Gifts for Geeks

OK, I get to order neat computer parts. There are computer cases of any size, routers, SSD drives, boards, nearly anything a client needs for their office technology solutions. So I keep up with the new stuff, and sometimes, I just kinda ask, “What? Why would anyone buy that?” Here are my suggestions for geek toys, er, I mean computer hardware, starting with practical, and ending with insanity. I can’t work without the first three of these gadgets. The last two, well, not.

Computers with Multiple Personalities

I have a testing computer with multiple personalities. I’ve had a few of these over the years, and have used drive racks, virtual machines, multi-boot drives, each of the usual methods more than once. Here’s what I like now:

Antec Easy SATA

The Antec Easy SATA is a hard-drive docking station with eSATA Port, under US$30.

This is a drive holder for a computer, but unlike most holders, it allows sliding in a bare drive, with no carrier. You can have a hard drive for each operating system, and a few for testing. I have a drive for Vista, Windows 2000 Pro, Linux Mint, a few others. It’s also handy for when I have to test a hard drive quickly and don’t want to open a computer, or need to run a security erasure program on a drive.

There’s also an eSATA (external SATA) port on the front for running backups, if you have an eSATA external drive (see below). The eSATA setup requires a second SATA cable inside the computer. That’s a lot of options for the price; an external eSATA adapter usually costs around $15 to $20 all by itself. No, it’s not hot-swappable, but it’s still very useful.

Malware Rescue Kit

OK, computer programmers always get asked to fix their friends’ computers. And it’s usually a malware infection, and it’s been lingering a while, so it’s really, really bad. So the first thing you do is load up some cleanup software onto a USB flash drive and take it and plug it into the infected computer. Oops. Really bad move. Some malware will infect flash drives and add nasty stuff as autoplay files in the root folder, so that it can send badness to other computers–it’s the computer version of coals in a stocking. What you need is a small drive with a write protect switch. I’ve checked–none of the name-brand manufacturers of flash drives have a product with a write switch anymore. Must have been too expensive to include a little slide switch.

SD Card Reader, under $5.

Yes, it’s just a small SD card reader. Why? Well, SD cards have write-protect slide switches on each card. Load the card up with cleanup utilities, then slide the switch on the card, load it back into the reader and take it to an infected machine, and know you aren’t carrying souvenirs back to your office for your work systems to share.

These mini card readers tend to be a little larger than a flash drive, and may not fit in some computers without moving surrounding cables, so take the shortest possible USB extension cable with you on repair trips. Startech has a 6” cable for around $4, model USBEXTAA6IN. For other brands, look for the ends to be one each of type A male and type A female.

Multiple-Access Method Backup Drives

External hard drives are everywhere. I’ve had at least six of my own, going back as far as a parallel-connected IDE case that held a 40 Mb hard drive. It weighed around nine pounds. Found it at a hamfest back around 1988, and never could get it to work in Windows 95… (sigh)

Macally T-S350SU, under $30.
Why pick this case? There are thousands of the things to pick from. Well, it’s the best value (cheap, for these features), it doesn’t stand on an edge (and then fall over), it’s stackable, it accepts SATA II drives, can be very quickly opened for drive swaps or drive forensics and recovery, and it has built-in eSATA as well as USB 2.0. One negative–the bundled software is obsolete.

This is vastly better than a sealed unit, which can’t run drive diagnostics software, as those are mostly USB-only, unless you want to break the case to hook up a SATA cable.

Solar Power

Want to be truly mobile? How about a computer bag that recharges your toys? Well, it doesn’t exist yet. Soon, though.

Traveler’s Choice Solar Messenger Bag ET0120K ECO, around $150.

Yes, that’s a solar panel. No, it won’t charge your notebook, but it will charge cell phones and other gadgets of a similar size. There’s a whole line of these by Eco Traveler, in messenger bags, backpacks, soft-sided coolers, and they’re in multiple colors. Some are Checkpoint Friendly, so they can go through USA-based airport scanning laid unfolded and flat on the XRAY belt with a notebook still inside.
I think I’m waiting for the version that can charge my notebook, but that’s probably a few years off yet.

Show-Off’s Computer Case

Finally, nothing beats a neat computer case as a geek gadget. Well, not this one, anyway.

Antec Skeleton

I saw this monster running at a trade show. That top fan is 250mm across, nearly 10”.
I can’t begin to describe this construction, so here’s the official scoop:
The Skeleton open-air, easy access case is a revolutionary step forward in enclosure design, perfect for the gamer enthusiast or constant hardware tinkerer. This enclosure features four internal drive bays and seven expansion slots with four optional 3.5" device external mounts for a truly unique aesthetic. Internal components mount on a removable, dual level component tray in a reinforced, durable plastic frame with rackmount quality side rails. This uniquely designed tray is capable of supporting up to three 11" graphics cards in SLI configuration and a standard ATX size motherboard for maximum power and versatility. In addition, the overhead "Super Big Boy" customizable 250mm multi-LED fan keeps the motherboard, graphics card and memory chipsets cool, while a dedicated 92mm fan cools your hard drives. The Skeleton also offers a versatile array of front ports, including USB, Firewire, eSATA, and high definition audio functionality. 0.8mm cold rolled steel component tray and high density ABS frame reinforced with with 0.8mm cold rolled steel for durability.

Jerry Stern is the editor of ASPects, the ASP’s Coordinator of Anti-Spyware Operations, and is online at