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I'm a software developer, planning to get a new desktop workstation. Partly because of company policies and partly because I've got other things to do than building hardware, the machine must be a readily available package from a major manufacturer such as Dell. But I'm overwhelmed by the choice, as I'm not really a PC hardware geek or game enthusiast. Regardless, I would like to get a decent machine since I'll be spending lots of time with it.

Some requirements:

  • Quiet!
  • At least 6 GB memory
  • Quad-core processor
  • Raid 1
  • 24" 1920 x 1200 monitor

Easy enough, but how about:

  • Graphics controller. How much memory? Which chipset? What brand? I have no clue what I need (so probably the cheapest one would do?)
  • What's a good enclosure/chassis? Is some of the Dell ones strudy and quiet?

I had a quick look at Dell Precision T5500, but don't know why I should pick it and not something else. So, any good (or bad) experiences and recommendations appreciated!

Edit: Starting to realize that I'm just looking for a simple good quality computer, nothing fancy, except maybe a bit more than average processor muscle and memory. Nevertheless, raid 1 is still almost mandatory: while normal backups prevent working data loss, they don't help with re-setting up every tiny detail of a good development box in case of hardware failure; it would take days. Well, taking a disk image of a working setup would be some kind of poor man's option, but...

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closed as off topic by ChrisF, Journeyman Geek, Nifle, studiohack Jan 27 '12 at 19:36

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I develop scientific desktop software, using some JVM languages, Python, C and C++. NetBeans and Emacs for IDEs. Some GUI stuff. Nothing web or mobile related. My software occasionally needs to do some serious data processing, so some muscle from the processor is required. –  Joonas Pulakka Jan 14 '10 at 14:54
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for pure software development activity that is not heavy 3D processing, entry level video cards are just fine. Pick one that has two DVI ports so you can plug two monitors at DVI quality. Trust me, once you've experienced the mental productivity of multiple monitors, using a single monitor is like being blinded in one eye. –  icelava Jan 15 '10 at 7:45
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@Joonas: That would be your personal preference if you like one big monitor or multiple. Some people may find one big monitor much more beneficial to their workflow. Some people like the really wide setup of two monitors, but some would put all their money in one big monitor. Sit at your desk and imagine how you work and decide what setup would work better for you. –  Troggy Jan 15 '10 at 8:26
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I'm changing this to CW, since there is no "best" answer as there are too many variables. –  Ivo Flipse Jan 15 '10 at 11:04
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If budget is not an issue 2 decent SSD-drives as a OS-drive will kick a**. If you dont need to store big datafiles (or large amounts of music :)) then the limited capacity of an SSD will not be a problem. –  Ahe Jan 15 '10 at 12:52

8 Answers 8

Have you thought about getting an iMac and putting Windows and / or Linux on there using Bootcamp? The 27" model meets most of your requirements, especially for being quiet, and for having good build quality. They also have decent graphics hardware for a non-gamer-dedicated system.

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Thanks, an interesting option. They seem to be less expensive than what I thought. –  Joonas Pulakka Jan 14 '10 at 14:20
    
Would running the host and the clinet OS degrade performance compared to running natively? –  Dave M Jan 14 '10 at 15:17
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I'm also a developer and i consider Mac OSX to be the ideal development platform because it allows for easy access to all three major platforms including multiple versions of each, Windows, Mac OSX and Linux. Running OSes in VMWare is really quite efficient with minimal performance impact, unnoticeable in most cases. And the cost difference is more than accounted for by the software included with OSX, the stability of Unix, the versatility and the ease of use. –  nicerobot Jan 14 '10 at 19:17
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@DaveM: FYI, bootcamp isn't a VM, it's a way to install Windows natively. So, there's no performance loss - the OS is right down on the bare metal. Bootcamp just solves all the insane driver issues for you. –  Electrons_Ahoy Jan 14 '10 at 20:51

I develop apps for a living... tools include Visual Studio 2005, 2008, SQL Server 2005, 2008, Reporting Services, Analysis Services, etc. I also have VMs (VMWare Workstation) to run older versions of browsers for compatibility testing (IE 6.0), run Servers, and so on. I also do image and video editing (Adobe Photoshop/Premier) on my rig so here are the parts that I put on my latest built and which I highly recommend:

  1. CPU: Intel i7 860 Quad Core Hyperthreading with Turbo mode when not all cores are running.
  2. RAM: 4 x 2 GB sticks DDR3 1333 Kingston Value RAM.
  3. Motherboard: Intel P55 based chipset (Gigabyte P55A-UD4P).
  4. HDD: 1 x 640 GB Western Digital Black for OS and Apps; 1 x 1 TB Western Digital Black for Data; 1 x 640 GB Western Digital Black dedicated to page file, Photoshop and Premier Scratch files, and to store Virtual Machines.
  5. Video Card: ATI Radeon 5850 based. I also use my PC for playing games.
  6. Power Supply: Corsair HX650W
  7. External Drive to store backup and for imaging OS drive: 1.5 TB Western Digital Green.
  8. CPU Heatsink/Fan: Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus.

Dev Machine

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I have a similar setup like yours except my workstation is my workstation only. Gaming happens on another PC, so the workstation has an entry-level video card just to support two monitors. –  icelava Jan 15 '10 at 7:49
    
So this is a self built setup? Thanks, but I need to find a readily available package from a major manufacturer, for reasons described in my question. Apart from company policies and personal time usage, there's a real advantage in that: should the machine break, you'll get exactly similar replacement quickly. –  Joonas Pulakka Jan 15 '10 at 11:37
    
Yes I cherry picked the parts and assembled it myself (with special attention to the PSU and Hard Drives). From experience, any problem with the build will manifest itself after a "burn-in" period of around 2 weeks. After that it is usually the hard-drives that may cause issues which is why I do backups of my data and re-image the OS/Apps disk every few weeks. If, for example, the OS/Apps disk fails, I just get a new one and restore its image from the backup. –  cyclo Jan 15 '10 at 14:15
    
@icelava, more and more apps are now using the GPU to complement the CPU... for example video editing and transcoding applications are starting to do this when rendering/transcoding a video file. –  cyclo Jan 15 '10 at 14:18
    
640 GB dedicated to page file ?? why 640 GB for page file?? when your ram is 8GB??? –  Jeson Park Jul 23 at 18:41

I would reccomend an HP. Their systems are reliable, and they also offer servers, so your minimum reqs shouldn't be too much of a problem.

I prefer HPs over Dell's simply because HP's Technical Support wins heavily over Dell's 2 hour call-time average, and 3-4 year product lifetime. We currently uses HP laptops and desktops for virtually all of our non-linux/solaris machines.

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I had a couple ThinkPads and was quite happy with those; though I'm uncertain as to their quality since Lenovo took them over.
I'm now running an Alienware M17x and it is golden!

Of course this assumes you're considering a desktop-replacement laptop. The laptop itself wouldn't have a 24" monitor, but since they basically come with dual-video built in, you can just slap another monitor (or two or three) on it without any problems, and actually get CrAzY desktop space.

Only caveat with a DR laptop is the price will be steeper; you just need to decide if it works for you. Personally I LOVE working on a laptop instead of a desktop that can't go anywhere. e.g. When we have development/coding meetings or pow-wows at our office, we can all bring our systems into one room and compare notes right then and there. Very handy!

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Laptops have their advantages, but personally I find it beneficial to separate work and non-work; getting to a a physical workplace is some kind of ritual, setting me up for effective working mood for the while I'm there. And when I'm not there, I'll do something else, relaxing my coding muscles. Granted, all this depends on the nature of the work and on the personal preferences of individuals. –  Joonas Pulakka Jan 15 '10 at 8:07
    
Yup, like we said, it all depends on personal preference. Just throwing the idea out there for you. :) Hope you find something that works for you! –  eidylon Jan 15 '10 at 14:02

I have had great sucess with the HP Workstation line. Very broad range. My personal system is an older XW4400Q and it is very quiet and very expandable. Have also looked at the Z800 and it is very quiet and very expandable.
Not inexpensive.

Very expandable, great graphics options and loads of RAM expansion. Great build qulaity and three year warranty standard.

Z800

We have used quite a few Dells and support has generally been good especially if you have the upgraded warranty.

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I've been using a XPC Shuttle with an add in $100 video card. I've got my loaded with 4GB of RAM and a large SATA hard disk. It's running 64-bit Kubuntu and I can also run Windows side by side with Linux using virtualbox should you need it.

Sounds like you'll want to get the highest end shuttle you can afford to fit your quad core processor and extra RAM. If you really need RAID you may need an add-in card for that.

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My team has a bunch of dual quad-core T5400s which we we've been very happy with, and we've recently added some T5500s which are very nice too. If you think you might ever want to plug in multiple Tesla cards for scientific number crunching (or a Tesla plus a top-end graphics card), then it might be worth considering the T7500 variant (much the same spec as a T5500 but in a big chassis with a monstrous PSU). They all seem pretty quiet to me but a lot depends on how noisy your workplace is. If you're not running any 3D graphics, just get the most basic card Dell offer now (probably one of the fanless Nvidia "Quadro NVS" cards) and upgrade it if you ever need to.

If we were an HP shop instead, I'd be wanting Z800s.

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Other than the alternatives already mentioned, I suggest you take a look at the Dell Vostro 4XX series (info from the Swedish page, I couldnt navigate on the Finnish page). I am using one such machine for the past year and I have to say I am very very happy with it running OpenSuse.

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Please add an international link. (Don't know why you are answering this very old question though). –  r4. Jan 24 '12 at 10:23
    
link from Dell US dell.com/us/business/p/vostro-460/pd hmm didn't pay attention to the date, I have to admit... –  posdef Jan 24 '12 at 10:47
    
Jovisst. Jag förstod att det var så. –  r4. Jan 24 '12 at 11:14

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