I’ve used a laptop as my primary personal development machine since 2000. For the last couple of years, I’ve said that I doubt I’d ever buy another desktop machine. However…
My PowerBook is a year and a half old and is starting to feel a little slow, I’ve run out of disk space and there is no relief in sight for the next year or so. My Dell 700m is a nice supplement1, but not suitable as a primary development machine. A few years ago, I didn’t see that much performance/storage difference between a laptop an a desktop; that has definitely changed recently.
Options I’m considering:
- A new hard drive for the PowerBook.
- A PowerMac G5 and finally get that 30″ display.
- A Dell with a pair of 20″ or 24″ displays.
One of my only concerns about going back to a desktop machine is actually the noise factor. I haven’t been paying attention for a few years – are they quiet now?
It may be surprising to some of you that I’d consider buying a PC as my main development machine. I’m not sure if I’d really do that or not, but I’ve used PC’s as primary development machines at BigCo’s in the past. I think I’d miss BBEdit the most, but that might prompt me to finally learn Emacs. My experience on the 700m is that about half the CPU on a windows box is devoted to anti-virus/spyware software, so it’s important to get some serious hardware if you go that route.
The main reasons I’m considering a desktop now are:
- Ability to add bigger/additional monitors.
In addition, my usage of centralized tools like Subversion, Tasks Pro™, FeedLounge and IMAP e-mail allow me to move fairly seemlessly between machines and still have access to my critical data. The native applications and tools I use are mostly cross-platform or have versions on each platform.
I don’t know if the lack of mobility would be an issue or not. I’m also quite comfortable in my office and probably do 85% of my development there. Most of the time, my PowerBook just sits on its iCurve hooked up to the display, keyboard and mouse and I use it like a desktop machine. At the same time, I’m writing this in a coffee shop and it is nice to have everything here with me. Of course, I’d still have the laptop for use when needed.
The comments are open…
- And a lot easier to use on an airplane if I can’t get an exit row seat. [back]
I got a Dell Dimension 9100 with a 24 inch Dell Ultrasharp Monitor. The Dimension is a dual core Pentium D and thusfar, has handled everything I’ve thrown at it. Might be worth checking out if you go the PC route.
BTW, Apple’s 20″ and Dell’s 20″ displays use the same LCD panel.. so get the Mac, but get two of the Dell 20″s for the price of a single Apple LCD.
I’m aware of that – but I’d prefer to get a pair of the 24″ or a 30″. 🙂
Apple has the 20″ refurb displays for $600 and Dell has the widescreen models for $500 in their outlet.
Maybe I should have gotten the 24″ + Dimension 9100 for $1100 deal when it was around.
I am definitely feeling you on this one – I myself switched to a PB fulltime about 14 months ago, and for the first six months or so I was just thrilled by the portability options. Then I started wishing for a bit more performance, the iMac G5’s came out, and iPhoto 5 – my 1.25GHz PB G4 isn’t feeling quite as swift as it used to. I am definitely tempted to add a desktop to the family office. Good thing there’s no way I could afford it right now!
Still that is a very large chunk of change you’re talking about there. You may want to consider upgrading the hard drive – either swapping in an internal 100gb 7200rpm drive or booting from an external 250+gb 7200rpm FireWire 800 external drive. (Or maybe even an external SATA drive with a SATA PC Card adapter.) Make sure you’re running the max RAM allowable and the biggest external screen the PB can drive, and it might be worth the savings.
Still, if you just want more raw power (CPU, IO) – I guess you’d be better off with a desktop. I personally couldn’t stomach going back to Windows. So my vote is for the PowerMac G5 with the 30″ display. That would just be rockin!
(BTW if the PowerMac G5 proves too loud for you, I hear the iMac G5 is nice and quiet. Also, since you’re not in a rush, perhaps you’ll consider just upgrading the laptop right now and waiting for the Macintels, just to see how they spec out.)
At a BigCo in a previous life, Scott had a powerful Linux box running Windows on VMWare and he said it was the most stable and best performing Windows experience he’d ever had. Maybe I should consider going that route too. 🙂
I am going through the exact same issue as you are Alex. I’ve been waiting to see what, if anything, will be released at the Apple Expo in Paris. I figure if a nice G5 desktop is released, I’ll drop some money on either that computer or snag a reduced price listing on the previous generation. That desktop should last me for the next few years, until Macintel comes up to speed. My desktop is almost 4.5 years old now and it’s definitely showing its age when crunching through 16-bit TIFFs and RAW images from my camera!
As far as monitors go, I think I’ll go for a 23″-24″ monitor from either Dell or Apple. I’d love to have the 30″, but that display behemoth is not in the cards right now.
Desktop vs. Laptop
Alex King is considering the Tools of The Trade and debating about moving to a desktop or staying on a laptop for development. I’m shocked that this is even a debate. I have friends who like to develop on laptops
I don’t think you would ‘enjoy’ the Linux experience. Polish isn’t one of its strong points, and I think that would be a huge sticking point for you. I made up for that in the total command line immersion, and Emacsey goodness that Linux afforded me.
Given that half of any Windows box’ CPU/disk is busy with the anti-virus/etc, I would reccomend the G5 and 30″, unless you just can’t pull the trigger on that. If not, the $1100 Dell deal will be back soon, I have been watching, and it comes about every three weeks.
Of course, on the other side of the fence, with an $80 firewall, you can shut off antivirus on Windows, since I know you won’t be installing the original virus, Outlook 😉
I don’t know anything about Macs, but here in Germany, there were quite a few mags with stories like “Mac Mini as File Server”. Maybe that’s an option?
Especially as they are available with AirPort/Bluetooth… 🙂
I recently got an IBM ThinkCentre tower and it is silent. The only sound I ever hear out of it is when a CD is spinning up. I never would have thought to go IBM for a desktop, but it’s a really nice machine.
Development Machine Choices
Alex is ruminating on choices for a new development machine, and since he mentioned me in the comments, I thought I might be able to add some fuel to the woodpile, so to speak.
First, the comment about VMWare. It is true that the fastest Windows mach…
Dells are really quiet. I have 4 of them in my loft, and I can’t really hear them unless I try to.
I’ve heard the Dell 24″ is amazing! I’d love to get two of them on my desk, but I use a notebook for most of my work, and the desktop only for color work, which requires a CRT. yargh.
The storage issue is the reason I use a Thinkpad T42. It’s 5 lbs, but I crammed a 60GB 7200 rpm drive into it, plus a 100GB drive in the bay, which also takes a DVD writer or extra battery. It’s ideal, because it’s pretty easy to shoot 30-40 GB in a week out in the field. 🙂
Not so sure on Dell desktops on the noise front but there are alot of low noise options in the beige box stores i.e. cases, power supplies.
Certainly dual core CPUs will have plenty of grunt to run the required stuff and maintain the OS / spyware / virii scanners.
I’ve done a mix of development on Linux and Windows. If you don’t need full MS Office support then Linux is a good option.
Perhaps a file server could alleviate the space issues ?
I’m a big fan of the file server approach, even for home use. I have a bunch of machines that I basically use as beefy thin clients (except that I cache working files and use sync tools to keep them backed up). the big machine with lots of fans in it is tucked away under the stage.
My favorite selective sync tool is Beyond Compare.
With gigabit become cheap, it all starts to work, even with large files.
I’m not a big fan of Dells in general, as from what I have seen, they tend to malfunction easily. I would also recommend an IBM, as they are great performance wise, and probably easier to upgrade that a Dell, if you needed to. Me personally: I have a laptop for school and a built my desktop, which I am currently using for gaming purposes, but after I reformat it will probably be my main development machine.
If the Dell 9100 + 24″ display deal comes back, I could get a decently equipped 9100 + 2 of the 24″ displays for ~$2500. That is hard to beat.
Modern Dell towers are virtually silent. It’s almost freaking how quiet they are.
I have a dell 20″ and 24″, and I can say that not only is the 24″ bigger, it has a far better image with a lot less back light bleed.
I’m using my DELL laptop for development which includes some big C++ builds, and generally it is ok, but storage is a problem. I tried to get a PCMCIA sata card to work, and eventually gave up on that. I’m now using a USB harddrive which isn’t optimal but works.
I was all ready to order my new development system, but the rumored dual-core PowerMacs were conspicuous in their absense at the “one more thing” event this week. Combine that with the Dell deal being back, and I’m wondering how long…