Monday, December 02, 2013

Holiday 2013 electronic gift ideas

Looking for some technology gifts for your family and friends this season? Here are some great ideas ranging from stocking stuffers to a couple hundred dollars. I've used and recommend them all.

Every smartphone user wants to keep their gadgets juiced up, and not all chargers are created equal. These first two chargers (under $15) provide plenty of juice to recharge and tablet and phone at the same time.

24W USB Car Charger - The World's Most Powerful Dual-Port Charger for iPhone, iPads, Androids. ($12)

And for the home:
PowerGen Dual USB 3.1A 15w Travel Wall Charger ($15)

Need loads of power for a long plane or road trip? Here's one of the best power bricks that will keep you going for hours and recharge your smartphone up to 5 times before needing to be recharged.
Anker Astro3 12000mAh Portable Charger Backup External Battery ($50)

Need a small portable charger that will juice up your phone and still fit in your pocket or purse?  Mini 3000mAh Portable Lipstick-Sized External Battery Backup Charger ($20)

Google's Chromecast gives an easy way to 'cast' your browser, youtube, netflix, and others right to your tv. Plus it's a steal at $35. Google Chromecast HDMI Streaming Media Player

The Roku 3 is one of the best internet streaming boxes you can hook up to your big (or small) tv.
Roku 3 Streaming Media Player ($100)

Reading on a Kindle is much better on your eyes than using a tablet or phone. This model gets great reviews. Kindle Paperwhite ($119)

Solid State Hard Drives (SSD) are one of the best upgrades you can make to a laptop or desktop computer. The Samsung 840 EVO is one of the best available.

Don't know what size to get? 250 gig will be a great drive for the operating system and many files.
Samsung 840 EVO 250GB SSD Drive ($150)

Like the idea of controlling your thermostat from your smartphone from anywhere? Me too. I've installed a few of these and they work fantastic. It saves money by automatically going into away mode when you leave the house and auto programs by learning what temperature you like the house. Plus it looks super cool.
Nest Learning Thermostat ($250, currently with free $40 amazon gift card offer)

Time for a new router to pump out more wifi around the house or office? Here are a couple of the best. Either should give full coverage to your house and give great speeds to the newest devices.
ASUS RT-N66U Dual-Band Wireless-N900 Gigabit Router ($125) or the bigger brother,
ASUS RT-AC66U Dual-Band Wireless-AC1750 Gigabit Router ($179)

The 7 inch tablet market is on fire. My two top choices are the iPad mini and the Google Nexus 7 (2013 version). Both provide a great experience.
Google Nexus 7 Tablet ($199)
Apple iPad Mini ($324)

Need one non-electronic idea? This game has brought more laughs to adults in the last year than anything I can think of.'s not for kids or people easily offended.
Cards Against Humanity ($25)
Consider the "expansion pack" Cards Against Humanity: First Expansion ($10)

Friday, January 11, 2013

Easiest upgrade to your current PC? An SSD drive

The single easiest upgrade you can make to your current desktop? Adding an SSD drive. Nothing will help your computer speed up than putting in a drive that is usually 5 times faster than what is in your machine right now.

The strategy I like to use is to put in a 128GB drive in for the operating system, partition it 50 gig for the operating system, and the remainder for files.  If you need more space and have a desktop, pop in a 2 or more terabyte hard drive in the machine for storing your data (audio, video, pictures, etc.)

Samsung is a great brand.  The Samsung 840 (or older 830) are excellent choices.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Back to School Computer ideas 2012

Back to school time is when many parents consider buying a new laptop or tablet for their kids.  In my experience, it makes sense to look at laptops that are in the $400 range, have good battery life, are durable, and are sized right for a students backpack.

First, there are no suggestions for the class of computers often called "netbooks."  Netbooks were quite popular a few years ago when a normal laptop often cost over $600.  The Netbooks came along priced in the $350 range.  They offered a tiny screen (11-12 inch screen) and great battery life.  Where they often were not great were processing power and keyboard.  Tablets have replaced most of the sector.

First, if money is not a constraining factor, consider an ultrabook for PC's (like the Asus Zenbook Prime UX31a) or look at the MacBook Air if you're considering Mac.

Here are a few other choices that should be plenty for any student from middle school through college.

Toshiba Satellite P845, $600
Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E430 $550
Dell Inspiron 13z, $500

Update:  IF your school is cool with it, a new type of laptop that works well for many students is the Google Chromebook.  If your student will have wifi on campus, this laptop is light, has good battery life, and is great at avoiding viruses and issues.  In exchange for those benefits, you won't have the ability to run windows programs (like microsoft office)...but online replacements are easy to use (google drive / docs for example).

Samsung Chromebook (Wi-Fi, 11.6-Inch)

After you get it, I suggest getting all the windows updates done, then using an imaging program (acronis true image for example) and make an image backup of the hard drive.  That way, when (not if!) the computer gets a virus or corrupted, you can restore it back to exactly how it was the day you imaged it.  Other suggestions include replacing internet explorer with Google's Chrome browser (safer, faster, updates without prompting).

Monday, February 06, 2012

Memory prices currently low

In May we built a new workstation for audio/video editing and paid $100 for 8 gigs of memory. Today the same memory is 50 cheaper. That's quite a swing in under six months.

Need 4 gig sticks of DDR3 memory? Here's a good start:

G.Skill Ripjaw has worked well in many machines that we've put it in. Currently $30 with a $5 rebate at Newegg.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Back to school computer ideas 2011

Face it, back to school time is one of the best times to buy a new computer. Whether for a middle schooler, high schooler, or a college student, here are my suggestions for computers as of August 2011.

Netbooks often suffer from poor keyboards, 10" screens, and slooooow processors. The Lenovo ThinkPad X120e is faster than most netbooks (it uses a new AMD dual-core processor that beats the intel atom), has a slightly larger screen (11 inches) and a nice keyboard. You'll pay between $450 and $500 for it.

Need something cheaper? The Samsung NF310 is a good choice. It's under $400 and features an Intel atom 1.5ghz N550 processor and 250 gig hard drive.

Want a full size laptop? The Asus A53 series is nice. 15" screen, 4 gigs of memory, and 320gb hard drive. Under $400.

These recommendations should be good through December, 2011.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Add some NAS to your home network

We take a lot of pictures and have other digital assets that we want to be able to access on any computer in the house or home office.

Putting some network attached storage on the network solves many problems. Which one to buy? One of my favorite is the Synology DS series. Two hard drives so you have redundancy, and it's fast. Buy it for $300 and then add two hard drives. I'd suggest the Samsung F4 2tb. It's fast, cool, and quiet.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Best pocket camera 2011

DSLR users have a dilemma when planning to go out to an event where you want good pictures, but you don't want to bring the big bag with a DSLR and a lens or two that weighs in a 5+ pounds.

2011 brought a new pocket camera that I can honestly say is a significant advancement in many areas. Most pocket cameras take decent pictures in daylight or bright light. Most of them stink indoors when you have low light and moving subjects.

The Canon S95 is a game changer. It's low light shows are fantastic. Colors are great too. It's light weight, fits in a pocket, and comes much closer to the quality you get from a DSLR than any other pocket camera in the past. Pick it up for $400 or less as of July 2011.

Update:  Here's the Canon S110 for 2013 for around $340.