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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.
Speaking of both the iMac and the Skype Studio, the key piece of software that makes it all run is Boinx TV. It's a silly name, but it does dynamic, live post-production, while the show is going on. I've used it to record almost all of the DavidGewirtzTV programs.
What I like: Amazingly capable for a single program.
What I'd like to see: A little more programmability in the interface for switching sequences. I've also run into some sound problems that are probably not BoinxTV's fault, but still continue to dog me as I refine the studio.
Find it here starting at about $499. There's some kind of home version for about fifty bucks, but I've never looked at it. If you're doing dynamic video production, spring for the full product.