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Under the collective umbrella of Human Input Devices, your keyboard, monitor, mouse and other interactive elements – microphones and wrist rests for example – deserve more thought, investment, consideration and deliberation than anything else in your PC.
They’re devices that let you actually use a PC; therefore without them everything else is useless. If your keyboard gives you RSI, how are you supposed to work with the PC? An on-screen keyboard and lots of mouse clicks? Does your monitor give you eye-strain if you use it for moderate periods of time?
Problems with any of the interactive devices connected to your PC will singularly stop you harnessing its power, features and obvious abilities, more than anything else. Software issues can be worked around, hardware can be upgraded, but you can’t as easily change the human that has to use the thing. You can see the point we’re making.
This is the hard part, since the very best way to see if a HID is for you, and up to the task of being one of the gateways to you liberating a PC’s power, is to actually use it. Here’s where the traditional way of getting information about a PC part before you buy it falls down.
Any HID might come out well in reviews, but be well aware that the vast majority of conclusions in any HID review will be conjecture and the subjective opinion of the reviewer.
A keyboard that the author of this TekSpek absolutely loves, and might well say so in passing conversation about PCs to many people, might be your RSI-inducing key-pressing experience from Hell.
Being able to try before you buy, in traditional walk-in stores with the requisite items on display for you to touch, feel and experience, is your main saviour.
If someone, in passing, recommends a piece of HID hardware you might be interested in, ask to use it! That way you’ll see, first hand, if their recommendation is the right one, giving you a device you want to buy for your own system.
Whatever way you can realistically use to get a feel for a HID, short of stealing it, do. Get in front of that keyboard or monitor, use that mouse, wear that Bluetooth headset.
Lastly, and hopefully in addition to hands-on experience, read plenty of reviews on as many websites you can, to get the opinion from the pros paid to pass on their - admittedly subjective when it comes to HIDs – expertise on PC hardware.
All those things combined are your best friends when it comes to choosing a HID, be it a monitor, mouse mat or otherwise.
Looking for a new monitor? Consider an LCD monitor first and foremost, over a CRT. While CRTs still offer up undoubted advantages, even compared to the very best LCD displays, an LCD’s inherent benefits are not to be ignored. You’re looking at size and pixel density first, brightness and contrast second, power draw and cost last.
You have to stare at the thing for hours on end, so it has to be big enough, bright enough and have enough pixels for you to use, so don’t try and save money on a display by compromising. Try as much as possible to get the display you really want, since the price of them has come down so much that even large LCDs with 2 feet of diagonal display on show, are within the grasp of the majority.
Really want the 20” LCD display of your dreams, but can only afford the 19” sister model with less pixels? Save up if you can, you’ll thank yourself and this TekSpek in the long run. Displays are an investment, lasting years. Don’t take second best if at all possible.
Need a new mouse? Forget the count of extra function buttons, over and above the two standard ones and a scroll wheel. It’s not the number of buttons your four fingers and a thumb can reach to press, it’s how it fits in the instinctive shape your hand makes when it holds the mouse that counts.
The modern Operating System is designed around a primary button, secondary one for context operations and a vertical scroller, and all mice these days carry at least those. So pick something that feels fantastic and tracks well first, with everything else about the mouse a secondary benefit.
Shopping for a new keyboard? The keys needs to feel great under your finger tips, the key action needs to suit your typing style and the tactile feedback you get needs to be just right. Layout is another primary consideration, since the orientation of your hands and fingers on the keyboard, and indeed your wrists in front of it, are what’ll stop RSI and let you use a keyboard for extended lengths of time.
My favourite keyboard is non-ergonomic, with a quiet keypress noise and soft key feel. That’ll be horrific to some, who need an ergo key layout that makes a racket when they use it, whose key action is hard to give them added feedback they’ve pressed something. It’s all about preference. Like with the mouse, find something that feels perfect under hand, with a setup and layout that fits.
Go to a store, ask the assistant to get lots of them out of the box so you can type some stuff from free thought, and don’t be afraid to spend a bit to get the one you love. Ignore looks when choosing one, too.
It’s all common sense, as the majority of this TekSpek is, but you’d not be surprised to hear that a vast majority of people buy HIDs to a budget first, and actual human usage comes a distant second.
Lastly, be sure to invest in what we like to call backup HIDs, or HIDs that work with another so the combination is better than the sum of those parts.
Think gel-filled wrist rest, mouse-mat, the chair you sit on at a PC, the lighting environment around the PC, the desk, etc. All are fantastically important.
Need your wrists raised up to get that last bit of fantastic typing action sorted? Buy the wrist rest without a second thought. Gel-filled works well since it doesn’t get cold and moulds around the wrist.
Your mousing surface should let the mouse track accurately, but also be big enough and comfortable enough for you to rest your wrist on, too. Glass can get cold, but cloth can be resistive.
If you sit at a PC for long periods of time, you owe it to yourself to buy, or have your employer buy for you (and they should, without question), a great chair with good height adjustment, back and lumbar support and comfort for your bum. Your desk needs to be big enough to stop it getting cluttered and cramped, and the lighting around and on it needs to be effective, non-invasive and easily switched on and off.
Monitors should lie so the top edge of the display is level with your straight ahead gaze, if possible. You need to have something behind the monitor that you can use to refocus your eyes, so that the constant focal length of a monitor doesn’t tire your eyes out or make them lazy. A mirror, just to the side of your monitor, will help you adjust focus without having to swivel your neck round to look around the room or office.
If you can’t refocus on something behind your screens, don’t be afraid to just look around your work environment. Do so often, consciously at first, until it’s a subconscious act you do without thinking. Glancing around the office isn’t a sign you’re not busy; rather it’s simply a sign you’re being smart at your PC.
Think, long and hard, and largely without financial constraint or consideration, about the devices you use to interact with a PC, and the environment it sits in. Use common sense at all times, and do try not to compromise on what you want too much.
Your health and good use of a PC are absolutely, more than anything else that might be inside a PC, paramount. Put yourself first with a PC, not the other way around. £100 saved on a slower CPU is £100 towards the larger monitor you really want, but that you’ll probably think about secondary to the performance of that bit of silicon. The performance of you comes first.
A preaching TekSpek? Hell yes, but you needed to hear it!