(2006) More Great Stuff for Dads ‘n Grads – Part 2

More?  Sure.  Here are my picks for some great gift ideas. Some are new. Some are timeless.  This part is devoted to computer-related ideas.

Let’s talk computers! It will be no surprise to anyone who has followed me for even a short while that I am a serious Mac-preferred computer user. I use both Windows computers and a Mac every day. The advantages of Apple’s operating system combined with the Macintosh computers are, in my view, overwhelming.  They just work and the fun factor cannot be overstated.

Now that you know where I stand, let me remind you that ALL the new Intel-based Apple computers can also run Windows as if born with it and the advantages are even greater.  With a Mac, it’s like having two great computers in one, or, just stick with Apple’s operating system and be happy that way.

Which do I recommend? In the Apple family, take your pick. Really. I’ve had experience with all the new ones with the exception of the just-released MacBook, which should be just about the same, functionally, as the MacBook Pro, yet in a different size, with a case of different materials and with different screen and a few different options.  Just pick the one that best meets the needs of the intended user, whether it’s for dad, grad or anyone else. And be sure to get the educational discount as applicable. Go online to www.apple.com/store (the Education link is at the right near the top).

The desktop Mac mini starts at only $599. The all-in-one beautiful iMacs start at $1299, the notebooks, lead by the new MacBook, start at just $1099 and the top notebook line, the MacBook Pro, starts at $1999.

Get a Mac!  Everything works together, whether it’s iTunes with iPhoto and iMovie with iDVD, or the calendar program called iCal working together with Mail and the Address Book program. It’s all provided with every Mac. More for your money that work longer and better than with a Windows PC.  That’s my take.

If the choice is for a Windows-based computer, this is where the waters get muddy. Take your pick of brand – HP, Gateway, Dell, and the list goes on. They are all very similar in that they all run Microsoft Windows. There is NOTHING wrong with choosing one that uses an AMD processor over Intel. This will usually save money, perhaps $200 or more.  Where speed is a concern in a desktop Windows PC, get at least an AMD Athlon 64 and improve from there to there to the significantly faster AMD Athlon 64 X2 Dual-Core processor.  Notebook users will want the AMD Turion processor.

The computers in the Windows world, save for their core processors in any given model, are pretty much commoditized. They’re so much the same, with different cosmetics and their own spin on packaging other features and components, and with the core software they do or do not offer. I really can’t make a blanket recommendation.

I can say, however, that I think it is important to buy a brand, which has a retail presence so there is somewhere you can take it locally, perhaps to the company, which sold it to get service. Nothing sticks in my craw more than only having the availability of a tech support person half a world away who is difficult to understand and who cannot really help directly.  Let the buyer beware!

 

Regardless of the computer purchased, I recommend 1GB RAM (memory) and a larger hard drive than you might think you need. At least 60GB is a minimum for users who have a growing library of digital music, videos and photos. For those who are seriously into creating music, videos and editing photos, get a faster than standard processor, 2GB or more of RAM and a hard drive with tons more storage, perhaps 250GB or MORE, and/or an additional external hard drive for even more storage and backup.

 

Dual power with iGo for all your gear.  If you’ve had it with all the adapters for all the gear you’ve got, take a look at iGo, and think about something there for your dad or grad, as well.  For example the iGo everywhere130.  It’s a universal power adapter for two devices at a time. Use adapters while aboard an aircraft with those seat area power outlets. Use electricity from the wall plug when available, and use the car’s power outlet, all with the adapters in the kit or available separately.  It comes with two power cords, for the standard wall outlet and for the plane or car.   There are notebook adapters with the unit or you can get the one you need from the company.  Now instead of carrying multiple chargers, carry just this one, with the correct adapters, and you’re set.  As they say, one adapter, all your devices, just change the tip. With the model 130, there are two cords to charge or power a computer & another device, such as an MP3 player, phone, or digital camera.

 

Protect your notebook computer – get a really good computer bag.  I’ve used and recommended Brenthaven for years. I still do.  My preference is for a wheeled bag.

 

Wheeled cases save wear and tear on the back. For travelers like me, we can put another small, light bag over the handles for toting through airports and while walking from place to place.  Lifetime guarantees on all of them. On wheeled cases, I like and appreciate their spring-loaded suspension, unique to Brenthaven.  In sizes to fit nearly any notebook computer, they also have industry-leading shoulder bags, sometimes called messenger bags.  Choose the style, get a Brenthaven for your dad’s or grad’s notebook computer.

 

Go EXTERNAL (for computer backup and more storage).  How do you backup a hard drive? With another hard drive of greater size, of course. And how do you add more hard drive storage?  With an external hard drive, or course.  Are you catching on here?  Your dad and grad probably needs a place to back up and perhaps a place to add more, or both.  Desktop users can always get by with traditional form factors and size in the standard 3.5-inch drive with enclosure. Notebook users who want to travel with the extra storage or backup potential are best advised to go with one of the new little 2.5-inch drives with enclosure.

For the home in which there is a wired or wireless network and a love of shared music plus the desire for the benefit of a shared central backup solution, I recommend a network hard drive. It’s a little geeky, but the rewards are great. Instead of loading several computers with the music, put it on one of these and everyone can share. Instead of backing up to a drive attached to each computer, back up essential data from everyone’s computers to one or more of these.

 

I’ve been testing the new Western Digital My Book Premium Edition external hard drives.  Easy set up and great features.  PC and Mac friendly, too. It’s got both FireWire and USB 2.0 interfaces for total compatibility.  It comes with its own backup software to get you started and the light on the outside tells you when the power is on, when the drive is being accessed and how much space is available on the drive.  It looks great, too.

In network storage check out the Western Digital NetCenter Network Drives with up to 500GB of capacity.

In the last year or so, notebook computer users have benefited from the availability of pocket-sized portable hard drives. These little wonders use the same kind of small size, yet high capacity hard drive that is in the computer, but in a small external enclosure. There are USB 2.0 drives and combo USB 2.0 and FireWire drives available.

For general storage, any speed drive will do, including the standard 4200 rpm styles. For streaming video or other data-intensive work, go with a faster drive, 5200 rpm and the higher cache, from the standard 2 MB to the higher performance 8 MB . At the faster speed, though not as fast as the high performance internal computer drives that can be up to 7200 rpm, this speed should be plenty fast for all but the serious professionals.

I’ve been using a couple of USB 2,0 drives and I’m very happy with both.  Western Digital’s Passport Drive is a rugged 5400 rpm drive with 2MB cache in capacities of 40-, 60-, 80- and 100GB.  It’s quiet and comes in an aluminum enclosure and a one-year warranty. Simple and straightforward and priced from $120 – $200, it comes in a stout-sided zippered case.  Maxtor’s OneTouch III Mini Edition comes in both 60- and 80GB trim, also in an aluminum enclosure but no with an additional case. Their mighty minis include a one-year warranty, have 8MB cache and also spin at 5400 rpm, priced at $150 and $200, respectively.  The Maxtor product also comes pre-loaded with back-up software (Windows only) and User Guide. Just push the button to launch it.  If you want to use it with a Mac, just reformat it and lose the Windows software.

Another popular brand, Seagate, also offers external portable drives in capacities from 40- to 160GB, with caches of 2MB and 8MB – the drives up to 80GB get 2MB cache with larger capacities meriting 8MB cache.  Their reliable portables are also quiet and offer a one-year warranty and are priced from about $100 – $260.

You’ll find similar products from other makers.

Another solution is taking what is called a bare drive, one that is without a case, and installing it in the case of our choice. This is easier than it might appear. The drives ideal for mobile use are the same drives that can be used in notebook computers.

Start with an ATA-6 interface notebook hard drive of your choice up to 120GB, perhaps a Seagate Momentus (with a five-year warranty!) or a Western Digital Scorpio.  Then, buy a case to put it in, either one that has USB 2.0 or one with both USB 2.0 and FireWire, priced from about $25.  I’ve tried USB 2.0 cases from Azio that work fine. Open the case. Put in the hard, sliding it into the connector. Close the case. Connect the drive to the computer and format it for your Mac or Windows PC, and that’s about it. Power comes from the attached computer through the connecting wire. There’s nothing else to it.

The same concept can be applied to growing your own desktop external hard drive for back-up or just for more storage.  Your gift recipient may have a standard 3.5-inch ATA drive sitting around taken from a computer sometime or another. Buy an enclosure, and you can put it all together. What a surprise that would be!  Or, look online or at your favorite store and pick up a standard ATA 250GB, or some other capacity. That will set you back about $120, more or less, depending upon capacity. Then get an external case, including the aluminum Azio ENC311 series, which I use, the one with both USB 2.0 and FireWire connectivity, for about $45.  You may only want or need the less expensive USB 2.0 only kit.  It so easy. Remove the cover screws and separate the cover halves. Place the drive inside and attaché the power and ribbon cable.  Close it up, plug in the power supply and the USB or FireWire cable to the computer. Turn on the power switch on the drive, format it and use it. We’re talking simple stuff here.

The advantage of using a bare drive here, a new bare drive, is that many of them come with a three or even five year warranty. Buy a complete external drive kit, ready to go out of the box, and it will likely have a one-year warranty. Buy what is called an “enterprise” drive, one that would normally be installed inside a desktop computer, and you’ll find some with a five-year warranty!

Put it all together for less than the cost of the already-built drive.  Now, isn’t that a nice gift?

 

Buy memory for a computer or for digital devices (cameras, PDAs, other devices).  The gift of memory is always a good thing.  If the recipient’s computer is worth keeping and does not have 1GB of RAM (memory) get some! It’s a great gift idea and not too expensive.

 

You might have to scrap what’s in it already and buy a pair of 512MB modules, depending upon the computer.  I use and recommend Kingston memory, what I call The Good Stuff.  It has never let me down and it’s priced competitively. Look online and find the computer, then find memory for it.

 

Kingston is also my go-to company for the best value in memory for digital cameras and other devices that use flash memory.  If you’re buying a new digital camera, you’ll also nee memory for it. None come with any worthwhile amount. For up to 6 Megapixel cameras, start with 1GB of memory, more for the enthusiast or for one who will take the camera on vacation. More memory is also needed if the camera will be used to take lots of videos. Most of the new cameras can take quite acceptable small movies, with sound at a size of 640×480, which is really quite acceptable considering it is done with a still camera. So, you might consider a pair of 1GB chips, a single 2GB chip, or more, depending upon need and budget. For the digital camera user, you might also consider buying a 15-in-1 reader from Kingston (what I use).

 

It has, as the name implies, slots to accommodate 15 kinds of digital memory for cameras and devices of all kinds. Instead of directly connecting the device, take the flash memory out of the device, connect the Kingston reader to the computer, Mac or Windows PC, insert the flash memory and the computer automatically recognizes it. Now transfer is as fast as can be and the reader doesn’t care what kind of camera or memory you have, as it reads virtually any of it.  This little gem costs only about $20.

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