I just bought a computer system, but the number of computer accessories in the store was overwhelming. Which ones should I get?

There are a number of useful accessories you should add to your computer system.

The first is a surge protector. It is essential to offer some protection to your hardware, software and data from blackouts, brownouts, surges and spikes. The reason I say "some protection" is that there are some catastrophes that a surge protector won't survive, such as a very close lightning hit (so always unplug your computer system, including peripherals, during an electrical storm). But for helping to tame an unreliable electrical supply, a surge protector is a must. Of course, a more costly but much more effective safeguard against electrical calamities is a UPS, or uninterruptible power supply, which I discussed a few columns back. But if you don't have $100 or so to dish out right now, then a surge protector for a fraction of that amount is a necessity. And if you have a modem, buy a surge protector model that also protects your modem from electrical spikes along the telephone lines.

While we're talking about electricity, be aware that static electricity like the spark you see and feel when you touch a door knob in the wintertime can be absolutely devastating to computer equipment. Before you touch your keyboard or mouse, it's a good idea to touch something grounded to dissipate that static charge. Grounding pads are sold that have a long wire attached to them which you fasten to the screw that holds your electrical outlet's plastic faceplate in place. By touching such a pad, a potentially dangerous charge is harmlessly eliminated. If you don't have something convenient and safe to touch near your computer before you use it, you might consider picking up one of these grounding pads.

Another item I wouldn't be without is a monitor-mounted document holder. The original such device was called a Curtis Clip, but there are many imitators on the market now. It's a swinging plastic arm with a clip that attaches to the upper corner of your monitor with velcro. Two velcro strips are supplied, one for each corner, so you can switch the position of the holder from one side of your monitor to the other when needed. But the best bet is to just buy two and have one on each corner permanently, like I have. No desk space is wasted and your documents are always close by and at eye level for handy reference. I'd be lost without them.

There are many other accessories available, such as mouse pads, monitor arms (booms to mount your monitor on, allowing you to keep it off of your desk and to swing it out of the way when you don't need it), underdesk keyboard drawers with mouse pad extensions, and foot rests. There are monitor screens that improve visibility and ease eyestrain by reducing glare from poorly-placed light sources, and that also filter radiation or provide privacy. There are wrist rests for keyboards and mice to alleviate or prevent some repetitive motion disorders such as carpal tunnel syndrome. Alternative input devices such as trackballs or glidepoint touch pads are also considered accessories, as are digitizing tablets, which I'll talk more about in another column. I'm sure there are many more I've missed, but which your friendly computer store salesman will be more than happy to show you.

Suffice it to say that there are enough accessories out there to cost you a fairly high percentage of the price you paid for your system. The ones I've mentioned as the most useful are the ones I would recommend first. The rest are subject to your desires and your budget.

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