Allyn and Morry

Allyn's Pick (and how to pull it off):

If you're reading a holiday review guide on this particular web site, you either are or know someone who is into their computer stuff. With me being the Storage Editor, I'm going to make my typical recommendation – get yourself or someone you know an SSD. An SSD as a gift is the best choice to those who do not yet have one themselves, and even better if they have never had the chance to use a system so equipped. The differences in boot times, application and game load times, just about everything really, is just staggering when compared to even the fastest Hard Disk Drives. If your giftee is an old grump that keeps repeating terms like "VelociRaptor RAID" and "pry them from my cold dead hands", trust me, buy them one anyway. They will be curious, and once they try it, those HDD's will suddenly be in a pile collecting dust.

Now that I've (hopefully) sold you on the superiority of SSD over HDD, I'm going to try and cover the base where you are shopping for another person (or even yourself) and want to know the best way to go for them / you. First you're going to have to figure out what system they are most likely to install it into. This should be their main system – the one they are on the most. Here's a bulleted list of what types of SSD will *physically* go into what types of systems:

  • Desktop – Easiest to shop for. SSDs typically come in 2.5" form factor, and even though desktops usually use 3.5" drives, it won't be an issue fitting it somewhere in that relatively huge desktop case.
  • Laptop – I'm talking typical, off the shelf laptop. You may need to do some recon here by either Google searches of the model number or even popping the HDD bay lid and seeing what's in there. The vast majority of laptops come with a 2.5" wide 9.5mm thick HDD installed. Some have a thinner (7mm) bay, and if they do, take note of it for your shopping as not all SSDs are the thinner 7mm form factor. Some laptops even have two of these bays (see below).
  • Ultrabook – If we're talking about very thin laptop that lacks any sort of easily opened bay to access the storage bay, chances are it already has an SSD, and if it doesn't, it has a non-standard super-thin HDD and your shopping choices will be very limited here. If this person also has a desktop, better to get them an SSD for that.

Ok, with the physical out of the way, there's another step of recon you will need to take. That is of the storage capacity they will end up with once the SSD is installed:

  • Desktop – No worries here. They will most likely be able to keep their existing HDDs installed, so by gifting them an SSD you will only serve to increase their total capacity.
  • Laptop – Here is where things become an issue. If the laptop only has a single bay, you'll need to figure out just how much they have stored there. If they like saving *everything* onto their single laptop drive and it's busting at the brim with 1TB+ of data, you may need to enter into 'talks' with them to see if they'd considered an SSD upgrade. Since SSDs are more costly per GB, they most likely qon't be able to fit all of their stuff into that same space, so they will have to have thought out a mentality shift necessary to move some of that stuff off of the primary drive and onto externals. In that case, consider tossing in a large external HDD (see Scott's pick) as a double gift.

Now if they absolutely positively want to keep their 1TB drive, also want an SSD, and want to keep 1TB+ of capacity in their single 9.5mm HDD bay, there is a solution out there. Western Digital has just launched (and we reviewed) a "Black2" combo 120GB SSD + 1TB HDD in a 2.5", 9.5mm form factor:

It's $300, but not bad considering what WD has squeezed into such a small space. There are some that complain about the relative performance of the SSD, but it's plenty capable and on-par with the best performers from 1-2 generations/years ago. Certainly nothing to sneeze at.

Now if you're not stuck with a single 2.5" bay or your giftee has either more mounting room or less of a need for storage capacity, it all just boils down to shopping for the best cost/GB within a subset of recommendations, and those are (all in 2.5" form factor):

  • Samsung 840, 840 EVO, or 840 PRO. In that order. The EVO and PRO get progressively more expensive when compared to the plain 840, but perform better and have longer warranty periods.
  • Corsaif Force GS, Force GT. Again, in that order, for the same reasons as above.
  • Kingston SSDNow V300. These are also going for very reasonable cost/GB.

If you're on an extreme budget but still want to make your laptop owner happy, consider a Seagate SSHD. It is available in 500GB and 1TB capacities and indeed performs better than a normal HDD of the same capacity. It's not the best, but it will certainly speed some things up a bit. The 500GB model is 7mm thin, and the thicker 1TB model performs similarly, but remember that both are handily beat out by the Western Digital Black2.

Morry's Picks:

No system build can be completed (or started for that matter) without finding that perfect motherboard.  MSI really upped the ante this year with their release of their Z87-based MPOWER line.

Courtesy of MSI

The MSI Z87 MPOWER motherboard offers a good price to performance ratio for the performance system builder on a budget.  MSI used their award winning Z77 MPOWER as the basis for this masterfully designed board.  You can see our thoughts on this board in our review from earlier this year.

For my second pick, I choose the Corsair Hydro Series H100i Extreme Performance CPU cooler.  This all-in-one CPU cooler from Corsair offers unprecedented performance in an easy to mount package. With its 240mm radiator and high airflow fans, this cooler performs well enough to keep your prized CPU temperatures under control no matter how hard you push them.

Courtesy of Corsair

See our full review of this amazing cooler here.

All this hardware is great, but is no better than an oversized tablet without something to really push it to the limits.  Enter Batman: Arkham Origins.  

That's right, I picked on of the best games of the year as my third pick.  The latest entry in the Batman Arkham series from Warner Bros studies, Arkham Origins builds upon the technologies used in Arkham City for an unprecendented gaming experience.  Arkham Origins explores the beginnings of the Batman universe, putting the player in an emersive and open world with a well written, plot-driven story.

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