Cool Stuff: Your 2006 Holiday Gift Guide

All the best technology gifts to give (and get) this holiday season

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Cool Computing

For a present that will keep on giving long after faddish items lose their luster, consider a new computer -- the true thinking person's gift.

Desktop computer: iMac Core 2 Duo

We can't in good conscience recommend buying a Windows PC this holiday season. With the consumer versions of Windows Vista shipping in late January of 2007, the Windows world is simply too up in the air right now. Sure, you can buy an XP machine with a Vista upgrade coupon, but do you really want to buy someone a gift that requires installing a new operating system in a month or two? We didn't think so.

Instead, why not give your loved one a space-saving, multimedia-savvy, user-friendly computer that offers the best out-of-box experience of any consumer system on the market? The models in Apple's gorgeous iMac line, ranging from $999 to $1,999, house the computer's guts inside svelte 17-in., 20-in. or stunning 24-in. widescreen displays. The Mac OS X Tiger operating system is visually appealing and easy for even beginners to master, and the included iLife software suite provides all the tools you need to organize your photos, burn CDs and DVDs, create blogs and podcasts, and more.

The 24-in. iMac is thing of beauty and power. Courtesy of Apple Computer.
The 24-in. iMac is a thing of beauty and power. Courtesy of Apple Computer. (Click image to see larger view)

All that style is backed by the power and efficiency of Intel's Core 2 Duo processor, and all iMacs except the bottom-line model offer speeds of 2 GHz or faster, at least 1GB of memory, an 8x double-layer SuperDrive for playing and burning CDs and DVDs, and an ATI Radeon X1600 or better graphics processor. For the best balance of price, features and display size, go for the 20-in. model. If price is no object, it's the 24-in. model all the way.

No other desktop computer comes close to the iMac's beauty and elegance. If you're looking for a truly tasteful gift this year, the iMac is it. (product details)

—Valerie Potter

Laptop computer: MacBook Pro

Why buy one laptop when you can get two for virtually the same price? We're talking, of course, about Apple's high-stylin', aluminum-clad MacBook Pro ($1,999 to $2,799), which not only runs Mac OS X, but -- with the help of free software from Apple -- does Windows, too. Even better, it's ready for Windows Vista when that operating system ships to consumers early in 2007.

Apple does just about the best industrial design in the computer industry, and the top-of-the-line MacBook Pro is a prime example. The 17-in. model is lightweight at just 6.8 lb., offers a widescreen LCD display -- pick glossy or matte -- that packs a resolution of 1,680 by 1,050 pixels, runs almost silently and is just an inch high when the lid is closed. But when it comes to features and technology, the MacBook Pro is a heavyweight. Just look at the specs for the 17-in. model: superfast 2.33-GHz Core 2 Duo processor? Check. 160GB hard drive? Check. 2GB of RAM? Check. SuperDrive that burns both CDs and DVDs? Check. Built-in webcam, wireless networking and remote control? Check, check and check. You get the picture.

The 17-in. MacBook Pro has brawn to back up its good looks. Courtesy of Apple Computer.

The 17-in. MacBook Pro has brawn to back up its good looks.

Courtesy of Apple Computer.

If portability or price is a concern, you can opt for the smaller 15-in. MacBook Pro. It's almost as well outfitted as its big brother -- and you can save yourself up to $800 in the process.

Best of all, the MacBook Pro comes complete with all the software you (or the very lucky person on your gift list who's getting a MacBook Pro) will need to edit movies, handle digital photos, surf the Web, tackle e-mail and carry on video chats with friends and family. Sure, you can buy Office for Mac and work on it, too. Or you can run Windows if you really have to. But chances are that once you've played around with -- we mean worked with -- Mac OS X, you won't be spending much time in the Windows world anymore. (product details)

—Ken Mingis

Gaming laptop: Alienware Aurora m9700

Because we're talking gaming, we're going to loosen our ties and allow ourselves the temporary extravagance of using the term bad ass. Honestly, that's the only term that comes to mind when describing Alienware's newest gaming laptop cum desktop replacement: the Aurora m9700.

A tandem SLI graphics configuration makes the Aurora m9700 a mobile gaming monster. Courtesy of Alienware.
A tandem SLI graphics configuration makes the Aurora m9700 a mobile gaming monster. Courtesy of Alienware.

The system's key specification that makes it most appropriate for gaming is its innovative use of a tandem SLI graphics configuration. This means it links together two separate high-powered 512MB nVidia GeForce Go 7900 GS mobile graphics chips for double the 3-D graphics power. That's an astonishing 1GB of graphics power -- in a laptop.

By itself, this configuration eliminates the disappointing absence of Intel's stellar Core 2 Duo processor. The truth is that if you're buying a laptop for gaming, the processor is less important than the 3-D capabilities. Rounding out the specs are the capability for a 400GB SATA Raid 0 arrangement, a 17-in. screen, and a 17-in. display. The system starts at $1,449.

Bad ass. Bad ass. Bad ass. Whew! We're glad we got that out of our system. (product details)

—George Jones

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