The most important Windows PC upgrade: Touch-enabling

If your system isn't touch-enabled in some way, you need to seriously consider adding some form of support. Here's how to do that without breaking the bank.

Without a doubt, the most popular question I'm asked is "what's the best upgrade for my PC?" This is a beloved line of inquiry that dates back to days when desktop PCs were the size (and weight) of a mid-sized mammal.

What has changed, however, is my answer to the question.

For a long time my top PC upgrade has been RAM, and let me tell you that 20 years ago that was a serious investment. Back in 1995 if you wanted to put 32 megabytes of RAM in your PC - yes, megabytes, not gigabytes - then you needed to be ready to pull your wallet or purse out and peel off a $1,000, and then you sat back and watched your kilobuck investment be worth some $300 by the end of 1996. Nowadays 2 gigabytes of RAM can set you back less than $20, which means that it's a good bang-for-the-buck upgrade.

The thing is though that most PCs nowadays have a couple of gigabytes of RAM in them, and adding another couple of gigabytes not only needs the system to be running a 64-bit operating system, but the performance gains are hardly stellar unless that system is being worked hard.

And don't even think about throwing money at a new CPU. Unless you're planning on a big upgrade or a rebuild, it's just not worth the investment. And a better graphics card is only really for gamers.

So, if RAM, CPU and GPUs aren't on the list, what is the most important upgrade you can carry out on a modern PC?

It's adding touch capability. It's clear that this is here to stay, so you might as well leverage it. And to be honest, once you get the hang of working with it, you will feel hobbled when using a non-touch system.

If your system isn't touch-enabled in some way, you need to seriously consider adding some form of support.

Now you might be thinking that touch-enabling your system means unplugging the power cord from the back of your existing PC, throwing said PC into a dumpster, and attaching the power cord to a brand new (and expensive) PC, and that means taking out a third mortgage. Fear not. You can add touch support to a PC without breaking the bank.

Touch-enabled displays

The most obvious way to add touch-compatibility to your existing PC is to get a touchscreen display. And there are a number of touchscreens on the market that you can buy to add to an existing system.

One thing worth noting is that for the best Windows 8/Windows 10 experience, you want a touchscreen panel that has a bezel that's flush with the front of the display, otherwise making use of gestures that involve the edge of the display is going to be infuriating. This means you want one of the newer sleek panels, not the older style touch displays with the chunky borders.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Acer FT0, priced starting at $199 for the 19.5-inch model, and $249 for the 21.5-inch model
  • Dell P2314T 23-inch, priced at $349
  • Acer T272HL 37-inch, priced at $499

If you don't want to throw away your existing display, then keep it and use it as a secondary display (if you have the space, that will boost your productivity significantly once you get used to having it).

Pen tablet

Another touch option is to add a pen tablet. This gives you a quick and easy way to add touch at a low price and without much fuss.

I recommend taking a look at the Wacom range of tablets, particularly the Intuos Pro line, which come in small, medium, and large. Not only can these be used with a pen, but they also feature a touch-sensitive surface so you can dump the stylus and use the best stylus in the world - your finger!

Prices range from $230 to $500, depending on size.

Touch-enabled mice

One of the easiest ways to touch-enable a system is to add a touch-enabled mouse. Sure, it's not as good as adding a display or a tablet, but it unlocks a lot of extra functionality.

I particularly like the Microsoft Wedge Touch Mouse or the Sculpt Touch Mouse. Alternatively, you can use a third-party driver to get an Apple Magic Trackpad set up on your system.

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