Odds are good that if you have a desktop computer, you spend a lot of time sitting at your desk, either for business or pleasure. So why shouldn’t your desk be as comfy and efficient as possible? While upgrading your computer can often take serious dough (especially these days), you can spend a lot less to improve your workstation itself in some surprising ways.
Here are ten ways to improve your workstation for under $100, presented in no particular order. Most of these cost less than $50, and many under $25!
A fancy desk mat
No matter what kind of mouse you use or what kind of desk you use it on, you need something in between to protect both of them. A $10 mousepad will do just fine, though gamers probably want something bigger. But why stop with big when you can get something freakin’ huge, like this 36-inch-wide Corsair mat that goes under your keyboard and probably your lunch, too? It’s only $20. I splurged a bit on this fancy-pants felt mat from Etsy, and it’s so comfy I don’t think I can ever go back to a normal one.
If you’re working in an area where you don’t need to worry about disturbing others, a decent set of speakers is a great quality of life upgrade. The Edifier R1280T is a go-to for fantastic audio on a budget. At the time of writing it’s on sale for $99.99, neatly fitting into our range. Our guide to the best budget computer speakers offers plenty of other top-notch options, too.
A good microphone
A ton of people have found themselves in more video calls these days. While you can get away with a subpar webcam, a bad microphone (or, heaven forbid, just using the one built into your laptop) can be a major hindrance to communication. You want a USB mic to be heard. Blue’s Yeti Nano packs the same technology that made the original model the go-to for podcasters everywhere in a much smaller and cheaper package.
If you have a pair of bulky headphones and/or a game controller at your desk, you need a handy place to put them when they’re not in use. The answer is, stick ’em underneath or on the side, out of the way but still easily accessible. I love this 3D-printed, double-stacked version that hides underneath my desk surface.
A monitor arm
Your monitor takes up a lot of space. So does the stand holding it up. But it doesn’t have to: Get a VESA-compatible arm in a variety of form factors, and clamp that sucker to the back of your desk. It’s especially handy if you’re using a multi-monitor setup or a laptop. (Just make sure your monitor actually has a VESA mounting area on the back before you buy.) Reclaim that lost real estate, so you can use it for something like…
Wireless phone charger
All recent iPhone models and most premium Android phones now come with Qi wireless charging. And if you buy a charger directly from your phone’s manufacturer, they’re stupid pricey. Since Qi is an open standard, you have tons of choices for charging pads and stands. Personally, I love this series of chargers from Target’s house brand. They hide the charging pad in a nice-looking bamboo desk organizer (which comes in three sizes!) and includes two bonus USB charging ports.
Of course there are always going to be things you can’t charge wirelessly. (Or times when you can’t wait for Qi’s inefficiency.) To keep an outlet handy at all times, I’ve used this Belkin mini-surge protector for years. Not only is it an easy way to charge up laptops, tablets, and other gadgets (handily secured via velcro to the edge of my desk), it makes a great travel companion too. Keep this in your bag and you’ll be the most popular person at the crowded airport wall outlet.
Speaking of things you can never have too much of: USB ports. Desktop users can (and probably should!) expand their ports via PCIe cards, but everyone else could use a solid hub. This $23 one includes USB-A, USB-C, HDMI, and even flash card reader ports. But there are practically infinite choices for cheap USB hubs, so feel free to shop around and find one that fits your needs. Our guide to the best USB-C hubs can help point you in the right direction.
Lighting every inch of your desk solely with the LEDs built into your keyboard actually isn’t that great for your eyes. This $50 monitor lamp is sort of a 21st-century version of those old green accounting desk lamps. It’ll illuminate everything in front of you comfortably, without shining glare directly into your eyes or your monitor, and it comes with a handy wireless controller.
Look, I don’t mean to be a snob. But all those cables spread all over your desk? They’re really untidy. You need to clean ’em up pronto. Luckily it’s both easy and cheap: cable guides, reusable velcro ties, and sleeves for big bundles are easy to find. One of my favorite upgrades for a standing desk is adding big trays in the back, perfect for a surge protector and all your wall-warts. Set it up right and you only need to have one power cord (and maybe an Ethernet cable) running from your desk to the wall.
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Michael is a former graphic designer who's been building and tweaking desktop computers for longer than he cares to admit. His interests include folk music, football, science fiction, and salsa verde, in no particular order.