A List of Home Office Tech Essentials

Once you’ve gotten all the basics of a home office (desk, chair, etc) sorted out it’s time to look at the other technical essentials you might need.

Now, we’re not going to get into any detail about buying a computer for your home office because we’ve already covered that topic.

Instead, we’re going to look at the various devices, adapters and office gadgets available to you.

No two home office setups are the same, so take this list of tech essentials as suggestions but not something etched in stone.

Let’s get going.

External hard drive

Yes, your laptop or desktop has almost-endless gigabytes of storage space. But one of the main benefits of an external drive is that you’re not keeping all your eggs in one basket.

Which means not keeping all your data in one place.

And with external hard drives now cheaper than they’ve ever been before, you can get a teraybte of fast (USB 3.0) storage space for well under $100.

Just stick to established brands like Seagate, Western Digital, Toshiba and Lacie.

Lesser known hard drives might be fine, but they’ll probably crash when you least expect it.

If you need help choosing a drive check out my guide to the best external hard drives for your buck.

Wi-Fi extender

Working from home with slow or intermittent Internet access is painful.

If your home office is located a dozen feet from your modem/router then you probably won’t have an issue with signal strength. But most home offices are tucked away in the corner of a spare room, or in the garage or attic of a home.

In situations like that all you need is a Wi-Fi extender from Netgear or TP-Link to boost your signal strength while also supplying you with an Ethernet port that you can hook straight into.

Again, stick to brand names you recognize, and pay attention to reviews.

Noise-cancelling headphones

Even if you live alone there will still be times when you need to drown out background noise – neighbors mowing their lawn, a barking dog, or whatever.

A good pair of noise-cancelling headphones can be worth their weight in gold, providing way more aural isolation than those tiny earbuds ever could.

Personally, I prefer over-the-ear models because they do actually cancel all background noise when listening to music or a podcast, whereas on-ear models tend to have noise “leaks”.

You can get a good pair of Sony or Phillips headphones for about $50, or around $250 for Bose or Sennheiser ear candy.

Dual Screens

One of the single biggest productivity hacks you can implement is to set yourself up with dual screens. Yes, you can get away with working on just your laptop, but all that alt-tabbing between screens is a nuisance.

The thing about a dual-screen setup is that it doesn’t need to cost the Earth, but do pay a little more to get screens that are height and tilt adjustable.

ViewSonic VX2252  monitors seem to be particularly popular right now with visitors to this site.

But please make sure that whatever you buy has VESA mounts on the back.

I’ll explain why in a second.

Monitor mounts

One of the main arguments I hear against dual screens is that they eat up a lot of desktop real estate.

While this is true, there’s a way around that – monitor mounts.

These monitor stands clamp to your desk, and you attack the screens directly to them, freeing up several feet of desk space.

And the really neat part is that you can get “static” dual-screen stands for about $50 or gas-lift models for about $90.

So they’re not expensive, and you configure your monitors to the exact height, tilt and pitch that works for you.

This is a main component of my next upgrade to my home office.

Keyboard and mouse

A crappy keyboard and mouse can lead to levels of frustration that make you want to turn green and Hulk-Smash everything in sight.

Or you might finally get sick and tired of pecking away at your laptop’s keyboard.

Either way, the time will come for a new keyboard and mouse.

Let’s keep this simple – don’t go for a fancy ergonomic design and stick with either Logitech or Microsoft keyboard and mice combos.

One thing to watch out for is the mouse size with cheaper packages – like the Logitech MK270 mouse feels tiny and I don’t have huge hands.

The mouse with the Logitech MK345 package is far more comfy to use.

Should you go wired or wireless with your mouse and keyboard setup?

I’ve already covered the whole wired vs. wireless debate in another post.

It’s a personal preference thing.

Mousepad with wrist support

Ergonomics are great in theory, but how many of you maintain a perfect posture while using your keyboard and mouse?

I thought so…

You can save putting lots of additional stress on your joints by investing in a high-quality mousepad that has a built-in wrist rest.

Now, I’ve tried a few cheaper  versions of these, but the gel support always goes pancake-flat after just a few months.

The Fellowes Crystal gel mousepad I’m currently using is just way, way superior in terms of comfort and durability.

Yes, I paid around $15 for it but it’s been worth every cent.

Webcam

Most laptop webcams are beyond awful, which is why they’re never used by YouTubers or anyonee who takes video quality seriously.

Part of the problem is they’re fixed to the top bezel of your screen so you’re left working with a seriously limited number of angles.

So if you’re going to be doing a lot of video calls or conferences invest in something worthwhile.

I use, own and love my Logitech C920, but I have used both Creative Livecams, and Microsoft Lifecams in the past.

Just bear in mind that a $20 webcam will offer $20 worth of video quality – there’s no freebies here.

Document shredder

When you work in an office somebody else takes care of the paper recycling.

But when you’re working from a home office you are the recycling company, and you’ll probably be surprised at just how much paper you have to deal with.

And to do that in a secure way.

Which is why you need a document shredder, and ideally a cross-cut model because that turns your junk documents into confetti.

What’s cool about the latest models is they can even shred credit cards and staples!

Oh, and don’t buy a cheap/no-name document shredder online – their motors burn out in no time, and that’s speaking from experience.

USB flash drives

Why would you need a USB flash drive if you already have an external drive?

Good question.

For me it’s because I keep multiple copies of important documents because I’ve had two hard drives fail within 24 hours of each other.

But I also have various other uses for them like booting different operating systems, storing files for my media player, etc.

What type of USB flash drive should you buy?

Corsair and a minimum of 32GB, but ideally 64GB or above.

All those other (cheaper) brands work just fine, but they tend to have one of two problems:

  1. High failure rate – I’ve lost count of how many cheap flash drives have failed on me.
  2. Slow data transfer rates – every other brand besides Corsair has been pitiful

I own several Corsair USB flash drives and not one of them has failed even though some of them are over 10 years old.

Powered USB hub

3 or 4 USB ports seems like loads…until you plug in your mouse, keyboard, webcam, WI-FI dongle, phone, etc.

All of a sudden you’re having to juggle between what devices you want to keep connected.

And that happens even if you have a desktop PC – it’s not just a problem for laptop owners.

The simple answer is to get yourself a powered USB hub.

How many ports should your USB hub have?

I’d suggest at least 4 – believe me, you’ll find uses for those spare USB ports.

Should your USB hub be USB 2.0 or 3.0?

If your computer has a USB port with a blue connector then get USB 3.0 hub, and if not then get a USB 2.0 hub.

Brand names don’t really matter here – just look for a hub with decent reviews.

A basic printer

Will you need to print documents while working from home?

Probably.

How much of that you’ll do will depend on what you do for a living.

Either way, you’ll need a printer.

We can keep this part mercifully short for you.

If you’re not going to print tons of document or paperwork, then a HP or Canon inkjet printer/scanner will meet your needs.

But if you need to print a lot of documents or contracts, then look at a small office laser printer instead.

That’s simply because a laser printer will have a lower cost-per-page for high volume printing.

Do you need a color laser printer?

Probably not, but if you have the budget for one , then go for it.

In terms of what laser printer brands to buy, I can recommend Canon, Brother or HP.

Just pay really careful attention to the cost of consumables for both – some cheap inkjet and laser printers make up for that initial “discount” by pillaging your bank balance to pay for ludicrously expensive consumables later on.

Desk Riser

Sitting down all day at a desk is bad for you.

It’s bad for your posture, and it can lead to all kinds of physiological problems.

In a 9-5 you have assigned lunch breaks and meetings that force you to stand up and move around.

You don’t get that at home.

So a quick way to get around that problem is to install a desk riser – a simplified version of a standing desk.

A desk riser can be me mechanical or user electric motors.

Either way, they offer a great way for you to stand up and get your blood flowing.

A side benefit of using one is that when you’re standing you tend to be more focused on what you’re actually working on.

What’s The Best Printer For Your Home Office?

office printer

The idea of a paperless office is really popular these days, but it’s not always possible. In fact, even companies that are meant to be 100% paperless often only tidy up their act when they’re being audited by somebody like the Payment Card Industry folks.

The same applies to working from home – you might have the absolute desire to use as little paper as possible, but sometimes there’s just no way around that. You’ll have documents and files that need to be printed and stored, and that’s without even taking into consideration what how useful a multi-function printer/scanner combo can be for any small business.

So you’ll need some kind of printer for your home office setup.

The question on most people’s minds really comes down to this: Which is best for home office use – a laser or inkjet printer?

You also need to take in account that because you’re working from home you probably need a printer that’s not only useful for business printing, but can handle all your family printing needs, too. What’s the point of having two separate printers if you can get away with just using one?

This isn’t always possible due to the nature of your business, but it’s an easy way to save yourself some money.

Let’s take a look at how you go about choosing a printer for your home-based business. One that doesn’t leave you doing this:

The difference between an inkjet and a laser printer?

Although the documents they print out might look pretty much the same, the technology involved is completely different.

An inkjet printer sprays teeny, tiny droplets of ink onto paper, whereas a laser printer uses heat and an electromagnetic charge to “fuse” a very fine powder called toner onto paper.

There were other competing technologies in the past like dye sublimation and wax-based printing, but they never took off. Go figure!

Inkjet printers tend to be physically smaller, cheaper to buy and less expensive to run if you’re not printing a lot of stuff.

Laser printers take up more desk space, have more expensive consumables, but are far more economical if you’re printing tons of documents.

Entry level inkjet and laser printers both cost roughly the same amount of money.

HP Envy inkjet printer
The HP Envy inkjet MFD

Most people buying a printer for a home office will automatically default to buying an inkjet printer, and although the price tag might look attractive, they’re not always the best choice for a small business. The only way you can be certain you’re buying the right type of printer for your small business is to be really honest when you’re answering the “What will I use it for?” question.

What will you use your printer for?

This is the single most important question to ask yourself, and it’s the same question I asked you in the “How to buy a computer guide“. The reason I keep asking you to answer this question is because it will save you from spending way more money than you need to, and get a printer that’s perfectly suited to your needs.

So, take a few seconds to think about exactly what you’ll need to print.

Will it just be plain text documents, with the odd chart and some basic graphics? Or will you need a printer that can also produce high-quality photographic prints for either your business or your kids’ projects? In either of these scenarios a basic inkjet printer should be more than capable of meeting your printing needs.

Or, will you need to print out hundreds of documents on a weekly or monthly basis, including handouts and presentations? If that’s the case then a laser printer is a far better choice because they’re designed for that type of work.

If you need to print in color then an inkjet printer makes sense.

If you only need to print lots of plain text documents then a laser printer makes more sense.

How much will your printer cost to run?

The only real way to get an accurate answer to this question is to look at the cost of inkjet cartridges vs. toner cartridges, and working out how many pages you’ll get from each one.

So let’s take the example of a typical inkjet cartridge costing $25, and capable of producing 250 pages of high-quality text. You then have a 10c average cost-per-page when using a printer of this type.

If you own a laser printer then you can expect to pay around $100 for a toner cartridge, but it will be capable of producing at least 2,000 pages of high-quality text. That gives you a 5c cost-per-page when using this type of printer.

In this example the laser printer costs more to buy consumables for, but the lower cost-per-page more than makes up for that if you’ll have to print a whole heap of documents.

cost to run a printer
This is what it can feel like when you choose the wrong type of printer.

Inkjet printers pretty much always have a higher cost-per-page, but they’re the more economical printer for a home office if you’re only printing a handful of documents each week, or maybe even every month.

Laser printers are the cheapest home office printer to run if you need to be able to print lots and lots of stuff.

Also bear in mind that the above examples only refer to printing text documents in black and white, but not in color. The average cost-per-page for color printing with an inkjet is about 20c per page, and around 12c per page for a color laser printer.

The hidden costs of some printers

There are other running costs to consider too, and ones that computer retail stores won’t always share with you.

Why?

Well, it’s because if they told you the actual truth you’d never buy the printer i.e. they lose out on their sales commission.

If you use a basic inkjet printer to produce thousands of pages of text every month,  it’ll die within a few months of you buying it. Actually it’ll probably stop working after a few weeks. Commercial inkjet printers might be able to handle high-volume printing, but a $50 printer will literally fall apart under that much printing pressure.

Laser printers are designed to handle high-volume printing, but they also have complex internal components that will need to be replaced if you’re a real printer hog.

How much does repair/servicing cost for a laser printer?

The repair tech guy is going to charge you anywhere from $60 – $80 for his time, and the parts might cost even more.

Again, you need to be honest about what you’re going to use your printer for, especially when it comes to the volume of printing you need.

Watch our for ultra-cheap printers

One of the oldest tricks in the books is when a manufacturer releases an entry-level inkjet printer for $30, which is just too much of a bargain to refuse. So, you rush home with your new printer, set it up, print out 100 pages of stuff with the included cartridges.

Don’t be Fry.

Then it runs dry, really, really quickly.

“Not to worry”, you think, “I’ll just go out and buy some new cartridges.”

You get the store, find your cartridges, and check the price tag: $35 per cartridge, so that’s $70 in total. So, yes, your brand new printer needs replacement cartridges that cost more than the printer cost to buy.

Manufacturers simply can’t make any real profit when they sell you a printer that costs less than a pizza and beers. What they do instead is make their money back on the consumables i.e. ridiculously expensive replacement cartridges. That’s why I advise anyone who’ll listen to check the cost of the consumables for their printer before they buy it.

Does every printer manufacturer pull this stunt?

Nope, but never take anything for granted. Be Fox Mulder about the whole deal: Trust no one.

If you’re wondering why inkjet ink is so expensive, LifeWire have a decent article explaining why.

Oh, and if you’re wondering why the replacement cartridges last WAY longer than the original cartridges, it’s because certain printer manufacturers have been known to supply partially filled cartridges in the box. Yes, really, and it’s something they call “priming”.

What type of printer is the fastest?

This aspect of a printer will only matter if you need to print lots of stuff quickly. When it comes to just pure speed then a laser printer will win hands down, every single time.

Even an entry-level laser printer costing less than $100 (something like the Brother HL-L2300D) can churn out 20 pages-per-minute (PPM), whereas a similarly priced inkjet printer will produce 10 – 12 pages-per-minute.

When you move up in cost to laser printers costing around $200, you’ll find they can knock out 50ppm, but a similarly priced inkjet printer will struggle to produce more than 35 pages-per-minute.

At the very top end of the printer market you’ll find that high-end laser printers can print up to 200 pages per minute, with inkjet printers trailing behind at 100-pages per minute.

Does any of this matter to you? That all depends on your business printing needs.

Do you need photo printing capabilities?

While inkjet printers might lag behind laser printers in output speed, but when it comes to printing high-resolution photographs nothing can compare to a high-quality inkjet photo printer.

It’s not just about the printing technology used, but also the fact that laser printers are simply not suited to printing on certain types of paper, specifically photo paper. Now, you can get photo paper for laser printers, but you also need a color laser printer to print from.

The problem here? Color laser printers cost way, way more than an inkjet printer capable of printing directly to photographic paper.

So, the main issue with using an inkjet vs. laser for photo printing comes down to cost.

A photo-capable printer is also ideal if you need to print documents featuring high-resolution graphics or images, such as business proposals

photo quality inkjet printer
The Canon PIXMA Pro-100

Do you need duplex printing?

This is just a fancy way of asking if you need a printer that can print on both sides of a page. The simple answer here is “Yes” duplex printing is a feature you should look for in a printer.

Why?

Because it cuts down on the amount of paper you use, so you can reduce the overall cost of owning that printer. You’re also reducing your carbon footprint by doing this, so it’s a win-win.

There are two types of duplex printing for you to consider: manual and duplex.

Manual duplex printing is the annoying process of having to print one side of a document, then feed the pages back through again to print the reserve side. So, we can skip that “feature” because it’s not really a feature – it’s just a headache that results in lots of paper jams and wasted paper.

Automatic duplex printing does what it says on the tin – the pages that pop out of your printer automatically have both sides printed without you having to fiddle around with stacks of paper and some kind of messy feeder system.

Now, my experience with auto-duplex printing on entry and mid-level inkjet printers has been mixed. Sometimes it works great, but more often than not you wind up with a paper jam. And that’s a bad thing with an inkjet for more reasons than having to take the printer apart to get at the jam, but the paper feed rollers also get covered in ink.

Paper jam problems are even more common with inkjet printers unless the paper you’re using is completely dry, completely flat, and free of any creases or wrinkles. That includes making sure your home office isn’t too humid.

I’ve never had the issue with laser printers, which is why I’d suggest that if you’re going to be doing lots and lots of 2-sided printing I’d opt for an auto-duplex laser printer for your home office.

Yes, they’re more expensive, but the amount of time you save fiddling with paper jams more than makes up for it.

Should I buy a Multi-function device or a separate printer and scanner?

There was a time when printers that also included a scanner/copier were too expensive for the average Joe or Josephine, but times have changed. These days if you buy a mid-range printer there’s a very good chance it’ll be an all-in-one model, because that’s where there consumer market is right now.

You’ll also find that afford multifunction devices (MFDs) come in both inkjet and laser flavors, but with the inkjet obviously being more affordable than the laser. There’s also the fact that an inkjet-based MFD is going to take up far less space than its laser equivalent, so that’s something to take into account if you’re working with a limited amount of space.

You’re not sure if you need an MFD? Well, you obviously need a printer, but have you needed to get something photocopied or scanned recently, which meant either doing that in your day job (or getting your partner to do it in theirs). Or even worse, you had to trek all the way to a local copy store or your friend’s house to use their printer and scanner instead.

The answer to whether or not you should buy a multifunction printer or a separate printer and scanner is a simple one: Get the MFD, except if you have a very specific requirement for ultra high resolution or high-volume scanning.

There’s only a small difference in price between a standalone printer and an MFD for the entry and mid-level models, so you won’t need to remortgage your home to buy one.

My trusty HP 4580 – few years old now but still doing its job

What about wireless printers?

The world of technology seems hell-bent on making everything wireless, even when it doesn’t necessarily make any sense to do that. Case in point are those wireless Apple headphones – pretty much the dumbest idea I’ve seen since the chocolate teapot. Plus, a chocolate teapot doesn’t cost $150.

But I’m getting off point.

Should you buy a wireless (Wi-Fi) printer?

The answer is: It depends.

If you only have a tiny office to work from, then it makes perfect sense to have your printer in another room. Even the smallest printers or multifunction devices measure 18-inches long by about 10-inches in depth. That doesn’t sound like a lot of space until you put it on your desk, and then cuss under your breath because it looked smaller in the catalog.

Most wireless printers tend to be 3-in-1 models, with print, copy and scan functions built in. Some of them still have fax capabilities, but I think the last time I sent an actual fax was in 1996. Still though, there are certain industries where email still isn’t considered legal tender, so maybe faxing still makes sense for some of you?

One thing to watch out for is that while your 3-in-1 wireless printer can print and photocopy wirelessly, you can’t scan from most of them unless the device is physically connected to your computer. Maybe some of the more expensive MFDs out there allow this, but my trusty HP needs to be cabled up for me to do any scanning.

A common question people ask is: “But…do I need Wi-Fi in my home to print to a wireless printer?”

Nope you don’t because you’re not actually printing via Wi-Fi to your printer – you’re printing directly to it via its own access point. Don’t worry too much about what an access point is – just know it’s a way for your computer to connect to the printer without using any cables.

Another advantage of wireless printers is that they also allow you to print to them directly from your smartphone or tablet, or pretty much any other device capable of sending a document of some kind to a printer.

If you intend using your wireless printer with your smartphone or tablet you will need a Wi-Fi connection in your home, because otherwise your device has no way of “speaking to the printer”. Apple products can be a real pain in this regard, which is another reason why I don’t feature them anywhere on the site.

What’s the most reliable home office printer?

There’s absolutely no way I can recommend one specific printer as being the most reliable above all others, simply because what you need from a printer is very different to what I need.

The most reliable printer I ever owned (bar absolutely none) was my HP850c, but they haven’t been available to buy for about 15 years, so there’s some useless information for you!

Here are some tips to help you out when buying a printer:

  • Identify exactly what you need your printer to be able to do
  • Decide if you need a color model, or will mono do?
  • Stick to brand names you recognize
  • Check the price of replacement toner or cartridges in advance
  • Set a budget of at least $150 for a business-class inkjet printer
  • If you’re buying a laser printer then a budget of $200 makes sense
  • A mid-level multi-function device costs more, so give yourself a budget of $300

Sure, you can get any of these for way less than I’m suggesting, but I want you to have a hassle-free experience when printing, and buying the cheapest model of anything you can find rarely produces the results you expect.