Last-minute gifts for the IT geek

Need something for the tech-minded? Here are a few ideas.

The season of giving is in the stretch run and, if you live in the Mid-Atlantic or Northeast regions, the weekend snowstorms didn’t do you any favors. Last-minute shopping just got a little more last-minute. So if you have a real tech geek on your list, or if you are one yourself and are looking for gifts that say a little something about you, what do you get?

Here are a few ideas on what might make an appropriate, memorable and possibly even valuable present, whether you are a geek bearing gifts or a FOG shopping for one.

Looking for a nostalgic gift, something that brings back memories of childhood gone by and innocence lost? How about Commodore 64? Not a 1977 Commodore console, but a Commodore emulator, which puts the old games on your laptop PC or smart phone, complete with an on-screen joystick. Emulators have been around for a few years, but the number of options has grown. Now you can get emulators for practically any system, including Windows, Linux, BeOS, and the iPhone.

Books are always popular presents, so you could opt for an e-reader such as the Amazon Kindle 2 ($259), a slimmed down, 2G version of the original, or the Amazon Kindle for PC, a free application (though you still have to pay for the books, which go for about $10 each).

At this time of year, games are often on people’s minds, but with the PlayStation 3 ($299) you get a darn smart machine. Sure, it plays all the latest games and is a great Blu-ray player, but connect it to the Internet and it acts like a computer, letting you browse the Web and send e-mails. Plus, it keeps all the games updated with patches, something somewhat new in the console game world. Not to mention that you can use the Cell processors from several PS3s to build a surprisingly powerful supercomputer.

Got someone on your list who lives through the social Web? Who has 12,000 Facebook friends but has never talked to the person next door? An app-laden smart phone could be the answer.

There is, of course, the Apple iPhone, with its terrific interface and access to the App Store. If he or she already has an iPhone, how about an iPhone SDK to help them build a few apps of their own?

An iPhone alternative that is fast making friends is the Verizon Wireless Droid, which does many of the things an iPhone does, drawing on an expanding array of open-source applications.

You might also choose one of a number of other phones, such as the Palm Treo Pro and HTC Touch Pro, both of which have been approved for the Army’s Go Mobile program.

The Go Mobile kit also includes a solar-powered backpack, which could also make a good green gift.

Of course, your geek might already have a smart phone of choice, which he uses to keep the world apprised of his every move. (And besides, giving smart phones carries the potential ethical dilemma of gifting the recipient with a monthly bill, which could result in de-friendings.)

If your geek has an iPhone, you can help her go green with the Surge ($70), a sleek, green-colored (naturally) cover for a 3G that lets it charge from solar power.

Or, you can help her keep up with the social media whirl with the Seesmic Desktop, a free app – how’s that for a stocking stuffer? – that can combine her Twitter and Facebook accounts into a single interface, making tweeting, commenting and sharing information easier.

A similar app is HootSuite, which likewise lets you manage, multiple Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn accounts. It also lets you customize your interface, track statistics and schedule tweets in advance.

For something work-related, you could turn to Drupal, an open-source content management platform. It’s good enough for the White House.

Not comfortable with giving a free gift? Still looking for something big? How about an LED monitor? The likely next wave for computer and TV screens, LEDs use less power than comparable-size LCDs (and a lot less than plasma screens), deliver sharper pictures and weigh less. The price? A 23-inch Samsung SyncMaster XL2370 goes for around $299, as does the Dell G2410. Dell’s 23-inch 2p2309W, which has 2,048-by-1,152-pixel resolution, cost about $319. Not cheap maybe, but it will put your geek on the cutting edge, which should be worth something.

For the PC-performance oriented, there are solid-state drives, such as the Intel X25-M ($255 for 80G, $440 for 160G). With no moving parts, solid-state drives start up and perform faster, are more durable the traditional drives and use less power. They cost more than traditional drives – which has been their sticking point – but we suppose that would make it a special gift.

And if you’re looking for something top-of the line in, say, a rugged laptop PC, powerhouse workstation, 802.11g wireless router or big-screen LCD monitor, check out the GCN Lab’s Best Products of 2009.

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.

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