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CNET 100: This month, bargain tech elbows out the rest

The results for our monthly gadget leaderboard are in. In the final days of 2013, the balance of popularity shifted to devices that cost less than $100.

Welcome to month two of our tech leaderboard, where we use a unique algorithm to tell you which tech (currently for sale) is getting the most buzz. Consider the CNET 100 a Billboard 100 for gadgets.

Last month, we kicked off with a list that showed the power of Google and the impact that November's big gadget announcements made. This month, we see how the December rush of gift-buying played out. Remember: Even though CES is already behind us, very few 2014 products exist in the wild now. This list gives one last nod to the tech that beat the rest for holiday shopping dominance before a new wave of 2014 devices rolls in.

See the full CNET 100 gadget leaderboard.

But first, I'd like to walk you through how we determine the list. We heard from a few of you that you'd like to know what goes into the algorithm and while I can't give away down-to-the-percentage details, I can share the approach. We use three factors to determine the ratings: inbound search volume, clicks on CNET, and our editors' ratings. The inbound searches measure the visitors to CNET who get to us by typing a product's name into a search engine and ending up on our site. Because CNET is the world's largest tech reviews site (by far), this metric tells us reliably what the broad marketplace is looking for.

The second metric -- clicks on CNET by users -- shows how readers and viewers react to the products on the site once you arrive. It measures how excited you are to read about a specific gadget. Finally, we factor in our editors' rating to make sure that nothing hits our popularity list simply because it's getting bad press. We want to make sure this list reflects the gadgets that capture the world's interest and enthusiasm.

But enough about math. Now for the rundown. We were a little surprised to see the Samsung Galaxy S4 top this month's list. Traditionally, smartphones make a challenging holiday gift because to give one requires knowing a lot about your giftee's carrier and mobile service contract. It's hard to know exactly why the GS4 popped back up to the top from last month's second-place position, but now that the T-Mobiles of the world are doing away with the more traditional, two-year contract, gifting a phone is getting easier.

The second-most-popular gadget on the list makes sense instantaneously. The Google Nexus 7, still our favorite Android tablet after many months on the market, is a hands-down great bargain. Even with the expectation that we'll hear about a Nexus to replace it in the not-too-distant future, this gadget makes an easy and welcome gift. It's affordable. It's useful. And we know from our own research that tablets dominated holiday buying in 2013.

The CNET 100's real winners don't take the top four spots, though. The products that jump the most? Anything that costs less than $100, starting with the world's two most popular streaming boxes. The Roku 3 jumped eight spots to land at number five, and Apple TV jumped five spots to number 6, neck and neck with Roku. The $30 Google Chromecast jumped an amazing 13 spots to number 9, no doubt because it makes the perfect stocking stuffer or easy gift for that coworker you don't know very well.

Moral of the story for the tech industry is that price paired with quality is king. Big PR buzz lingers a little while, but when push comes to shove and shoppers face an unmovable holiday deadline, the best bargains stand out.

Please explore the rest of the list -- you'll find fascinating surprises even at the bottom.