What can you buy for under £99?
James looks at what it’s possible to buy if you can’t bring yourself to stretch past the £100 barrier
If you have Christmas money burning a hole in your pocket, one of the best ways to spend it is to buy a present for yourself to combat the drudgery of the New Year. The January sales are a good time to go searching for bargains, but obviously you don’t want to spend too much. So what can you buy for £99? We’ve had a look for the best sub-£100 gift ideas to see if there’s anything you might want to treat yourself to, whatever piece of hardware you’re after.
Blu-ray Writer: Asus SBW-06D2X-U External Blu-ray Writer
Writable Blu-ray hardware is finally reaching reasonable levels of affordability, and with up to 128GB of data storage on a single disc, it’s not hard to see why you might want one. Although there are a few on the market right now, Asus’s external Blu-ray writer stands out from the pack as one that’s impressive on every level.
Features such as Auto Tuning Power technology and double-strength disc encryption with password controls give the user added control and confidence over the recording process, while the portable design lets you easily deploy it on any desktop or laptop with a USB port. Even its appearance sets it apart from other Blu-ray drives, with a slim and glossy exterior mounted, optionally, on a rakishly angled stand. We can’t think of any finer Blu-ray writer to buy.
Mouse: Logitech G400 Optical Gaming Mouse
Specialist peripherals are this year’s must-have accessories for the dedicated gamer in your family, and the Logitech G400 gaming mouse is utterly packed with game-friendly features. With eight buttons and a high-resolution 3600dpi sensor that can be tweaked on the fly for easy switching between precise and super-fast inputs, it’s guaranteed to impress. The construction is tested for durability too, with buttons that are stress tested to survive one million clicks.
What makes this mouse special is that unlike most gaming mice, it doesn’t look like it’s been through the car crusher twice in an attempt to give it some street cred, so you’ll still feel normal while using it for your browsing or office work. You might even get some use out of its extra buttons yourself!
Keyboard: SteelSeries 6G v2 Mechanical Gaming Keyboard
If you’ve never used a mechanical keyboard, then we’re sad to inform you that you’ve never really experienced typing. With individually microswitched keys that react faster and more sensitively than a regular keyboard, a mechanical keyboard gives gamers the edge they need to get the jump on their opponents, be they real or virtual. And let’s face it, even if you’re just typing out an email, they’re so much nicer to type on than anything else - the computerised equivalent of a biro on banana skins.
We won’t pretend £75 isn’t steep for a keyboard, but with a durable metal case and sturdy design, you should at least get your money’s worth out of it. Don’t talk yourself out of owning the Rolls Royce of keyboards just because you’re only used to driving a Morris Minor.
Wireless Adaptor: Asus EA-N66 Pyramid Adaptor
USB wireless adapters are virtually synonymous with low-price, low-quality purchases, but with the Asus EA-N66 wireless pyramid, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
With frankly awe-inspiring design sensibilities, this 450Mbps wireless adapter has multiple orthogonally arranged antennas to lessen interference and boost signal coverage. It supports dual-band communication for full wireless N support, and it has a 3-in-1 design that lets it switch instantly between acting as a wireless adaptor, repeater or access point. You may not need it, but you’re lying if you say you don’t want it.
Case: Antec 902 V3 Midi Gaming Case
The Antec 902 v3 is a fantastic mid-priced gaming case with a variety of desirable features, including a huge side-panel window, internal LEDs and 2.5” drive bays specifically designed for SSDs mounted at the base of the case. It’s quite possibly the perfect home for a modern PC - particularly if you want to build a rig that’s going to impress your friends at a LAN party.
What’s more, the perforated frontage gives it extra cooling capabilities, while a CPU cut-out and the three included fans (there’s space for even more) mean it’s capable of keeping even the most powerful PC chilly. If you’re not overclocking or running a high-end graphics card, then it’s arguably overkill, but when it looks this good, who cares how necessary it is?
Media Streamer: SumVision Cyclone Micro 2+ MKV Player
If you want to make it easier than ever to get digital video playing on your TV, this pocket-sized media streaming device allows you to pipe a huge variety of digital formats straight onto the big screen, including, as the name suggests, the oft-neglected MKV file. With HDMI and 5.1 digital coax support, this small box still allows you to get home cinema-style sound and visuals.
And why’s it so cheap? Well, its maker has scrimped a little on storage (which is to say, there isn’t any) but the USB port allows you to connect almost any type of device, so if you have a USB key hanging around, you can hook it up for simple file storage and transfer. That’s convenience we can live with.
RAM: Crucial Ballistix Sport 8GB DDR3 Memory Kit
In case you hadn’t noticed, Windows 8 claims to need a minimum of 2GB of RAM to run but, let’s face it, giving your 64-bit operating system anything less than 4GB is a waste of time. Rather than try to scrape by at the bare minimum, why not splash out on this 8GB Crucial Ballistix kit? Not only will you be well ahead of the curve for the next couple of years, but you can take advantage of this year’s famously cheap RAM prices. This is a 2 x 4GB kit, which means it offers the best balance of access times and physical space constraints, and because it’s the ‘Sport’ version, it’s rated at 1600MHz - better than average speeds, which are fast enough for all but the most hardened overclocker.
TV Card: Hauppauge WinTV Nova HD S2
Watching TV on your computer is as easy as it’s ever been, but it can get just that little bit easier if you install a TV card.
anufacturer Hauppauge Computer Works has been the leading manufacturer of TV cards for virtually as long as they’ve existed, and the Nova HD S2 features a satellite-capable DVB-S/DVB-S2 tuner that you can use in conjunction with any digital dish to receive free HD satellite channels from across Europe. However, although it’s worth noting you can’t use it to directly receive encrypted signals, such as Sky, even if you have a subscription. Still, with extras like built-in PVR recording and multiple input and output ports, anyone who wants a TV card that means business should start here.
Headset: Corsair Vengeance 1500 Gaming Headset
We’re big fans of Corsair’s gaming line, which has produced some absolutely stellar pieces of hardware lately. Ideal for gamers who don’t like the idea of shelling out for costly, foundation-quaking speaker systems, the Corsair Vengeance 1500 gaming headset contains single-cable Dolby 7.1 headphone technology that allows you to hear games the way they were meant to be heard: loud and with bags of atmosphere. It’s fully compatible with 3D audio standards and contains a built-in boom-style microphone for voice chat, so there’s everything you need to co-ordinate your inevitable online victories and truly capture the aural nuances of any game you play.
PSU: Corsair TX 650W V2 PSU
A new PSU might not be the most exciting present you can buy for yourself, but don’t be too hasty: PSUs need to be replaced when they get old, and an efficient PSU is better for you and your system. Corsair’s Enthusiast Series TX V2 offers one of the best price to performance ratios available, with 80-Plus bronze efficiency rating and a modular cabling system that allows users to select their preferred combination of eight SATA connectors, two PCI connectors and eight four-pin Molex connectors - enough to supply any PC with the juice it needs in the format it requires (and you can even disconnect ones you’re not using). The ultra-quiet 140mm fan only sweetens the deal.
AMD CPU: Bulldozer FX-8120 Black Edition
AMD might have taken a severe hit on its processors again this year in the face of Intel’s blistering Sandy and Ivy Bridge lines, but a whopping 50% discount on one of the company’s fastest CPUs means that if you have an AMD system, there’s never been a better time to upgrade. This 3.1GHz Bulldozer FX-8120 Black Edition chip is unlocked, meaning overclockers can squeeze even better performance out of it, and the chip’s eight-core design is unprecedented elsewhere in the consumer market. It’s still hovering just above £100 from most outlets, but look out for those participating in a £20 cashback scheme that’ll bring it home just under the wire.
Intel CPU: Core i3-3220T
Intel’s entry-level line of Ivy Bridge Core i3’s has only been on shelves for a few months, but their prices are already dropping under £99. The Core i3-3220T is a dual-core desktop chip with quad-core Hyper-Threading functionality. With Intel’s HD Graphics 2500 GPU and a clock speed of 2.8GHz, this isn’t a gaming CPU, but it is a strong all-rounder. If you have a Socket 1155 motherboard that’s begging for a chip upgrade, you could do far worse for the same money. Of course, even though it’s nowhere near the top of the line, it’s still as fast, out of the box, as the Bulldozer FX-8210. If you’re not into overclocking, this is where to spend your money.
Hard Drive: 3TB Seagate Barracuda
The New Year offers us all a clean slate, so why not interpret that literally by buying yourself a fresh, empty hard drive that you can fill with downloads? Seagate’s Barracuda drives have a long and reliable history, and this 3TB monster even has the latest SATA 6Gbps connector, so you shouldn’t have any trouble filling it up as quickly as possible. Remember, 2013 is going to be the year when the popularity of SSDs really explodes, so there’s a good chance that mechanical hard drives will never be as cheap again as they are now. A must for any PC owner who thinks they’re a bit of a data-hoarder.
SSD: OCZ 120GB Vertex 3 SSD
It’s probably not the best time to buy an SSD, given the way prices have been dropping and will continue to drop throughout 2013. Then again, if you just can’t wait to get your hands on some of that ultra-fast solid-state storage, this is the best way to do it for under £99. A not-unreasonable 120GB of storage gives you space for your operating system and software, and your system benefits hugely from the 500MB/s read/write speeds that you can only get with a SATA 6Gbps SSD drive. If you want to give your PC the one upgrade that’ll improve it the most, this is the one to go for.
Tablet PC: DGM T-703 Tablet PC
The DGM-T703 is a 7” Android tablet that you can pick up for under £80 on Amazon, and with the craze for mini-tablets sweeping the world courtesy of the Nexus 7, this might be the cheapest way to get your hands on one at almost a third of the price of Google’s effort. If the price hasn’t clued you in, it’s far from the best tablet on the market - the 800×480 resolution is low, 4GB of storage is stupidly small (although it can be expanded using micro-SD cards) and a 0.3 megapixel camera is laughably bad even for video chatting, but it does run Android 4.0, and the 1.2GHz ARM Cortex A8 CPU is as the same as the one that underpins the Apple A4 (found in the original iPad). Wi-fi support and HDMI-out turn it into a convincing entertainment and web-browsing machine. If you’ve never owned a tablet or just want an Android machine, the GDM T-703 fits the bill.
Nvidia Graphics: Gainward GeForce GTX 650 1GB
Despite costing less than £100, the GeForce GTX 650 is a fair upgrade that’ll turn your workstation PC into a gaming-capable machine in a single stroke. Based on the same revised version of the Kepler architecture seen in the ‘Gamer’s choice’ graphics card, the GeForce GTX 660, the GTX 650 is right up to date despite its slightly cut down specs. Although it benchmarks worse than the Radeon HD 7770, a seasoned overclocker can take advantage of Nvidia’s more robust hardware to unleash the inner-power of this card. If you know how to get the most out of graphics cards, there’s a real bargain to be had here, but if you’re a bit more tentative, there’s a Radeon across the street with your name on it.
AMD Graphics: Sapphire Radeon HD 7770 1GB
It’s a low-end card if you’re a serious gamer, but within our sub-£99 budget, it’s the best graphics card your money can get you. The spiritual successor to the popular HD 5770, it uses AMD’s ‘Cape Verde’ architecture - a cut-down version of AMD’s more impressive Tahiti platform found in the high-end HD 7900 cards. Still, that means it’s running an iteration of the latest hardware, and its DirectX 11 capability and dual mini-DisplayPort-out gives you plenty of room for tweaking in both software and hardware. Performance is good for the money, even if it’s not going to give you ultra-high definition gaming. However, if you’re upgrading from an on-board GPU, prepare to be blown away by the improvement.