BitDepth 503 - December 13

More technology gift ideas for that geek in your life...
The computer gift

I'm a Trini guy, what can I say. The sleek brushed aluminium lines of the iLap are only broken by thick comfortable bumpers that nestle in my lap. What's not to love? Photography by Mark Lyndersay.

What to get the computer enthusiast? What indeed?
Laptops are big on the wish lists of most computer users. Those with desktops want one to travel with, and laptop owners want a better one. For Mac users, the sweet spot is the chiclet-like 12 inch iBook, with a design that's running a little stale but an unbeatable combination of an attractive price point (US$999) and a fast G4 processor.
PC users will want to inspect the HP Pavilion zv6130us, a reasonably priced laptop powered by an Athlon 64 bit processor that puts in a serious bid to be a desktop replacement.

The HP's 15 inch screen is middle of the road for laptops, and offers comfortable viewing space for most serious users, but Sony's VAIO VGN-TX650P/B is a powerful but tiny 2.8 pound package designed for mobile users who want a lighter bag.
For the ultimate Windows laptop experience, take a look at Toshiba's Qosmio G25-AV513, which sports a stunning 17 inch, super glossy screen that's amazing to view DVDs on. If the slickly designed portable has any flaw it's the underside, a hideous collection of plastic vents and screws cruelly overlooked by Toshiba's design team.
The Qosmio's 120GB of disk space is spread over two 60 GB drives, opening intriguing possibilities for anyone who wants to push their laptop performance to the limit. If a striped RAID array of Seagate 120GB drives means anything to you, then you know exactly what I'm talking about.

What do all these fast laptops have in common apart from "yes, this is your only gift" prices? Well, they're hot in more ways than popularity. Putting one of these mobile computers in your actual lap can be a sizzling experience.
I've retired an old Lapbottom that sat between my upper thighs, and a succession of increasingly heated mobile processors for the last five years. Fortunately, the market now offers more choices than the ugly slab of plastic and foam I settled for half a decade ago.

That isn't surprising given the way laptops have sped up. Faster laptops are the result of components that move data around more swiftly, processors running full tilt and hard drives spinning madly, all sending hot air flying out of the equipment and making case surfaces uncomfortably warm.
Today's laptop platforms range from the expansive SurfACE multi-tiered laptop support system to the IcePad from MacAlly and other manufacturers who have rebranded the plastic device.

The best mix of style and utility was Rain Designs' iLap, a metal platform that's padded well in all the right places. This baby's got back.
Among my picks for best extras for the computer user are an up-to-date DVD burner. Most high end computers sold in the last year or two can play a DVD, but few have state of the art burning capability. Today's DVD burners sport 16x write speeds, much faster than affordable DVD blanks which top out at 8x.

Bigger cache buffers and whiz bang features like "Lightscribe," which writes label inscriptions onto the face of special blanks, make a new DVD burner a must have for the computer user that lacks one. I prefer external drives particularly when they are hooked up to older systems, so Mac users will need one with a Firewire port and PC users should get one with USB 2 connections.
Just about my favourite computing toy these days is my personal video recorder (PVR). Since a TiVo is essentially useless here, timeshifting shows has been limited to old VHS recorders and that's a sucky option. A PVR is a video card and TV receiver that you install into your PC tower that enables viewing on the computer's screen and best of all, recording.
Put an ATI All-in-Wonder card (there are several models) in your PC and you can jack the cable box into it and record shows broadcast at inconvenient times for playback at your convenience.

To use the PVR, sign up with TitanTV's listings (, search through show descriptions for broadcast times and plug them into the PVR software.
Open video files and view or burn them to DVD or VCD if you wish.
Until I got this little gizmo (I use a Miglia card on my Mac), I hadn't realised just how addicted I could become to the hidden gems on HGTV about organising office space. The Qosmio, by the way, has PVR functionality built in with dedicated hardware and Windows Media Center.
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