I'm looking for 2 separate notepooks, netbooks, etc. For a) file server, cloud server and b) receiver as an htpc.
1) I'm using PogoPlug devices to serve up about a dozen external harddrives. Pogoplug devices are too unstable with no explanation by the manufacturer. The laptop will be used for file serving, centralized backups and media sources for my music and movies for streaming to my XBox, DVD players, Roku. Preferably via DLNA. Little transcoding. No HD. Also serving as a "cloud" server that I can access from school, (I'm a grad student).
2) A second notebook attached to my living room media center. a) to allow internet access. b) A "receiver" for my streaming media. If DLNA (TVersity) won't work well enough, I can directly access mapped drives on laptop(a) and use VLC for playback.
I know these can be had for under $500 each as the processing power needs isn't at the I7 level. I'm not sure if discrete graphics is even needed as I won't be transcoding. Eventually I want to use this machine to control a SiliconDust networked cablecard-enabled recorder, obviously recording to the drives on machine (a). I was thinking a pair of 14" I3-based machines with 4 gb... HDMI out... Gigabit networking. Possibly event Atom-based netbook.
Why not a full blown tower loaded with fast drives, max memory, a fast video card? Price, need for reduced power consumption. Plus an HTPC won't fit in my entertainment center which is already loaded with devices.
How about secure internet access to the first machine? I have done my research but am looking for a new set of eyes.
Have you considered something like a mini-ITX nettop setup (Zotac ZBOX, Asus EeeBox)? Laptops seem wasteful/overpriced for something so... stationary. They come in plenty of flavors for the barebone and pre-built variety.