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Monster notebook: Sager 9150
This isn't the prettiest notebook in the world, and it certainly isn't the smallest. But it solved a very interesting problem: how to run a whole network of virtual machines on one portable computer.
This machine can be configured with up to 32GB of RAM, the usual high-performance SSD as a C drive, and a 7200RPM second drive (or another SSD, if you want to pony up the cash). It also supports high-performance gaming, and I'm currently hanging two 24-inch monitors off of it.
I looked everywhere for a notebook that could handle 32GB of RAM, and it was only when ZDNet's Jason Perlow suggested this beast that I found the answer I wanted.
Also, points go to the Sager tech support people. I had a few initial problems and they were helpful, responsive, and quick to get me up and running. I didn't expect it, and it was very appreciated.
What I like: Boatloads of RAM, fast, and fast.
What I'd like to see: Some personality.
Find it here starting at about $1,500.
Mini Asus and Xotac boxes
There's always a use for another little computer. I use them as backup engines, media servers, server monitors, development staging machines, and more. The point is, these little beasts are under $225, smaller than a printed textbook, reasonably fast (but not, you know, fast), and easy to configure.
You can store a few of them on a shelf, and if it turns out you need a spare computer for something, just spin one up quickly and easily.
What I like: Inexpensive and small.
What I'd like to see: A high-performance option.
When the little Atom-powered Zotac and EEE boxes can't cut it, there's the Mac mini. I'm not a fan of OS X, but I've been hard pressed to find another box this small, this powerful, and this inexpensive.
I have two of these tiny powerhouses. The first is a 2011-vintage Mac mini server, hosting two 7200 RPM drives, and 16GB RAM, all in the service of running the Skype Studio. This thing can run and process multiple video streams, do dynamic rendering, and produce video, all almost silently, and taking up less space than a dinner plate.
I just bought a second one, a 2012-vintage Mac mini, that will run one of my content analysis servers, replacing the Zotac, which is just too slow. In fact, I'm moving the virtual machine running on the Zotac to the Mac mini, and no other configuration will be required, except that I get a heck of a speed bump.
These are great, all-around powerful boxes that fit anywhere. Of all Apple's products, this is the one I most hope they never discontinue.
What I like: Fast, small, and relatively inexpensive.
What I'd like to see: Less Apple attitude.
Find it here starting at about $599.