Would anyone take exception to receiving a sleek new PowerBook, iBook, iMac, or Power Mac G5 this holiday season? Certainly not us, but our readers aimed for more humble and affordable ideas this year, focusing on hard drives, mice, and, the breakaway suggestion this year, laser printers. For a few more ideas, be sure to check out past hardware gift suggestions; everything on last year’s list would still be welcome to most Mac users.
And not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse — It wouldn’t be a TidBITS gift issue without someone suggesting one of Kensington’s pointing devices, and this year Lorin Rivers sent in his pick, the Kensington Optical Elite mouse. It features five buttons, a scroll wheel, good drivers (the much-recommended MouseWorks software), and legendary telephone support (although Mark McKean later noted that Kensington’s online support didn’t match up to the quality of their phone support in his experience).
Hubba Hubba! TidBITS sponsor Dr. Bott has made some friends with their USB hubs. Michael Tardiff wrote, "Now that I look back on the year, I’ve managed to purchase quite a bit of stuff for my 12-inch PowerBook, but one item leaps to mind as the most useful and used: the Dr. Bott T3Hub Portable 3-port USB hub. It’s little, comes in three colors to match any Mac, and is very portable indeed. What I like most, besides the size, is that it doesn’t require power but still lets me run my USB LED keyboard light along with a USB wireless trackball, or any combination of devices I’ve thrown at it so far. I’ve gone through hell with other inexpensive hubs, but this one’s been great. I gave one to a PC user who loves it as much as I do. For the obsessive-compulsive, it comes with little soft-plastic plugs for all three holes and the male plug. The plugs are easy to lose, but they show attention to detail.
Mike Cohen agreed with the sentiment. "I really love Dr. Bott’s T7Hub. It’s the smallest and nicest looking 7-port hub I’ve seen, and it can work with or without an external power brick, depending on the devices you have attached. It works well with all of my devices, including a Canon N650U scanner. Interestingly, VueScan wouldn’t recognize that scanner using my old Asante 8-port hub, but it does work with the T7Hub.
The Hard Presents — Joseph Jobes made the oh-so-practical (but still more romantic than a weedwhacker, guys!) suggestion of giving your sweetie an external hard drive, along with a good backup program. We recommend Retrospect, but there are others available that do a good job as well. The Maxtor OneTouch series of drives come with Retrospect Express and the clever OneTouch button to launch a backup, and the CMS ABSplus drives (which come in both portable and desktop versions) have their own backup software and launch backups as soon as they’re connected. Of course, you could put one of these on your list, since as Joseph said, "Nothing makes me happier than recovering lost, damaged, or corrupted files!"
Christopher Schmidt was more specific with his choice of hard drives. "I love my SmartDisk FireWire drive because it is as quiet as my flat panel iMac, so I can use it in the living room. Mine is an older FireWire-only model, but it appears that the newer dual interface model uses the same heavy enclosure. At $230, it’s not exactly a stocking stuffer, though."
Jim Foster went in a slightly different direction, recommending a Macally FireWire/USB 2.0 (PHR-100AC) External Hard Drive Enclosure for 3.5-inch drives. He noted, "It’s terrific. My old Bondi Blue iMac had just died, and I needed to access files on the 60 GB internal hard drive I had installed in the iMac a few years back. It was a chore to get the drive out, but it took only a few minutes to pop it into the Macally enclosure. Then I walked it over to my wife’s flat-panel iMac, hooked it up, and there were my two partitions sitting on her Desktop. I was even able to use it as the boot volume for her flat-panel iMac as well as the 500 MHz iBook I am using now. So the moral is, if you are lucky enough to have some spare Macs in your household, having a FireWire drive enclosure handy can get you back up and running quickly if one of your Macs takes a dive."
A Cheap Laser — A surprising number of people suggested buying your loved one an inexpensive laser printer, since nothing says "Happy Holidays" like the smell of melting toner. Kevin van Haaren liked the fact that the laser printer he bought for $100 after rebate, a Samsung ml-1710, is faster than his inkjet, costs less per page, and supports all major operating systems. It’s not a hit with his entire family though: "On the downside – my cat likes the inkjet better. He can watch the paper go in and come out, but the laser printer’s paper tray hides the paper from him part of the time." Some cats prefer laser printers, though, since they’re often warm places to sleep.
Tomoharu Nishino seconded Kevin’s idea, recommending the HP LaserJet 1012, which prints 15 pages per minute, starts up in 10 seconds with instant-on fuser, prints at 600 dpi (1200 dpi simulated), connects via USB 2.0, and works with Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X out of the box. He continued, "It’s quite compact (about the same size as my Epson inkjet) and lightweight. 5,000 pages per month duty rating should suffice for most personal use, and because it’s an HP the toner cartridges are widely available. The only downside is that it is a bit noisy when printing, and its use of USB makes it difficult to stuff in a closet, but for $200 you can’t complain too much."
Curtis Wilcox chimed in. "Last year my fiancee got the Brother HL-1440 (currently about $180). Physically it’s a lot bigger and heavier than LaserJet 1012 but it has a regular paper drawer versus the 1012’s inkjet-style paper tray (which Kevin’s cat might like). It comes with only 2 MB of RAM but can be upgraded (34 MB max) with cheap 72-pin SIMMs, common to mid-90s computers. I heard the LaserJet 1012 yesterday and I’d say it’s about as noisy as the Brother HL-1440 when printing. It works well with Mac OS X and the printouts look good. The Lexmark E220 might also be a good choice in this price range."