If you’re shopping for the tech enthusiast on your list this holiday season, the options are likely to overwhelm you.

Among the swarm of new gadgets this year are dozens of new super-light laptops, tablets, mini tablets and smartphones, all of which offer consumers an upgrade to the sluggish systems they have in their pockets and living rooms. But there are plenty of practical gifts to substantially improve computing performance without starting over altogether – and that can translate to big savings.

If the geek on your shopping list is a multitasker, Paul Rosenberg, owner of the Chapel Hill repair shop Love Your Computer, recommends giving the gift of memory. Boosting random access memory essentially increases a system’s ability to actively run programs.
“Memory prices are really low, and most desktops and laptops (require) only a couple of screws to get to the memory slots,” Rosenberg said in an email.

Although gifting RAM doesn’t require much DIY, Rosenberg does have one important piece of advice about selecting memory: don’t guess. Fortunately, you don’t have to. Using Crucial.com’s Memory Advisor, you can scan your system to learn exactly what you need without having to hunt for serial numbers.

Solid state drive

For bigger gift budgets, you can also crank up the speed of a system by purchasing a solid state drive. That’s often the first stop for Craig Petronella, president of Petronella Computer Consultants in Raleigh.

Unlike a traditional hard disk drive, solid state drives have no moving parts and store data like the flash drive you might keep on your key chain. SSDs allow faster access to stored data, meaning programs and files launch noticeably faster.

They can be a bit expensive, though, especially compared to their older counterparts.

“If a full SSD upgrade is too expensive, they now offer hybrid SSD/HDDs that store the most commonly used files on the flash memory and everything else on the regular portion of the drive,” Petronella said in an email. “This allows for the fast boot times and program launch speeds of an SSD while giving you a reasonable amount of storage for a reasonable price as well.”

Depending on the computer model, installation can be a bit more difficult than for RAM.

But as Bob Chandler, a consultant with Raleigh-based firm MacVantage points out, consumers who choose SSDs basically trade speed and reliability for price and capacity.

“If speed is your big concern, it’s the way to go,” Chandler said. “If you want to store lots of music, photographs and videos, then big hard drives are still the way to go.”

B, G and N

It’s important to note that speed and performance aren’t limited to the stuff inside laptops and desktops. Because these devices often serve as our gateway to the Internet, replacing aging routers can be a dead simple way to streamline your browsing experience.

To find out whether friends and family on your list are due for an upgrade, check the letter associated with the model number. According to Rosenberg, B and G are obsolete standards since replaced by the faster Wireless N. Beyond that, router manufacturers often have a range of N models that offer subtle improvements in speed and performance based on such factors as the number of users expected to connect.

But the bottom line? They’re incredibly affordable.

“Now that Wireless N starts at $40, shouldn’t you retire that old Wireless B router?” Rosenberg said.

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