Some tech products just aren’t worth spending big on, like HDMI cables and RGB lighting for your computer case. But there are some products where the added expense can vastly improve your experience or give you additional peace of mind.
It’s not worth messing with cheap power adapters that could put your devices at risk. We’re not talking about the freebies that were once bundled with your iPhone or Android smartphone, but rather the bulk-buy wall adapters from manufacturers that have questionable quality assurance practices.
Not only are these adapters potentially dangerous, but they often lack features that many of today’s devices can now take advantage of. Most new smartphones and many new laptops now support fast charging and the ability to output more power for thirstier devices like laptops or Valve’s Steam Deck like the Anker USB-C Nano II 65W.
Anker USB-C Nano II 65W
Anker USB-C Nano II 65W
With two USB-C ports, a single USB-A port and support for up to 65W output and fast charging, this foldable and compact adapter is perfect for charging anything from a MacBook Air to an iPad or Steam Deck.
Then there are gallium nitride (GaN) chargers that provide a modern alternative to silicon. Not only are they more efficient (converting less power to heat), but they can also be a lot smaller than chargers that use silicon circuitry. Spending a bit more can get you a smaller, more efficient, and better-built power adapter.
Surge Protectors and Power Banks
Cheap power banks and surge protectors carry the same risks as cheap power adapters. Poorly made power banks can be dangerous, not only for your gadgets but for you. But this isn’t the only reason to spend a bit more on a quality power bank or surge protector.
It’s inadvisable to plug one surge protector into another. You should also be mindful of plugging power banks into other power banks, since devices that use a lot of power (like heaters or kettles) may cause the total load rating to be exceeded.
Spending a bit more on a quality power bank or surge-protected power bank should provide you with more power outlets and a better load rating. Some surge protectors even include an insurance policy, where any damage caused to devices that are plugged in is covered by the manufacturer.
Lastly, spending a few hundred dollars on a whole-house surge protector (like the Siemens FS100) that connects to your main circuit board provides the best protection, at a premium. Everything connected to a power outlet in your house will be protected from surges, so you won’t need to worry about using portable surge protectors or surge-protected power banks.
Whole House Surge Protector
When it comes to building a PC, the bulk of your budget should go on a few select components. These components are the ones that will really affect what you can do with your computer, particularly if gaming is your primary concern. This is why buying the right graphics card (GPU) is so important.
You should match your choice of GPU with your budget and expectations. For example, you can spend less on a graphics card if you’re targeting a resolution of 1440p. On the other hand, if you’d want full 4K HDR gaming at frame rates of 60 fps or better you’ll need to spend considerably more.
Which monitor you have is also worth consideration. There’s little point in spending a lot of money on a GPU only to run games at a lower resolution. If you’re looking for the edge in multiplayer titles, a high refresh rate monitor of 240Hz might make sense if you can hit those frame rates.
If you’re interested in upgrading your monitor at a later date, buying a more performant GPU makes sense. Understanding which components are causing your bottleneck can help you pick a good upgrade route. Use a tool like the PC builds Bottleneck Calculator to get greater insight into the best path to take.
A “Daily Driver” Notebook
Notebooks aren’t particularly upgrade-friendly, especially MacBooks and Chromebooks. That’s why it’s important to think ahead when choosing a laptop that you’re going to be using every day for several years. It doesn’t have to be good enough for right now, but also into the future.
Storage capacity and RAM can be upgraded on some notebooks, but not on most. Think about how much space you’ll need throughout your notebook’s lifespan, especially if you don’t have another computer. Think about your workloads and how memory requirements may evolve as operating systems and software like web browsers become more demanding.
You should also give some thought to other components, like the CPU and GPU. These sorts of components are very rarely upgradeable so it’s worth buying the absolute best you can afford right now to “future-proof” yourself if you want your chosen machine to last. It’s generally more expensive to buy a new laptop in two years than it is to spend a few hundred dollars more right now to get something that will keep up in the years to come.
This advice might not ring true if you’re someone who also uses a desktop computer that has tons of storage and isn’t constrained by laptop power requirements, whereas your notebook is purely used for “wireless web” activities like office work and Zoom calls.
PC Power Supplies
Spending more money on a PC power supply (PSU) won’t improve computer performance since the power supply is responsible for one thing alone: providing enough juice for the rest of your components to function properly. But that doesn’t mean you should skimp on the PSU.
Look for an 80 Plus (80+) rating, which means that 80% of the total power draw is used to power your computer and the rest is lost to heat. There are different tiers of 80+ ratings, with 80+ Titanium being the highest rating (with Platinum and Gold just below). The higher the rating, the more efficient the power supply.
If you want to upgrade in the future (and let’s face it, you should), choose a power supply with more overhead. Use a power draw calculator like the PC builds PSU Calculator to work out how much power you need right now, then buy one that exceeds this rating.
This will be handy if future upgrades require more power. A next-generation graphics card may need more juice than your old one and may produce more heat which means you’ll need more fans or better coolers. Expanding your available storage with more drives or improving the aesthetic of your case with RGB lighting will all come out of your total power budget.
First-party game controllers from Sony, Microsoft, or Nintendo aren’t cheap but they are generally well-made. If you’re going to be holding something for several hours a day (or even a week), making sure it’s comfortable and does the job well is important. This is why we’d recommend settling for nothing less than the controller that came with your console of choice.
PC gamers who want to use a controller should heed the same advice. Buying an Xbox Wireless Controller, Sony DualSense, or something a little cheaper from 8BitDo (like a retro SNES-themed 8BitDo SN30 Pro+). Many of these controllers work with your iPhone or iPad and Android devices too.
Xbox Core Wireless Controller
There’s nothing wrong with buying a cheap, spare controller for impromptu couch multiplayer. If your friends are keen gamers, tell them to bring their preferred controllers the next time you’re planning a session.
Headphones and Headsets
Not everyone can afford a set of AirPods or high-end Sony active noise-canceling (ANC) earbuds. While premium headphones and earbuds are unmatched in terms of comfort and features, there are plenty of slightly-cheaper alternatives that strike a balance between empty pockets and empty promises.
Best Budget Wireless/Bluetooth Headphones
Jabra Elite 45h
The Jabra Elite 45h offer impressive wireless performance, personalizable sound with the Jabra MySound app, and absolutely massive battery life, all on a budget.
Take for example the Jabra Elite 45h wireless headphones and Anker Soundcore wireless in-ear headphones that featured in our best budget headphones and best wireless earbuds round-ups. Both cost less than $100 and deliver excellent value, the convenience of a wireless Bluetooth connection, and comfortable designs.
Best Budget Wireless Earbuds
Soundcore by Anker Life P3 Noise Cancelling Earbuds, Big Bass, 6 Mics, Clear Calls, Multi Mode Noise Cancelling, Wireless Charging, Soundcore App with Gaming Mode, Sleeping Mode, Find Your Earbuds
The Soundcore Life P3 earbuds support multipoint Bluetooth, pack a 35-hour battery, and feature both ANC and Transparency modes. Plus, they’re affordable!
Not only can the cheapest earbuds or headphones sound bad, but they can also be uncomfortable, prone to sound leakage, and have poor build quality. The same is true of gaming headsets, which may be worn for hours a day if you’re a keen gamer.