[This page was last updated 2010.11.15]


Buying Hardware and Peripherals (accessories)

Computer “accessories” which are large items near (in the periphery of) the computer are often called ‘peripherals.’

Buying computer hardware means making a lot of choices, and often spending a lot, too. There is help for making the choices, and there are ways to save money.

Please remember: These listings are not intended as recommendations or endorsements. They are provided simply as possible resources which have been recommended by other sources.

One possible starting place that is not limited to one brand is My Product Advisor which is useful for letting you narrow down your choices on laptop or tablet computers (or TVs, or cell phones, or digital cameras) by asking you to rate priorities on various features. While not the only place to look, it does give you an idea of what might be available… or just what things you should be thinking about when you make choices.

The latest posts on this topic are available by clicking here or use the search box for a specific type of hardware: mouse, monitor, etc.


CD-ROM drives and software

The latest posts on this topic are available by clicking here.


Computer-Related Hardware (MP3 players, etc.)

Many devices now use computers to download music, video and other files and perform other functions, but are not normally attached.

The latest posts on this topic are available by clicking here.


Ergonomics & Disabilities for Computer Users

The latest posts on this topic are available by clicking here.


Hardware Compatibility List for Windows

Microsoft has created many of the sites in this section to only open for Microsoft Internet Explorer.

Finding out what products work with which versions of Windows can be frustrating. Microsoft provides a list of what (as far as Microsoft knows) is expected to be compatible, at the Products Designed for Microsoft Windows – Windows Catalog and HCL site. For Windows XP and Vista, go to the Windows Vista Hardware Compatibility List (which covers both) and select one of the “works with” signs, and narrow it down more if you like.
It’s a good way to find out if your printer or other hardware is supposed to work with that new computer you’re thinking about buying.


Maintenance and Repair

MakeUseOf has a list of 5 Sites to Learn How to Repair Your Computer.

The latest posts on this topic are available by clicking here.

For related posts on Security, click here.


Recycling Used Hardware

The latest posts on this topic are available by clicking here.


USB Flash Drives & Links

also known as /Thumb/Keychain/Jump Drives

There are a lot of names for these little tools. “JumpDrives” is actually a brand name and should not be used for all USB Flash drives. They can be called “flash” drives because they use “Flash” memory, which is a type of rewriteable memory chip, instead of a spinning hard drive as in your computer. This means they are relatively safer from bumps and jolts that might wreck a hard drive. While some larger drives can also connect through a USB port, they use more vulnerable spinning drive hardware, as in your computer’s hard drive.

USB Flash drives also tend to be faster and hold a lot more than a floppy diskette (128 MB to several GB (a GB is about 1,000 MB) on a USB Flash drive, as opposed to only 1.2 MB on a floppy diskette).

You may get a message (especially on older computers) telling you that “this device can perform faster” when you plug it in. Most flash drives can handle the faster USB 2 ports, but will still work — just more slowly — on older USB 1 ports on older computers.

Oops — left your drive in your pocket, and it went through the wash? Or you dropped it in a puddle, or your drink? Wipe it off, shake it out, and hang it up to dry it out thoroughly for a few days. Once you’re certain there’s no liquid left inside, try it. It might still work. No guarantees, though.

PC Magazine had a review of USB flash drives on March 20, 2008.

For the fastest flash drives which also can serve as ReadyBoost memory for Vista, check the ReadyBoost Compatibility Chart.

How fast is my flash drive?

MakeUseOf has a post on freeware to check speeds and performance.

Optimizing your Flash drive by changing it NTFS file format

Instructions on changing from the older, less efficient FAT file format to the NTFS format are available here.  WARNING: this will delete all files and software on your USB Flash drive, so save everything to another device first.  Also, if you are using a U3 drive, this will destroy the U3 software.

How Long Will a Flash drive last?

GetUSBInfo had a post on this.  They noted “most USB Type A socket manufacturers provide a specification called Mating Durability. The spec is around 1,500 connections.”  That means you can plug in about 1,500 times before you might wear out the connector.  “Given you don’t physically ruin your drive, you have about 1,500 connections and about 10,000 write cycles before you can expect the USB life cycle to become questionable.”

In other words, don’t count on it for more than temporary backups of data if you keep it in use.

For U3 flash drives, click here.

The latest posts on flash drives are available by clicking here.

What software should I put on my flash drive?

Small flash drives may be very limited, but once you get to 512MB or more, you can get quite a lot of useful software to take with you. As always, you must use these at your own risk, but they’ve been recommended by reputable sources.

Before you start, consider what happens if you lose your drive. Then check the Daily Cup of Tech article on “Have your lost USB drive ask for help“. That will automatically run a program to show the information to get it back to you… assuming somebody honest finds it.

Running from a flash drive is a tutorial on installing software to run from a flash drive.

Here’s some recommendations:

  • For non-U3 drives, go to PortableApps.com and check out the suites of software. If you don’t need all of the programs included in the large suites (or your flash drive is too small), you can select the Base Edition (lower down on the page) and then add only the ones you need. This menu system also has a backup system included.
  • Another place for lots of applications is Pendriveapps.com which lets you pick from a wide variety of programs. They also have a version of Linux that runs from a Flash drive. There are also sites such as Portable Freeware which includes a variety of system tools for repairing computers, and Lupo PenSuite.
  • Another source is LiberKey for a variety of apps.
  • For a list of recommended software, try this article on 25 programs.
  • Another list of programs recommended by SnapFiles.
  • Firefox 3 Portable will let you surf the web, and lets you have all the advantages and add-ons of regular Firefox — just add your favorite add-ons as you normally would. If you use the Foxmarks add-on, you can even carry all your bookmarks with you and keep them synchronized with your computer.
  • Pale Moon is a faster version of Firefox which might be faster when running from a flash drive.
  • It’s always a good idea to have your anti-virus software running, and you never know if the computer you’re plugged into has an up-to-date program. Start the Clam-Win software to keep your protection working.
  • If you might need Microsoft Office, you’re not out of luck — just use OpenOffice instead. But — be sure to save in the 97-2003 format, NOT the 2007 format ending in “x”, when using actual Microsoft Office — that way, OpenOffice will still be able to read the files.
  • KeePass is available to keep all your passwords secure. See the tutorial on how to install and use it. Keep a copy of the file on your flash drive and you can carry your passwords and links with you, encrypted for safety.
  • MPlayer Portable and VLC Portable will handle your media, if the computer you’re using doesn’t have the necessary programs.
  • Sumatra PDF Portable will fill in for Acrobat when you need to read PDF files.
  • One problem people may have is that they have different drive letters assigned to their portable drive as they move from one computer to another. USBDLM manages drive letters.
  • You should tell your computer when to eject the USB Flash drive before you unplug it, to be sure you don’t end up with corrupted files or other problems. But, that’s a several step process, and doesn’t always seem to work. Add USB Disk Ejector to your Flash drive and use it instead. Works with the PStart and Portable Apps launchers, too.
  • Other possible apps are suggested by iLibrarian at 21 Mini Apps for Your Thumb Drive.
  • FreewareWiki has a post on Xenon Portable File Manager which will let you open files in the Flash drive applications instead of the PC’s usual applications.
  • Download Squad has 24 Killer Portable Apps listed.
  • CodySafe from Codyssey is another menu tool for portable apps.

U3 Drives

One special type of Flash drive is called U3, which is an industry standard for software specially adapted to run on U3 drives, and compatible with a U3 drive menu. Other software can often also be run from U3 drives but will not appear on the U3 menu.

U3 drives are actually partitioned into 2 drives. The first one holds the U3 programs, and the second one holds your data. For example, it may appear as drive E and drive F, where you can’t put data into drive E, only into drive F. Just remember to use the second drive when storing files.

U3 drives usually store data in FAT32 drive format, so they can be read on Windows and Mac computers, or NTFS, which Windows can read and write, and Macs can only read. If you swap data back and forth a lot, you might need to reformat an NTFS drive to FAT32, using the right-click menu choice to Format.

U3 drive not working with Vista? Older flash drives may not have the latest U3 software to handle Vista. You’ll need to go to your manufacturer’s web site and download U3 LaunchPad version 1.4 to your flash drive. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on the site to install it.

As an alternative, you can remove the U3 software and just have a blank drive — but don’t do this until you’re certain you won’t use it, as it may not be reversible.  Then you can try some of the non-U3 software listed above, if you like.

U3 drive software

For U3 flash drives, try U3.com for software designed specifically for U3 drives. Some of these same programs (such as Firefox) are available there also, and some comparable software for many of the same functions.

Linux on your flash drive

Windows Secrets has instructions on how to put Linux on a flash drive and boot from that. The software is available from Pendrivelinux in several flavors of Linux. If you’d like to try out Linux but don’t want to put a lot on your PC (or somebody else’s PC), this might be the answer, if you can boot from a flash drive.

Lifehacker has instructions on putting Fedora 9 on a USB flash drive.

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