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Best budget computer speakers: $100 or less

You take all this care collecting gigs of your favorite music and movies, and then play it all through your laptop’s built-in speakers. Even the best ones can leave your audio sounding thin and lifeless. External PC speakers—along with a good set of headphones—are a must for getting the best fidelity from your media files.

A trip online or to your favorite electronics store will reveal a head-spinning variety of options to choose from, with some systems costing as much or more than you paid for your laptop. Luckily, you don’t need to take out a personal loan to upgrade your audio. Quality speakers can be found for even less than $100. And while there can be a degree of “you get what you pay for” at this price level, you can find satisfying sound on a budget if you’re willing to make a few compromises.

To help you cut through some of the clutter, we’ve tested many of the commonly available budget models. All cost under $100, sometimes significantly so. We set up each in a typical environment—on a desk in a home office—and played a variety of audio tracks to push their sound capabilities. We also offer some buying advice below to help you choose the right model for your needs.  Scroll to the bottom of this article to see all of our budget speaker reviews.

Best computer speakers under $100

Creative Pebble

Best overall budget speakers

We wouldn’t have thought a set of $20 speakers would impress us much, let alone turn out to be our favorites. But Creative Pebble’s simple USB-powered 2.0 system defies all odds, producing richer, more immersive audio than you commonly find in speakers at twice the price.

Pros:

  • Extremely affordable
  • Excellent audio quality
  • Space-saving design

Cons:

  • No Bluetooth connectivity for mobile devices

 

 

Edifier R19U 2.0 USB Computer Speakers

Runner up

We love the Edifier R19U. This 2.0 system sports rich mids, crisp highs, and deep, controlled bass. The faux-wood enclosures also give them a slightly vintage vibe that stands out from the matte-plastic pack. A great value at just $30 on Amazon. 

Pros:

  • Rich, balanced sound
  • Stylish faux-wood design
  • Requires a single USB connection for power and audio output

Cons:

  • Light on bass and volume ouput

Sound BlasterX Kratos S3

Best budget 2.1 system

Though the Sound BlasterX Kratos S3 is marketed for gaming, we like the warm, natural sound and beefy bass it brought to of all our media. At just $80 it’s an inexpensive entry point into 2.1 speaker systems.

Pros:

  • Wooden construction enables natural, warm sound
  • Small footprint
  • Deep, rich bass

Cons:

  • No extra audio inputs for mobile devices

 

How to shop for PC speakers

2.0 speakers vs. 2.1 speakers

Sure, a 5.1 (five speakers, one subwoofer) multi-channel speaker system sounds pretty sexy. But even if you were to unearth one for $50 or $60, the quality would almost certainly be just as cheap. That money can buy a much better quality two-speaker system. These basic 2.0 stereo setups, which are comprised of just a left and right speaker with a single driver (the actual loudspeaker) in each, abound in this price range. Occasionally you can also find a decent 2.1 system for—a pair of speakers to handle the higher frequencies and separate subwoofer for the bass—for not much more. These take up more space but often produce more balanced sound. More on that next.

Sound quality: Ask your ears, not the spec sheet

Try not to be seduced by manufacturer’s specs on sound quality. Even if you can parse frequency response numbers, they are frequently exaggerated. Let your ears be your guide instead. Listen for a good balance between the high (treble), mid, and low (bass) frequencies. Often, speakers will exaggerate one—usually the treble or the bass—at the expense of the others. Good speakers will produce full, detailed audio that sounds as the creator intended it.

Be aware, though, that finding strong bass response in this price range can be challenging. Without a subwoofer, 2.0 systems have trouble reproducing low frequencies. The manufacturers often use technological tweaks to beef up the bass notes, but these can sound boomy, and muddy the overall mix. If a deep, controlled bottom end is a priority, a 2.1 system might be a better investment.

AC power vs. USB: The tradeoffs

Both these options are prevalent in the sub-$100 price range. USB-powered speakers reduce cord clutter, as they don’t need a separate power cable. However, they can’t supply as much juice as the AC variety, so they tend to produce lower volume and less bass.

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How to see how much memory is in your computer

How much memory is in your computer, and how fast is it? It’s an important thing to know. Having too little memory in your PC can result in performance issues if you have a lot of programs or browser tabs open, and can keep your games from running their fastest. If you’re suffering from performance problems and aren’t sure how much memory is in your computer, it’s a worthwhile thing to check.

Most memory modules include all their relevant specs on a sticker slapped on their side, including capacity, speed, and even latency timings. You don’t need to go through the hassle of ripping apart your system to find that information, though. Windows 10’s Task Manager provides the most relevant details with just a few clicks, on laptops and desktops alike.

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See how much memory is in your computer

Checking how much RAM your computer has is easy. First, press Ctrl + Shift + Esc on your keyboard to summon Windows 10’s Task Manager.

Brad Chacos/IDG

The default Task Manager view shows a giant list of processes currently running on your PC, but that’s not what we’re looking for. Instead, click the Performance tab near the top of your screen.

Brad Chacos/IDG

You’ll see a graph in the main portion of the screen, along with a list of hardware on the left edge. Click Memory. All the information you need to know about how much RAM is in your PC will appear in the main portion of the screen. You’ll see the total memory capacity at the top of the pane, while more granular details appear underneath the performance graph.

The Speed and Slots Used categories are of particular note. Slots Used explains how many of the open memory slots in your PC are filled with RAM currently, while Speed lists, well, the memory’s operating speed. If you want to add more memory to your PC without fully replacing your existing RAM, you’ll need an open slot or two, and you’ll want the speed of the new RAM to match that of the existing memory. It’s best to avoid mixing and matching RAM and just replace all your memory at once if you can, though.

If you decide to upgrade your RAM after scoping out your PC’s memory specs, our guides to installing new RAM in a laptop and swapping out your desktop’s memory can help. People who use their computers for basic tasks—like email, word processing, and web surfing—can get by using an 8GB option like this $54 Patriot Viper kit. Any speed will do, really. Gamers are better off bumping that up to 16GB of memory at faster speeds, like this $97 Corsair Vengeance kit. If you’re upgrading a notebook’s memory rather than a desktop PC’s, our previously linked guide to installing new RAM in laptop wades into buying considerations.

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