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HotHardware Holiday Gift Guide 2010
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Date: Nov 29, 2010
Section:Misc
Author: Ray Willington
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The List: Checkin' It Once, Checkin' It Twice
As the holiday season rapidly approaches, there’s one question that gets asked rather 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. 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, or worse.  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.

2010 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 ThinkPad Edge X100e 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, as well as some stand-outs, 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 smartphone and camera categories 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 themselves. 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 noteworthy CPUs from the past year, arranged from least expensive to most.

Phenom II X2 555
- $92


You'll be hard pressed to find a decent CPU that's less expensive than this, yet still worth buying in 2010. The AMD Phenom II X2 555 can easily be found for under $100, and during our review earlier in the year, we found it to be more than capable when it comes to handling multi-tasking and most common PC tasks. Probably not your best choice for hardcore gaming, but it's more than enough for essentially everything else. And when paired with the right mobo, additional cores may be unlockable too.


Intel Core i5-650 - $180

Intel may not have too many "Core i" options at the low-end, but the Core i5 family is a very solid mid-range choice--just be sure to pair it with the right socket 1156 motherboard. Offering a nice 3.2GHz clock speed that can jump to 3.46GHz with Turbo, this dual-core chip with HT that can process 4 threads is perfect for decoding HD video and pushing modern games. Not quite as powerful as a Core i7, but much easier on the wallet.


AMD Phenom II X6 1075T
- $199



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 AMD Phenom II X6 1075T offers true six-core power for around $200, and it works with AM3 socket motherboards, ships with 8MB of cache and is designed to work in power-sipping machines. No need to invest in a liquid cooling solution here; you'll have plenty of power for multi-media chores and the occasional first-person shooter.


AMD Phenom II X6 1090T- $227


If a Core i7 'Extreme' is too rich for your blood (or just overkill for your Secret Santa recipient), the 3.2GHz Phenom II X6 1090T Black Edition is a perfectly good alternative. This mid-range CPU works with AM3 motherboards and is one of the cheaper six-core options on the market. Plenty of oomph here for multi-media crunching or gaming. This Phenom II is perfect for those who just love to overclock. This particular chip is unlocked, meaning that the 3.2GHz factory speed probably won't stay there for long. It's the perfect chip for the DIYer in your midst.


Intel Core i7-875K - $329



It's not quite a 980X, but this Core i7 is built for abuse. This particular chip is unlocked, meaning that the 2.93GHz factory is just the starting point for bigger and better things.  We took our chip to 4GHz on air in fact. If you feel the need for speed, but your wallet is a little queasy, the 875K's price tag is a little bit more palatable than the average 3GHz Intel chip.


Intel Core i7-970 - $879


Whenever Intel throws "Extreme Edition" onto the backside 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 i7-980X Extreme is 2010's CPU to beat, boasting a 32nm Gulftown core, 3.33GHz clock speed and more power than we've ever seen in a consumer chip. If you need to break every benchmark, including the amount you've ever spent on someone else, this is the CPU to get.  However, if you're interested in getting darn-near Core i7 980X speeds and don't care to fork over a kidney but perhaps don't mind a small second mortgage, the Core i7 970 will shave some Benjamins off the price tag and still offer you some 3.2GHz Core i7 six-core beat down power.
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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.

Asus LGA1156 P7P55D-E Pro
- $179



Designed for use with Core i7/i5/i3, there's Asus' LGA1156-based P7P55D-E Pro. Its MSRP is considerably lower than the "Deluxe" version of the board ($179.99 vs. $219), and it offers features like USB 3.0 and SATA 6G, both of which aren't available on the other board. The P7P55D-E Pro's features and price make it an attractive option, sure to thrill any PC builder in your life.

MSI Big Bang XPower
- $299



If you've going for a mid-range Core i7 CPU, this mid-range board is probably a perfect fit if you want all the bells and whistles from a feature standpoint. Plenty full length PCIe slots, plenty of ports and good style to boot. The MSI XPower series of motherboards is clearly designed to curry favor with overclocking enthusiasts and the high-end gamers. The XPower packs full support for all the latest IO interfaces like USB3 and SATA 6G capabilities, but MSI is also claiming to offer certain unique features like their "Quantum Wave" audio processing and "military-grade" components that other manufacturers supposedly don't offer currently.

Asus CrossHair IV Formula - $220



AMD has a new 6-core processor out there, and there's not much one can do with a CPU without a supporting motherboard to go along with it. Asus is more ready than ever to help out, with the introduction a new mainboard based on AMD's latest 890FX chipset. The new Republic of Gamers Crosshair IV Formula is making our cut. One-click overclocking is available, with the Turbo Unlocker smartly adjusting CPU clock speeds based on application workload. When running optimized single-core applications, Turbo Unlocker dynamically adjusts clock speed on a single processor core to ensure maximum performance. For multi-threaded applications, all processor core speeds are dynamically increased to attain the highest performance available.

Gigabyte X58A-UD5 - $282


Based on the Intel X58 and ICH10R chipset for Intel's LGA 1366 Core i7 processors, the GIGABYTE GA-X58A-UD5 delivers plenty of next generation features that gaming enthusiasts and power users have been waiting for. The GIGABYTE GA-X58A-UD5 includes GIGABYTE's 333 Onboard Acceleration features, incorporates USB 3.0, Serial-ATA Revision 3.0 (6Gbps) and a 3x USB Power Boost, as well as multi-GPU support for NVIDIA 3-Way SLI and ATI CrossFireX. If your Secret Santa demands more than this...well, call 'em Scrooge.

Asus X58 Rampage III Extreme - $360


Not only does it look great, but Asus' X58 Rampage III Extreme motherboard is a flagship RoG model. It's designed for gamers, those who will make good use of the expansion slots. With an LGA1366 socket, it supports the latest Core i7 processors, providing six DIMM slots that can house up to 24GB of memory. More than enough PCI Express 2.0 expansion slots are available for Tri-SLI or Quad-CrossFire configurations, allowing you the capability to maximize your system's pixel pushing power.  Not to mention the board overclocks like a banshee.
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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.
Corsair XMS3 memory (2x2GB) - $64.99



Designed for being compatible with dual-channel DDR3 Intel Core i5 and Core i7 platform, the XMS3 DDR3 kit from Corsair can operate at 1600MHz with a latency of 9-9-9-24, making it ideal for all enthusiasts that want to kick clock speeds up a notch.

Patriot G Series ‘Sector 5’ Edition 4GB (2 x 2GB) - $73.99


The Patriot PGV34G1600ELK DDR3 memory (DDR3-1333, CAS 9) comes in a triple-channel configuration designed specifically for Intel’s new Core i7/i5 processor/P55 chipset-based platforms. They also feature high-efficient aluminum heat-dispersing shields have protruding fins on the edges to maximize cooling surface area for enhanced heat dissipation performance.

OCZ Gold 6GB (3 x 2GB) - $129.99



The OCZ Gold PC3-12800 DDR3 memory kit comes in a triple-channel configuration designed specifically for Intel’s new Core i7 processor/X58 chipset-based platforms. This triple channel 6GB kit is rated to run at 1600MHz and has CL 8-8-8-24 timings for high bandwidth and low latency - yum.

G.SKILL Ripjaws Series 16GB (4 x 4GB) - $449.99


Got a lot to give? Give 16GB! This set will all but ensure your loved one will never come asking for more RAM from you again. This quad-channel kit runs up to 1600MHz CAS 9 and ships with heat spreaders. All you need is a motherboard that's man enough to handle it.

OCZ Gold 24GB (6 x 4GB) - $469


Money's no object? Here you go: 24GB of RAM, and it's the fast stuff too. Santa Claus couldn't ask for anything better. This kit is compatible with Intel X58-based motherboards, runs at 1.5V with a timing of 9-9-9-24. Trouble is, how are you ever going to use it all?  Good problems to have.
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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.

GIGABYTE GV-N450-1GI GeForce GTS 450 (Fermi) 1GB - $119



Fermi? Check! The GeForce GTS 450 is a potent GPU, and even at just over $100, anyone receiving this will love what it does to their FPS meter. It also comes with 1GB of dedicated memory and supports technologies including NVIDIA 3D Vision and NVIDIA PhysX.

 XFX Radeon HD 6850- $199

 

A 775MHz Radeon HD 6850 core, EyeFinity support, and loads of output options? It's all here, in a great mid-range gift option. HDMI, DVI and DisplayPort are all included, as is 1GB of video memory, DirectX 11 support and a rad enclosure.

EVGA GeForce GTX 460 Superclocked Edition - $199


336 CUDA cores, DirectX 11 support, and a mini-HDMI 1.4 output? Yep, and it's "SuperClocked" on top of all that. If your Secret Santa complains over this gem, they've got issues.

ASUS ENGTX580/2DI/1536MD5 GeForce GTX 580 - $529

The NVIDIA GeForce GTX 580 is currently the king of single-GPU powered video cards. Asus takes NVIDIA’s already potent reference design and dials things up a notch by factory overclocking the card from the reference specs of 772MHz for the GPU and 1,544MHz for the shader cores to 782MHz and 1,564MHz, respectively (the memory clock remains 4,008MHz). Factor in support for PhyxX, CUDA, DX11 and 3D Vision alongside its killer gaming performance and the Asus ENGTX580 becomes all the more attractive.


ASUS ARES/2DIS/4GD5 Radeon HD 5870 X2 4GB - $1099



Can't leave you without a super high-end option for the SUPER special people, right? This is a killer, killer card meant only for the hardcore enthusiasts, offering 4GB of RAM, dual Radeon HD 5870 GPUs  on a single PCB, a huge fan and specs that would blow anyone's mind. Need we say more?
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Let's Go Caroling: Audio and Video Gadgets

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.
Razer Orca headphones - $52


Razer's new Orca headphones have more going for them than just an attention-getting green exterior. They're purportedly comfortable to wear, and you can switch between gaming at home and listening to music on the go without worrying about getting all tangled up in cabling. That's because Razer includes two sets of braided cables for the Orca headphones, including a shorter, standard cable for plugging into your MP3 player while you groove down the block, and a longer, 2 meter extension (a little over 2.5 feet) when you want to get your game on.

Turtle Beach Ear Force DX11
- $129


The Ear Force DX11 Gaming Headset has just hit the market wire, with Dolby 7.1 channel surround sound tucked into two major earcups that are sure to provide brain-rocking sound to keep you engrossed in Halo: Reach. These also have a pull-down microphone for chatting over Xbox LIVE, and there's even a bass booster, 40mm sound drivers, S/PDIF-to-analog converter, front panel USB pass-thru that allows other USB devices to be connected for power or data, and independent volume controls for game and voice signals to balance XBOX LIVE® chat and game sound. 

Logitech Wireless Headset F540 - $149


This headset uses 40mm laser-tuned drivers, a noise-canceling microphone and a 2.4GHz transceiver. And if you're tired of going through batteries, this one has a rechargeable cell that can recharge overnight when you dock it. It'll last around 10 hours on a single charge.

Asus WiCast Wirless WHDI Wireless HDMI Transmitter Kit - $193
The Asus WiCast is one of those devices that "just works."  This little gem takes an HDMI signal from virtually any device (like a notebook, game console or PC) and transmits it wirelessly to a receiving unit that plugs into an HDMI input on your TV.  It doesn't even come with a driver disc.  Just plug it in and watch it work.  Spanning or cloned mode, whatever your existing graphics chip can display, these little boxes will transmit it and set it up.  It's a thing of beauty.




Rocketfish 4-Port WirelessHD HDMI Kit - $299


This wireless HD kit sends full HDMI quality signals from up to 4 source components to an HDTV or projector and operates on a 60GHz frequency range for crystal-clear reception.
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The First Format: Hard Drives

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.

OCZ Agility 2 (40GB)- $111

OCZ's Agility 2 is a relatively diminutive drive is meant to offer enthusiasts an attractive balance between price and performance. The SandForce SF-1200 controller is the current industry favorite, the published read / write specifications line up with its competitors, and the three year warranty is up to par with what's generally available elsewhere. This is also the cheapest SandForce SSD on the market, and you know Santa loves a bargain.

Micron RealSSD C300 SATA III SSD (64GB)
- $135



For a time, Intel’s X25 series of solid state drives stood head and shoulders above the rest of the SSD pack but that certainly has changed this year. The Marvell 88SS9174-BJP2 controller is at the heart of the Micron RealSSD C300, and it affords the drive a feature not yet offered on any competing product -- SATA III support. Combine a reasonable price with great performance, and you've got a solid gift.

WD Caviar Green 3TB hard drive
- $259

To go along with its massive storage capacity, the Caviar Green 3TB serves up a super-sized combination of reduced power consumption, lower operating temperature, and a quieter working environment.

WD Caviar Black 2TB - $170



The WD Caviar Black 2TB drive is brimming with interesting technology. Besides their enormous capacities, the drive boasts dual processors; huge, 64MB caches; dual stage actuators; and more. What benefits do multi-CPU drive controllers offer? Quite simply, doubling the processing power of a hard drive should increase its performance noticeably--and platter drive manufacturers are looking for any way to compete with SDD drives. The dual CPU architecture should just about max out the efficiency of the drive's big buffer. Also, 2TB prices have sunk now that 3TB drives are out -- bargain shopping never looked so fun.
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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.
NZXT Phantom Enthusiast - $140


This is the company’s most elegant and intelligent chassis design to date. Phantom exudes sophistication with pristine contours and a robust menu of high performance features that will satisfy the demands of even the most discerning PC enthusiast. Phantom’s extensive cooling capabilities include 7 fan cooling options with dual 200mm, single 230/200mm, triple 120mm, and front 140mm fans.  For enhanced control and expandability, NZXT includes dual radiator support, quad watercooling cutouts, and an integrated fan controller with up to five 20W channels.

Antec LanBoy Air Open-Air Gaming Chassis - $184



This Antec case uses top-to-bottom mesh construction, which provides for tons of airflow. There are also five 120mm fans and space for ten more, and since it's huge, you can fit up to 11 total hard drives in here. It also holds your drives in suspension in order to reduce vibration, and chassis’ motherboard  tray comes complete with a CPU cut-out with the power supply unit (PSU) mount situated on the bottom of the chassis. In addition, both the motherboard tray and PSU mount slide out for easy installation and can be repositioned for increased customization.

Lian Li TYR PC-X2000F gaming chassis - $374


Leave it to Lian Li to create a PC enclosure that you want so badly, but your wallet simply can't stand the sight of. The company's latest beast is the new TYR PC-X2000F, which is described as being an HTPC/Gaming chassis. We're not quite sure what kind of HTPC is this huge, but maybe if your entire downstairs is a cinema, this would fly. The new, all-black case is stunning, with room for Extended ATX, ATX, and Micro-ATX motherboards. There are four tool-less ODD bays, seven tool-less HDD mounting arcs, a fan control switch, four USB 3.0 ports, one eSATA port, three 140mm fans on the front and two 140mm fans at the rear. 

Corsair Graphite 600T case - $160



Santa looking for a solid deal on a solid mid-tower case? Hello! This case features dual 200mm fans, eight PCI-E expansion slots, and plenty of additional space. With the Graphite Series 600T, you'll get many of the builder-friendly features that are also found on Corsair's Obsidian Series 700D and 800D cases, such as great cable management features and a large backplate cutout. The case has a USB 3.0 front panel connector as well. 

Corsair CX600 PSU - $75


Not everyone needs a Lexus to get from Point A to Point B, nor do you need a decked out power supply with all the bells and whistles (and matching price tag) to power a modest setup. That's the general mindset behind Corsair's new "Build Series" power supplies, which Corsair promises will provide "worry-free compatibility" with your system, without putting a major dent in your Paypal account.

OCZ StealthXStream 2 700W - $84


OCZ announced the StealthXStream 2 Power Supply Series. This series has been redesigned to offer higher efficiencies and a quieter operation. The StealthXStream 2 is designed for use in high end systems and offers enough power for dual-GPU and CPU platforms. The PSUs offer up to 85% efficiency at typical loads. The StealthXStream 2 is available in up to 700W configurations, and all models come with a three year warranty. 

NZXT HALE90 - $140


NZXT  announced the new HALE90 Power Supply line. Built for gamers and enthusiasts, this line promises power and efficiency and is available in 550W, 650W, 750W, 850W, and 1000W models. The line has received 80+ Gold certification for efficiency and offers whisper quiet operation with a 140mm two ball-bearing fan. In addition, the lineup features a modular design, letting you select which cables you need and helping to minimize cable clutter for better airflow.
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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 this year from least expensive to most. Good luck out there, and remember, pixels are important!
Mimo 720-F USB Monitor - $200


With Mimo's new 720-F, there's no need for fancy software. Just plug this USB monitor into your machine, mount it wherever you want and enjoy seven extra inches of pixels. This new display has an 800x480 resolution, 350 cd/m2 brightness, and 400:1 contrast, and it's touch sensitive as well. This one differs from many of the company's prior 7" screens by being compatible with VESA mounts, meaning that it can be easily installed on wall brackets, adjustable arm brackets, plus auto seats and dashboards. VESA adapters are easy to find, so this one's perfect for your own DIY install in that very random spot in your basement - for just $199.

ViewSonic 24" VG2436wm-LED monitor - $260



If you just so happen to be in the market for a new monitor, ViewSonic just so happens to have a new pair to choose from. The company's new VG36-LED Series of monitors are just being introduced this week, with two new ones in the line to start with. There's the 24" (23.6" vis.) VG2436wm-LED  and 22" (21.5" vis.) VG2236wm-LED, and outside of the physical size, most of the specifications are identical. Both units have slimmed bezels, a native 1920x1080 resolution, DVI and VGA ports a 20,000,000:1 MEGA contrast ratio and built-in stereo speakers. The company is also talking about eco-friendliness here, with each one having EPEAT Gold certifications and an energy savings of up to 50%.

Samsung 27" SyncMaster P2770FH - $349


Samsung  announced a new monitor which boasts of a 1 ms response time. With this fast response rate, the new SyncMaster P2770FH has virtually no problems with motion blur or ghosting effects, making it ideal for gamers, video enthusiasts, and graphic designers. The P2770FH also features a 70,000:1 dynamic contrast ratio and enriched color gamut. This 27-inch LCD is accented by Samsung’s Touch of Color red finish and a simple yet elegant stand. 

Planar 3D Vision Ready SA2311W Monitor - $495



Need more proof that the 3D revolution has officially begun? You got it. Planar just announced a 23-inch 3D Vision Ready monitor for mass consumption, the SA2311W. Keep in mind that Planar doesn't often put a lot of focus on the general consumer side, though the company felt compelled enough by the current 3D landscape to try and cash in on the frenzy. "The Planar SA2311W is a sleek, attractive desktop LCD monitor designed for 3D viewing, but this affordable widescreen display is ideal for 2D use as well," Planar says. "Whether you’re playing the latest 3D game or modeling complex biomolecules, the blazing fast 120Hz frame rate and 2 ms response time deliver crisp, clear images and blur—free video."

NEC PA271W Professional LCD Monitor
- $1649



Need something high-end? This is where NEC's MultiSync PA271W LCD monitor comes into play. Armed with a 10-bit P-IPS panel, internal 14-bit programmable 3D lookup tables (LUTs), and a generous 2560x1440 pixel resolution, the 27-inch PA271W is truly a professional grade tool for those instances where a typical TN panel just won't cut it.

Dell’s large, 30-inch UltraSharp U3011 widescreen LCD offers a native resolution of 2,560 x 1,600. And to help you enjoy all of the fine details of your images, Dell's TrueColor Technology produces 117% of the NTSC color gamut for superb color reproduction. The UltraSharp U3011 has a fast 7ms response time and 100,000:1 dynamic contrast ratio (1000:1 typical). You’ll get a nice variety of connection options with this monitor, including VGA, 2 x DVI-D with HDCP, 2 x HDMI, Component and DisplayPort. The U3011 also gives users the ability to adjust the height, tilt the panel forward and backward, and swivel it left-to-right. Additionally, the UltraSharp U3011 supports wide horizontal and vertical viewing angles of 178-degrees and it has a built in card reader and USB ports.

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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 this year, but feel free to suggest any gems that we miss in comments.

Acer Aspire 1551 11.6" Notebook - $484


This 11.6" netbook really stretches the definition of a netbook. For one, it doesn't really have the look and feel of a traditional netbook. The "grid" texture on the top plate, the above average build quality and the enlarged keys on the keyboard just make it feel more like a robust ultraportable than a run-of-the-mill netbook.

Asus Eee PC 1215N Netbook - $484



The 12.1" display means that you'll get a full-size keyboard, and Asus has made the trackpad a bit wider than we're used to seeing. In honesty, the 1215N is an SSD and an integrated optical drive away from being just as full-featured as the average $800-$1000 ultraportable, which makes the $484 price tag look a lot more appealing when you put it in perspective.

Dell XPS 14 Notebook - $899+



The Dell XPS 14 (L401x) has a 14-inch LED screen (1366x768), Intel Core i5 460M processor (2.53GHz), and Nvidia GeForce GT 420M graphics. It's the smallest of the new laptops, but sports many of the same features as the XPS 15 and XPS 17, including Nvidia's 3DTV Play software which allows users to tether their laptop to a 3D HDTV and view games, movies, and photos in stereoscopic 3D (provided you own a pair of 3D glasses).

Asus 14" U43F Bamboo Core i5 Notebook - $999



This machine's 14" display is a good choice, particularly if you simply cannot decide whether to settle for a smaller, less powerful 13" ultraportable or a heavier 15" standard sized notebook. It's not impossible to find 14" notebooks, but the more the merrier we say. Another bonus here is the inclusion of an optical drive. Many machines in the sub-14" category do not have optical drives at all, and for those who frequently need to watch DVDs, read from physical discs or burn archives, the included DVD Combo Drive is a real godsend. 

Lenovo's IdeaPad Y560 15-inch Notebook (Core i7, 6GB RAM) - $1199
Lenovo IdeaPad Y560 15-inch Notebook (Core i5, 4Gb RAM) - $799

Lenovo's IdeaPad Y560D is an interesting system that initially caught our eye thanks to its 3D-capable display. 3D films and TVs have been declared hot ticket capabilities by the film industry and TV manufacturers, but this is the first 3D-capable notebook we've had in house. Unfortunately we weren't thrilled with the 3D performance of the machine but the rest of the package we felt was top-notch.  We'd suggest you take a look at the non-3D capable version, dubbed the standard Y560.  There are a multitude of configurations to choose from, including Core i7 and Core i5-based models and Blu-ray players to go along with the machine's AMD Mobility Radeon HD 5730 graphics engine.

Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch - $1799+


With the latest iteration of its 15-inch and 17-inch MacBook Pro laptops, Apple finally jumped onto the Intel Core i3 and Core i5 bandwagon—bringing its flagship line of laptops up to the same performance level as the Windows-based competition (the 13-inch MacBook Pro and Air laptops still use Intel Core 2 Duo processors). With a starting price of $1,799 for the 15-inch model, and $2,299 for the 17-inch version, MacBook Pros are far from your garden-variety laptops. Though Macs have always come with a premium price tag—at least when compared against similarly configured Windows systems—many will argue that their elegant designs, build quality and the intuitive user interface are all well worth it.

Asus G73Jh Gaming Notebook - $1700


At the heart of this monster is an Intel Core i7 720QM quad-core processor, clocked at 1.6GHz with Turbo Boost technology for increased single core performance (up to 2.8GHz) and Hyper-Threading for multitasking situations. We find 8GB of DDR3 RAM installed, along with 1TB of total storage, consisting of two 500GB Seagate hard drives. But the real draw is ATI's Mobility HD 5870 graphics card with 1GB of GDDR5 memory and enough pixel pushing power to feed a 17.3" screen. In addition, Asus includes a full sized keyboard, Blu-ray drive, and a 2MP webcam.  All of this comes at a relatively affordable price point. Interested?  We thought so.
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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 this year...just be sure to mention that you're not picking up the monthly bill to whoever gets one!

BlackBerry Torch 9800 - $0.01 on a 2-year AT&T contract

             

RIM claims BlackBerry 6 "retains the familiar and trusted features that distinguish the BlackBerry brand while delivering a fresh, approachable and engaging experience that’s powerful and easy to use." In other words, RIM says it has taken everything you like about a BlackBerry and added some cool new features and options that will improve your overall experience with the phone. Many long-time BlackBerry users will tell you this is exactly what they want—familiarity but with a more powerful and faster web browser, more social networking capabilities, better support for multimedia, etc.

HTC Droid Incredible - $0.01 on 2-year Verizon contract


The word "incredible" certainly invokes high expectations, so you can bet users will demand great things from this phone or there will be plenty of complaints. Given that the phone is made by HTC, a long-time and very popular player in the smartphone space, and the fact that the Incredible is hitched to Verizon Wireless' network, the phone certainly has a few things going for it; with HTC's Sense UI probably the best feature of all.

HTC EVO 4G (Sprint) - $99



HTC's EVO 4G isn't just America's first 4G handset, it's also the hottest selling Sprint phone of all time. Some might say it's no real surprise given the hype surrounding it, but we're not so sure that HTC and Sprint don't deserve even more credit for the accomplishment. Be warned, though: this smartphone requires a $10/month extra data fee atop the standard $30/month fee, so be sure to only give this to friends in 4G places.

Samsung Epic 4G Android Smartphone - $180 on 2-year Sprint contract


The most popular and powerful Android phones currently available are quite possibly members of the Samsung Galaxy S line. Powered by Samsung’s very own 1GHz Cortex A8-based Hummingbird processor and featuring a four-inch Super-AMOLED (active matrix organic light-emitting diode) capacitive touchscreen with a 480x800 resolution, it’s no wonder that Samsung has already sold over 5 million Galaxy S-branded phones. The latest member of the Galaxy S family is the Samsung Epic 4G Android Smartphone, which adds two unique features that the other Galaxy S handsets lack: a slide-out keyboard and 4G capabilities.

Apple iPhone 4
- $199+ on 2-year AT&T contract


Apple's design and hardware changes are all rather impressive, and despite adding more CPU horsepower, Apple has managed to improve battery life over the prior iPhone models. We wish that they would've taken the opportunity to add physical Orientation Lock and Camera Shutter buttons to the edges (the button layout around the edges is effectively the same as on the iPhone 3GS and 3G), but those are minor quibbles in the grand scheme of things. The phone's new display is simply awe-inspiring and gorgeous.

Dell Streak Android Tablet / Phone - $350+ on an AT&T contract


The Dell Streak Android tablet is available right now. (In fact, not only has it already been available in the U.K. since June, but we first got a glimpse of it back in January, when it was still being called the Dell Mini 5.) With an 800x480, five-inch (diagonal) screen, some might question the Streak’s claim as a tablet—especially when you consider that the current über-tablet, the Apple iPad, has a 1024x768, 9.7-inch screen. But a five-inch display is really too big for a phone—even the HTC Evo 4G has only a 4.3-inch screen. So the Streak really fits somewhere between a phone and a tablet—you could call it a “phablet.”  Recently Dell updated the Streak with Android 2.2 aka FroYo, along with their Stage UI, so it also has been freshly dialed-up with software and performance.
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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.

Casio EX-S200 - $152


This lovely compact comes with a Single Frame SR Zoom that extends the 4X optical zoom range to 6X purportedly without any discernible loss of picture quality. It also has a14.1MP sensor as well as a host of other specs. According to Casio, the EX-S200 is a card-sized camera that measures a scant 0.6-inches at its thinnest part. Stocking stuffer delight!

Sony Bloggie MHS-TS20 - $218

The Bloggie Touch features a 3-inch capacitive touch screen as well as “touch and flick” recording controls and three simplified buttons for control. Sony’s Bloggie Touch cameras come with a F2.8 wide angle lens and an Exmor CMOS sensor.  For easy sharing of your photos and videos, the Bloggie Touch offers USB and HDMI connectivity as well as direct upload to Facebook, Flickr, Picasa Web Albums, and YouTube. 

Canon PowerShot G12 - $481


The PowerShot G12 will offer HD video recording capabilities (720p) as well as the HS (High Sensitivity) SYSTEM for low-light conditions. The PowerShot G12 is a 10 megapixel camera with a 2.8-inch vari-angle LCD and a 5X-Optical Zoom lens with Optical Image Stabilization. The G12 also features a High Dynamic Range (HDR) scene mode.

Sony a560 DSLR - $589


Sony expanded its α (alpha) line of DSLR cameras with the introduction of the new SLR-a560. This DSLR uses Sony's Exmor APS HD CMOS sensor and is one of the few models in Sony's line to offer Multi-frame Noise Reduction, Sweep Panorama mode, 3D Sweep Panorama, and Full HD 1920x1080 60i video capture. This 14.2 megapixel camera also features Quick AF Live View, 7fps continuous shooting capabilities, and Auto HDR. 

Samsung NX100 - $599


The new Samsung NX100 is the mirrorless camera to beat, with a 14.6MP APS-C CMOS sensor, a 3" VGA AMOLED display, ISO 100-3200, a 720p movie mode, SD/SDHC card slot, optional geo-tagging with an additional dongle, and a Smart Filter feature that acts as an in-camera editing suite.

Nikon D7000 DSLR kit - $1499


The D7000 DSLR creates a new class of Nikon camera by delivering exceptional quality, control, and an innovative feature set; this is a camera that enables DSLR users to achieve a true expression of their creative vision, while concentrating primarily on image quality above all else.
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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 small form-factor systems and gaming rigs that emerged this year. Good luck out there shopping, and Happy Holidays!

ZOTAC ZBox HD-ID11 - $228

 

Small? HTPC-capable? Easy to wrap? Somewhat cheap? This Zotac SFF PC is one of the nicer desktops to buy, mostly because you won't go broke gifting someone with it but it also has dual core Atom goodness and NVIDIA Ion graphics under the hood.

Asus Eee Box EB1501 - $499


Asus  has been dishing out quite a few new devices here lately, with a 3D laptop and a TS mini NAS server heading things up. The company looks to close out the year with the introduction of an Ion-based nettop, which looks mighty stylish and includes a dual-core Atom N330 processor, Windows 7 Home Premium, an HDMI output, and a slot-loading DVD drive. Nice and compact, like any gift giver would like.

Lenovo ThinkCentre M90z - $755

Built for business, but perfectly fine for at-home use, the ThinkCentre M90z offers a 23" touch screen (glossy) with a Full HD 1080p resolution. Windows 7 is the operating system of choice, and the options from there are fairly varied. Our test unit had a powerful 3.2GHz Core i5-650 under the hood, paired with 4GB of DDR3 memory, a 500GB hard drive and a side-mounted DVD-ROM drive. Graphics are handled by Intel's integrated GMA HD processor, while IO port selection resides on the rear.  As all-in-ones go, this one is fairly spartan and so is the price, though its build quality is top-notch.

Dell Studio XPS 7100 - $808+


Dude, it's a Dell! AMD's hexa-core chips don't pack the same punch as Intel's six-core architecture, but the upshot is you'll save a king's bounty by riding into the sunset with AMD, and in this case, with Dell as well. The case is also compact, so it's perfect for the student in your life.

HP TouchSmart 600 All-In-One PC - $1600


Taking advantage of a good thing when they see it, HP has produced a few major updates to the TouchSmart line, culminating in the latest release of the TouchSmart series, the 20-inch TouchSmart 300 series and 23-inch TouchSmart 600 series. Other than screen size and specs, both the 300 and 600 series have much in common, including a relatively thin chassis, glossy 16:9 widescreen display, and a plethora of touch-enabled features and applications. Talk about an exciting unwrapping!

Origin's Genesis Gaming System - $2000+

It doesn't get much nicer than this, and if you buy one, you're the nicest Santa we've ever known. All the system configurations we tested against it qualified as fast, but Origin's Genesis waves at fast while rocketing past it in the left-hand lane. Best of all, Origin doesn't compromise build quality or component stability in an attempt to juice their system farther. This is a rig that's absolute top of the line now, and will carry any buyer for years to come—DX11 games, even when plentiful, won't be an issue. Short of opting for an Intel SSD RAID 0 or an even more esoteric storage solution, there's not much an end user could do to improve system performance at the moment.

Maingear SHIFT PC - $2399+

The SHIFT's subdued styling and sleek brushed aluminum finish are similar to Corsair's 700/800D chassis, but the resemblance is only skin-deep. Both the interior and exterior of the SHIFT are uniquely designed to cut system noise and improve thermals in ways that other cases on the market can't. Get it decked out with a pair of GeForce GTX 580 cards and you'll be stylin'.  This is for the one you want to marry, after they see your gift to them.
This concludes our 2010 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 2010, 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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