I use a Mac Mini. I am sure you can buy more PC for the same money but I doubt you can find one so compact and runs as quiet.
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No doubt you can buy more hardware with a PC. On the other hand, Macs in general are built to a higher quality level with fewer problems and less up keep. What is your time worth? Do you want a computer or a music server? If you want a server, buy a mac. If you want a computer, it is up to the programs you will run (a mac will dual boot). As for toslink, it sort of sucks compared to USB with my macs. I own both PC and Mac, and would take a mac any day for general use as well... Really, how much time do you waste waiting for a CPU (speed) vs how much time configuring/managing a system (ease of use). Further more, part of the buy in with a mac is the OS. What does it cost to update to new PC OS. For a mac it's about $100 every 2-3 years. They have fantastic tech support in the odd event that you do have a problem you cannot fix. I am no computer guru, but I or my business has never spent a dime on "help". The biggest problem with Mac is that if you are an mid range user and you want to fiddle with the guts/kernel you have to know a little more in order to get through the Mac OS shell into the Unix kernel. My opinion of course...
last year's models are available for a discount. if you know someone in school, you might hook yourself up with a student discount as well. Run it 'headless' and you've saved enough $$ to buy yourself some digital toys.
My new mini just arrived yesterday! Now if only I can figure out what do for a DAC!
One big advantage of the mac mini is that the power supply is separate from the computer, this makes for a very quite (electrically speaking) set up.
Secondly for the most part the Mac mini runs silently in the audio sense, it is rare indeed that you would hear the fan at all in normal operation.
About the only downside is limited HD space, but ideally you should be using an external drive dedicated to audio, and you can even get a matching drive!
Join the cult of the mac mini, the other solutions are really pretty clunky by comparison.
I can vouch for the Mac transition. In February 09, I purchased a refurbished MacBook as my server...now, 6 weeks later and I have now dropped the cash for the new 17" MacBook for my household. Now the server is doing sole duty and a fixture on the audio rack. While I get more and more used to the Mac, i get further and further away from every going back to a PC. In fact, if Intuit didn't make such a mess of Quicken for Mac I am SURE I would never use a PC again...
Enjoy the search, John
The mac mini is definitely quieter and looks better than most PCs for sure.
If you like, you can swap out the hard drive with a bigger/faster one if you won't want the clutter of an external one.
It also comes with a remote so you can use iTunes remotely even without an iPod.
I don't know what to do for a DAC either :)