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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  • 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.

  • Mac mini

    When the little Atom-powered Zotac and EEE boxes can't cut it, there's the Mac mini. I'm not a fan of OS X, but I've been hard pressed to find another box this small, this powerful, and this inexpensive.

    I have two of these tiny powerhouses. The first is a 2011-vintage Mac mini server, hosting two 7200 RPM drives, and 16GB RAM, all in the service of running the Skype Studio. This thing can run and process multiple video streams, do dynamic rendering, and produce video, all almost silently, and taking up less space than a dinner plate.

    I just bought a second one, a 2012-vintage Mac mini, that will run one of my content analysis servers, replacing the Zotac, which is just too slow. In fact, I'm moving the virtual machine running on the Zotac to the Mac mini, and no other configuration will be required, except that I get a heck of a speed bump.

    These are great, all-around powerful boxes that fit anywhere. Of all Apple's products, this is the one I most hope they never discontinue.

    What I like: Fast, small, and relatively inexpensive.

    What I'd like to see: Less Apple attitude.

    Find it here starting at about $599.

  • Boinx TV

    Speaking of both the iMac and the Skype Studio, the key piece of software that makes it all run is Boinx TV. It's a silly name, but it does dynamic, live post-production, while the show is going on. I've used it to record almost all of the DavidGewirtzTV programs.

    What I like: Amazingly capable for a single program.

    What I'd like to see: A little more programmability in the interface for switching sequences. I've also run into some sound problems that are probably not BoinxTV's fault, but still continue to dog me as I refine the studio.

    Find it here starting at about $499. There's some kind of home version for about fifty bucks, but I've never looked at it. If you're doing dynamic video production, spring for the full product.



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).