If all you want for Christmas is a little Mac something

It's time for my annual drop a hint to Santa column. Experience has taught me that Santa, or at least some of his better elves, read my columns looking for gift ideas for Mac aficionados. So I create this column just to be sure that any elves researching what you might like get it exactly right.

The procedure, assuming you have not been inappropriately naughty, is to read over this list of most desirable Mac toys, tools and treasures, and highlight the items you wouldn't mind finding under your tree or in your stocking. Then you cut out the column and leave it lying where one of Santa's elves can find it.

This actually works best if you get 20 or 30 copies of this particular column, as you wouldn't want to take a chance on the elves not seeing it.

Let's start with the basics. Had your Mac for a few years? The new ones are quiet and powerful. The iBooks - the best bargain in town - are now at 1.33GHz and are available in two sizes, 12.1-inch and 14.1-inch. They come with built-in wireless and a great graphics processor for under US$1,000. If you make heavy demands on your computer, the PowerBook line will get you up to a state-of-the-art level in three sizes from 12-inch to an awesome 17-inch and with processors up to 1.5GHz.

For those of you who don't need portability, the new iMac is beautiful. Designed in the iPod style, the entire computer - now with G5 processors - is integrated into the widescreen display that you can get in 17-inch or the drool-worthy 20-inch.

Of course, for those who have been really nice all year long, there is the G5 Power Mac. With dual 64 bit, 2.5GHz processors, ultra-high bandwidth system architecture and extreme performance graphics cards, these machines are ready-made for computational heavy lifting.

But what makes these Mac boxes so spectacular are the monitors that they can drive. The top-of-the-line 30-inch Apple Cinema Display is breathtaking, and the high-definition 23-inch is no slouch when it comes to impressive behaviour.

For those Mac-heads whose passion is photography, there are a million new toys out this year, but one of particular interest is the new Canon EOS 20D. With a new second-generation 8.2-megapixel CMOS sensor and a lightweight and compact form, this pro camera substantially raises the bar while lowering the price for this level of performance and value.

For the musician with a Mac, GarageBand has opened new worlds of musical potential. To take advantage, quite a few companies have introduced new tools perfect for Christmas.

M-Audio ( introduced the Keystation 88es, an 88-key USB piano keyboard that is weighted and velocity-sensitive for a realistic piano feel and action. At US$299 it is a great bargain.
For even less, MacMice's GarageKey ( US$119.99) has only 37 keys but sits conveniently above your regular Mac keyboard.

If you have an iPod (and who doesn't these days!) a powered speaker system makes an ideal holiday present. I just bought a pair of M-Audio Studio Pro monitor speakers and they are wonderful. They retail for US$149 and have rich, deep but clean sound. Other speaker systems have more units for five and seven-channel surround sound and a few have more power, but the M-Audio speakers have the best sound and value for creating GarageBand tracks or just listening to your iPod.

If you would like Santa to bring some tools to help your business, I recently reviewed the Dymo 330 label-making printer and the IRIS business card scanner, both of which would make awesome gifts.

I would also like to point out that an iPod makes good business sense as well, because it can hold all of your contacts and schedules from your iCal or Entourage calendar.

Now, I have only scratched the surface with potential gifts for Mac users. I haven't addressed the needs of artists, filmmakers, poets, sportsmen, socialites or adventurers. So if you don't see what you want here, drop me an e-mail telling me whether you were naughty or nice, and letting me know what you would like, along with the e-mail address of a Santa's helper near you. I will drop an e-mail hint directly to Santa with my recommendations.

Happy holidays.

E-mail Dave Horrigan at [email protected] with your Mac queries.