A couple of years ago I began looking for a way to play my rather extensive music collection. Call me lazy, but I was simply tired of getting up to change the CD, and wanted to randomly 'delve' into the forgotten depths of my collection. My first thought was a 200-400 disc jukebox-style CD changer. It didn't take long before I realized the benefits that going to an MP3-based system would have. Far greater titling information and track management, playlists, gapless playback, etc. all made up for the perceived loss in audio quality. Problem was, these were really the early days of DARs (Digital Audio Receivers), essentially small PCs made to look like stereo components. Small non-upgradable hard drives, no network connectivity, and high sticker prices made these non-starters. So even though I was looking for a way to listen to my entire music collection at home, the device I finally went with was a 20GB portable MP3 player, the Creative Nomad Jukebox. Cheaper than a DAR, it had the advantage that it would still be a powerful portable once the technology matured enough for me to get a better solution for home.
Two years later, and I think I'm close to the solution. Oddly enough, it's a product that was already on the market when I bought the Nomad. The AudioTron. Turtle Beach realized strapping non-upgradable hard drive and CD-Rom into the unit made it expensive and quickly obsolete. With falling prices per GB on hard drives, the solution was to make the AudioTron network with the home PC and load the files from there and play them at the stereo. The new AT200 will have TV out and wireless networking, so I'm prepared to wait.
But I still didn't really want to have my noisy PC (which sits in the same room as my stereo) on 24/7 just to use an MP3 player. Was the solution a quiet Network Attached Storage device (Snap Server, for example)? Until yesterday I thought so and had scoured Ebay looking for one that could be upgraded with a nice 120GB drive.
Then I made a startling discovery. A ultra-low power, fanless 533Mhz chip and small-form factor PC that cost half the price of a Snap Server! Using the EPIA 5000 Mini-ITX motherboard from VIA, plus a Morex 2677R case with a fanless laptop-style power supply. Give it a wireless network card, throw it in a closet and it should make a neat silent-running file server for the AudioTron. And in the meantime, I can even use it as a MP3 player itself, since it will run Windows, and even has a SPDIF out. How cool... (and geeky).
Check out Mini-ITX to see all the cool things people have turned into computers with the ITX board: motorcycle helmets, model cars, ET...