Work Smarter: 5 Top, Inexpensive Hardware Devices and Tweaks


Some of the biggest hardware efficiency boosts we can get are either completely free, or nearly so. Sure, a maxed-out new laptop would be great to have, but these are tough times. If you spend a little time with the hardware you have or pick up some very inexpensive peripherals, you can immediately start working smarter. In this post, you’ll find five hardware devices and tweaks that you can put to work with good results almost immediately.

Optimize Your USB Flash Drive. Many people own USB flash drives that they got as gifts or were passed on from someone else, and high-capacity versions have become very cheap. Even on drives with relatively low capacity, you can put entire suites of freeware and open-source applications on your flash drive, keep it in your pocket, and have useful applications to use no matter where you are, even if you need to work on someone else’s computer. PortableApps is my favorite site for downloading a suite of Windows apps (s msft) optimized for a flash drive, while MacLibre is a good equivalent for people on Macs (s aapl).

Next-Gen Note Taking. Recently, I’ve been using the Livescribe Pulse smartpen (shown above), which you can get for $149 to $199, for capturing digital notes. It’s a writing instrument, but it has a computer and camera onboard. As you jot down notes on special paper (it has millions of dots embedded in it), every move you make is digitally captured so that you can take handwritten notes right into software applications. What makes it better than other similar digital pens is that it also records audio, and creates a time line so that you can jump to various parts of a recording and review anything you were taking notes on at that point. Highly recommended.

Better Battery Life. Low battery life remains a chief complaint among users of portable computers, but there are a number of simple steps you can take to radically improve it. In this post, you’ll find nine tips that can make a big difference. Also, this post illustrates how much juice the display on your portable computer consumes, which is an incredible amount. One of the quickest and easiest ways to get much more battery life is simply to turn your brightness down.

The Lowly Mouse. In my post, “Nine Ways to Make Your Mouse Roar,” I made the point that many of us spend more time sitting with a computer and a mouse than we do with any person. The post details a number of ways to get more out of your mouse (not many people read mouse documentation), including using a scroll wheel directly within productivity applications, scrolling horizontally, and speed scrolling without using the scroll wheel.

Get More From Wi-Fi. Many of us rely on Wi-Fi all day long, but I am constantly surprised by how many people there are who don’t optimize their Wi-Fi setups. As just one example, a couple of years ago, I wrote this post, recommending using access points around a home, and many commenters responded that they use a router only for home Wi-Fi, and haven’t considered access points. That’s fine in some homes, but in others, especially larger ones, an under-$50 access point can provide huge performance and range benefits. Check out more tips on inexpensive Wi-Fi hardware upgrades here.

Share your hardware tips in the comments.


paul burd

Just a quick tip on the Pulse Smartpen… I picked one up the other day at Target. Target reduced their prices from $149 / $199 to $129 / $169. It’s the best price I’ve seen.

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