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6 Technology Items You Should Buy Cheap

Which technology items can you buy super cheap and still expect near the same quality? Tech Talker Eric Escobar weighs in.

By
Eric Escobar
4-minute read
Episode #184

Recently, I discussed technology that is worth paying a bit extra for to get the most bang for your buck. This week, I’m going to talk about which items you can buy super cheap and still expect near the same quality.

Cables

The first thing in the lineup is probably one of the most well-known — and that’s cables. Just about every cable out there is identical; a $10 cable performs just as well as a $100 equivalent. For example, when buying a new home theater system most people won’t blink an eye at spending a couple hundred dollars for top of the line cables, when for ten times less they could be getting the exact same quality.

Just about every cable out there is identical; a $10 cable performs just as well as a $100 equivalent.

Why is this the case? Well, cables transmit a signal between devices. With modern electronics most of these signals are digital. Meaning that what is transferred is stream of 0s and 1s across the cable. If a cable can’t transmit all of the 0s and 1s, then the signal will completely break down in a really noticeable way.

If you were watching TV or music through a digital cable and the signal was degraded, you would most likely lose the entire picture or the entire stream of music. Most people think that the color would be a bit off, or it wouldn’t be as clear, when in fact a $10 cable would give you an identical picture to a $100 cable. Don’t pay attention to sales words like gold plated, silver threaded, or other outrageous claims.

This goes for HDMI cables, TV cables, USB cables, Ethernet cables, and pretty much every cable that delivers a digital signal.

The only place that this isn't applicable is when buying power cables: don’t skimp on cables like power strips or extension cords. 

Hard drives

Next up are hard drives. Most people are extremely loyal or disloyal to different brands of hard drives based upon their personal experience. I’ve heard from a ton of colleagues that they only trust brand X because brand Y died a few years ago, so on and so forth.

When actually studied, there was no huge statistical difference between different brands of hard drives and their failure rates.

I think this is pretty funny because of how many people feel so strongly that certain manufacturers are so much better than others. However, it’s great for the consumer because it means under most circumstances the end user is getting a good product.

When I shop for hard drives, I almost never pay attention to the brand, and instead focus on reviews and specs. I also don’t worry a ton about hard drives because I understand that they are temperamental.

CDs and DVDs

The same also goes for CDs and DVDs. If you can find a stack of blank CDs or DVDs, it doesn’t matter how generic the brand, they are going to be nearly identical quality to anything more expensive. I do the same thing for CDs and DVDs that I do for hard drives: I just wait for a sale and then buy the cheapest ones, which work great!

OK, now the next couple things are subjective, and you may not agree with them the same way I do. 

Phones

I don’t think having the latest phone is worth the money. I’ll often go 2-3 years with a phone and have no issues with it. In fact, the thing that mainly makes me get a new phone is the fact that my old phone's battery holds almost no charge by the time it’s at the end of its life.

Phones are also extremely well marketed to the point where some of the minor features become huge selling points, so much that it makes most people feel like their year-old phone is a piece of junk by the time the next version is released. It’s great marketing, but a phone can easily last you 2-3 years and still have a lot of power and reasonable amount of battery time.

Keyboards and mice

Next are keyboards and mice. It is completely fine to use super cheap keyboards and mice. In fact, I frequently play games and work on free keyboards and mice that come packaged with some of my computer components. There’s a lot of hype that some mice and keyboards are better for this game versus that game, or any other certain niche task. While there might absolutely be the case to be made for ergonomic keyboards and mice, I don’t see a drastic improvement for the price.

This is especially the case if you use your computer for some basic word processing, email, casual gaming, checking Facebook—you get the idea.

There’s no need to buy a $100 mouse when a $20 wireless mouse will work just as well. 

Software

Last but certainly not least is software. There’s a notion floating out there that the more you pay for software the better it is, the more features it has, and the better support there is for it. While this may be the case for some software, there are a ton of free programs that are better than their paid equivalents.

For example, free software such as Handbreak, Audacity, Virtual Box, VLC, Sync, and Libre Office are great alternatives that can save you a ton of money, and in some cases, have way more features than anything else out there.

Just do a little bit of research into software reviews before you buy and you could easily find some awesome and inexpensive programs that will do exactly what you need.

Be sure to check out all my earlier episodes at techtalker.quickanddirtytips.com

About the Author

Eric Escobar

Tech Talker demystifies technology and cutting edge devices so that even the most tech illiterate can understand what's going on with their computer or gadget — and what to do when something goes wrong.