12 enormously useful products for the DIY-ITer [Gift Guide 2012]

12 enormously useful products for the DIY-ITer [Gift Guide 2012]

Summary: In honor of 2012, we've selected some of the most interesting, helpful, and unexpected products for geek DIYers.


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  • StarTech USB 3.0 to SATA/IDE HDD Docking Station

    This is a neat little product that makes it very easy to process through all of those old hard drives you might have lying around. I used it this year to quickly image my primary laptop (via the fast USB 3.0 port) before I sent it back for repairs. When the machine came back, I dropped the drive back into the dock, and pumped the image back onto the machine.

    What I like: Easy use of SATA drives and fast USB 3.0 connectivity.

    What I'd like to see: I'm not thrilled with the spare cable approach to IDE docking. It's just a plastic hole in the box.

    Find it here for $88.99.

  • Monster notebook: Sager 9150

    This isn't the prettiest notebook in the world, and it certainly isn't the smallest. But it solved a very interesting problem: how to run a whole network of virtual machines on one portable computer.

    This machine can be configured with up to 32GB of RAM, the usual high-performance SSD as a C drive, and a 7200RPM second drive (or another SSD, if you want to pony up the cash). It also supports high-performance gaming, and I'm currently hanging two 24-inch monitors off of it.

    I looked everywhere for a notebook that could handle 32GB of RAM, and it was only when ZDNet's Jason Perlow suggested this beast that I found the answer I wanted.

    Also, points go to the Sager tech support people. I had a few initial problems and they were helpful, responsive, and quick to get me up and running. I didn't expect it, and it was very appreciated.

    What I like: Boatloads of RAM, fast, and fast.

    What I'd like to see: Some personality.

    Find it here starting at about $1,500.

  • Mini Asus and Xotac boxes

    There's always a use for another little computer. I use them as backup engines, media servers, server monitors, development staging machines, and more. The point is, these little beasts are under $225, smaller than a printed textbook, reasonably fast (but not, you know, fast), and easy to configure.

    You can store a few of them on a shelf, and if it turns out you need a spare computer for something, just spin one up quickly and easily.

    What I like: Inexpensive and small.

    What I'd like to see: A high-performance option.

    Find them here and here starting under $225.

Topics: After Hours, Tech Industry


David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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  • Unique and Thoughtful

    Unusual selection of DIY products not seen elsewhere. Good scoop.
  • if you want customizable keys...

    Go with the Razer Anansi. It currently doesn't have drivers for windows 8 (it works fine for Windows 7), but for $25 more, you get an entire keyboard where every key is customizable, including 10 extra keys specifically for custom macros.
  • 32GB RAM

    re:"I looked everywhere for a notebook that could handle 32GB of RAM"
    Dell Precision M6700 Mobile Workstation can have 32GB RAM
    • Also 32GB RAM

      As can the HP Elitebook 8560w, also.
  • SyncBack Pro

    Using it for over 5 years to back up our servers and workstations. Very simple and reliable.
    Tomas M.
  • Another article I will not read . . .

    . . . because it uses ZDNet's World War II surplus slide show viewer that flashes and jumps all other the place. Seriously, I watched a slide show on my phone this morning on a Microsoft site that was smooth as silk. Why is the ZDNet web site so pathetic?
  • running a VM on the Zotac box?

    Perhaps that's why it didn't have enough horsepower for your needs. The Hypervisor you're using may consume too many resources to show the true potential of the Zotac box.
  • Oh, so THAT'S what you were doing with your hand in your lap!

    Was wondering.
  • SSD

    I'm very surprise that you didn't include SSD! It is THE single most effective item that a DIY person can add to their machine.
  • SATA/IDE HDD Docking Station

    StarTech also has a cable with power supply that has a multi connector with SATA, HD IDE, and Floppy IDE to use bare drives directly from a USB port. I am a tech and use that thing regularly. Works surprisingly well for as cheap as it is.
    I would recommend that over that box thing.
  • It's about looks

    They both do exactly the same thing, except one is a wire and the other is a wire within a case. Some techs prefer a Mad Scientist bench, with wires and parts on display, while others want a neater looking workspace and all wires hidden. Where I work, we have both personalities. As it turns out, the "Mac" guy (neat and ordered) wants the box. The "PC" guy (rather cluttered) uses the cable (whenever he can find who borrowed it last).