Cool Stuff: Your 2007 Holiday Gift Guide

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

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Computing and Home Office

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Nothing brings a smile to a giftee's face faster than unwrapping a shiny new laptop computer. And on the extremely practical side, consider giving peace of mind in the form of fast networking, protection from Internet threats or secure online backups. Laptop: Apple MacBook

Looking for the best all-around laptop? Your first -- and last -- stop should be your nearest Apple Store to check out the MacBook line.

The MacBooks, which start at $1,099 and run up to $1,499, recently got a mild speed boost, a new graphics chip and, best of all, a new operating system -- Mac OS X 10.5, better known as Leopard. More speed, new apps, no price change. They'll even do Windows using Apple's Boot Camp software, included in Leopard.

MacBook, courtesy of Apple.

MacBook, courtesy of Apple.

The basic model and the midrange version come in shiny white. The top-end model comes in flat black, but you'll pay a premium for the Darth Vader look.

The sweet spot is the midlevel model priced at $1,299. For that price you get a speedy Intel Core 2 Duo processor running at 2.2GHz, 1GB of RAM, a 120GB hard drive, a CD/DVD burner, a built-in "iSight" webcam, 802.11n compatible wireless, Bluetooth wireless, a glossy 13.3-in. display offering 1280- by 800-pixel resolution, and the new Intel X3100 graphics subset to drive the display.

The one thing you'll want to consider is adding more RAM. We recommend 2GB of RAM, though the MacBook can take twice that amount. Word to the wise: Don't buy extra memory from Apple. Installing RAM is wicked easy, and you'll save serious bucks by buying from a third-party vendor such as Data Memory Systems.

—Ken Mingis  

Apple MacBook from Apple Inc.

Price: $1,099-$1,499 | Tech specs

Store locator | Phone: (800) MY-APPLE

Summary: The recently updated MacBook offers a stylish package of hardware and software at a good price, and it runs Windows to boot.

Editor's Note: What about Windows laptops? There's no standout for standard business/home use this year. That's why, instead of recommending a single model, we're offering up a set of tips for buying a laptop for the holidays. See The holiday shopper's guide to laptops.

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Area-51 m9750, courtesy of Alienware.

Area-51 m9750, courtesy of Alienware. Gaming laptop: Alienware Area-51 m9750 Alienware wrote the book on high-performance gaming desktops and laptops, so it's no surprise that the company's Area-51 m9750 makes our cut for high-end notebooks. The m9750 boasts an attractive, sleek-looking magnesium alloy chassis and a slew of configuration options in prices ranging from $1,700 to $6,000.

In its most awe-inspiring configuration, the portable features Intel's speedy Core 2 Duo T7600 (2.33GHz, 4MB cache, 667MHz FSB); twin 512MB NVidia GeForce Go 7950 GTX 3D cards in SLI configuration; a 17-in. 1920- by 1200-pixel LCD display; 4GB DDR2 RAM, and two 320GB SATA drives in RAID 0 configuration. And get this: True seekers of high performance can even choose to tack on two 64GB solid-state hard drives in RAID 0.

The result is an absolute monster of a gaming laptop. The most pleasant surprises about the m9750, however, are its size and weight. At 15 in. wide by 11 in. deep by 1.5 in. high and weighing in at just under 9 lbs., it's not the behemoth we expected.

—George Jones  

Area-51 m9750 from Alienware

Price: starts at $1,699

Tech specs | Phone: (800) 745-1639

Summary: Fast, sleek and utterly droolworthy, Alienware's m9750 delivers the goods in a pricey package.

WRT600N router, courtesy of Linksys.

WRT600N router, courtesy of Linksys. 802.11n router: Linksys WRT600N The recipe for home routers once was simple: Plug in your broadband and connect your PCs, add a firewall and Wi-Fi support, and voila -- computers all around the house are connected. These days, however, things aren't so simple because of streaming video, voice-over-IP and other bandwidth-hungry applications that demand more speed over greater distances.

Enter the Linksys Dual-Band Wireless-N Gigabit Router (WRT600N), which supports the widely accepted but still not officially ratified Draft 2 of the 802.11n Wi-Fi standard. That standard provides typical wireless speeds of roughly 100Mbit/sec. and spreads the Wi-Fi signal over a far wider area than older technologies such as 802.11g.

If you prefer to use traditional Ethernet, this router supports gigabit speeds. It also has a USB 2.0 port for attaching an external hard drive, an increasing need in these days of ever-growing media collections.

More impressively, this router supports simultaneous access over both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz spectrum bands. That enables you, for instance, to have a separate network for your computers and for your streaming media or VoIP.

All this power comes at a price -- at $279 retail, the WRT600N is considerably more expensive than those older, simpler routers. But you can do so much more with this well-engineered, richly featured router than we even dreamed possible in the simpler old days.

—David Haskin  

Dual-Band Wireless-N Gigabit Router (WRT600N) from Linksys/Cisco Systems Inc.

Price: $225 to $277 | Tech specs | Where to buy | Phone: (800) 546-5797

Summary: This do-everything home router provides significantly greater speed and range than older routers and offers many extras, including the ability to manage network-accessible storage.
SecureSpot, courtesy of D-Link.

SecureSpot, courtesy of D-Link. Internet security appliance: D-Link SecureSpot Everybody wants to feel secure, but not everybody has the technical ability to secure their home computers and networks. D-Link's SecureSpot, however, puts implementing top-notch security solidly in the no-brainer category.

Rather than installing and managing software for a variety of security needs, this little box connects to your broadband modem and router and automatically provides intrusion detection, antivirus and antispam capabilities, content filters and a firewall. After installation, the device protects as many as four computers on the network and automatically upgrades itself -- new protection files are available with no intervention on your part. If you do need to tweak it in order to, say, set up specific sites you don't want the kids to visit, you use a simple, browser-based control panel.

In other words, SecureSpot ($99) is like an enterprise-class security appliance for the home and for average, nontechnical home users. That makes it not only an ideal gift not for your family but also a gift that can be given by IT managers who want to make sure home-working employees stay safe and secure.

—David Haskin  

SecureSpot DSD-150 Internet Security Adapter from D-Link Corp.

Price: $84 to $110 (plus $79 per year for as many as four computers; the first year is free)

Tech specs (download PDF) | Where to buy | Phone: (800) 326-1688

Summary: This little box offers enterprise-class security to home and home office users without enterprise-class complexity.

Online backup service: MozyHome

Know someone who needs a little help keeping up with their backups, or who needs to access files from multiple locations? Why not treat them to an online backup service like MozyHome? The first 2GB of storage is free; beyond that the service costs $4.95 per month for unlimited backup.

What I like best about this service is its extreme ease of use. It takes less than a minute to sign up for the service and download the software. Mozy walks you quickly through scheduling your backups by scanning your hard drive and preselecting a recommended list of file folders, programs and directories that you can check off for backup. These include e-mail and contacts and the Music, My Documents and Photos folders.

With an Intel 1.86GHz Pentium M processor, 2GB of RAM and a connection speed of 3Mbit/sec., my initial 560MB backup took 1 hour and 20 minutes. (Note that the initial backup takes longer than subsequent ones.)

You can also choose whether to have Mozy encrypt your data. The service also allows you to select either "quicker backup," which requires more CPU utilization, or "faster computer," which slows the backup process but reduces the performance impact on other applications running on your PC.

After the initial backup, MozyHome will ask you to schedule a time to back up. From then on, it's automatic. Another great feature of MozyHome is block-level incremental backup. After the initial backup, MozyHome backs up only files that have been added or changed, making subsequent backups extremely fast.

—Lucas Mearian  

MozyHome from Berkeley Data Systems Inc. (acquired by EMC Corp. in October)

Price: $4.95 per month for unlimited backup; the first 2GB is free | Phone: (801) 756-2331

Summary: An online backup service that offers unlimited backup of files, photos and other data for $4.95 a month -- that's what I call peace of mind.
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