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Holiday Gift Guide: The all-purpose Mac setup

Welcome to TUAW's 2011 Holiday Gift Guide! We're here to help you choose the best gifts this holiday season, and once you've received your gifts we'll tell you what apps and accessories we think are best for your new Apple gear. Stay tuned every weekday from now until the end of the year for our picks and helpful guides and check our Gift Guide hub to see our guides as they become available. For even more holiday fun, check out sister site Engadget's gift guide.

Holiday deals are in full swing, and now is the time to start thinking about your gift list. If you are a Mac owner or buying for one, we have a list of some must-have accessories that'll help you create the best all-around Mac work (or play) environment.

External Keyboard/Mouse

If you have an iMac or a MacBook Pro, your system already has a nice keyboard and mouse/trackpad combination. Mac mini or Mac Pro owners will benefit greatly from a nice keyboard and mouse. Top of the list is Apple's wireless keyboard and its Magic Trackpad (US$69) or Magic Mouse ($69). The Apple wireless keyboard ($69) is rock solid and perfect for desktop use. If you pair it with a Magic Trackpad, you can duplicate the awesome keyboard/trackpad combination of the MacBook Pro/Air. The Magic Mouse is also an excellent product for those who prefer a mouse to a trackpad.

External Monitor

This is another category applicable only to Mac mini and Mac Pro owners whose systems ship without a monitor. Most people connect any old monitor, which you can do if you have the right Thunderbolt/Mini DisplayPort to DVI or VGA cable. If you really want a treat, you should take a closer look at Apple's Thunderbolt Display ($999). At 27 inches, this display is big and beautiful. It also contains a MagSafe connector that'll charge your MacBook Pro/Air and has a Thunderbolt port that can be daisy-chained with other Thunderbolt devices.

External Speakers

External speakers are essential for all Mac owners, because the ones that ship on a MacBook Pro/Air and the iMac range from merely decent to mediocre. One excellent but expensive choice is the Sonos Play:3 ($299), a wireless system that lets you pipe your iTunes library all over your house. We reviewed this system earlier this year and liked it quite a lot. There are also a handful of AirPlay-compatible speakers on the market now, including the Philips Fidelio SoundAvia, SoundCurve, SoundRing and the SoundSphere, which was reviewed by our sister site, Engadget. There's also the JBL On Air Wireless ($200) and the compact iW1 from iHome ($299). You can find a full list of AirPlay speakers at the AirPlaySpeakers.com website. If you're looking for wired speakers, Bose is an excellent choice if you can afford it. Otherwise, you can't go wrong with a mid-range offering from Logitech or Creative.

Printer

Every computer needs a printer, and there a lot of options for Mac owners. If you have a Mac and an iOS device, you will want to grab a printer with an AirPrint option, so you can print documents wirelessly from your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch. Pickings were sparse when AirPrint was first announced, but most major printer companies now sell AirPrint-compatible models. Apple has compiled a recent list of AirPrint compatible printers from Canon, Epson, HP and Lexmark. You can find this list in an article on Apple's support website.

Backup Device

Every computer owner should back up their data on a daily basis, and Mac owners are no exception. Apple has made backups easy with Time Machine, a backup utility that ships on every Mac. The best choice for a backup storage device is Apple's Time Capsule (starts at $299). It's an Airport Extreme wireless router with built-in storage for backups. It'll provide an almost zero-configuration way to start backing up your data. If you already have an AirPort Express and only need a hard drive for backup, you can purchase an external drive like the Western Digital My Book for Mac (starts at $139). If you need additional storage or RAID support, there are other options like the LaCie Network Space 2 (starts at $159) or the Netgear ReadyNAS Duo (starts at $299). Drobo and Pogoplug also sell backup solutions that offer greater capacity and additional features like cloud storage and media streaming. We've reviewed several of these products in the past, including the Drobo FS (starts at $699), the LaCie Network Space 2 and the Pogoplug ($45).

Wi-Fi Router

Another must-have for any home network is a wireless router, and your best choice in the Mac world is the AirPort Express ($99) or the AirPort Extreme ($179). Both have several Mac-specific features like built-in support for AirPlay and AirPrint which makes it attractive for Mac owners. The AirPort Express is the smaller of the two and is great for travel and use in apartments and smaller homes. The AirPort Extreme is its bigger brother and is great for use in a larger house with multiple machines. If you think the Airport Extreme is out of your price range, then you'll want to read our article about buying the Airport Extreme to see if its multiple features change your mind. If you still decide to go with a non-Apple product, you'll want to find a model that has gigabit ethernet, support for 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz, and a USB port. D-Link, Netgear and Linksys make quality wireless routers.

External Hard Drive

Most Mac owners will want an external hard drive for file storage. You can choose from a portable, smaller drive like the Western Digital MyPassport for Mac ($199) and the LaCie Starck Mobile (starts at $109). LaCie also has a series of rugged drives (starts at $160) such as the Rugged Mini and the Rugged Safe, which includes biometrics and an encryption option. If you don't need the portability of a smaller drive, you'll want to consider a larger hard drive like the Western Digital My Book. We recently reviewed the 3 TB My Book Studio model. All these drives are formatted for the Mac and can be used for basic file storage and USB-based Time Machine backups. Those who want ultimate peace of mind in a storage device should look at the ioSafe drives. They are expensive, but they offer protection from fire and water. We recently reviewed the SoloPro model (starts at $249). iPhone owners may be interested in the GoFlex Satellite (starts at $209) from Seagate, a portable drive that lets you transfer media from your Mac and watch them on your iOS device.

Wireless headset/headphones

There are a variety of wireless headphones and headsets on the market, but the best ones for the Mac connect via Bluetooth. All Mac computers ship with Bluetooth and will easily connect to a pair of Bluetooth cans without the need for a USB dongle. I have a non-Bluetooth wireless headset from Logitech and am always losing the dongle. Plantronics makes several headphones and headsets that'll work with the Mac including the popular BackBeat 906 headphones. There's also Jabra, which makes the HALO headset and other less expensive models. We recently reviewed the NuForce BT-860, which is another inexpensive but capable wireless headset. When shopping for someone else, make sure you buy the right product -- headphones are for listening only and headsets are for listening and talking.

Battery Backup

If it hasn't happened to you yet, it will. One day, you will be in the middle of editing an important document and a power surge or outage will cause you to lose your work. Notebook owners can skip this advice, but desktop owners need to keep reading. To protect your precious iMac, Mac mini or Mac Pro, you should be using a battery backup. They provide surge protection as well as a backup power source, which gives you ample time to save your documents and shut down your computer in case of a power failure. The most widely available consumer models are made by APC, and they cost as low as $60. CyperPower also makes a decent battery backup, and their latest Adaptive Sinewave models (starts at $130) feature a pure sine wave electrical output. This clean source of energy is better for sensitive electronics.

Accessories for the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air owner

MacBook Pro and Air owners could use a few accessories specific to their portable needs. There are the protective accessories like the InCase cover for the MacBook Pro/Air, the Moshi Clearguard keyboard protector ($25), Trackguard trackpad protector ($12) and the PalmGuard palm rest protector ($20). You can also add an anti-glare film like the RadTech ClearCal (starts at $20) if you have a MacBook with a glossy screen. We've used some of their products in the past, and they make quality stuff.

MacBook Pro/Air owners always on the run may want a 3G/4G portable hotspot device so they have an Internet connection everywhere they go. They probably also need an external charging source like the HyperJuice external battery (starts at $160). Of course, they will need a case, and there are a variety of cases ranging from the ultra-rugged Pelican cases (starts at $200) to the sleek WaterField Designs bags, which are great for the MacBook Air.

Other devices that make having a Mac fun

The iPad ($499), iPhone ($199 for 4S) and Apple TV ($99). All three devices can share content via iTunes, AirPlay and iCloud. You easily can watch the videos on your Mac using the Apple TV and share your photos seamlessly between your iPhone and iPad using iCloud. Because they are so intertwined, it's great to have all these devices in one household.

If there's any must-have accessory that you use with your Mac, share it with us and others in the comments.

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