As much as we love high-priced tech like graphics cards, monitors, or the latest handheld PC, most of us can't spend several hundred dollars on a tech gift or purchase. But that doesn't mean you can't substantially improve your tech life (or the lives of your tech-focused friends and family) while spending a comparatively small amount of money.
I own most of the affordable tech gifts in this list below, nearly all of which can be had for $50 or less. OK, one is currently slightly more than $50, but there's a good chance it could be back on sale for less by the time you read this. I can honestly say that these products have made (or would make) my nerdy world a little nicer in their own ways. If you're looking for an affordable gift for that techie friend or family member (or just something to get yourself) this holiday season, one of these 50-ish-or-under options might be just what you're after.
Lionwei Powered 10 Port, 10Gbps USB Hub
Something I bought last year during Black Friday, this aluminum-shelled USB hub from Lionwei gives me two extra easy-to-reach 10Gbps USB-C ports, a 10 Gbps USB-A port, and four 5Gbps USB-A ports. There are also three USB-A charging ports, rated up to 12W, but I haven't really used them; my phone and earbuds charge wirelessly. Nicely, nine of the ports can be switched off when not in use with the press of a button, with indicator lights (which are tiny and not overly bright) letting you know which ports are enabled.
Lionwei's specs specifically state that the hub doesn't support video output (presumably that means DisplayPort Alt Mode doesn't work over USB-C), but that's never been an issue for me. I primarily use the hub for testing peripherals and using external storage, like the best portable SSDs. In effect, this handy hub has meant that I always have the USB ports I need within easy reach, so I haven't had to crawl under my desk and behind my PC to plug something in for the past year. That's easily worth $46in my book. Maybe yours, too?
Lenovo Go Qi Charging Wireless Mouse
I have wireless charging pads at my desk and three other places around my apartment for keeping my phone and watch juiced up, and I take one with me when I travel. So when I saw Lenovo had a Go Wireless Multi-Device Mouse that charges wirelessly using the Qi standard, I was intrigued. And now that I've owned one for a year, it's my go-to travel rodent. In fact I think I ordered it during last year's Black Friday deals season.
There's not much remarkable about this compact mouse in terms of its design. It houses a USB-C dongle under its magnetic top, and it also works over Bluetooth for pairing it with up to three devices. Lenovo claims 2-3 months of use if you use it a couple of hours a day, which is probably fairly accurate.
I've never been able to tell because whenever I'm done using it, I just drop it on the Qi charging stand on my desk and it's fully charged whenever I pick it up again. Plugging things in is so 2019. However, it does have a USB-C port in the front if you want to pry off the rubber door and charge it the old-school way.
Add recessed power and USB ports to your desk for just $16
OK, this one's only for the DIY-inclined, because it involves cutting a hole in your desk (or anywhere else you might want some flush-mount power ports, like a nightstand). Jgstkcity's recessed power strip lets you drop a couple of AC outlets and two USB charging ports (one 30W USB-C) anywhere you need them – again, once you've cut a hole for it.
While it's always smart to be wary of no-name power strips, I've owned the older non-PD version of this strip for over two years and it's been functioning just fine. I have it installed in the narrow stand I built right behind my couch. It's a super-convenient place for power outlets, especially when friends or family stop by. I just warn people not to put drinks there. Thankfully the coffee table is even more convenient for that and it's right in front of the couch.
Powerowl's rechargeable batteries are good and surprisingly cheap
When I first started using rechargeable batteries with my Walkman in the early 90s, they were kind of awful (but still better than spending all my money feeding my music addiction). They couldn't hold a charge and didn't last nearly as long as name-brand disposable batteries. But here in the 2020s, rechargeables are surprisingly good.
Panasonic's Eneloops arguably ushered in the rechargeable AA and AAA renaissance, but PowerOwl's batteries are a lot more affordable and I haven't had a single one fail in over three years of using them in my various remotes, smart door locks, and other devices.
PowerOwl 8 AA Rechargeable Batteries With Charger: now $24 at Amazon, was $33
These PowerOwl Pro AA batteries are rated to 2800mAh (though I wouldn't put stock in that spec) and are rated to keep 60% of their power for two years. The included USB-powered charger isn't the fastest (10 hours rated), but it gets the job done.
HyperX Wrist Rest
For anyone who spends their days (and / or nights) in front of a keyboard, a good wrist rest is key for both short-term comfort and long-term limb health. Multiple Tom's Hardware staffers swear by HyperX's gel / memory foam wrist rests.
And with the rise in popularity of compact keyboards, it's nice to see the company now offers a Mini version. At about 9 inches long, it's a good fit for small keyboards, but a 14-inch Tenkeyless option is also available for just a couple dollars more.
HOTO NEX O1 PRO 3.6V Screwdriver Set
I build a lot of PCs and also do a fair bit of home improvement work around my apartment. So a cordless screwdriver is a nice thing to have. I also own a much slimmer Wowstick, but have found HOTO's NEX O1 Pro to be handier thanks to its extra (and variable) torque. It's great for loosening those factory-installed screws on PC cases that just don't want to let go, and also good for assembling small pieces of furniture.
The HOTO won't replace my DeWalt impact driver or drill for bigger, tougher jobs, but for everyday tasks, it's powerful enough, easy to charge over USB-C, and even looks good on my workbench. I just wish it came with and stored more than 12 bits. If you don't need this screwdriver right away for a gift, maybe hold off a bit, as it often goes on sale for less than $50. It was $35 during Black Friday.
Cooler Master ARGB GPU Support Bracket
There are lots of ways of dealing with a sagging GPU. You could just ignore it (so long as you aren't transporting your PC somewhere), get a sub-$10 adjustable piston-type GPU brace, or hold your heavy graphics card up in style with Cooler Master's tempered glass and RGB universal GPU Bracket.
With a magnetic base and clip-on metal support shelf, this graphics card holder was simple to install. It's currently holding up the ancient GTX 1080 Ti in our external storage testbed, and by far the most difficult installation step was plugging in the three-prong RGB header onto the motherboard while the system was standing on my workbench.
Is this a lot of features to throw into what's basically a support brace? Sure. But if you spent hundreds making your system look great, $29 is a small price to pay for some pretty GPU support.
TP-Link AX1800 WiFi 6 USB Adapter
Have you upgraded your router to Wi-Fi 6, but your desktop or laptop doesn't have the requisite hardware to take advantage of your newer network tech? TP-Link's AX1800 WiFi 6 USB Adapter is here to solve that problem for you. It's quite large by USB Wi-Fi dongle standards, but I've found it works quite well with the Wi-Fi 6 router
I have running downstairs from my office. And it instantly fixed an issue I was having with very poor reception from the SFF PC I built in the Fractal Terra case.
APC Desk Mount Power Station PE6U4
If you're a tech person, you always want more power sockets and USB ports within easy reach. And that's exactly what APC's Desk Mount Power Station provides. Designed to be clamped on the edge of a desk or on top of a cubicle wall, it puts six power sockets and four USB charging ports right on your desk. No more bending over or reaching around things to get the sweet, sweet power your device needs.
Oh, and it's also a 1,080-Joule-rated surge protector, so your devices get some added protection as well. I wouldn't trust all my expensive devices to such a small surge protector but hey, it's better than nothing.
Anker Power Strip Surge Protector (2100J)
What's exciting to say about a surge protector? If it's old and defective, it could help burn your house down. And even if it isn't, it's recommended you replace them every 5 or so years because the parts that actually do the protecting can become less effective over the years. So there's a good chance you're due for a new one. I own three of these Anker Power Strip Surge Protectors (2100J) and they all have worked flawlessly.
Aside from the usual things like 10 three-prong outlets and a handy switch, Anker also includes USB-A and USB-C power outlets, each rated to 12W. I wish these came with more than an 18-month warranty, but I've always had good luck with Anker's customer service, which makes me feel a bit better on that front.
Orico USB 3.0 Clamp Hub
Much like the APC power station above, this is a four-port USB hub that's designed to clamp onto your desk and give you extra convenient connectivity. Orico's device is more about data than power though, delivering USB 3.0 speeds, which is good enough for most modern devices.
It comes in black or silver and has a nice sturdy metal frame. Just note that its clamp section is pretty shallow and its adjustable screw can only open between 10 and 32 mm, so it won't fit on all desks.
8Bitdo SN30 Pro Wireless Bluetooth Controller
What's not to love about a SNES-inspired wireless gaming controller that's compatible with Windows, Mac, Android and the Nintendo Switch? Not much, but I own the original Pro model and not one of these newer models with translucent plastic shells. That's peak late-90s nostalgia and I really don't want to love it as much as I do.
As you might expect given this controller's small size and many more buttons than the SNES controller it was based on, its Rumble motors aren't the strongest, and the layout can feel kind of cramped for some modern games. But for any kind of retro game and especially platformers (I'm looking at you, Super Mario Bros. Wonder), this is my go-to controller. At this price, maybe I should pick up another one.
Hamurubi Large Felt Desk Pad
Few things can freshen up your desk space with less effort and cost than a good desk pad. It also helps that putting down a new desk pad means you actually have to clean up your desk. The one I'm using at my main home desk is getting a little funky, so I ordered this felt model from Hamurubi during Black Friday.
It comes in two rather large sizes, and I chose the larger 35.5-inch model to cover most of my work area. I particularly like that it's felt rather than leather, and that it has thousands of anti-slip silicone dots on the bottom to keep it in place. At $10-$12 and available in three shades of gray, if you like the look and feel of felt, it should be a comfy and attractive addition to your desk. I could live without the wolf patch in the right corner, but otherwise, this is a great addition to my desk.
Clean up the cables under your desk with a tray
Sometimes, the best gifts are passive-aggressive. If all you want for the holidays is for someone in your home or office to get their cables off the floor, some cheap cable management trays will do the job. This two-pack comes with tape, though heavier loads will ultimately require some screws.
Besides the trays, this key also comes with some cable ties and a few cable clips you can place along the bottom or sides of your desk. One of these has been holding up the PC cable clutter in my living room since May. But I had to screw it into my desk because it's holding one of the above Anker power strips, plus the external power brick from my TV/Monitor.
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After a rough start with the Mattel Aquarius as a child, Matt built his first PC in the late 1990s and ventured into mild PC modding in the early 2000s. He’s spent the last 15 years covering emerging technology for Smithsonian, Popular Science, and Consumer Reports, while testing components and PCs for Computer Shopper, PCMag and Digital Trends.
Congrats to Mr. Safford for a really helpful and interesting list of Tech equipment. I like the list so much I'm going to archive the article as a source for future purchases I may need or want to make.Reply
Great list indeed!Reply
The Orico USB 3.0 Clamp Hub is very good. It's well constructed and can be attached almost anywhere. Mine is now attached to the bottom left of my monitor. Very handy.
I've been interested in an 8Bitdo controller.Reply
I'm wondering though - wouldn't bluetooth be a poor fit for such an input device (i.e. latency)? Would I be better off spending more on a 2.4Ghz wireless device?