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Your best developer's PC (ideas)

posted Jun 16, 2014, 6:59 AM by Victor Zakharov   [ updated Jun 16, 2014, 7:05 AM ]
This was originally planned as a series of articles about things to consider when buying/building your developer's PC at home/work.
I never got back to expanding it beyond the bullet list plan, but I think this list is useful enough to be posted on its own, so here it goes.
Most of the points reflected here were written >0.5yr ago, and I kept 99% of the original text.

1. PC (hardware)

- custom built
   -- Motherboard, any known brand full ATX motherboard, at least 8GB of memory if no virtual machines, and at least 16GB if virtual machines are planned. Because memory is cheap, get 32GB and forget about memory problem for a long time. 2011 socket should support that (quad channel). Must have USB3 connectors.
   -- CPU, any i7 should work, because all i7s are pretty much same price, get the latest, socket compatible with the motherboard.
   -- CPU Cooler, active only, large fan, blowing up or to the back. Best to get known brands (Noctua).
   -- Memory - see above, get a quad kit of desired capacity (4x4GB) or two, if your motherboard has 8 memory slots (socket 2011).
   -- Hard drives - 3 - system, personal files, backup / file share. First must be an SSD with at least 120GB of capacity. Do a research, find a modern one, don't try to save 20$ on buying previous generations. I have an Intel 520 240GB, partially because of Intel's 5yr warranty. Second can be a fast HDD, or a Hybrid (Seagate), around 500GB or more to accomodate for personal files, documents, photos, and virtual machines. Backup drive is the maximum you can get, at least 2TB I would say, can get up to 4TB on today's market.
   -- Fans + rubber screws, make sure to install 2-3 fans in your case, I use Noctua, but they are fairly expensive, 20$ each.
   -- Power supply - silent, fully modular, 400W minimum, 600W recommended. I have good experience with Corsair AX series, they used to start at 650W. You will be operating at under 200W most of the time, so it helps if the power supply is completely silent at this time.
   -- Video card - not really necessary, for the most part you should be okay with internal video, even for dual monitor setup. Yes, it will usually be DVI + VGA, and VGA is thought to be of worse quality, as everything is going digital these days. But let me assure you that modern monitors have acceptable picture quality over VGA, and chances are you won't tell a difference compared to DVI. If you plan this to be an all-purpose PC (gaming, anyone?), get an equivalent of Nvidia GTX X60 card, which is now 760. Make sure the fan is blowing against the card, and not outside the case. Yes, you will be losing heat dissipation, but you will win on noise. You want to have your PC near silent when not gaming. External exhaust video cards are pretty noisy at idle.
I prefer Nvidia over Radeon, due to numerous display driver issues with Radeon. I had an XFX HD 5770, and they haven't fixed some issues for years that I've owned it. I don't game at all these days, so your experience may be different.
If you need a triple monitor setup, get an external video card. Mid-range video cards should support triple monitor out of the box. So 760 should work fine here, but please check with the manufacturer before you buy.
    -- DVD drive, once in a while you may need one, so get any known brand, they usually go for 20$. If the shop you use offer extended warranty, get that for as much as you can. If extra 5$ can get you 4 years of warranty, go for it, a drive usually fails after 2 years (standard warranty is 1 year). Blue rays are too expensive these days, so unless you watch a lot of BR movies, you don't need it. They also tend to fail more often.
    -- Monitors. 2 or 3. I think 2 is usually enough. 1-2 years ago I would say get a VA, to get equal color under all angles. Today they sell LED + VA+ IPS for some 200$, so you can get best of all worlds for dirt cheap. Don't go for too cheap though, always do your research. I remember reading somewhere that static contrast should be over 1500, but the article was written before LED monitors appeared, so this may no longer be true, as many LED monitors have only 1000 and they look okay to my habit. If you can afford HAS, get that, otherwise go for some monitor stands. Some tables will have native stands, some won't. I never saw a home class table with stands for 2 monitors, so you'd probably be taking that off anyway, for dual or triple monitor setup. You can also use arm mounts, some of them have C-clamp style attachment to the table, so the monitors will not take any space on the desk. Do your search on eBay.

- bought from a PC manufacturer
   -- Make sure it can support your memory upgrade and your hard drive upgrade.
   -- Most manufacturer's PC will not support your external video card, out of the box, so expect to skip gaming in favour of work, if you go with this option.
   -- They are usually noisy under load, because CPU fans are stock, those go as high as 6K rpm.

2. Peripherals

  -- Keyboard - wireless or wired, 3 year warranty, soft touch, quiet, low profile keys and the keyboard itself. If using a high profile keyboard, get a wrist rest. Logitech is good start for research (I owned several keyboards from them).
  -- Mouse - wired only, support for multiple grip styles. I prefer claw grip. If you don't know yours, get a Steelseries, their mice support all. Plastic is fine, a little rubberized feel won't hurt. If you can't get it fully rubberized, get rubber sides at least, this is where your grip is usually seated.
  -- USB hub, 7 ports, if you can afford, get USB3. They often go as 5 + 2, so you would have 5 devices constantly connected + 1 to charge your phone/tablet etc, and 1 for the flash drive, camera etc. Check warranty, most hubs are standard 1 year, others are advertised as lifetime (Belkin).
  -- Printer - research price of cartridges. Many cheap printers have unreasonable price for toner. Get something with >20ppm output, many printers can do that today. If possible, get a multi-function, then you don't need a scanner.

3. Table

Large, deep, 1-1.5 inch thick, solid wood, or mix of wood/veneers. You need to be able to jump while standing on the table, and feel no shake at all. Of course, use common sense, if you are 150KG, this approach may not work.
You hands and elbows need to fully rest on the table. The keyboard needs to rest on the table, not on some sliding tray. Although very popular these days, I find this to be super inconvenient for prolonged use.
Note: Sliding tray seems to work okay, if you have a wrist rest before the keyboard. But even then I would prefer it on the table, if I had a chance.
If possible, the PC needs to be under the table. This way it's less likely to get bumped, you will not be tripping over cables, and also less noise.
Most business/professional/industrial tables have holes in them, to let wires through, so you won't have many hanging at the back.
If not possible, the PC can be behind the table, just put it outside of the normal walking path to your desk.

4. Chair

Task chair only, don't get tempted by a manager's chair. Although it looks cool, you can't sit in it for more than 2 hours, and even that, for years, will get you back problems. You want it firm, not soft. If your muscles/joints hurt in a firm chair, stand up and do some exercise - this is a good stimulus.

Need to have adjustable height, because you want your arms bent ~90 degrees in your idle position, with hands and elbows fully rested on the table. It helps to have adjustable arm rests too, but not crucial.

If you are not on budget, you can buy a professional developer's chair for around 1000$ (more or less depending on your location and options chosen), example: Aeron. I personally haven't tried one, but people say they are good.