Muse Reseach is offering a new music product called the Receptor, a hardware module that stores and activates plugins--softsynths, samplers, effects, etc. Native Instruments has its entire product line bundled on one model. It's a general purpose computer as well as a sound card and you can hook a monitor, mouse and keyboard to it, but it also can be "slaved" to a musical keyboard or a software sequencer such as Cubase, located on, say, a laptop.
You make the choice whether the Receptor or your computer is the "center" of your work environment.
If the computer is the center, it will stream audio and MIDI to and from the Receptor using the Ethernet (!) connection. You can run a bunch of softsynths simultaneously and the Receptor takes the CPU hit.
On the one hand, this seems really retrograde, a way for keyboard players to go on the road without a computer.
Also, it's a way to sell another piece of gear when the software revolution was about using your computer to multitask.
But it's up to date in that the Receptor has a Linux operating system that plays the plugins more efficiently than they will ever be heard in Gates World (so they say). It also mixes plugins in ways that would bog down your computer even with the most efficient system (again, so they say). Something to think about--the site has massive documentation including very clear Quicktime tutorials.