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What to buy a geek for the holidays, 2009 edition

Beth Pariseau

If there's a geek in your life, you may experience a dilemma each year as the holiday season approaches: attempt to buy your geek something special, or settle for a gift certificate to an electronics store … again?

Shopping days are dwindling, so you'll have to act quickly. Don't worry – we'll save you time if you're looking to impress the geek or geeks in your life this season. We consulted the experts for advice on the items they'd most like to unwrap this year.

Geeks evaluate this year's hot item: the Kindle

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Amazon Kindle e-Book reader hit the scene earlier this year and immediately made a splash among the geek community. According to reports, Amazon said the Kindle is the most "wished for item" on its massive retail website, and it seems to be generating the most buzz this year as a gift item for geeks and non-geeks alike.

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 This is especially true for those who travel. "Easier to read while traveling ... although I will miss the massive book collection I've acquired over the years," Analytico Inc. analyst Tom Trainer said.

A majority of our geeks said a Kindle is on their wish list, but it's not necessarily everyone's cup of tea. Said Taneja Group analyst Jeff Boles, "I've rejected the Kindle concept. Have you seen the book prices? It's an entirely disadvantaged arrangement for what is ultimately a compromised experience in the first place. Wait until NEC makes a levitating robot dog that follows you around and holds the Kindle up for you while you do other things." (We'll be sure to include this on our "What to Buy a Geek in 2050" list.)

Smartphones and accessories

People who shop for geeks this year can choose from a list of the smartest phones yet. The iPhone continues to gain steam, and there's the new Motorola/Google/Verizon  Droid. As AT&T began to encounter network problems from an overload of iPhone 3G subscribers on its systems, the Droid began to catch the eyes of geeks with its more open approach to app development and integrated familiar Google applications like navigation maps.

"I've played with it and there is definitely some cell phone gadget envy going on there because I don't have one," Tory Skyers, senior infrastructure engineer for a major credit card issuer, said of the Droid.

That said, Droid is new, and early adopters of technology must always proceed with caution. "IPhone," said StorageMojo analyst Robin Harris unequivocally. "I want to wait and see what happens with Android."

Before choosing a smartphone for your geek, it is important to understand how he or she feels about living at the "bleeding edge."

Network-attached storage and other home electronics

The number of advanced data storage devices for the consumer or small/home office drastically increased this year, a phenomenon known in the enterprise as the "consumerization of IT." Commodity processors and disk drives are now big and fast enough that the average Joe can get storage features that would've been available only to large enterprises in the past, such as replication, snapshots, and integration with iTunes, social networks and other applications.

The two most popular devices with our geeks came from Data Robotics Inc., which calls its product the Drobo, and NetGear's low-end NAS products. Drobo, which allows customers to automatically build RAID groups out of hard disks from different manufacturers and with different capacities, has been a favorite among our geeks for years now. "Still love the Drobo - have yet to find anything as elegant," IDC analyst David Reinsel said.

Countered another geek, who asked to remain anonymous, "NetGear's EVA 9150 … has changed the way our house watches DVDs, listens to music, and looks at photos. If I had to do all over again, I'd probably buy one of the NetGear home NAS boxes [instead of Drobo]. Overall it's cheaper in the end both to maintain and to run."

"How about an Iomega IX4 or HP X500 series NAS device?" added StorageIO founder Greg Schulz. "Maybe a couple of new Seagate Momentus 2.5-inch 640 gigabyte 7200 RPM FDE notebook drives to attach to a DVR, along with a thin 7-millimeter 2.5-inch 250 gigabyte 5400 RPM pocket drive for the traveling geek." For the truly ambitious, home SANs are also available.

StorageMojo's Harris had a few more suggestions. "A USB dock for SATA drives - makes it very handy to use hard drives as removable media," he said. "There is one that uses FireWire for higher performance, but as long as you aren't in a hurry, USB works. The Corsair 64 gigabyte Flash Voyager GT is the fastest USB thumb drive I've tested." The LaCie iamaKey Flash Drive also turned heads this year. "How cool is that?" wrote one of our geeks in an email.

Our geeks have also seen some new PC and Mac hardware on the market – high-resolution, large LCD monitors, particularly for Macs, and the latest video/graphics cards (geeks request a redundant pair of their preferred model in all cases, of course) are also all the rage.

Toys, T-Shirts and Trinkets

Our favorite suggestions this year are a toss-up between ThinkGeek's USB Pet Rock and the Light-o-Rama, suitable for constructing wildly elaborate, computer controlled holiday lighting displays. If your geek is the frugal type, or the open-source do-it-yourself type, pick up the necessary parts and point him or her toward a do-it-yousrelf holiday light controller. Another favorite from the toy / accessory department: "There's Noplace like 127.0.0.1" floor mat.

"The perennial favorite Optimus (Prime) Maximus keyboard," Skyers said. "I put it on my list last year, and let me tell you, it's still on my list for this year!

"Batman Arkham Asylum because it's the best Batman game to date, and I think every geek should play a great super hero game," continued Skyers. "A Scorpion Roller Coaster for the break room. This thing is even cooler in person. It's a real roller coaster! "

And don't forget your favorite geek's pets.

"I played the [iPhone] iSqueek demo for one of my dogs and she ran around looking for her toys," said StorageIO's Schulz.

Other accessories that caught our geeks' eyes: leather notebook cases; photo editing software; ultrasonic cleaning machines for glasses, jewelry and DVDs; clock radios with remotes for the iPhone; Nintendo Wii games; and Electric wine bottle openers.

 

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