My Turn

Low End Mac's Low Cost Holiday Gift List

Tristram Perry - 2001.12.19

My Turn is Low End Mac's column for reader-submitted articles. It's your turn to share your thoughts on all things Mac (or iPhone, iPod, etc.) and write for the Mac web. Email your submission to Dan Knight .

This idea for this list came after I got a telephone call from my younger brother, who, just one week before Christmas, wanted to know what he should get me. "Anything," I started saying, and then, remembering the big bag of dog hair he gave me for my birthday a few years back, quickly amended my statement. "I mean, just get me something for my Mac," I said, thinking I had saved the day for both of us.

There was a bit of a pause and his puzzled response was "Uh, like what?"

It was a good question. How should he know? He doesn't use a Mac.

How unfair of me to send him on a wild apple-chase. I imagined him walking into a Best Buy or Circuit City and asking for "some type of Mac-product" only to be directed to the neighboring Golden Arches for a burger. And furthermore, he's not exactly in the Okay-I'll-Just-Go-Out-And-Buy-You A-G4/867-With-A-17"-Flat-Panel-Display income bracket. Not by a long shot.

Ahem. Now, before we continue, let's take a moment to talk about the real meaning of the Holidays. In our hyper-commercial culture, where sometimes brand-loyalty can seem more important than a belief-system (never!) and values are completely commodified (like so many cheap Wintel boxes), it is vital to keep gift-giving in perspective. It is a time for kindness. A time for receiving gracefully, as well as giving thoughtfully.

Honestly, I will appreciate any gift that my younger brother cares to give me during this season (Little Brother, if you read this, and think this means that I want any more dog hair, just remember what you got in return the last time. I mean, how many rubber Whoopi Goldberg masks can you realistically want to own?), because it is not the gift itself or its monetary value, but rather the thought and feeling that went into selecting it.

Okay, that's out of the way - let's get back to the topic at hand.

Bearing in mind my brother's confusion and limited budget, I sought to help him in his quest for a super, in-a-hurry, cheap gift. My first instinct was to cruise on over to one of the so-called Mac bargain sites, but the only thing I could find there for less than fifty bucks were "cheap DVDs" or "tickets to 'Lord of The Rings.'" Not really Mac-related, guys.

Surfing over to Apple's site I noticed that they had put together a gift guide. "Great!," I thought at first, but closer examination proved me very, very wrong. Apple does a lot of "insanely great" things, but developing a reasonably priced and thoughtful gift list ain't one of them.

My brother is definitely in the "Gifts under $50" realm, but in reality should be shopping from a list that is euphemistically titled "Gifts Under $20" and more accurately called "Gifts for when your entire budget consists of pocket lint." Among Apples "Gifts under $50" list, there weren't any gifts for under $20 - in fact, 8 of the 10 were over $30. I don't care how special the "Special Fantasy Prizes" in "Wheel of Fortune 2" are; this is simply not a good gift.

Consequently, I've put together a list of fifteen truly low-end Mac-related gifts. Most of these can be had at your average local electronics/large computer store or downloaded from the Web, so feel free to email this to a clueless parent, spouse, or brother (erm, sibling). These thrifty but thoughtful gifts will delight the Mac enthusiast in your life whether they are dreaming of a snow, graphite, titanium, or even a beige Christmas. Enjoy!

$35 and Under

Griffin iMic, $35. The most expensive of item of the lot, I had to include it because it's just so cool. Providing maximum utility for minimum cost, it really does solve the audio-in troubles of most Mac users with an available USB port. Not strictly low-end, it's still a formidable gift for a nice price. But don't just take my word for it - it got a "freakin' awesome" rating from MacAddict, too. You can get the iMic through a variety of retailers or directly from Griffin Technology.

Memory Upgrade, $20-30. You can never be too thin, too rich, or have too much RAM. And these days, you can get 256 MB of either PC100 or PC133 RAM from a local big box retailer for under $30. Circuit City is selling it for about $20 this week after rebate. Just be sure to research what kind of memory your giftee's computer needs to make sure you get the right kind.

Uni-Riser/G-Riser, $25 or under. These products are stylish, elegant and match most of the newer iMacs and Power Macs. It elevates your iMac or minitower and leaves room on your desktop or under your tower. This is the sort of thing that nobody really buys for themselves, but is very much appreciated as a gift. They come in a big box, so they seem more substantial than the price would suggest. Available from Contour Design or in many computer stores.

Kensington Flylight, $20. Kensington FlylightThis is the one place where Apple and I agree in our gift lists. If you know anyone who uses a laptop with a USB port, this is the present. It casts an eerie, bus-powered blue light that makes working from your TiBook or iBook bearable in total darkness without waking up your neighbor or disturbing the whole plane (like that obnoxious kid in the iBook commercial). It even works on a PC notebook. You can order a Flylight on Kensington's site or pick one up at most Office Supply stores for around $20 - I found it for $14.99 after rebate at CompUSA.

$15 and Under

Intek21 4-port USB hub, $15. There never seem to be enough USB ports these days. And if someone on your list is getting a USB peripheral under the tree, this handy 4-port hub will let them use more gadgets at the same time. I'm sure there are pricier or better-looking USB hubs out there, but this one is compact and inexpensive. On a side note, not only can you not buy this from the company directly, Intek21 seems to be a finalist for some kind of "Worst-Company-Web-Site-Ever" competition. It is available at most computer, office supply, and electronics stores.

Insanely Great by Steven Levy, $11.71. This is widely recognized as one of the better histories of Apple Computer before the second coming of Steve Jobs. A great read about a great company, you could get it for just under $12 at Amazon.com or perhaps find it for a little more in one of the larger bricks & mortar bookshops in your area.

Memorex Black CD-R 10-pack, $11. Actually any 10-pack of CD-R or CD-RW makes a great last-minute gift for anyone who has a CD-burner. These are just especially cool-looking. They can be found at most electronics store or big box stores with an electronics department. You have to hunt a bit, but it's worth it. Just look for the ones like this.

Two Games From Strange Flavour, $9. Two superb and addictive Mac-only games can be downloaded for less than ten bucks. Airburst is a multiplayer game that recalls the old Atari 2600 game Warlords, and Bushfire is a forest fire/rescue game that looks a lot like Choplifter. Together, they'll provide hours and hours of fun and the coolest part is that they will both run on 8.6, 9.1 or OS X, but not on a PC.

A single issue of MacAddict or Macworld, $7.99. If a subscription is out of the question this year, a single issue of one of the major two Macintosh magazines and the accompanying CD-ROM still makes an excellent gift. Available at most newsstands, this one really fills a stocking!

Memory Upgrade, $15 or under. I know, I know, this was listed before, but even if your budget is tight, you can manage a 128 MB stick of RAM. In this weeks Circuit City flyer, you can get a PC133 for $8 and PC100s cost just $5 after rebate.

$4 and Under

Your Mac in History, $4 or less. Almost everyone who uses a Mac has a favorite. Whether it was the very first one they owned, one they always wanted to acquire, or maybe just one that stood out from the rest, you can help immortalize it for them. First, find an old 8.5" x 11" frame around the house (a high school diploma frame will do nicely - no one ever uses these). Next, go to apple-history.com and find that special Mac and its story. Then print out the page and frame it. Voilà - the perfect gift! If you can't find an old frame, your local drug store usually sells these for three or four dollars.

Digital Vinyl Set, $2.49. Does someone on your list have a Mac and a ton of old records? Then get yourself to Radio Shack and buy a microphone/RCA cable Y-adapter. After you get home, download the free program Sound Recorder and put it on a floppy disk. Then print out these two articles: Convert LPs to MP3s and Connecting Your Mac to Your Stereo. Now your low-end audiophile can make those records digital on an older Mac!

A Sim-tacular X-Mas, free. If you know someone who is loves The Sims more than real life, but you're not in a position to get them either of the two expansion packs, here's your gift solution: Go to Aspyr and download some of the free add-ons that they have available. You will have to register using your registration number from The Sims. Or you can get other Sims extras at Macgamefiles.com, too. Choose from skins like Britney Spears and George Clooney, a poster of George Costanza, or even a cool black metal fridge for your kitchen. Most of the add-ons include detailed instructions for where to put them in the game data files. You might want to include an "installation certificate" with your downloaded gift, too.

Multiplayer Madness, free. If you have not discovered GameRanger yet, boy are you going to waste some time after you do! It's free, and you can play multiplayer games with other Mac users on it. Many of these games are free, including Netzee, Stratega, and many demo versions of commercial games. Download the GameRanger software and some of the free games and put them on a CD. Did I mention it was free?

Beautify Your Mac, free. Give the gift of beauty with cool icons and spectacular screensavers. A trip over to MacDesktops.com and The Iconfactory might be just the thing to spruce up someone's desktop. Spend some time admiring the artwork and download the desktops and file sets that you think would best suit the person to whom you're giving them. Put them on a disk or burn them on a CD, and you could even make a special label or case for them as an extra touch. Note: You may want to find out what screen resolution your recipient uses before downloading the desktop photos.


Tristram Perry works in the as publicist in Boston, Mass.

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