The Best College Grad Gifts

Graduation is great and all, but what comes next? An empty apartment: major buzz kill. Do they need something for around the house, or something to get them started with a first “real job,” or are they going to continue on toward a higher degree? Short-circuit the milk crate blues with these sleek, thoughtful tech gifts for new grads.

A computer is a solid gift for any graduate, whether high school or college. Whether it’s work or just Facebook, chances are good that your grad is going to be interacting with computers on a daily basis. If your grad is college-bound, know that access to your own machine is invaluable when it comes time to do all that homework. There’s never enough seats nor outlets on campus, no matter what shiny new “student center” they just built. The 15″ Dell Inspiron 7000 laptop ($728 at Amazon) is a capable machine that can handle huge Excel files, Netflix, and heavily modded Minecraft with equal aplomb. There’s also the Razer Blade Stealth ($899 at Amazon), which is thin, light, just as capable, and extremely pretty. Remind them to load it up with the software they get student access to.

The Razer Blade for 2017 packs more punch than ever in a sleek .7-inch aluminum chassis

The Razer Blade Stealth. So much pretty in such a slender laptop.

Even if they have a computer that they already love, you can’t go wrong with an upgrade. Assuming that their machine isn’t choking on an extremely limited amount of RAM (4GB really ought to be the minimum these days), there’s a simple way to improve the performance of even the oldest desktop and laptop PCs: add an SSD. Dollar for dollar, there’s no better way to breathe new life into older hardware.

Here’s the secret: make the SSD the boot drive, so OS functions can take advantage of the faster read times. While a new SSD won’t improve game performance (save for load times), it can be counted on to accelerate virtually everything else, including boot time, application load times, and the overall performance of the system while copying files or performing an antivirus scan. This Samsung SSD ($169 at Amazon) comes in a variety of sizes and options, but the 500GB model is an especially good deal.

External storage is another great way to show your grad a little tech love on the cheap. An external drive is a great place to keep weekly backups…or a huge library of emulator ROMs and completely legitimately acquired music and movies that weren’t pirated at all. Remember when hard drives used to be like a dollar a gigabyte? Now there’s this Western Digital 2TB external hard drive ($75 at Amazon). Finally, a plausible amount of disk space.

WD External Drive

The Western Digital Elements external drive. Available in 1, 2, and 3 TB.

Another easy hardware upgrade is a monitor. ASUS makes a solid 27-inch, 1080p LCD ($229 at Amazon). On the high-end, there’s also this wow-inducing 34-inch curved Samsung panel ($829 at Amazon). Guaranteed to make their friends jealous.

Fixers, makers, tinkerers and tradesmen can flex their newly acquired skills when armed with a nice multimeter — something useful to everyone, from apprentice to veteran field engineer. Extech makes a variety of digital multimeters, with options ranging from a kit with different sets of leads to an IR thermometer: no surprise, given that FLIR bought Extech a while back.

For a new grad who’s an iPhone user, there’s the iHome dock and digital clock ($79 at Amazon) — this model can work with 30-pin and Lightning connectors, and for the alarm you can choose your favorite song or playlist, the AM/FM radio, or the usual obnoxious beep. For a timepiece with a harder, vintage-tech edge, try one of these hard drive or motherboard clocks.

If your grad is a musical type, why not get them a nice set of speakers? The Logitech Z323 ($49 at Amazon) comes with a subwoofer and has multiple discrete audio inputs, so these speakers can be connected to a gaming console and a PC at the same time — without having to wire them up using speaker wire. A wireless keyboard and mouse are also useful, especially if your grad uses a computer in the living room as a media box. This Logitech MK520 wireless keyboard/mouse set ($34 at Amazon) might just fit the bill. The mouse is optical, so it’ll work on whatever non-mousepad surface they end up using. Like their pants leg, or old spiral notebook covers.

But my audio needs are not wholly met with sound that’s confined to my apartment. What if I want to take my tunes and go outside? Enter the Boom 2 ($172 at Amazon), a gutsy Bluetooth speaker that can put out a genuinely startling volume of sound without clipping. For real, walking up to this thing while it’s turned up is like walking into a tangible wall of sound: enough to make you understand why we talk about sound in terms of “volume.” It’s rugged enough to stand up to many a weekend four-wheeling and camping. It’s also waterproof, so it’ll blend in seamlessly with the shampoo bottles if they just want to sing in the shower.

By the way, if your newly graduated giftee is a gamer, you can also check out our guide to the best gift cards chosen by gamers, for gamers.

Grads, what do you want for a graduation present? Let us know in the comments.

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