There is always a need for a secondary machine somewhere else in the house. The living room as a media player, the kitchen, guest room, the garage?
Prices are coming down and you can even built one yourself but lets take a look at what is available right now...
Zotac ID33. This tiny machine has Blue-Ray video playback in full 1080p and its powered by NVIDIA Ion video card. The processing power comes from an Intel Atom D525 running at 1.8Ghz with 2GB of ram. It has HDMI output for easy video and audio connection to your TV set and also a 6 in 1 card reader, gigabit Ethernet, WIFI and even USB 3.0. It has a 250 GB hard drive and Windows 7.
Mac Mini. Apple re-designed the Mac Mini this past summer. It is now environmentally friendly, running at only 10 watts. It has a sleek aluminum case and a removable panel for easy upgrades. The power brick is included inside the enclosure, so that means less bulky cable management and taking less space than before. It comes with a variety of ports, from the HDMI, Ethernet, Mini Display Port, built in SD card reader, FireWire, USB and optical audio input. Graphics come from an NVIDIA GeForce 320M and up to 8GB of ram. Powered by a 2.66 Ghz Intel Core 2 Duo and superfast 1066Mhz bus, WIFI and bluetooth are included but no Blue-Ray.
Dell Inspiron Zino HD. 8" x 8" with Windows 7 Home Premium 64-Bit, fits anywhere and has, the now standard, HDMI connector for your TV. You can add a Blue-Ray drive. Power comes from an AMD Athlon 1.6Ghz processor with 2GB of ram and 250 GB hard drive. Video is pumped thru an ATI Radeon HD3200 graphic card. 4-in-1 media card reader and 4 USB ports, 2 of which are located in the front of the machine... great idea!
For the DIY'ers, you can built your own media center but if you are after a small footprint, we have the Artigo by VIA. Designed to offer hobbyists and amateur system builders the opportunity to construct both their own ultra compact PC. Measuring a mere 5.9" x 4.3"x 1.8", the VIA ARTiGO A1000 is a nice builder kit which includes a mini-chassis, cables and power supply. Artigo is powered by a VIA C7 1 GHz Processor and an x86 compliant processor created by VIA labs. The main advantage of the C7 is its low power consumption and low heat dissipation requiring almost no cooling for smooth operation. Artigo has 4 USB, audio, and mic connectors in the front, and LAN, RGB, and power connectors in the back. Additional extension cables for DVI, COM, and PS/2 connections are supplied in the package, though there is no apparent way to plug them in and still close the chassis without drilling an extra hole in it; then again this is a "do it yourself" kit, so it is possible to do this yourself.
Even that all these options are totally valid, we must need to evaluate the task they are about to perform and see if there are some other alternatives that may suit you better to solve the problem, not to mention the additional cost for peripherals, such as, monitor, keyboard and mouse.