Big tech for small prices
Don't underestimate the value of a C-note. Though it may be scarcely enough for a full tank of gas for your SUV, it still wields purchasing power in the ultracompetitive PC and gadget marketplace.
The following slides show 14 great hardware deals that cost in the neighborhood of $100. Some dip slightly below that magic century mark, while others land right at 100 smackers—if you can capitalize on special, temporary offers. As bargains go, all of these PC peripherals, accessories, and consumer electronics doodads, are priced to move.
And rest assured: At least one PCWorld editor has tested and blessed every item in this roundup. In fact, many of the devices are staff-wide favorites.
EVGA GeForce GTX 650 graphics card
What it is: A gaming-focused graphics card for your desktop PC.
Why it's great: If you love graphics-intensive first-person shooters, but don't have the Pentagon's budget, you can't go wrong with EVGA's GeForce GTX 650, which delivers fast frame rates at a friendly price. The card's GPU falls in the middle of Nvidia's performance lineup; and it includes DirectX 11 support, 1GB of GDDR5, and two DVI ports—all the features you need for great PC gaming, without a bunch of extras you may never use.
Price: $100 (after rebate, at press time)
Where to buy: Tiger Direct
Samsung 840 120GB solid-state drive
What it is: A 120GB solid-state drive for your laptop.
Why it's great: At 120GB, this SSD is like a Lamborghini: It may not hold a ton of groceries, but it's blazing fast. With read and write speeds of 530 megabytes per second and 130 MBps, respectively, the Samsung 840 improves your laptop's performance and deliver almost an hour of extra battery life to your system, thanks to its efficient power consumption (relative to traditional hard drives).
Just make sure that your machine supports this hardware upgrade before you throw down any cash!
Where to buy: Newegg
Blue Yeti USB microphone
What it is: A high-quality USB condenser microphone.
Why it's great: Podcasters, if you take your craft seriously, you know that your laptop's built-in microphone just won't cut it. Enter Blue, which makes high-quality mics, some costing thousands of dollars. But for buyers at the $100 level, the company has distilled its microphone expertise into the user-friendly Yeti, a USB-powered condenser mic with a triple-capsule array that gives you either stereo recording or three unique recording patterns: cardioid, omnidirectional, and bidirectional. This should be music to your ears if you have things to say and people who'll listen.
Where to buy: Amazon
Logitech Gaming Keyboard G510
What it is: A gaming keyboard packed with cutting-edge features.
Why it's great: The G510 has a multifunction LED display that shows a slew of vital data points such as game stats, VoIP communication data, and even RSS feeds. The G510's programmable key layout supports multiple profiles, which are easy to see, thanks to multicolored, LED-backlit keys. Better still, the G510 carries a built-in sound card, so you can plug your audio headset directly into the keyboard for no-excuses sound.
Where to buy: Newegg
LaCie Rugged Mini 500GB USB 3.0 hard drive
What it is: An ultra-rugged, space-efficient, portable USB drive.
Why it's great: A backup drive can protect your files, but what protects your back-up drive? The LaCie Rugged Mini is shock-resistant and rain-resistant, and its maker claims that it can withstand being run over by a 1-ton car. It also looks pretty cool. But as with your files, it's what on the inside that counts. This 500GB drive spins at 7200 rpm and offers USB 3.0 compatibility for transfer speeds of up to 5 gigabytes per second.
Where to buy: Amazon
3Dconnexion SpaceNavigator 3D mouse
What it is: A six-axis 3D mouse for navigating Google Earth and other 3D spaces.
Why it's great: If you work with CAD or 3D design applications on your PC or Mac, the SpaceNavigator greatly simplifies navigating your scenes. But even if you don't touch 3D design programs, you can use the SpaceNavigator in Google Earth, where it works wonders, allowing you to explore cities and natural terrain as though you were flying a helicopter. I've used the SpaceNavigator with Google Earth on a massive wall display, and it's an experience I'll never forget—motion sickness aside.
Where to buy: B&H
Wacom Bamboo Capture pen tablet
What it is: A pressure-sensitive pen tablet and multitouch trackpad in a single package.
Why it's great: A pen tablet makes digital drawing and painting in applications like Photoshop look and feel like the real thing. The Bamboo Capture supports 1024 levels of pressure sensitivity, which translates into thicker, more opaque strokes with the force of your pen pressure. But the greatest thing about the Bamboo Capture is its touch-sensitivity, which allows it to double as a gesture-enabled touchpad for your PC or Mac. And because the pen and touch systems use different technologies, palm rejection works flawlessly when you use the pen.
Where to buy: Wacom
Tascam iU2 audio/midi interface
What it is: An audio and midi interface for your PC, Mac, or iOS device.
Why it's great: Whether you're recording a live band or creating beats in your bedroom, Tascam's iU2 lets you hook up microphones, electric instruments, and midi controllers to your computer. Even cooler: It also works with your iPad at no additional cost. Launch Apple's $5 Garage Band iPad app and you've got a portable professional music studio. *Talent not included.
Where to buy: ProAudioStar
Razer Mamba 2012 gaming mouse
What it is: A super-accurate gaming mouse.
Why it's great: Okay, $100 sounds like a lot to spend on a mouse, but the Mamba uses both an optical sensor and a laser sensor to deliver 6400 dots per inch of sharp-shooting accuracy. You can even dial accuracy up or down—on the fly—to suit your needs. The Mamba's built-in rechargeable battery is good for 16 hours of nonstop gaming, but should you run out of juice during a three-day binge, you can plug in the mouse with its bundled cable. Oh, and the Mamba looks like an aggressive mash-up of Batman's Tumbler car from The Dark Knight and the neontastic Batmobile from 1997's Batman and Robin.
Where to buy: Best Buy
Roku 3 streaming media box
What it is: A top-shelf streaming media box for cord-cutters and TV fanatics.
Why it's great: From Netflix to HBO Go to MLB.TV, Roku offers one of the largest libraries of streaming media content around. And as the company's flagship hardware product, the Roku 3, features full 1080p streaming, a USB port for watching content located on thumb drives, and even a headphone jack on the remote for private listening.
Where to buy: Roku
LiveScribe 2GB Echo Smartpen
What it is: An amazing pen with a built-in microphone.
Why it's great: The LiveScribe Echo records and digitizes your handwritten notes while simultaneously recording ambient sound. The upshot? When you're reviewing the notes you've written on LiveScribe's special paper, you can tap any inky pen stroke, and the pen's audio playback will jump to the precise snippet of sound that was recorded when you jotted down that stroke. It's a great tool for journalists, students, and anyone else who needs quick navigation through long spoken-word audio files.
You can even synchronize your notes with Evernote—finally your doodles will have a soundtrack.
Where to buy: Adorama
What it is: A personal health and lifestyle diagnostic tool.
Why it's great: Keeping tabs on your fitness goals is hard when you have a busy schedule. But for just $100, this tiny, wearable device keeps track of how much you walk, what you eat, how many calories you burn, how long you sleep, and even the quality of your sleep. The Fitbit One syncs all of this data wirelessly to your smartphone and computer, and provides detailed reports on your quality of life. The device can even act as a vibrating alarm clock—a nice feature if you need to wake up earlier than your partner. Check out our full Fitbit One review.
Where to buy: Fitbit
Belkin Wemo Switch + Motion home automation
What it is: A home automation package that includes an electric outlet and a motion sensor.
Why it's great: Using Belkin's app and hardware combo, you can turn your home appliances on and off directly from your smartphone. You can also set appliances on schedules, which is great for automatically heating your home just before you arrive. And if you tend to leave your lights on, the WeMo motion sensor can be a real money saver. Ready to take home automation to the next level? Check out our feature, "Easy Home Automation Projects for the Weekend Warrior."
Where to buy: Belkin
Sennheiser HD280 Pro headphones
What it is: A set of studio-quality around-the-ear headphones.
Why it's great: Though a certain doctor—Dr. Dre—may seem to have a virtual monopoly on premium headphones, Sennheiser has been building audio equipment since 1945, and is known for the high quality of its headphones, not for its rapping prowess. The HD280 Pros may not offer the visual panache of Beats, but they provide studio-caliber sound at a fraction of the Dre's price. Just what the doctor ordered.
Where to buy: Amazon