Cool Stuff: Your 2007 Holiday Gift Guide

More than 50 amazing gifts for the technology lovers in your life

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Ultimate Gifts

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These are the gifts we'd buy if money truly were no object. Until then, we can always dream... GPS-enabled electronic telescope: Meade 12" LX200R

Looking at stars, planets and nebulae across the vastness of the universe through the eyepiece of telescope is a romantic idea, but if you've ever tried using a simple home device in your backyard at night, the romance can dim quickly. That's because a traditional manual telescope can be difficult and discouraging for novices to use. It can be quite a trick to find those tiny objects in the viewfinder and see them clearly.

That's where a new generation of high-tech, electronically controlled, GPS-enabled home telescopes come in. At $4,699, the Meade LX200R tripod-mounted telescope brings together GPS control, high-quality optics and a large 12-in. aperture for excellent light-gathering that provides higher-resolution images.

LX200R GPS-enabled telescope, courtesy of Meade.

LX200R GPS-enabled telescope, courtesy of Meade.

There's also a built-in electronic database of about 145,000 celestial objects that you can view almost automatically by entering the desired object into a keypad. Once the data is entered, the telescope automatically turns to the proper spot in the night sky for easy viewing. As an ultimate gift for your family, deep space observation just got very special.

Honorable mention: At $2,899, the Celestron CPC 1100 GPS tripod-mounted telescope offers an 11-in. aperture for excellent light-gathering ability, as well as its own fully computerized system to automatically find objects in space. The Celestron has a database of some 40,000 space objects and can be updated via an Internet connection.

—Todd R. Weiss  

12" LX200R telescope from Meade Instruments Corp.

Price: $4,699-$4,869 | Tech specs | Store locator | Phone: (800) 626-3233

Summary: Amazing backyard star-gazing and exploration is easy and eye-opening with one of the newest and coolest electronic, GPS-enabled telescopes on the market today.
CPC 1100 GPS telescope (item no. 11075-XLT) from Celestron LLC

Price: $2,800-$2,900 | Tech specs | Where to buy | Phone: (310) 328-9560

Summary: GPS-enabled telescopes are expensive -- but this model will save you about $2,000 over our top pick.

High-tech car: 2008 BMW 5 Series

Maybe they should call it the "Ultimate Technology Machine." We're talking, of course, about the the 2008 BMW 5 Series, which edged out the Lexus LS for honors as the most technology-laden car for the current model year. Don't take our word for it; the Telematics Research Group, which actually measures these things, says so too.

Of course the 5 Series offers GPS, voice recognition and "iDrive" -- a function control knob widely maligned as too complicated when it appeared several years ago. (BMW has since cleaned up the iDrive's UI.) What makes the 5 Series Beemer hot for '08 are treats like active steering, "night vision," a heads-up display and a couple of new goodies -- Lane Departure Warning (LDW) and Active Cruise Control (ACC).

BMW 5 Series sedan, courtesy of BMW.

BMW 5 Series sedan, courtesy of BMW.

A lot of cars now have variations on these technologies, but BMW is the only one to put them all in one gotta-have-it package. The LDW system is designed to keep you (and your car) in the correct lane. It uses a camera mounted near the rearview mirror, and if it notices you're drifting into someone else's lane -- and you haven't used a turn signal to indicate you're moving over -- it vibrates the steering wheel.

The ACC allows you to use cruise control, even when there's traffic in front of you -- and it'll keep you the same distance back, even if the car ahead slows. Our fav? The night vision, which is available on the pricier models and uses infrared cameras to "see" farther down the road than you can.

The basic 528i starts at $45,075. With most of the technologies we've already noted, this Beemer would set you back $56,155. Go full bore and get the 550i with the V8 and a few more options and you're north of $70k. At least you'll be safe and having fun as you drive off to the poorhouse.

—Ken Mingis  

5 Series sedan and wagon from BMW AG

Price: starts at $45,075 | Tech specs | Store locator

Summary: Luxury meets technology in the sweetest ride for 2008.

Supercomputer: IBM Blue Gene/P

For the computer enthusiast with everything, there is only one true gift: Blue Gene/P. With a lineage that goes back to Deep Blue, the famous IBM parallel processing supercomputer that beat chess master Gary Kasparov back in 1997, the P version may just be the world's fastest supercomputer.

The P is nearly 2½ times faster than its predecessor and current record holder, the Blue Gene/L. (The largest implementation of the L architecture to date, the 104-rack, 212,000-processor behemoth at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, capable of 478.2 trillion floating-point operations per second (TFLOPS), is currently ranked by Top500.org as the world's fastest supercomputer.)

The P, which in its base configuration packs 4,096 processors into a single rack and delivers 13.9 TFLOPS, should be available in time for the holidays, according to Herb Shultz, marketing manager for IBM's High Performance Computing group. But hurry -- initial quantities will be limited, he says.

The entry-level price is cool $2.8 million -- pocket change if you're part of the Saudi royal family. That buys you one six-foot server rack filled with 32 processor boards, each of which holds 32 850-MHz quad-core processors based on IBM's PowerPC 450 design. Fully configured, the system is about 1,300 times faster than the best home PC money can buy, Shultz says.

The P also has its green credentials in order, delivering performance per watt that's 66% better than the L. Early P builds already own the top five spots in Green500.org's Green 500 list, which measures energy efficiency in MFLOPS per watt.

The Blue Gene/P installation at Argonne National Lab outside of Chicago, courtesy of IBM.

The Blue Gene/P installation at Argonne National Lab outside of Chicago, courtesy of IBM.

As an early adopter you'll be able to hang out with a small vanguard that includes the U.S. Department of Energy, Brookhaven National Lab and the Max Planck Society in Germany.

Best of all, as systems continue to scale upward, you'll be able to keep up with the Joneses without trading in that dusty old supercomputer. Blue Gene/P scales to three and a half PFLOPS. All you do is add another 255 racks to bring the system up to the maximum 1.04 million processors. The cost: a mere 20 cents per megaflop. I'd add that up, but if you have to do the math you probably can't afford it.

So what do you do with all that power? The sky's the limit. You can impress your scientist friends by performing earthquake simulations (what happens in the china cabinet if the epicenter is in your front yard, or 20 miles away?), simulate how your car will do in crashes from all different angles and conditions, examine all possible outcomes from your current situation in Halo, analyze what will happen to your portfolio in 1 million different scenarios, or assess the risk and proper valuation of options to become the low-cost producer and corner the market for those and other complex financial instruments.

As long as your applications are designed to run instructions in parallel and support the industry standard Message Passing Interface, there's no need to worry about investing in new software. "It's very straightforward to recompile it for Blue Gene," says Schultz.

If $2.8 million is a tad outside of your gift budget, don't worry. IBM plans to offer access to Blue Gene/P as a hosted service in its Deep Computing Capacity on Demand Center in Rochester, Minn. That service, however, won't be available until after the holidays.

Alternately, you could order up time on Blue Gene/L, which is available on demand and -- for now -- still holds the top spot as the world's fastest supercomputer. But that's so last year.

—Robert L. Mitchell  

Blue Gene/P supercomputer from IBM

Price: starts at $2.8 million | Tech specs (download PDF)

Summary: For the geek who has everything, the world's fastest supercomputer is the ultimate gift.
Cool Stuff

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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