7. Building an Appliance/Nettop System

In a strict sense, we define an appliance system as a small, quiet computer that is dedicated to one task or a group of related tasks, such as a home server, a network-attached storage (NAS) box, a media center front-end, or a home-automation controller. In a broader sense, an appliance system may be a general-purpose computer that is particularly small, quiet, and unobtrusive. By that definition, the archetypal appliance systems are the Mac mini and the many models of ASUS Eee nettop systems and all-in-ones.

But we don’t have to buy a Mac Mini or ASUS Eee. We can build our own system based on a 6.7” square Mini-ITX motherboard with an AMD or Intel processor and run Windows 7 or Linux on it. Because we’re designing and building it ourselves, we can optimize our system for our own needs and budget.

For example, we can build an inexpensive, nearly silent appliance system with moderate performance around an Intel Atom motherboard and processor, or we can build a system with mainstream desktop performance around an Intel Core i3 or Core i5 processor. If we want both silence and high storage performance at the expense of storage capacity, we can install a fast, silent solid-state drive (SSD). If our priorities are low noise and high storage capacity at the expense of disk performance, we can install a quiet, high-capacity 5,400 RPM laptop drive. Or we can strike a happy compromise between noise level, capacity, and performance by installing a ...

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