Brace your computer for six more weeks in the digital classroom 

By Austin De Dios | October 29, 2020 3:47pm

Computer companions can be a great way to ease the stress of online learning.

Photo Illustration by Austin De Dios

Disclaimer: These are the prices at the time this article was written, and are subject to change over time. 

As your fifth hour of class drags on, you feel your eyes getting heavy. The infamous “Zoom fatigue” has settled in, and your Yerba Mate can’t fight it off anymore. You close your eyes for just a moment for some much needed rest. That’s when the sound of little jet engines jolts you awake. Your computer fans are blasting, and just like you — it has reached its limits.

Your computer, which has been subjected to unprecedented hours of video call streaming, is likely showing technological exhaustion. And although there are plenty of helpful tips to keep your makeshift digital classroom up and running, those won’t always be enough. 

Below are ten relatively cheap tools to get your laptop to survive this grueling adventure we call online learning. 

Clean, mean, processing machine

Accessory: OXO Good Grips Keyboard & Screen Deep Cleaning Set

Keeping your computer clean is not only good for its health, but probably yours too. Sticky and crumb filled keys are hard to work with, and the essential oils misting all over your screen probably make it hard to see anything. This little kit is only ten bucks, and could save you hundred of dollars in repairs down the road. 

I also recommend sanitizing your laptop every now and again, but be careful not to go overkill with the lysol. 

Keeping the cool 

Accessory: Cooler Master NotePal X-Slim Ultra-Slim Laptop Cooling Pad

A few weeks ago the fans in my computer broke suddenly and mysteriously. If my laptop was on for too long the fans would fire up, and the sounds that followed were atrocious. It was as if a tiny man was mowing his lawn inside my computer. Not to mention my computer would crash within half an hour after inevitably overheating. 

This was not acceptable, and made my beloved laptop practically unusable. I was determined to fix it myself, but when I tried to order replacement fans, I was told it would be nine months before they would arrive. I needed a solution, and fast. 

That’s when it arrived. My laptop cooling pad, which I ironically ordered one week prior to this, came to my rescue. This little lapdesk kept my laptop alive until I could order a new one. And even though my new computer doesn’t necessarily need it, I use it frequently to keep it cool. 

The one I ordered has very aggressive aesthetics, and for those not wanting to scream “gamer”, this cooling pad is pretty tame. If you know your laptop likes to run like a kitchen stove, this might be a good solution. 

Security at its finest

Accessory: Kiwi Design Webcam Cover Slide

We’ve all seen them, and nowadays covering your laptop webcam might be more important than ever given how much time we spend online. Give yourself some peace of mind with this 6 pack of adjustable camera covers, instead of crudely taping paper onto your computer. 

The $50 fix to “Your disk is almost full” 

Accessory: WD - easystore 1TB External USB 3.0 Portable Hard Drive

The amount of documents and videos students are downloading is through the roof, and although those vacation photos are at a minimum, disk and cloud storage can still fill up fast. 

To save the grief of deleting mystery files that might be important, it might just be easier to buy an external hard drive. These can get pretty pricey if you need a lot of fast solid state storage, upwards of a thousand dollars if you want to get crazy. But for student purposes, this one terabyte hard drive should serve you just fine. There are even cheaper options if you go with less storage.

If you do start putting important files on a hard drive like this, try your best to avoid dropping it or using it as a coaster. Damaging the drive can corrupt it, and it might just be the end of all those semester long projects. 

Lights, camera, Zoom.

Accessory: Nexigo Webcam

Potato cams are everywhere, and that’s okay for most people. But maybe you really are telling the truth about the camera on your laptop being broken, or it has been acting up out of spite for having to be on so long. After some serious digging, here’s the Nexigo 1080p webcam. 

For $34.99 you can get a decent webcam that you can position freely without being constrained by the placement of the camera on your laptop. Now’s your chance to show up looking a crisp HD when you head to those Zoom parties everyone’s been talking about. 

Say goodbye to the “lean-in-and-squint”

Accessory: Sceptre 20" 1600x900 75Hz Ultra Thin LED Monitor

Many classes require students to have Zoom open alongside another app, like Word or Excel. This can be really cramped, especially for those who like to multitask on smaller laptop screens. I often found myself leaning into the camera and giving everyone a nice view of my forehead. 

For many of you, whether it’s your forehead in the camera or someone else's, it might be nice to have some extra screen real estate to work with. What better way to do that than adding a whole other screen? 

Yes, computer monitors can cost a small fortune if you’re looking for a beautiful, high resolution screen with lightning fast refresh rates. That said, the Sceptre 20” monitor is three pennies shy of $75. It isn’t the fanciest display around, but it has plenty of ports to plug into and good reviews to boot. 

The Sceptre has some unique branding, and for those looking for a more low-profile monitor under $100, this one from Acer might suit you better. 

Don’t forget, these monitors won’t have cameras built in. It might be worth it to buy a new webcam, but you can also just set your laptop off to the side and have Zoom running there, while your monitor has everything else you need cued up and ready to go. 

Dongles were never in style, but we still need them

Accessory: Plugable USB C Hub Multiport Adapter

To dongle, or not to dongle? That’s the question for students who don’t use newer Macbooks. The rest of you, the answer is “to dongle”. In all seriousness, these computer adapters add a lot of versatility to your laptop, opening up spots for expandable storage and display ports for a monitor. 

If you’d like, you could buy an adapter straight from Apple and get yourself a few ports. This isn’t the cheapest option, but it will get the job done. 

Those of you interested in shopping around might find the Plugable USB C Hub adapter more to your liking. It adds an array of new ports that might come in handy down the road, and does so at just under $30. 

I didn’t understand why I needed a mouse, and then it clicked

Accessory: Logitech Pebble

All our laptops have trackpads, and yes, they work. But a solid mouse can quickly become your best friend while surfing through the seas of open tabs and documents. It’s easy to walk into Walmart and buy a cheap mouse for under $10 dollars to get yourself started. 

There’s an audience out there, myself included, who look for a portable, reliable and wireless mouse. The Logitech Pebble (adorable name) checks all those boxes for $30. It comes in four different colors for those who like options, and it connects through Bluetooth. 

Another solid choice, and my personal mouse, is the Razer Atheris. It will cost an

extra $20, but it is larger than the Pebble with more DPI settings if you’re into that kind of thing. 

Let there be Bluetooth

Accessory: Mpow BH129 Bluetooth Receiver

Have you ever found yourself wishing you could connect your laptop to an old pair of earbuds without plugging them in? Or a speaker? Maybe even your car? Well then, this Bluetooth receiver from Mpow might be the right choice for you. For $15 you can give any audio device that plugs in via headphone jack the ability to connect wirelessly instead.

Hit the switch, and your housemates are gone

Accessory: Soundcore Life Q20

No, this won’t actually make your housemates disappear. But a solid set of active noise cancelling (ANC) headphones might just subdue the noise around the house. 

There are a lot of options in this department, and that can make it intimidating. We are going to steer clear of the Beats and Sony’s of the world, and direct our attention to the Soundcore Life Q20. These are praised as some of the best budget ANC headphones on the market, and although they might not be the cheapest option, they deliver some solid performance for $60. 

If you’re looking for something that will cost even less, these headphones from Mpow won’t win any awards, but given the reviews they will serve you well for the price. 

That’s a wrap

This concludes our shopping list. Don’t feel compelled to buy all of these things, and keep in mind you might find a better deal somewhere else. Hopefully this helped narrow down what you might want to pick up to make the weeks to follow a little easier on yourself and your electronic companion. 

Austin De Dios is the News and Managing Editor of The Beacon. He can be reached at