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HotHardware Holiday Gift Guide 2009
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Date: Nov 24, 2009
Section:Misc
Author: Shawn Oliver
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The List: Checkin' It Once, Checkin' It Twice
As the holiday season rapidly approaches, there’s one question that you’ll hear very frequently: Have you been naughty or nice? Of course, we all know that a lot hinges on this seemingly simple question. If you’ve been nice, then perhaps Santa will bring you an awesome gift, that one piece of hardware you've been jonesing for, like a Core i7 975 processor or perhaps the world-beating ATI Radeon HD 5970 Dual-GPU. On the other hand, if you’ve been naughty and have cursed your computer (hey, who hasn’t?) or ignored your significant other because Left 4 Dead 2 or Modern Warfare 2 beckoned, then you’d better shape up before it's too late. Otherwise, the only thing you’ll have to look forward to is a lump of coal in your stocking.  Believe us--we've been there...

As we look back on this past year, and wonder why each year seems shorter than the last, we also reflect on our many traditions here at HotHardware. One of our favorites is our annual Holiday Buyer’s Guide.  Whether you’re looking for the perfect gift for that special geek in your life, or if you’re dreaming of putting together a new system for yourself, we hope this guide will help you make some informed buying decisions.

2009 Holiday Gift Guide Table of Contents:
  1. Processors
  2. Motherboards
  3. RAM
  4. Video Cards
  5. Audio
  6. Hard Drives & Optical Storage
  7. Cases & Power Supplies
  8. Monitors
  9. Notebooks and Netbooks
  10. Smartphones
  11. Cameras
  12. Gaming Desktops

Lenovo IdeaPad U150 in Holiday Red

This year, we’ll cover the various components that you’ll need to build a few different types of systems, along with notebooks and netbooks for those who are looking for greater portability. In each category, we’ll cover high-end, mid-range, and budget models, so that you can easily find the parts you want at a price you can afford (or can attempt to afford).  But of course, there’s no reason you can’t mix and match.

We're also tossing in suggestions in the cellphone and camera category (hey, some friends already have new rigs!), and we'll be closing things out by selecting a few nice pre-built PCs for those who are down to the wire and have no time to actually piece a machine together. We hope you find our suggestions useful and that you have a little fun putting together your wish-list!  Happy shopping & Happy Holidays!

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Chips And Milk: Processors

What's a PC without a processor? A heap of parts, that's what. Here's a list of our favorite CPUs from the past year, arranged from least expensive to most.

AMD Athlon II X2 240e - $77



You'll be hard pressed to find a decent CPU that's less expensive than this, yet still worth buying in 2009. Aimed at the low-end consumer who needs only the basics in their new PC, this 2.8GHz chip has no L3 cache, works with AM2+ and AM3 mobos and supports DDR2 or DDR3 memory. At just $77 (or less on the street), it provides enough power to handle most generic tasks--Word processing, web surfing, etc. We wouldn't recommend it for hardcore gaming, but this is likely ideal for your grandmother's new rig. No offense to Granny, of course.


AMD Athlon II X4 620 - $99



Just because you're on a budget, that doesn't mean that you can't nab someone a new piece of silicon for their future machine. The Athlon II X4 620 might be the only modern quad-core processor that you can get with a single $100 bill, but it's no slouch. Featuring a clock speed of 2.60GHz and designed to work in most AM2+ and AM3 motherboards, this chip undercuts every currently available quad and even some triple core processor on the market in cost. In our real-world testing, however, it stood up quite well against the competition. Just think--"budget" doesn't have to mean "low-end."

Intel Core 2 Quad Q8400 - $183



Intel's chips generally aren't the cheapest in the bunch, so it's no surprise to see its first option hit at the mid-range level. The quad-core Q8400 is a real beast at this price point. It's plenty powerful to push out Blu-ray content and handle modern games, yet it won't completely shatter your gift giving fund account. It checks in at 2.66GHz, but is easily overclocked much higher with the right mobo. If you're looking to help someone power their first gaming or Media PC, this CPU is probably a safe bet.


Intel Core i5 750 - $189.99 - $209

Intel Core i5 Processor On The Intel DP55KG "Kingsberg" Motherboard

You just can't beat the value and price/performance ratio of Intel's new line of Core i5 processors.  For a little bit more coin, this chip puts the hurt on even the previous generation Core 2 Quad 9650, which is a 3GHz chip, though the Core i5 750 is clocked at 2.66GHz.  We'd suggest stepping up to this chip, if you want to keep your old dual channel memory kit but want to step into the new Core i architecture age with Intel.

Intel Core i7-860 - $280



If a Core i7 'Extreme' is too rich for your blood (or just overkill for your Secret Santa recipient), the 2.8GHz Core i7-860 should be a solid substitute. With 8MB of L3 cache and great overclocking potential, this powerful CPU is ideal for A/V editors, multimedia junkies and avid gamers. Best of all, you can sleep easy knowing you didn't pay Core i7 Extreme prices while still nabbing a good majority of that performance.

Intel Core i7 975 Extreme Edition - $999



Whenever Intel throws "Extreme Edition" onto the rear of a CPU's name, you know 2 things: first, it'll be really, really fast and second, it'll be really, really expensive. The Core i7 975 EE is one of Intel's most potent chips, boasting a 3.33GHz core frequency, Turbo Boost, 8MB of L3 cache and a price tag that's higher than some full systems. Only purchase for those willing to give you rides in their Gulfstream, unless you're just loaded, and super kind to boot.


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Have A Merry, Merry Motherboard

Got your CPU? Good. Now it's time to find a motherboard fit to carry it. Here's a list of our favorite mainboards from the past year for both AMD and Intel platofrms, arranged from least expensive to most.

MSI 790FX-GD70 - $180



As one of the few DDR3 full CrossFireX-capable AM3 boards to hit our labs this year, this MSI board is ideal for any high-end AMD build. It features a respectable price tag, but plenty of features that'll allow you to turn your low-key starter machine into a rather impressive multimedia or gaming rig. DDR3 RAM support, plenty of ports and no fewer than four PCIe 2.0 x16 slots--it's kind of a no-brainer, really.

ASUS Maximus II Gene Motherboard - $216



Engineered to be a fully-featured board for those not quite willing to splurge on a Core i7 processor, this mobo is designed to function with Core 2 Duo and Core 2 Quad chips, giving you plenty of flexibility. It'll only handle DDR2 memory, but the multitude of ports and expansion options make this ideal for someone planning to grow their machine over time. And did we mention that it performs like a champion?

Gigabyte P55-UD6 (Core i5) - $240


Back into bang-for-your-buck mode, the new batch of Intel P55 boards to hit the market, strike a nice balance of features and Core i5 platform performance.  The best part is, you won't need to upgrade your memory to a tri-channel kit if you don't want to. Those same 2GB DDR3 sticks you have in that 4GB dual channel config of your current system will do the trick just fine.  We like Gigabyte's offering in P55 boards but look for a round-up of the beasts coming soon here at HH as well, for more options!


Asus P6T6 WS Revolution - $370



It won't break the bank like the other Core i7 board here will, and for most users, it'll still provide plenty of options and flexibility. One of the nicer options here is the inclusion of NVIDIA's NF200 PCI Express fanout switch chip, which enables various 3-way SLI combinations. There's also full Gen2 PCIe X16 3-Way SLI support (48-lanes), which should please the speed freak that you're buying for. Better still, it fully supports NVIDIA 2-Way and 3-Way SLI technology and ATI CrossFireX technology, up to Quad CrossFireX, so even if their GPU choices change, their mobo won't have to.

EVGA X58 3X SLI Classified - $600



You could probably tell from the "Classified" tagline that this mainboard wouldn't be cheap, but then again, neither is the $1000 CPU you're buying to fit into this. Designed to meet only the highest of demands, this souped-up board can hold 24GB of DDR3 memory, more GPUs than you can afford and plenty of optical / hard drives. This ain't your mamma's motherboard, but you already knew that when you looked at the price.
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Memories Of Christmas' Past

RAM prices may have fallen sharply over the past few years, but the stuff made for performance-minded users still demands some serious cash. Here's a look at a few solid bets for this holiday season, arranged from least expensive to most.

Kingston HyperXR DDR3
- $60+



Starting at just $60 for a 2GB kit, Kingston's true-blue memory bundles are actually really affordable given their performance. You can find a wide variety of speeds and latencies to best fit your needs (or the needs of that special someone), with clock rates running all the way up to 2133MHz. The sticks are available in kit capacities of up to 8GB dual-channel, and 12GB triple-channel for high-endconfigurations.

OCZ Low-Voltage DDR3 Kit - $103+



Need support for Intel's P55 Chipset and subsequent Intel Core i7, i5, and i3 (Socket 1156) processors? You've come to the right place. OCZ's new DDR3 Low-Voltage Dual Channel Kits are available in a multitude of speeds, with each of the 2x2GB bundles promising to function properly with some of Intel's newest wares. OCZ's heralded performance and warranty is included for free, too. Okay, so maybe it's baked in, but it "seems" free.

OCZ AMD Black Edition Memory - $130



If you're gearing up to build an AMD system, particularly one with a Phenom II CPU, OCZ has a RAM kit for you. The new 2x2GB OCZ Black Edition kit includes memory that runs with an ultra-low voltage, not to mention a fairly sweet design and an AMD-branded XTC (Xtreme Thermal Convection) heatspreader.

Corsair Dominator GT for Phenom II CPUs - $235



We know, RAM is RAM, right? Well, sorta. If you're worried over compatibility (and it's okay, you should be), Corsair has memory out that'll absolutely play nice with your AMD Phenom II processor-based platforms using Socket AM3 motherboards. This CAS 6 memory kit (2x2GB) operates at a frequency of 1600MHz with ultra low-latency timings of 6-6-6-18 and a Command Rate of 1T. Compared to standard 1333MHz DDR3 memory, Corsair claims this stuff provides 20% better performance when tested with a AMD Phenom II X4 Black Edition processor. Gotta love that!

Corsair Dominator XMS3 1866 MHz
- $300



Dominator RAM ain't for those with skinny wallets, but the quality is top notch. We had a chance to test this 6GB kit earlier in the year, and we were duly impressed with the results. The kit comes with 6GB (3x2GB) of 1866 MHz memory at 9-9-9-24 latencies, so, speed freaks will thank you forever, and if you're really feeling gracious, why not snag two kits? 12GB of RAM never hurt anyone!


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Outputs And Figgy Pudding: Video Cards

Even if you just purchased a new GPU 12 months ago, there's plenty of reasons to check out a new one. Just have a quick glance at recent benchmarks from the newest cards if you don't believe us. There's no denying that GPUs age mighty quickly, but there's still nothing quite as exciting as slapping a new pixel-pusher into your desktop.

NVIDIA GeForce GT 240 - $100



The bargain option in the GPU field isn't a bad choice at all. Just announced a couple of weeks ago this GPU consumes a small amount of power and featues HDMI, DVI, and VGA outputs, DirectX 10.1 support and an updated video engine. If you know someone who is okay playing last month's titles and won't need anything on the bleeding edge, the GT 240 would likely be a nice fit.

NVIDIA GeForce GTS 250 - $130



It wouldn't be a GPU guide with at least one NVIDIA option, and the bargain-priced GeForce GTS 250 seems a surefire winner. It's hardly a new card, but it's still one of the cheaper options for cards that came out during 2009. It'll easily beat the GeForce 9800 GT and 8800 GTS, both of which were stalwarts just months ago. You won't find DX11 support here, but that co-worker you barely know probably won't complain when he or she gets this.

AMD ATI Radeon HD 5750 - $140



It's definitely not the most powerful GPU in AMD's stable, but the 5750 is a great mid-range/budget choice. It's got Eyefinity and DirectX 11 support, along with low power consumption and low noise. Most other cards in this price range don't, so those points along make it worth a serious look if you're not willing to liquidate some assets to snag a higher-end unit.

AMD ATI Radeon HD 5850 - $269



Let's face it: most folks won't be springing for a $600 GPU unless they're buying gifts for themselves. But the Radeon HD 5850 is very powerful for a lot less dough. In fact, most gamers would probably be elated to have access to this, and considering that it severely undercuts NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 285, you can take some pride in knowing you're really showing off your inner fanboy.

AMD ATI Radeon HD 5970 - $599



Looking to instantly make yourself the world's greatest [fill in the blank] in someone's mind? Of course, why wouldn't you be? If so, you'll need to select the world's most potent graphics card, which--at the moment--happens to be the AMD ATI Radeon HD 5970. We just recently tested this beast out, and it's unquestionably the fastest GPU money can buy today. Looking for the best for that special someone? Look no further than this.
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Let's Go Caroling: Audio

Okay, so you've got your GPU squared away, but what good are great graphics without great audio to accompany it? No good at all.

Sleek Audio SA1 - $80



Known best for custom earbuds with "tunable acoustics," Sleek's latest pair is far cheaper than its other offerings. Priced for the mid-range market, the SA1s include the same wild acoustic tuning as the more expensive siblings, and anyone other than your audiophile friend shouldn't find much to complain about. Heck, there's even a Kleer wireless module available to cut the cord if you so choose.

V-Moda Vibe II - $120



We'd be remiss of our duties if we didn't include a set of earbuds that played nicely with Apple's iPhone, so if you've got a friend who loves Apple a little too much and needs a new set of buds, these are a solid option. The onboard button enables users to switch between calls and music with little effort, and the headphone's mic and call/music button control are compatible with all iPhone models (1G, 3G, 3GS), iPod nano (4th gen), iPod touch (2nd gen), iPod classic (120GB), MacBook, MacBook Pro, iMac and Mac Pro (2009 models), as well as with VOIP, Skype, iChat and other audio recording applications.

SteelSeries Siberia v2 - $116



Getting a sound card is obviously just half the problem. Getting a decent set of earphones, headphones, cans or earbuds is the other half--because you know good and well you can't blast the satellites when rocking out at 3AM. The Siberia v2 headset is a great mix of music and chat, enabling online gamers to experience great sound and chat easily with online opponents/team members. And hey, these are fairly wild looking too, so the design-minded gift recipients should be pleased.

Asus Xonar HDAV1.3 Slim - $150



There's one major exception to the rule we noted above. If you're building a specialized machine, such as an HTPC, audio is obviously far more important than with a standard gaming rig. Add in a Blu-ray drive, and things get even more complicated when it comes to getting true multi-channel audio out from a PC. This super slim sound card is designed to operate in cramped media PC enclosures and decode lossless audio formats such as Dolby's TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio. If your pal's looking to build an HTPC, you can't go wrong with this card.

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Xonar Essence STX PCIe - $175



By and large, the dedicated sound card is dying. Most motherboards now include support for multi-channel audio, leaving cash-strapped consumers with little reason to splurge on something that's already taken care of via an integrated module. This particular card, however, caters to those who only want the best. It promises cleaner audio, more outputs, more support for audio formats and more bells/whistles than you'll ever use. But remember, this is a gift, and there's no denying that someone special would love unwrapping this.

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The First Format: Hard Drives & Optical Storage

You've got files, and so do your friends. So many files, so little room--isn't that the saying? Here are a few options to remedy your storage quandaries (er, those of your friends), SSDs listed first and conventional HDDs second.

Intel 160GB X25-M Gen 2 - $500



It has experienced its fair share of issues, but Intel has been good about patching things up thus far. As it stands, the firmware-updated X25-M Gen 2 is one of the quickest mainstream SSDs on the market today, offering plenty of space (in terms of SSD space, anyway) if you'd like to make this your boot + apps drive.

OCZ Vertex 120GB - $499



It's not as quick or cute as OCZ's Vertex Turbo, but it's more affordable. The OCZ Vertex series SSD is an MLC-based device with a low power draw, speeds up to a 250MB/s read and 180MB/s write, and sizes of 30GB through 250GB. OCZ's Vertex series drives are a popular alternative to Intel's SSDs.

WD Caviar Blue WD6400AAKS 640GB - $70



640GB is big enough that your pal won't think you skimped on him or her, but it's small enough to afford when times are tough. The Caviar Blue series has a solid reputation, with this particular drive boasting a 7200rpm spindle speed and 16MB of cache.

WD Caviar Black 2TB - $329



It's the biggest 3.5" SATA hard drive out right now, and it boasts a 7200rpm spindle speed and a price tag that's not insane. Need we say more?

Seagate Barracuda XT 2TB - $354



This beast is about the quickest 2TB drive you can get, so if money's no option, we really have no reason to explain further why this should be atop your gift list.

Pioneer BDR-205 - $250



We won't bother with recommendations on plain old DVD burners; at this point, those are a dime a dozen. If you're looking to really impress, Blu-ray is the only way to go. Pioneer's newly-shipping BDR-205 can burn BD-Rs at an impressive 12x rate, making it perfect for the multifaceted HTPC. It'll also play back Blu-ray movies, burn DVDs and CDs as well as handle dual-layer BD-RE discs, and it also ships with a CyberLink software package that provides everything you need for burning.

OWC BDR-203X
- $250



Need a burner on the move? OWC's got you covered with its BDR-203X, which boasts an 8x Blu-ray writer that can connect to Macs and PCs via four different methods: FireWire 800, FireWire 400, USB 2.0 and eSATA. It'll also burn blank DVDs at up to 16x and blank CDs at up to 32x, making it the perfect all-in-one toasting solution for editors that can't stay put.

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Big Boxes With Bows: Cases & PSUs

All this hardware needs a home, and it's on you to provide it. Scared? Don't be. Here are our favorite choices of the year for enclosures and power supplies.

Cooler Master HAF 922 - $115



This mid-tower isn't nearly as tall or daunting as the Level 10 mentioned later, but it's probably plenty for most system builders. This one supports liquid cooling systems, seven total fans, a bottom-mounted PSU and includes tool-free 5.25” and 3.5” drive bays for easy installation. Oh, and did we mention that it looks great too?

NZXT Panzerbox - $126



This is one of the sleeker mid-tower gaming boxes to ship this year, offering "best-in-class" airflow and a lightweight aluminum design. Theoretically, this box is nimble enough to be carried from one LAN party to another, and with room for 4 hard drives, 3 5.25” drive bays, and oversized heatsinks, all the tools you need are here.

Lian-Li PC-C39 - $180



This company doesn't make the cheapest cases, but they're known for quality. The PC-C39 is being included for those looking to build a slim HTPC/media PC, as this one boasts a quality, beautiful exterior that can be shown with pride beneath an HDTV. It supports micro-ATX motherboards, two 3.5" hard drives and a single 5.25" optical drive, and there's even four low-profile expansion slots for adding TV tuners and the like.

Thermaltake Level 10 - $850



It's still up for pre-order right now, but there's no buddy in the world who would balk at an IOU on this. Easily the most insane, intense chassis of 2009, this inside-out beast redefines "amazing" in the PC enclosure business. The design here enables overclockers to really crank without worrying about excess heat buildup, but it's certainly not for the faint of heart (nor those with cramped living quarters).

Corsair CMPSU-450VX - $78



If you're looking to help someone build up a rather basic system, this 450W monster should work perfectly. It's got lots of oomph for most basic, non-hardcore systems, but even a few HDDs, a GPU or two and a modern CPU shouldn't stress it out. Plus, it won't prevent you from spending all your dough on your BFF, leaving your mom with nothing on Christmas morning. Talk about a life-saver.

Corsair CMPSU-850TX - $138



850 watts of power should be plenty for most every user you know--maybe even too much, in fact--but there's no harm in preparing for future upgrades. The 5-year warranty is also comforting, and the ultra-quiet fan ensures that you won't be adding to the noise. And yeah, this one's certified with work with NVIDIA SLI configurations.

Enermax Revolution85+ - $289

The Enermax Revolution 85+ series of PSUs is about as advanced as a PSU gets. This power supply is overkill for all but the most extreme of systems--there's enough juice here for loads of GPUs, a smattering of hard drives and whatever else can fit in your wildly large enclosure. And it's highly efficient too.

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You Saw Santa Kissing Who? Monitors

The most awesome PC in the universe is nothing without a monitor, so we've rounded up some of our favorites from 2009 from least expensive to most. Good luck out there, and remember, pixels are important!

Mimo 710-S - $130



Not everyone needs a whole new monitor, but just about everyone could benefit from a secondary display--particularly one that's USB powered. The Mimo 710-S is a 7" secondary panel that weighs under 1 pound and can slide down for easy portability. The panel packs an 800x480 resolution and comes with drivers for Windows XP, Vista and Vista 64-bit, though Mac OS X users can download their drivers from Mimo's website.


Samsung P2070 - $195



This 20" LCD monitor is the perfect size for the dorm room or bedroom, boasting a 1600x900 resolution, DVI input and Samsung's heralded sleek styling. This one falls into the company's Touch of Color line, and the Energy Star rating ensures that it sips as little energy as possible.

Dell ST2310 - $298



This 23" LCD monitor is sleek, sexy and large. There's 23 inches of 1080p panel to gaze at, and the HDMI, DVI and VGA inputs ensure that every component you've got in the house is taken care of. The super slim bezel and audio in/out ports keep it looking good, while the reasonable price keeps it within the mid-range price budget (for LCDs, anyway).

NEC MultiSync EA231WMi - $378



NEC is known for producing monitors that can reproduce colors well, and this one is no exception to that rule. Boasting an IPS panel and a one-touch ECO mode to save energy, this is also NEC's first ever monitor to be equipped with a DisplayPort. There's also a 3-step ambient light sensor for automatic brightness adjustment, VGA/DVI ports, a 4-port USB 2.0 hub, built-in carry handle and a pair of speakers as well. 

Dell UltraSharp 3008WFP 30" Widescreen - $1,699

Dell’s large, 30-inch UltraSharp 3008WFP widescreen LCD offers a native resolution of 2,560 x 1,600. And to help you enjoy all of the fine details, TrueColor Technology produces 117% of the NTSC color gamut for superb color reproduction. The UltraSharp 3008WFP has a fast 8 ms response time and 3,000:1 dynamic contrast ratio. You’ll get a nice variety of connection options with this monitor, including VGA, DVI-D with HDCP, HDMI, S-Video, Component, Composite, and DisplayPort. The UltraSharp monitor family is designed to give you a comfortable viewing experience by allowing you to adjust the height, tilt the panel forward and backward, and swivel it left-to-right. Additionally, the UltraSharp 3008WFP supports a wide viewing angle of 178-degrees.

JVC LT-42WX70 - $1550



Since when is a 42" display a monitor? Since JVC produced the LT-42WX70, that's when. This spacious HD LCD is actually designed for remarkably accurate color reproduction, enabling DSLR users to see exactly what their shots will look like on a massive panel. It has a coverage rate of 96 percent for Adobe RGB, 52 on-screen image-quality adjustment properties and a 1080p resolution. Talk about the ultimate gaming monitor.
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Hang The Stockings, Crack The Lid: Notebooks

The notebook category is extraordinarily vast. From desktop replacements to mid-range notebooks to netbooks (and everything in between), there are hundreds upon hundreds of options here. We've listed a few of our favorites from 2009 below, but feel free to suggest any gems that we miss in comments. And we should also point you to our 2009 Netbook and Notebook Buyer's Guide for an even more in-depth look at the sector.

Asus Eee PC 1005HA - $288



Many credit Asus with the invention of the netbook, and while that's definitely debatable, what's not is that the company makes some exceptional machines at the low-end. The 1005HE is amongst our favorites, boasting a beautiful Seashell design, a removable battery that'll last for hours on end and all the hardware for taking care of basic tasks. If that special someone needs a secondary PC (or just an on-the-go notebook), look no further.

Asus UL80Vt - $820



With a 14" LCD display, incredible battery life and a multi-touch trackpad, it's hard to not recommend the UL80Vt in the thin-and-light space. Unlike most notebooks of this size, this machine has both an integrated GPU and a discrete one, enabling users to switch on/off the latter depending on the task at hand. It's stylish, sleek and capable of handling most everything outside of hardcore gaming.

Dell Studio XPS 16 - $999 (and up)



Straddling the line between the ultra-heavy 17" and 18" machines at one extreme and the 15" mainstream notebook that sits squarely in the middle is the 16" Studio XPS 16. We admired the styling and design of this machine when we reviewed it a few months back, but now that Windows 7 is loaded on, we'd say it's an even safer bet. Half multimedia beast, half fashion accessory.

Apple's MacBook Pro - $1149 (and up)



It's the only notebook on our list that'll run both Windows 7 and OS X at the same time, making this a perfect choice for those who can't decide which OS suits them the best. It's a sleek, all-aluminum ultraportable with a 7-hour battery life and and a knack for "just working," though the fact that users can't carry around a spare battery may concern some.

Asus G51J - $1465 (and up)



It's the nicest hybrid between a gaming laptop and a mid-range notebook that we've seen to date, with a traditional 15.4" shell and an atypical Core i7 within. During our testing, we found this rig to scream through every benchmark it faced, and while it's not light or long-lasting, it's about as great as it gets for anyone wanting a gaming laptop under 17 inches.

Lenovo ThinkPad T400s - $1599 (and up)



It's normal, but it's not. It's all business, but it's a lot of fun. The T400s Multi-Touch edition acts like a standard Lenovo machine, which is to say that it's sturdy, thin, reliable and quick. But the multi-touch display takes it to a new level, and during our testing we found it to be one of the nicest mid-range notebooks that we've had the pleasure of using. It won't handle hardcore gaming, but it's plenty capable of handling multimedia.

Alienware M17x - $1799 (and up)



It ain't cheap, but it'll rip any modern 3D game to shreds. The M17x is Alienware's most potent laptop currently available, and while the battery life is downright pathetic, the twin GPUs within will help you forget all about it. If you absolutely need a mobile gaming rig, you'll be hard pressed to find one that's more well-equipped than this. Trust us, whoever you give this to will love/owe you forever.

Lenovo ThinkPad W700ds - $2149 (and up)



Only for friends who have committed to taking you with them on their next vacation, the dual-screen W700ds remains one of the few notebooks available today with two panels in one machine. The slide out LCD provides a boost of screen real estate when necessary, which is next to impossible to find elsewhere. But trust us, you'll pay dearly for those extra pixels.

Bonus Stocking Stuffer! 
Atlona's Wireless USB To HDMI/VGA Adapter - $219



Need something to toss in with that laptop? How about a 2-piece dongle set that enables whatever is playing on your notebook to be viewed on any HDMI/DVI panel without any wires? Atlona's newest wireless adapter now also supports audio, so you can wirelessly view Hulu videos (with sound) on your HDTV without having to wire an HTPC up. Handy!

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Call Your Friends Over: Smartphones

What's Christmas without calling far-away siblings and wishing them the happiest of holidays? It's a craptastic Christmas, we'll tell ya! Here are a list of our favorite smartphones from 2009...just be sure to mention that you're not picking up the monthly bill to whoever gets one!

Palm Pixi - $29.99 (on a 2-year Sprint contract)



You won't find this deal at Sprint, but it doesn't take too much searching around to find near-free prices on the second webOS device. The Pixi is much like the Pre in terms of OS, but the screen is a bit smaller and the keyboard is a full QWERTY board at the bottom of the screen versus a slider form factor on the Pre. Good luck finding a better smartphone for $30.

Palm Pre - $79.99 (on a 2-year Sprint contract)



The Pre has fallen in price to a point where it'd be tough to overlook if you have under $100 to spend on a new smartphone. The webOS platform is constantly improving, and it's easily one of the most beautiful mobile operating systems to ever surface. Sprint's prices on monthly rate plans are amongst the lowest in the nation as well.

Motorola DROID - $149.99 (on 2-year Verizon contract)



The DROID isn't actually the company's first Android handset (that'd be the CLIQ), but it' the first Android 2.0 handset in the world. We tested in earlier this month and found it worthy of the praise, and while the Pre is certainly a contender, we think this is the first phone that'll really give the iPhone a run for its money. Plus, Verizon's 3G network is far larger than AT&T's, if that matters to ya.

iPhone 3GS 32GB - $299 (on a 2-year AT&T contract)



It's the iPhone you know and love, but with 3G. And faster. The iPhone 3GS has a noticeably improved camera, a built-in compass and more storage than ever before, but it's the OS and the App Store that really makes this one stand out. Too bad it's locked to AT&T, but if you're in an area with great coverage, why not?
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Family Portraits: Cameras

It's probably the most hated phrase at any family gathering: "Smile!" But c'mon, you know it's a necessary evil, so you might as well snag someone a camera that won't break when three generations of you all smile while wearing those hand-knit sweaters.
Nikon Coolpix L100 - $196



For those not ready to splurge on a DSLR, this mega zoom could be just what the doctor ordered. Packing a 3" LCD, image stabilization, a 15x zoom lens and a 13fps shooting mode, this is about as advanced as it gets before tossing in the phrase "interchangeable lenses."

Canon PowerShot SD940 IS - $259



The Digital Elph lineup has always stunned, and the SD940 IS includes some of the company's most cutting edge extras. Shipping in blue, black, silver, and brown, this pocket camera includes a 2.7" rear LCD, 12.1MP sensor, 4x optical zoom and even a 720p movie mode.

Olympus Stylus Tough 8000 - $297

Granted, this one will only help the argonauts in your life, but if you've got a young one that just happens to break everything they have, this ultra-rugged cam will hopefully withstand those bumps and bruises. Underwater shooting? No problem. Drops? Won't hurt a thing. Extreme temperatures? Just another day at the park.

Nikon D90 - $779



With a 720p movie mode and low-light performance that can't be matched at this price point, the D90 is a perfect prosumer DSLR. It's powerful enough to handle professional settings, yet it's cheap enough for the budding amatuer to afford. Oh, and it does 720p movies--if you don't mind the manual focus.


Canon EOS Rebel T1i - $799


Another option is the Canon EOS Rebel T1i that we looked at here.  Though it is just a touch pricier with an MSRP of $899 (street prices are lower), it also earned our coveted Editor's Choice award.

Canon EOS 5D Mark II - $2349



With a 21.1MP sensor, true 1080p movie mode and a vast array of Canon lenses at the ready, the 5D Mark II is a notch above the rest at the high-end. We've seen movies shot entirely on this DSLR, so it's probably good enough for your best bud. 

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Pre-Built Gaming Desktops and Conclusion

When it's time to take down the tree and look forward to ringing in the New Year, you'll probably have a much easier time dealing with the letdown if you've received (or have given) a brand new PC. Or, at least that's our best guess. To close this year's Holiday Gift Guide out, we'll point you to a few of our favorite pre-built gaming rigs that emerged in 2009. Good luck out there shopping, and Happy Holidays!

Lenovo IdeaCentre all-in-one desktop  - $699 (and up)



To kick this product category off, we'll offer a suggestion for those of you looking to maximize space and/or perhaps add a system to your home with more style than the average mid tower box.  The Lenovo IdeaCenter all-in-one desktop we tested at the time came with Windows Vista installed but we'd highly suggest going with Windows 7 as your OS option of choice at this point.  Ours came with a bit more horsepower but starting at $699, you can get a 2.1GHz Core 2 Duo machine with 2GB of RAM and a 320GB hard drive.  At its base configuration, you'll get integrated Intel X4500 graphics which will offer at least decent HD video playback.  However, if you want a little casual, light gaming on this machine, step up to an ATI Radeon HD 4650-enabled configuration.  Get the Blu-ray player option while you're at it, if you plan to have this system double as a complete entertainment center in the dorm room.

Maingear X-Cube - $879 (and up)



Not everyone needs a monster gaming rig, and not everyone has unlimited space for a full-tower. The X-Cube is a very respectable mid-range desktop that can be souped up for medium-duty gaming, A/V editing or just watching multimedia. It's also great for doubling as a LAN party rig, and the lower starting price makes it a more viable gift for most.

CyberPower Gamer Extreme 3000 Core i7 860  System - $995 (and up)



CyberPower impressed us earlier back in October with their Core i7 860-infused Gamer Extreme 3000 rig. Though our test system was outfitted with a few higher end components, a base system can be had for just under $1K, stock built with 4GB of RAM, a 700W PSU (650W pictured), ATI Radeon HD 5770 graphics and a pretty swank Thermaltake Element chassis.

Maingear SHIFT - $2199 (and up)



Maingear has really stepped it up this year, and the towering SHIFT is its crown creation of 2009. Totally customizable to fit your needs, you can get a DVD or Blu-ray drive, the most expensive Core i7 CPU that you can buy, Windows 7, up to 12 SSDs,  8GB+ of RAM and an optional water cooling system. Oh, and the case doesn't look half-bad either.  Check the motherboard and card slot orientation on this baby.

Dell - Alienware Aurora ALX - $2299 (and up)



Got a taste for the high-end? Alienware's got your quencher, as the heart-pounding Aurura ALX provides more power than most individuals would know what to do with. The hardcore gamer in your family would understand though, and they'd probably be owing you favors for the rest of their adult life should you gift them with this.

BFG Phobos - $3000 (and up)



With Core i7 CPUs across the board, the range of Phobos machines are oozing with speed. From the classy, high-tech case to the cutting-edge lineup of internal parts, there's hardly anything this thing can't do. The best money can buy? Probably.
This concludes our 2009 Holiday Gift Guide, but we'd like to point out that these items are far from the only ones deserving. We've highlighted a few of our favorites in 2009, but we'd love to hear some of your alternatives down in comments. Got any good gifts you're giving away or begging to receive? Let us know!



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