If you have friends and family members on your gift list who spend a good part of their days in front of their computers (and who doesn't?), you might consider getting them an accessory that will make their everyday computing tasks easier or more enjoyable. And because utility rather than taste is an issue, the chances that they will actually use your gift are high.
Here are some possibilities for different budgets:
- Flash drive. These pocket-sized devices, also called thumb or key drives, plug into the USB port on your computer, making them a great means for transferring files from one computer to another or for storing back-up copies. They are particularly useful for sharing large files like photographs or music. SanDisk, Verbatim, Kingston, and Lexar all make well-regarded flash drives. Generally speaking, the higher the capacity, the higher the price. You should be able to find an 8GB drive for $20.
- Wireless mouse. Help your friends or family members reduce the clutter on their desktop—and straighten out the tangle of wires underneath it—with a wireless optical mouse. Plug the small receiver into a USB port and the mouse will be ready to operate in no time. You can also choose a small optical mouse for laptop users, providing a familiar alternative to the touchpad. You can purchase a wireless mouse by Microsoft, Logitech, or Kensington for about $40.
- Portable hard drive. If your friends or family members have large collections of music and photographs, this is the gift for them. Plummeting storage prices have made it affordable to make duplicates of these difficult-to-replace files for safekeeping. Combined with the back-up utility built into all operating systems or a separate software package like Norton's Ghost, they can also be used to back up all the essential data files on your hard disk, regularly and automatically. Western Digital, Toshiba, and Iomega are leaders in the field, offering 250GB USB drives for under $100.
- Digital photo frame. Until recently, there were just two ways to view digital pictures: by sitting at the computer on which they were stored, or by having prints made of a selection of favorites. A digital photo frame provides a happy medium, displaying all or a selection of photographs on a bright LCD screen. Most frames offer the option of drawing photos from a flash drive (see above) or being plugged into a computer's USB port. Higher-end frames feature Wi-Fi connections. Kodak, Philips, and Pandigital offer well-reviewed models that range in price between $135 and $175.
- USB hub. Many computer accessories these days connect through the USB port on your computer, yet computer manufacturers usually include no more than a handful of ports. A USB hub, which adds connections without any loss of speed or capacity, is always appreciated. A seven-port hub averages $25.