Road Warrior gifts: 2010 edition

The Road Warrior's life isn't easy. Planes are fuller, searches more intrusive and they aren't getting younger. These gift ideas focus on light weight, sturdy construction and convenience. From thumb drives to SSDs, there's something for every need and budget.
Written by Robin Harris, Contributor

The Road Warrior's life isn't easy. Planes are fuller, searches more intrusive and they aren't getting younger. These gift ideas focus on light weight, sturdy construction and convenience.

USB thumb drives There are 2 choices in USB thumb drives: fast or small. I tested a Corsair Voyager GT and found it was 4x faster than a generic thumb drive. Very handy when late for a flight.

The Corsair GT comes in a tough rubberized body that survived a trip through my washing machine. At 16GB it is big enough for thousands of Word docs or a couple of feature length movies.

With the extra protection the Voyager is one of the bulkier thumb drives. There are tiny, slower flash drives that fit nicely on a key chain.

I've been using a small Kodak 4 GB drive whose cap attaches to a key fob, which makes it easy to remove it to plug into a computer. But the Verbatim Tuff 'N' Tiny and Super Talent Pico drives, which are about twice the size of the USB connector, are even smaller and look good as well.

Most thumb drives come in capacities ranging from 4 GB to 32 or even 64 GB. Expect to pay $2-$3 per GB.

USB disk drives If your road warrior is a creative professional, a multi-interface large capacity drive is sure to be appreciated. Video and music workflows often benefit by reading from one drive and writing to another.

LaCie and Newertech make well-reviewed quad interface - USB + Firewire 400/800 + eSATA - drives with handy 2.5" drives. 3.5" drives are also available, but are too bulky for most road warriors. If extra capacity is needed another 2.5" drive will provide it without the bulk.

2.5" drives are built to take rougher treatment than 3.5" drives, besides the size and weight advantages. I own a LaCie Rugged drive, whose silicone bumper and internal shock mounting have survived all manner of knocks and drops.

SSD drives SSD drive prices have started dropping in the last few months, putting them in reach for more people. Their big advantage is that computer will start up in 1/4 to 1/2 the time of a typical drive.

The disadvantage is the cost - often over $3 per GB for the best drives. Most road warriors use less than 80 GB of capacity so a 100-128 GB drive is fine. Drives from Intel, OCZ and NewerTech have gotten good reviews, but be sure to check reviews on the specific model you have in mind.

For creative professionals who need capacity it can make sense to replace a rarely used DVD drive with an SSD. Install the operating system and applications on the SSD and use the hard drive for data. 3rd party brackets that convert the 5.25" drive mount to a 2.5" drive are available for MacBooks and some Wintel notebooks.

Another good option is a hybrid SSD and hard drive. The Seagate Momentus XT includes a 4 GB SSD that speeds startup while the disk offers capacities up to 500GB. The XT is an easy replacement for most notebook drives and works automatically to improve performance.

RAM Another easy performance improvement comes from more RAM. If their notebook has 2 GB or less of RAM upgrading to 4 GB - if the machine supports it - can make a huge difference. Since most operating systems use about 1 GB, upgrading to 4 from 2 triples the amount of workspace for many users.

More RAM is very helpful for photo and video editing as well as users who switch between Word, Excel and Powerpoint frequently. Expect to pay about $35/GB online for RAM. Make sure you get the right type as well.

Personal cloud There are a number of services - Dropbox, Easynote and others - that make it handy to store files on the web. But if you want access to many gigabytes of data, uploads can take weeks on America's 3rd world broadband.

Much simpler to load the files on a USB drive and plug the drive into a Pogoplug. Run an Ethernet cable from the Pogoplug to your home router, install a bit of software on your main machine, and you can backup your choice of folders to the USB drive.

On the road you can access any of the folders from any browser by logging into MyPogoplug.com and downloading whatever you need. And the saved folders are a handy backup as well. Pogoplug is available for less than $100 online, and on sale sometimes for half that.

The Storage Bits take New storage can improve performance, convenience and capacity, adding new life to a road warrior's machine. As gifts they come with memories of home and family every time they are used.

Comments welcome, of course. What would you like to get this holiday?

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