Technology companies often advertise their gadgets and gizmos as devices that will simplify your life, but they sometimes cause as many problems as they solve. This is particularly true of the PC which, even today, is still a mess of cords, hardware, and peripherals that can eat up your space. Here’s how to cut through the clutter like a samurai, and restore order to a messy office.
Routing isn’t just for routers
Even a basic home PC usually introduces five or more cords to keep track of, and often necessary extras like speakers, and a printer, add to the mess as well. This looks bad, and can make connecting hardware more difficult, as you must first weave you way through a mess of cables to find an open port.
Cords don’t have to run wild and untamed, however. Simple and inexpensive tools like a label maker, Velcro ties and cable raceways can help your organize them. While they won’t go away, they will be contained, making them far less likely to cause trouble. Check out our video guide to organizing your PC for the details.
Routing and bundling cables can be useful, but it doesn’t always help – or help enough to satisfy your tastes. Those who truly despise wires may want to get rid of them entirely, and there’s numerous ways to do so.
Let’s start with your keyboard and mouse. Switching from wired to wireless RF (or Bluetooth) will knock out two cables that are likely to get in your way, and it’s not expensive to do so. Logitech sells wireless bundles with a keyboard and mouse for less than $20. Enthusiasts who love mechanical keyboards have fewer options, but there are a few available.
The next step is to replace your printer with a wireless model. These too are now widely available, and hardly more expensive than their wired counterparts. Going wireless with your printer cuts an extra cord, and makes your printer easily available to multiple PCs (technically, this is possible with a wired printer, but it’s more complex).
Do your have an array of external hard drives bugging you with their cables? Don’t worry – these also can go wireless. Many modern Wi-Fi routers have a USB port that can be used to connect an external drive, which automatically turns it into a wireless network drive. Alternatively, you could grab a Wi-Fi hard drive with a built-in battery, though you’ll have to frequently plug it in to recharge.
Still feeling cord-crazy? Go wireless with your monitor. Intel’s Wi-Di tech is available on laptops and desktops (though it’s only pre-installed on laptops) and can be used in lieu of HDMI. You’ll first need to check your system’s compatibility, however, and then buy a wireless display adapter for your monitor.
Hubs and docks, oh my
Wireless is great for reducing clutter but, as you may have already noticed, it can be an expensive choice if you try to replace everything. Thankfully, there’s a third way – the humble, but effective, USB hub.
A USB hub is typically used to expand the number of ports available on a PC, but it also can be an organizational tool for people who have a lot of USB-compatible clutter. Simply sit the hub somewhere on (or under) your desk, and then connect devices to it rather than your computer. This reduces the length of cord runs, and concentrates them, which makes organization less daunting.
The downside to this approach is a potential loss of performance. If you have multiple hard drives connected to a hub, and they’re used simultaneously, they’ll only be able to access half the normal bandwidth each.
Laptop owners should consider a dock, if one is available for your particular model. A dock can improve organization by providing a permanent base to which other peripherals are connected. While cords will still exist, they’ll be easier to manage because you’ll no longer have to unplug them each time you remove the laptop from your desk. Docks also often face their ports towards the rear, rather than the right or left, which provides a more direct route to the edge of your desk.
Change your monitor’s stand
Chances are good that your monitor has a simple, static stand. Perhaps it tilts – perhaps not. Whatever the case, your monitor likely takes up desktop space, and stays where it stands no matter whatever else you’d like to use your desktop for.
That doesn’t have to be the case. Most monitors come with a VESA mount, and a set of four screw holes arranged in a box formation on the rear. This can be used to attach your monitor to any VESA monitor mount, including those that are highly adjustable.
Picking up such a stand will let you move the monitor out of the way when you don’t need it, freeing up the space for paperwork, reading, or whatever else you might want to use your desk for. Choosing an adjustable stand can also have ergonomic benefits, as you’ll be able to move your monitor to the exact position where you find it most comfortable to use.
Switch to a smaller desktop
A desktop computer can be a source of clutter by itself. A standard mid-tower is generally eight inches wide, and fourteen to eighteen inches long, which is a sizable footprint. This bulk can be handled by placing the system beneath a desk, but this common solution increases the length and complexity of cord runs.
Switching to a smaller desktop can be helpful, because it can be placed where its name suggests (on top of your desk), making organization easier. There are quite a few miniature desktop computers available, ranging from the $175 ASUS Chromebox to Apple’s $599 Mac Mini. A small computer will not be as powerful as a mid-tower, but users with modest requirements will find pint sized PCs to be more than capable.
Many small computers are VESA compatible, which means that they can be attached to a monitor with a VESA mount, hiding them from view completely. This makes cable routing easier. Choosing this option will make the use of a VESA monitor stand impossible, however, so you’ll have to decide between them. We generally recommend the monitor stand, due to its ergonomic benefits, but mounting a small PC to your monitor can make sense if you find your current stand comfortable.
As you can see, the options you have for tidying your computer space go well beyond organizing cables. Going wireless can eliminate almost every cord beyond those that provide power, and choosing a different monitor stand or a smaller PC will increase the desk space you have available for other tasks. Eliminating wires can become an expensive endeavor, but it may be necessary if cord creep has made your desktop useless for anything besides computing.
Image Credit: Adrian Purser via Flicker