Some good news for small businesses with aging PCs: rather than laying out the cash for a whole new computer -- or a suite of them for the entire staff -- you can spruce up your existing machine with a few good accessories.

New computer add-ons include big-screen monitors, wireless mice and keyboards, bigger hard drives, and more memory. These accessories are a practical way to add some longevity and functionality to your PC. Some are external, which you can snap into an available universal serial bus (USB) port. These may also work with laptop PCs. Other accessories require you to open your desktop tower to install it.

“If your PC is more than two or three years old, you should consider upgrading,” advises Michael Gartenberg, vice president and research director at Jupiter Research, a New York City-based technology advisory firm. “It may only cost a couple hundred dollars but will give you more bang for your buck and increase your overall productivity.”

The following are a few accessories to consider:

System memory

If you’ve upgraded your operating system but find your PC feels a bit sluggish, perhaps you need a little more random access memory (RAM) to bring it up to snuff. “The best thing you can do is upgrade your memory,” says Gartenberg. “Nothing gives your PC a performance kick like a memory upgrade -- especially while running new operating systems, such as Windows Vista or [Mac OS X] Leopard, where you need at least 1GB of memory or preferably, 2GB or 3GB, which will do a world of good.”

Justin Jaffe, senior research analyst at IDC, a Framingham, Mass.-based market research firm, agrees. “Adding RAM to an older PC is the most cost-efficient way to improve performance,” Jaffe says.

Hard drive space

RAM will help increase speed, but hard drive memory lets you add more programs or files.

“Upgrading to a larger hard drive -- internal or external -- may also improve functionality, especially for PCs that have topped off their existing storage capacity,” adds Jaffe. “Today, you can buy 500GB or even 1 Terabyte of memory for relatively low costs,” says Gartenberg.

Speaking of data storage, Jaffe says IDC’s survey work shows that storage solutions are the most popular category of peripherals among small and mid-size businesses. About one in five small businesses own at least one, with CD-R/W drives the most popular products, Jaffe says.

Monitor

Prices for flat-panel monitors have dropped considerably over the past years, so perhaps it’s time to replace that bulky cathode ray tube (CRT) display for something a little easier on the eyes. Look for at least a 21-inch display or higher. Not only do flat-panel liquid crystal display (LCD) monitors free up valuable desk space but big screens help reduce eye strain due to squinting as well as let you be more productive by seeing more on the screen at the same time.

“Monitors are no longer a pricey investment,” says Gartenberg. “Those still using old 15-inch monitors should get twin 22-inch monitors [as they can] extend the value proposition for any PC, not to mention you can take it with you and use it on your next PC, too.”

Webcam/cameras

Traveling for business and virtual offices are commonplace these days, but for those times when you need to connect with colleagues, clients or customers, a Web camera (“webcam”) is not only an inexpensive (or free) way to communicate over long distances but adds the bonus of sight for videoconferencing.

Because of hardware advancements and increased broadband penetration, video chats are no longer choppy slideshows with poor audio. Webcams can take photos, too, but Jaffe says stand alone digital cameras still remain as the most popular peripherals for small and mid-size businesses.