Gift Ideas: PC and Laptop Accessories

From gadget freak to gearhead, uber-geek to office drone, we all have something in common: The lowly PC. We spend countless hours bashing away at our keyboards, surfing the Interwebs and generally interacting with our computer. Whether you’re a member of the cult of the Apple or a dedicated denizen of the world of Windows, the following guide to peripherals and accessories has plenty of great gift ideas for the entire extended mouse-and-keyboard-loving clan:

Microsoft Wireless Explorer MouseMicrosoft Wireless Explorer Mouse with BlueTrack technology, $99.99

Since the lowly mouse that for so long has been a part of our desktops essentially became a eunuch, losing its only ball in favor of sharper eyesight in the form of an optical tracking system, it’s had a problem. Whether your mouse employs laser tracking or more traditional red light monitoring systems, you’ve probably encountered the optical mouse’s Achilles heel; namely, attempting to accurately follow one’s movement on anything other than an ideal surface. Thankfully, while Microsoft’s latest iteration of the essential PC accessory costs a pretty penny, it tracks fluidly on just about any surface we used it atop including glass, granite, marble, carpet and more. In our opinion, it’s worth the price of admission if you’ve ever been frustrated when trying to use your mouse anywhere, save on a dedicated mouse pad. The wireless device even comes with a rechargeable Ni Cad battery and a low-profile charging dock. Check Price

Creative Live! Cam OptiaLive! Cam Optia AF, $99.99

Boasting a laundry list of welcome extras like a 2MP sensor, an easy mounting base, effective auto-focus features and face tracking, the Live! Cam Optia from Creative is a great bet for anyone who frequently uses IM services like Windows Live, AIM or Skype. It also has a unique double microphone setup that captures voices clearly while drowning out the hum of fellow cubicle monkeys. The gizmo also includes a stereo headset that allows you to keep your conversations on the down low. Less useful, but no less salable inclusions range from video effects that use the face tracking technology to plaster all kinds of silly, cute and otherwise interesting masks, hats, glasses etc. on your face to voice filters which can make you sound like Donald Duck or Deep Throat, if you so desire. Check Price

Creative HS-1200 HeadphonesCreative HS-1200 wireless headphones, $79.99

”Pwning noobs” is no fun when you’re being strangled by the cord of your wired gaming headset. Using a compression technology similar to Bluetooth (one that doesn’t require paying to use the Bluetooth name either… clever), this cool headset produces clear, rich sound and promises a battery life of over 10 hours. (In our tests, we actually proved hard-pressed to get six or seven out of it, but hey… those results are still quite good.) The mic is turned off when you rotate it up and away from your mouth as well; a neat touch. In addition to the comfortable, if a little rigid headset, the package includes the wireless receiver. Plug it into an available USB port, power on the headphones and you’re up and running. A break-out on the USB receiver plugs in to the bottom of the headset and allows you to charge and use the HS-1200 at the same time. Although, to be fair, the charging cord is about a foot shorter than we’d like – still, compared with the gadget’s general level of usefulness, it’s minor nitpicking. Check Price

Microsoft Natural Ergonomic KeyboardMicrosoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000, $59.95

While you may occasionally get so upset with Windows that you feel like putting your fist through the monitor (note that while tempting, this move is ill-advised), take heart knowing that the company does make some of the best keyboards and mice for general use. Consider, for example, the Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000. A departure from your standard straight rows of keys layout, the 4000 has a slight and more ergonomic raking. It’s nowhere near as extreme as that found on some of the fully split ergonomic keyboards though, and doesn’t take as much getting used to. The result is a much more comfortable keyboard for everyday use without the steep learning curve. And it looks pretty sweet too, with a comfortable faux-leather wrist rest, zoom functions, programmable media, Internet and other hot keys. The keyboard is also available in a wireless version with the Natural Ergonomic Mouse 6000 as part of the Natural Ergonomic Desktop 7000 (thanks for those creative product titles, Microsoft marketers – next time, you should probably note that we’re easily confused) for around $100. Check Price

Samsung Syncmaster 2493HMSamsung SyncMaster 2493HM, $409.99

Call it evolution of the geekiest: LCD monitor prices have dropped significantly even as response times, contrast ratios and brightness have climbed. Take, for instance, this slick Samsung 24-incher with 5ms response time; 1,000:1 contrast ratio; and full 1080p HD capability (1920×1200 native resolution) with HDMI in. The 10,000:1 "dynamic contrast" ratio is difficult to measure, but basically means that the panel adjusts the backlighting depending on what’s being displayed, making for blacker blacks and whiter whites. It’s also height-adjustable, and has a sleek piano black finish, built-in speakers and a spiffy base. Check Price

Logitech AudioHubLogitech AudioHub, $99.99

After the initial excitement of cracking open the box on a new set of 5.1 speakers for your PC abates, you’re often struck by just how cumbersome this kind of setup is for use in the average home office or den. (Wires snaking everywhere, speakers sitting fore and aft taking up valuable desktop real estate or balanced precariously on a bookshelf… trust us, it’s not a pretty sight.) For the non-hardcore gaming set, full surround sound is largely unnecessary as well. And if you want to watch a movie in total surround, chances are your computer room isn’t the first place you think to go either. Enter Logitech’s AudioHub. This is a sweet, sleek and altogether useful 2.1 speaker set that doubles as a laptop dock of sorts. Simply slide your notebook system between the speakers, plug in a USB cable and you’ve got sound that’s better than your puny laptop speakers can kick out by an order of magnitude, a three port USB hub and cable management system. It even incorporates a webcam stand and works with LCD monitors for desktop PCs. Pretty spiff. Check Price

Corsair Survivor32GB Corsair Survivor, ~$100

How many times have you run over your USB flash drive with your car? Dropped it from the balcony? Gone SCUBA diving 200m into the briny deep only to realize that the PowerPoint presentation you have to give this afternoon is on your flash drive, sitting in the pocket of your wet suit-clad swimming trunks? To avoid catastrophe in these no-doubt common scenarios (we kid, we kid… yeesh), Corsair’s Flash Survivor USB flash drives can stand up to just about anything you can throw at them. And probably anything you can throw them at, for that matter, but that’s another story. Sure, they’re bulkier than a standard thumb drive, but hey: A standard flash drive can’t take this kind of punishment. Also available in 4GB, 8GB and 16GB capacities. Check Price

Maxtor Shared Storage IIMaxtor Shared Storage II 2TB Dual Drive, $649.99

The easiest way to share files between computers and other devices on your home network is a network attached storage drive, or NAS. We like the Shared Storage line from Maxtor. With this 2TB drive, you can keep all your photos, music and movies in one location, accessible to any connected device on the network. In a small office, it’s an ideal file server. If you’ve networked your entertainment center as well, you’ll be happy to know that this NAS drive can also stream content via UPnP and several other protocols. The Maxtor Shared Storage II can additionally store backups of your computers and includes a backup and recovery program. As an added bonus, it’s capable of sharing other devices like a printer or USB key across the network with its two USB ports too. Last but not least, the two 1TB discs that make up this 2TB monster can be set up in RAID configuration as well, either spanned as a single 2TB volume or mirrored as one 1TB volume with built-in redundancy should one drive fail. Models are also available in a 1TB capacity with two 500GB drives for about $350. Check Price


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