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Your new home office: Budget or blowout

  • Story Highlights
  • Well-appointed home office can help save time, money and headaches
  • PopSci-selected products will improve performance and insure your sanity
  • Picks priced for everyone from the struggling artist to the megamogul
  • Next Article in U.S. »
By Abby Seiff
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(PopSci.com) -- Working from home can be as or more productive than renting yourself out daily, but only if you have the right equipment.

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Whether you've got hundreds to spend or zillions, the editors at PopSci.com have an office set-up to fit your budget.

While a well-appointed home office might not mean the difference between wild success and abject failure, it can go a long way toward saving you time, money and headaches.

Whether you own a business, freelance, or simply round out your workweek at home, these are the products that will improve your performance and insure your sanity.

And with picks priced for everyone from the struggling artist to the megamogul, there's no excuse for slacking: Get to work!

Computer

High: The Toshiba Portégé R400-S4931 ($3,500) is the first laptop to use Ultra-wide band -- low-powered radio signals -- to connect wirelessly to peripherals as far as 30 feet away. Its monitor swings around, transforming it into a tablet PC, a biometric fingerprint reader comes standard, and two banks of superbright battery-saving LEDs light the notebook's 12.1-inch widescreen. With an 80GB hard drive and an Intel Core Duo processor, this computer can handle all your business needs with style.

Low: With its 160GB hard drive, CD-RW/DVD drive, and NVIDIA graphic card, the Dell Dimension C521 ($360) packs a lot of performance into an affordable package. An added plus: the ultraslim case takes up no more desktop real estate than most laptops.

Monitor

High: Working at home has its perks, but being forced to squint at a laptop screen all day isn't one of them. The Panoram PV230 DSK ($3,000) is a 38", multipaneled display that allows you to expand information (documents, spreadsheets, graphic designs, publishing files) with nary an effort. Its ergonomically tuned swing arm ensures you always get a clear view, and a hidden cable system helps avoid desk clutter.

Low: Your five-year-old behemoth may get the job done, but the CTX Technology F973 ($350) does it handsomely, without destroying your eyesight. The 19" LCD screen is great for graphics and features a character smoothing technology that produces especially crisp text.

Mouse

High: The cordless Logitech MX Revolution ($100) is equipped with a unique scroll wheel that can spin through thousands of pages of spreadsheet lines. Even better, SmartShift technology notes what application you're in and automatically applies the necessary scrolling speed, a quick-flip wheel moves from one document to another with a flick of the thumb, and a search button lets you highlight any word and instantly display results from a chosen search engine.

Low: Strap the Logisys Optical Finger Mouse ($30) to your finger and turn nearly any surface into a mouse pad. A scroll wheel on the side of the 800-dpi laser lets you move through documents easily.

Keyboard

High: When your tiny laptop keyboard gets too frustrating, turn to the wireless Logitech diNovo Edge ($200). Despite its slim design, its keys are engineered to mimic the deep press of those on an ordinary keypad. Touch sensitive audio and cursor controls and backlit stealth keys are surprisingly practical pluses.

Low: When your lifestyle encroaches on your workspace in the form of coffee on the spacebar, the Unotron Waterproof Keyboard ($50) is something of a godsend. Dunk it in a sink full of soapy water and get back to work.

All-in-one printer

High: A home office is useless if you have to run to Kinko's every hour. The Brother MFC-8860DN ($500) is a high-speed laser printer and copier, with a fax machine and color scanner built in.

Low: The inkjet Canon MP 600 ($180) rapidly spits out exquisite-quality prints, photos, and copies; doubles as a color scanner; and has a 2.5-inch, color LCD screen that can be used for easy edits in conjunction with the card reader, for bypassing the computer altogether.

Web cam

High: The ultra-high-end Halo Collaboration Studio ($500,000) uses 60-inch plasma screens, an echo-free audio system and a proprietary, superfast data network to create stunning images that mimic a brick-and-mortar conference room, linking you to clients halfway around the globe.

Low: When a phone just won't cut it, the Creative Live Cam Optia ($80) is ready to go. It plugs into your USB port to start up without software or driver installations and automatically focuses the image, leaving you free to focus your conversation.

Desk chair

High: From the almost-too-comfortable-to-be-good-for-you file, the Stokke Gravity balans ($2,000) rocking and reclining desk chair has four positions to take you from upstanding worker bee to sleeping beauty in one swift kick. Leg grips stop you from sliding forward when sitting up and hold your feet just above your head when lying back.

Low: So it's not exactly cheap----but when you spend the majority of your life in a desk chair, it's probably worth the splurge. The uber-ergonomic HumanScale Freedom ($780) uses a counter-balance mechanism to provide the exact amount of support your body requires, has a specially contoured back design, and works without a half-dozen pumps and controls, so that sitting easy can be just that.

VOIP phone

High: Use Skype, but still rely on your landline for local calls? Netgear's SPH200D Dual-mode Cordless Phone ($200) automatically switches between landline and Internet, letting you place and receive calls through both. A user-friendly color screen lets you manage contacts and see who's online and who's available to talk.

Low: The Ipevo Free.2 ($45) uses echo cancellation for a clearer call, has a backlit LCD screen, and copies the design of an ordinary phone for intuitive use. It also comes with free recording software, so you can tape important conversations with the push of a button.

Picture frame

High: A digital photo frame is useless if your photos don't look good on it. The fantastic image quality of Philip's 9FF2M4 ($250) is bolstered by its features: It holds about 150 photos on its internal memory, has slots for nearly every memory card, and automatically resizes your images for maximal display.

Low: The 5.6" Pandigital DPF56-2 ($100) is the perfect way to make sure your desktop photo of Sparky stays up-to-date. A remote-control, 64 MB of internal memory, speakers and video playback sweeten the deal.

LED desk lamp

High: Herman Miller's Leaf lamp ($500) has 20 LEDs, half warm colors and half cool, to provide exactly the right amount of light for any time of day. Touch sensitive controls let you toggle the desired blend of intensity and color, and the energy-efficient setup uses only half the power of a fluorescent bulb.

Low: The Koncept Z-Bar ($130) uses 66 super-bright LEDs to warmly illuminate your desk no matter how dark it is. No thicker than a finger, it does the job without cluttering your workspace.

Loaded headphones

High: Listen to your music, then seamlessly answer your phone without switching headsets or tangling cords. The wireless Motorola S805 headset ($150) is equipped with a speaker and Bluetooth-pairing capability.

Low: Live on a noisy street? Philips's SBC HN110 ($50) noise-canceling headphones block out high frequencies, giving your work a fighting chance against the jackhammer outside your window.

Electricity meter

High: The PowerCost ($150) wirelessly monitors your home's electricity meter and displays exactly how much energy your home is sucking up in real time, in a form we can all understand good ol' dollars and cents. It even shows which appliances are costing the most, so you can dial back the kilowatts and rack up the savings.

Low: Plug Kill-A-Watt ($30) into an outlet and connect whatever device you suspect is costing you an arm and a leg. The monitor displays volts, amps, watts and cost forecast for any appliance at a fraction of the price of most monitoring systems.

Bonus gadget

High: The Ambient Orb ($150) wirelessly receives continuously updated information on anything from the weather to the stock market, then translates it as a series of colors for an instant, visual data guide.

Low: Program the Griffin Power Mate ($45) to scroll through files and save documents at the push of a button, or use it to trim footage and edit songs, or simply set it to work as an external volume control. The weighted aluminum button looks like a stereo knob and can be programmed to mimic as many key commands as you can think up. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

Copyright © 2009 Popular Science

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