The Cheapskate's Guide to Crafty Tech Buys

LCD Monitors

Worth it: Larger size, good resolution relative to size, image quality

Skip these to save: DisplayPort, exceptional refresh rate

Buy from third parties: Cables

Example: The 2009 20-inch HP 2009m is missing HDMI capability. If that doesn't matter to you, it's a great choice that you can purchase for about $150, down $50 from its 2009 price.

PC displays have only subtly improved recently; you're not likely to notice any difference between a new product and one designed a couple years ago. So shop well to save money.

Look to hardware reviews to gauge differences between old and new models. Be cautious if a display is touting exceptional stats; it's likely to be priced higher to reflect those specs.

Be sure the reviews support the manufacturer's claims, too. Most specs aren't standardized, and they vary among manufacturers.

You need only a display with a DVI port that supports HDCP (High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection). HDCP is necessary for playing copy-protected files, namely Blu-ray movies and some HD downloads. Nearly any DVI display from the past few years should qualify.

Additional ports--such as analog inputs, HDMI, and DisplayPort--can be handy if you want to connect devices with those options, but they'll usually add more cost. Avoid nearly obsolete displays with VGA-only capability.

Pick a display size that's comfortable for your desk, with big enough resolution. No hard rule exists, but I like a screen to have a resolution higher than 1920 by 1080 pixels (1080p) when it's larger than 22 inches.

Printers

Brother HL-5370DWT laser printer
Worth it: Low-cost-per-page printing

Skip these to save: Extremely high speeds, wireless networking

Buy from third parties: Cables, ink (if quantity is more important than quality)

Example: The Brother HL-5370DWT laser printer is a few years old and slower than new models, but you may find it now for as low as $250, down from $300 last spring. This laser printer outputs a still-satisfying 26 pages per minute, so it's a good buy for small offices and networked homes.

You pay only part of a printer's cost up front. Since ink is an ongoing expense, be sure you price the ink cartridges before you pick the printer.

Manufacturers often list the rough number of pages through which an ink cartridge will last; use this information to calculate and compare the price-per-page cost of each printer you consider.

Monochrome laser printers typically have the lowest cost per page, and color inkjets can run the highest. If you need to print only in black-and-white, consider a monochrome laser.

New printers continue to promise faster and faster page output, but most people won't notice a difference between 24 pages per minute and 18 ppm. If you're not churning out big files regularly or printing in great quantities, even slower rates can be enough.

Additionally, built-in wireless networking on a printer can really boost its cost. If you want a network printer, buy one with ethernet capability, and attach it to your wireless router. Your wireless PCs can still connect. You can share a regular USB printer on a network whose computers use most popular OSs. For more, read how to share the printer when one PC uses Windows 7.

Zack Stern is a San Francisco-based writer and editor who contributes to many technology publications. Follow him on Twitter: @zackstern.

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