My Favorite Tech: Year End Review & Gift Shopping List

This is going to be that obligatory shopping list post and obligatory year-end view post combined into one. But let’s face it, it’s really a blatant attempt to make some money since most of the links are affiliate links and clicking on them and buying something will send a little money my way to help defray the cost of the quest. Along those lines the picture links to Egghead where I buy most of my hardware and the text links head to Amazon.com.

Computer Hardware

As I previously mentioned, the Western Digital Caviar Green 1TB 3.5″ SATA 3.0Gb/s Hard Drive is my drive of choice, with nine of them in the house. They aren’t the fastest drives but they run cool and quit and they’ve been reliable. They work well in my Windows Home Server and Drobo. The drives are also available from Amazon. The prices just keep dropping and both Amazon and Egghead have them for $105.

The Xion XON-SAHDCB-USB SATA HDD to USB 2.0 Dock Station has been a mainstay on my desk for about 3 months. I use it to backup files from my Windows Home Server and to pull data off the odd drive laying around. I have the USB only version but there’s a newer version with an eSata connector along with a multi-card reader and additional USB ports. I get about 15MB/sec which is about the USB maximum on my iMac.

The Corsair 32GB Flash Voyager USB 2.0 Flash Drive has been a constant companion since I got it. It’s fast (as fast as any other USB drives on my systems) and reliable. I did pick up the 8GB version when it was on sale. The performance of that one wasn’t as good.

Software

Parallels Desktop 4.0 for Mac was recently released while VMware Fusion 2 has been around for awhile. Parallels was first on the Mac scene but Fusion is a solid performer built on VMware’s virtualization experience. I use Parallels on my iMac and Fusion on my Macbook. I like both and haven’t been moved to replace either one. If I was buying one today I’d probably pick VMware Fusion based on cost. I’ve only paid for the original product and so far upgrades have been free. Parallels has been a paid upgrade each time around.

Photography

I got the Canon Digital Rebel XSi earlier this year and I’m loving it. I switched from a Nikon DSLR. I knew the picture quality would be better since due to the newer technology. But I also find the controls and interface easier to use. Now if I can only improve my own photo taking capabilities to match the camera.

The SanDisk Extreme III 4GB SDHC Card works well in my Canon. I purchased it from Amazon bundled with a USB reader since I didn’t have SDHC reader already available but that bundle doesn’t seem to be available anymore. But Egghead does have a SanDisk 6GB Micro SDHC Flash Card w/MicroMate reader available.

A nice wide angle lens that gets great reviews. It’s been on my camera more than the kit lens of the 50mm I have. I almost held off buying this figuring I’d want to get a lens with a little more range first. I’m glad I went for this one.

Backup & File Recovery

Mozy is what I use for my offsite backups and I’m currently backup up over 159K files totally over 42 GB. They offer a free 2GB account which I use for my MacBook (Both OS X and Windows). The paid account is $5/mth. Whether or not Mozy (or any Internet based backup) is for you depends upon your upload speed. You should try out the free account first to make sure it’s fast enough for you. Just expect that first backup to take awhile (days even) but once that’s done it will only backup changes. I exclude large files like videos and even my music library. I write about Mozy in several articles and cover my backup strategy here.

When Internet backup isn’t an option Time Machine is a great alternative. Even with Mozy I still use Time Machine to back things up locally. To use Time Machine you’ll need an external drive. I’m a fan of the Western Digital MyBook line of drives. The 500GB, tri-connection (usb/fw400/fw800) drive if quiet, fast and reliable. It’s been running on my desk since I got it. Other external drives I got after it have already fallen into disuse. While I don’t currently use it, the Western Digital My Book Mirror Edition 2TB USB 2.0 (WDH2U20000N) is the one on my radar and is down to $250. The quad interface version (usb/fw400/fw800/esata) version is under $300.

And when the files are deleted and there’s no backup there’s still Data Rescue II from ProSoft Engineering. I write about Data Rescue II here.

What’s Not On The List – But I Wish Could Be

There’s a few things that aren’t on my recommended list but may appeal to some people or may have had the kinks worked out of them.

The Data Robotics Drobo 4-Bay with USB 2.0 and FireWire 800 has turned out to be a solid performer for me but wasn’t without its problems. While simple to setup and use I wasn’t alone in having performance issues. At $400-$500 (depending on discounts and rebates) for the Drobo itself plus the cost of the drives it’s not a inexpensive solution. Still, a lot of people like it and I am still reliably using it.

I’d love to be able to recommends the Seagate 1.5TB Barracuda drives. But as I recently encountered the lockup problem I can’t.It’s supposed to be resolved with a firmware update and if it is it may replace the Western Digital 1TB green drives in future purchases. Now if Western Digital would just release a reliable 1.5TB green drive.