-pushing power to drive it, the 27MU67 looks quite compelling.

Curved FreeSync and IPS: Acer XR341CK
Want a curved vista to go with your IPS FreeSync display? Acer’s XR341CK delivers. This 34″, 3440×1440 monster can run at variable refresh rates up to 75Hz. It’s got a monster price tag, too, at about $1100, but there’s nothing else quite like it on the market.

Acer tricks out the XR341CK with built-in speakers, ambient lighting, and a USB 3.0 hub. Pair a couple of these beauties with a powerful graphics setup, and you’d probably have the most immersive gaming experience this side of a VR headset.


Conventional displays

Product Type Price
Acer H236HL bid 23″ 1920×1080 IPS $165.99
Acer K272HUL bmiidp 27″ 2560×1440 AHVA $299.99
Asus PB278Q 27″ 2560×1440 PLS $419.99
Dell P2415Q 24″ 3840×2160 IPS $429.99
Dell P2715Q 27″ 3840×2160 IPS $569.99
Dell UltraSharp U3014 30″ 2560×1600 IPS $1,099.99
Dell UltraSharp U3415W Curved 34″ 3440×1440 IPS $799.99

The budget pick: Acer H236HL bid
For those who need only a basic display for web browsing and games, we submit Acer’s H236HL bid, a cheap-but-cheerful display with everything the average person needs and nothing else. This 23″ screen features an IPS panel with a 1920×1080 resolution, plus HDMI, DVI, and VGA inputs, for only $165. You do give up VESA mount compatibility and height adjustments, but it’s hard to complain about those omissions for the price.

A cheap 27″ option: Acer K272HUL bmiidp
We’re fans of cheap, no-name 27″ IPS displays with 2560×1440 resolutions here at TR, but our previous pick is no longer available. Thankfully, there’s an even cheaper option around, and it’s from a recognized manufacturer. Acer’s K272HUL bmiidp doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, but it’s got niceties like an on-screen settings display and multiple inputs that the cheap Korean displays usually do without. Still, this Acer lacks height adjustability—it only tilts—but it can be mounted on a VESA-compatible stand or arm if the stock stand isn’t up to muster.

It should be noted that this display uses an AHVA panel from AU Optronics, which TFT Central describes as an “IPS-like” technology, rather than true IPS. Even so, Expert Reviews called the K272HUL bmiidp’s panel “fantastic,” and they found that it reached 99.8% coverage of the sRGB gamut after calibration. At only $300, this display seems like a screaming bargain if you can live with its limitations.

A ritzier 27″: Asus PB278Q
For $120 more than the Acer above, Asus’ PB278Q (not to be confused with the 4K PB287Q) adds some nice features that the cheaper monitor lacks. Asus includes a height-adjustable stand that can switch between landscape and portrait modes, and the PB278Q can also be mounted on a VESA-compatible arm or wall mount.

Like the Acer, this technically isn’t an IPS display. Instead, it’s built with one of Samsung’s PLS panels, another IPS-like technology. For all intents and purposes, though, this is an IPS-equivalent panel. We’ve spent quite a bit of time with the PB278Q, and it has the same rich color reproduction and wide viewing angles as any other IPS-class display. For $449, it’s a premium monitor at a reasonable price.

A pair of 4K options: Dell P2415Q and P2715Q
If you’re ready to make the leap to a 4K display, Dell’s P2415Q and P2715Q seem like good bets to us. Both feature IPS panels, single-tile configurations, and factory calibration that’s supposed to reduce the average delta-E to less than three. They also feature 99% coverage of the sRGB gamut and three-year warranties.

The biggest difference between the two displays is their size: the P2415Q is a 24″ display, while the P2715Q is a 27-incher. As a result, the P2415Q has a higher PPI than the P2715Q. The smaller screen costs less, too.

A professional-grade option: Dell UltraSharp U3014
The UltraSharp U3014 is the latest revision of Dell’s classic 30″ monitor. It features a humongous panel with a 2560×1600 resolution (and thus a taller 16:10 aspect ratio than typical 27″ screens), and it has a plethora of inputs. Dell even built a card reader into this thing. Neither 4K nor G-Sync are part of the program, but you can look forward to stellar image quality without PPI scaling issues to spoil the fun.

Dell’s PremierColor panel (a true 10-bit, AH-IPS affair) can reproduce 100% of the sRGB color space and 99% of the wider Adobe RGB gamut. Dell also claims to factory-calibrate the U3014 to an average delta-E of less than two for color-critical work. The U3014 can even be calibrated in firmware for extra precision.

Getting that curve on: Dell UltraSharp U3415W
If Acer’s XR341CK is too rich for your blood, the Dell UltraSharp U3415W could be a good alternative. Aside from the lack of FreeSync, it carries practically identical specs to Acer’s curved colossus.

The U3415W’s 34″, 3440×1440 IPS panel still offers a wraparound view, and the $800 price tag is a little easier to swallow.


We know our keyboards here at TR. Churning out news and reviews requires hours of typing at a stretch, so any flaws or uncomfortable design choices quickly make themselves known under our fingers.

Generally, we prefer keyboards with mechanical key switches, like Cherry’s famous MX clickers. They feel good under all typing conditions, from article composition to heavy gaming, and the wide variety of available switch types makes it possible to get a keyboard with a feel that’s best matched to your preferences. If you’re not familiar with the most common Cherry MX switch types, check out our run-down of the various colors.

We also have a couple of options for those who need an ergonomic keyboard or an all-in-one option for the living room. Read on to find out more.

Product Price
Corsair Gaming K70, K70 RGB $119.99-$169.99
Cooler Master QuickFire series $79.99-$149.99
Rosewill RK-9000V2 $99.99-$119.99
Topre Type Heaven $150.00
Microsoft Sculpt $62.99
Logitech K400 $29.99
Hausbell Mini H7 $35.99

Our favorite Cherry-flavored option: Corsair Gaming K70

Corsair Gaming’s K-series keyboards are long-time favorites of TR staffers. I use the RGB version of the Editor’s Choice-winning K70 as my daily driver, and I appreciate the K70’s rock-solid chassis, aluminum top plate, and Cherry MX mechanical switches. This keyboard also features volume and media controls, plus a Windows key lockout and adjustable backlight brightness.

If a single-color backlight is too tame, Corsair also makes an RGB version of the K70, which adds per-key RGB LED backlighting and some fancy animated effects. When we reviewed the K70 RGB, we found the backlight to be a cool feature, but whether it’s worth the $40 premium is ultimately a matter of personal taste.

No-frills solidity: Cooler Master’s QuickFire series
Cooler Master’s QuickFire XT is another rock-solid, Cherry-equipped option. Cooler Master also offers an accessible tenkeyless board with its QuickFire Rapid, which dumps the numpad for a shorter reach to the mouse.

If you want exotic flavors of Cherry MX switches, like MX Greens, the QuickFire XT is one of the few mainstream keyboards to be offered with them, though availability of keyboards based on the Green switches is spotty.

Since our last peripheral guide update, Cooler Master has introduced its Cherry MX blue-equipped QuickFire XTi, which offers dual-color, per-key LED backlighting that can be customized to produce shades of red, blue, and purple. If you’re not interested in Corsair’s RGB keyboards but still want a light show, the QuickFire XTi could be just the ticket.

The QuickFire Ultimate is an excellent alternative, too. It features the same Cherry MX switches as its siblings, plus a beefy chassis and full backlighting. We found it worthy of a TR Recommended award in our testing.

Cherry switches and quiet competence: Rosewill RK-9000V2
Rosewill’s RK-9000V2 is another TR Recommended award winner. This keyboard features the same Cherry MX key switches that we know and love in a slightly more bare-bones package than the Corsair Gaming K-series boards. The V2 refresh of the RK-9000 features a strengthened USB port that might solve the durability issues inherent to the original RK-9000’s USB connector. The RK-9000V2 doesn’t have a lot of extras, but we aren’t complaining at this price.

For something different: Topre’s Type Heaven
Next up, we have the Editor’s Choice-winning Topre Type Heaven, which is outfitted with Topre’s trademark electrostatic capacitive switches. You can read all about this keyboard and its unique switches in our review. It’s not a mechanical keyboard in the strictest sense, but it provides smoother, quieter action than conventional mechanical designs—without the mushiness typical of rubber domes. The one downside of Topre-equipped keyboards is their cost: the Type Heaven sells for $150, despite its minimal feature set.

The ergonomic option: Microsoft Sculpt
For those who want or need an ergonomic keyboard, Scott recommends Microsoft’s Sculpt. This wireless keyboard is designed with Microsoft’s classic ergonomic layout, but unlike the company’s older, rubber-dome-equipped Natural keyboards, the Sculpt uses high-quality scissor switches.

Scott praises the Sculpt’s organic shape and snappy switch feel, and he says the flat keys require less finger movement to actuate than the taller keys on most conventional keyboards. The Sculpt comes with a separate wireless numpad that can be put into position when needed and stowed away when not in use.

For the couch: Logitech K400, Hausbell Mini H7
Full-size mechanical keyboards are great, but they don’t work well in the living room. Lightweight wireless keyboards with integrated trackpads are much better choices. To that end, we recommend Logitech’s K400 and Hausbell’s Mini H7. The K400 is a nearly-full-sized keyboard with a multi-touch trackpad on its right side, while the Mini H7 is sort of like an oversized remote. Pick your poison.


Mice and controllers
Mice are inherently very personal devices. Like the keyboard, the mouse is under your hand for the better part of the day, so it’s important to find one that’s comfortable for your particular hands and fingers. For that reason, we’ll talk about each recommended mouse’s design and features, so that you can pick the one that best suits your needs.

We’ve also included a couple of game controllers in our recommendations, should you need or prefer one for some games.

Product Price
EVGA Torq X5 $54.99
SteelSeries Sensei Raw $59.99
G.Skill Ripjaws MX780 $59.99
Corsair Gaming M65 RGB $69.99
Logitech G502 Proteus Core $69.99
MadCatz RAT 7 $94.99
MadCatz RAT 9 (wireless) $139.99
MadCatz RAT Pro X $199.99

Gaming mice
EVGA Torq X5

EVGA is best known for its hopped-up GeForce graphics cards, but the company makes solid gaming peripherals, too. The Torq X5 is a featherweight gaming mouse that we deemed worthy of a TR Recommended award. We especially liked its ambidextrous design, rubberized sides and wide main buttons. Its light weight is perfect for fast-twitch gameplay. EVGA built the Torq X5 around an optical sensor, which some gamers might prefer to laser-based mice.

SteelSeries Sensei Raw
If the glossy white upper shell of the Torq X5 isn’t your thing, or you prefer a laser mouse, the SteelSeries Sensei Raw is a fine alternative at the same price point. We appreciate its rubberized upper shell and customizable LED lighting, and its ambidextrous design is great for lefties and righties alike. The Sensei’s laser sensor features the requisite on-the-fly DPI adjustments we expect in gaming mice.

G.Skill Ripjaws MX780
For those who want an ambidextrous mouse that’s a bit more customizable (and flashy) than the Torq X5 or Sensei Raw above, G.Skill’s Ripjaws MX780 could be a good choice. It includes magnetic snap-on side panels that change the mouse’s shape to fit lefties and righties alike, and it’s studded with RGB LEDs that can be customized to show your colors of choice. Its tunable weights, adjustable rear grip, on-board memory, and 8,200-DPI laser sensor make it appealing for gamers, as well.

Corsair Gaming M65 RGB
For those looking for a more fully-featured rodent, or for those with wider hands, we suggest Corsair Gaming’s M65 RGB.

This laser mouse features a sniper button under the thumb for extra aiming precision when needed, and it has a tunable weight system that offers a 20.5-gram range of adjustment. Like the K70 RGB keyboard, the M65 RGB features independently-configurable RGB LEDs that can be set to any of 16.8 million colors each. For more information, check out our video review.

Logitech G502 Proteus Core
Love them or hate them, Logitech’s gaming mice are undeniably popular. I use the company’s latest high-end rodent, the G502 Proteus Core, as my daily driver. The G502’s long, contoured shape is great for palm-gripping, and the entire surface of the mouse is coated with a rubberized finish for a sure grip. Like the M65 RGB, the G502 features a sniper button under the thumb for precise aiming. The sensitivity of its optical sensor can also be adjusted with dedicated DPI buttons.

Logitech also includes five 3.6-gram tuning weights that can be added to the G502 to get its feel just right. Last but not least, Logitech includes its trademark dual-mode scroll wheel, which can switch between free-spinning and clicky modes on demand.

MadCatz RAT 7, RAT 9, and RAT Pro X

For those who want to tune every inch of their mouse for maximum comfort, we recommend the Editor’s Choice-worthy MadCatz RAT 7. This mouse bristles with adjustment screws that control its length and width. The pinky and palm rests are modular, too. If that isn’t enough tweakability, the body of the RAT 7 can hold up to five tuning weights. This mouse sees by way of a “twin-eye” laser sensor with adjustable sensitivity, and its twin scroll wheels are useful for making short work of large Excel spreadsheets. MadCatz also makes a wireless version called the RAT 9.

If the RAT 7 and RAT 9 aren’t customizable enough for you, MadCatz just released its RAT Pro X, which comes with a dizzying array of side panels, scroll wheel tires, friction-reducing feet, adjustment points, and even a choice of swappable sensor modules for the truly insane. The Pro X’s $200 price tag makes it among the most expensive mice you can buy, but if you need the total tweakability it offers, that could be a small price to pay.

Wireless mice
Most folks consider wired mice to be the best choice for gaming, but we appreciate the virtues of wireless mice, too. If you move your mouse between machines often or need to keep one in your laptop bag, a wireless rodent makes plenty of sense. With that in mind, our wireless recommendations veer more toward the productivity side of the spectrum.

Product Price
Logitech M510 $31.97
Logitech M525 $32.99

Logitech M510 and M525
Logitech’s M510 and M525 should fit the bill for basic wireless mice. The M510 is a full-sized, ambidextrous laser mouse, while the M525 is a smaller design with an optical sensor that’s best suited for the laptop bag. Both feature Logitech’s Unifying receiver technology, and they have exceptionally long-lived batteries for worry-free operation on the go. Logitech claims that the M510 should be good for two years between battery changes, while the M525 can go for three.



Product Price
Microsoft Xbox One controller $56.80
Microsoft Xbox 360 controller (wired) $29.00
Microsoft Xbox 360 controller (wireless + receiver) $49.95

Microsoft Xbox 360 and Xbox One controllers
Some games just play better with a controller. For the PC, we think that Microsoft’s Xbox One and Xbox 360 controllers are the best things going. Which controller you buy is ultimately a matter of personal preference and budget, but Microsoft claims the Xbox One controller has 40 improvements versus its predecessor, including a new D-pad and improved triggers with haptic feedback.

If the Xbone controller is too expensive, the Xbox 360 controller is still a fine piece of hardware, and it still has one trump card over the latest and greatest—while wireless support is purporedly coming for the Xbox One controller on the PC, the Xbox 360 controller can be used sans wires today.


Audio, backup solutions, and other useful gadgets
We appreciate high-quality sound at TR, and we have a few speaker and headphone recommendations in mind for listening to music, movies, and podcasts at the PC. We’ve also thrown in a microphone for those who need high-quality recordings of their own voice.

Product Type Price
Cyber Acoustics CA-3602 2.1 speakers $39.99
Creative Inspire T12 2.0 speakers $51.33
Cooler Master Ceres 500 Headset $87.08
Sennheiser HD 558 Headphones $108.98
Monoprice Large-Diaphragm Condenser USB microphone Microphone $99.99

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 these speakers should be fine for basic listening needs.

The most cost-effective way to get high-quality audio is probably to purchase a pair of good headphones. Sennheiser’s HD 558 is a good step into the high-end headphone world. Judging by user reviews, these cans 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.)

You’ll often see Cooler Master’s Ceres 500 headset on Scott’s head during most episodes of The TR Podcast, and for good reason—its integrated USB sound card, detachable microphone, and comfy headband take the headache out of long gaming or recording sessions.

For extra voice-recording fidelity, Scott uses Monoprice’s Large-Diaphragm Condenser USB microphone. This mic plugs right into a PC’s USB port for easy setup, and you can check its sound quality by listening to Scott’s voice in any recent podcast episode. A dedicated stand and pop filter are wise add-ons for this mic.

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.

Product Type Price
SOS Online Backup Cloud backup service $8 per month
Thermaltake BlacX 5G 2.5″/3.5″ USB 3.0 drive dock $50.99
Kingston DataTraveler 128GB USB 3.0 thumb drive $42.99
Kingston HyperX DataTraveler 128GB USB 3.0 thumb drive $82.99
Enermax ECR301 5.25″ card reader, USB hub $36.99
Rosewill RDCR-11004 5.25″ card reader, USB hub $23.99

For cloud backups, we used to recommend Crashplan, but after some bad experiences with that service, we’ve taken a look around the web and discovered that SOS Online Backup may be the way to go, according to PC Magazine’s in-depth review. It’s a little pricey, at $8 per month for unlimited storage, but it offers some benefits that cheaper services don’t, like an unlimited version history for archived files, end-to-end encryption, and class-leading upload speeds.

For local backups, 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. 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 lots of 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.

For even more throughput, you can choose a high-performance thumb drive like the HyperX DataTraveler 128GB, which claims speeds of up to 225MB/s for reads and 135MB/s for writes. Practially speaking, the performance is kind of shocking in regular use. It’s like carrying an SSD in your pocket, if you have a USB 3.0 port to take advantage.

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). This may not count as external storage in the strictest sense of the term, but hey, it can’t hurt. The Enermax ECR301 is a good alternative if the Rosewill card reader is out of stock.

Other odds and ends

Product Type Price
Edimax EW-7811Un USB Wi-Fi adapter $9.99
NZXT Sentry 2 Fan controller (touch screen) $29.99
NZXT Sentry Mix 2 Fan controller (mechanical) $37.99

Plenty of folks stick PCI Express Wi-Fi adapters in their PCs. However, few are aware that bite-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 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, it’s not much of a gamble at $10.

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 could be a nice 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. Given that most case fans don’t draw anywhere near 10W, we’d probably lean toward the Sentry 2 ourselves.

Renee Johnson