My new rig (aka a development box for a geek who is not a hardware nerd)

This fall I got myself a new development computer. I did my usual indecisive Libra thing over for months before settling on something.

My last machine was one that I got arm-twisted into building myself. I’m just not made for this. It should have been obvious when the parts list I selected from Newegg did not include a processor. When the parts arrived they sat in their boxes for 6 weeks. When I finally put it together it took me over 8 hours. And it never worked right. Ever. Even though I spent a lot of time over the next two years trying to figure out and fix it’s problems.

For this NEW machine, I gave it the old college try, having learned from my earlier experience and came up with a parts list that someone kindly pointed out had a motherboard and a case that were incompatible. I made many lists over the course of 4 weeks.

Finally another geek friend told me what I wanted to hear …just get a Dell and be done with it. That’s what I have normally done. This time I did buy it with an advance plan to customize it a bit. So here’s what I did.

I started with a Dell Optiplex 9010. It is a good workhorse for development.

That has an eco-friendly option of a low powered power supply which I was happy to select. I also went for the mini-tower which gave me enough flexibility to add in an extra drive.

The specs I chose were:

  • Processor: 3rd Gen Intel Core i7-3770 Processor (8MB, 3.4GHz)
  • Memory: 4GB
  • Graphics Card : (Proprietary) 1GB AMD RADEON HD 7570 without Adapters (supports 1 DVI and 1 Display Port)
  • Drive: 1TB SATA 
  • O/S: Windows 7 Professional,No Media, 64-bit
  • DVD: 16X DVD+/-RW SATA, Data Only, OptiPlex 901
  • No mouse, no keyboard, no monitor

Thanks to whatever deals were available at the time, this ended up costing $1050 plus tax and free shipping.

At the same time I ordered from elsewhere:

  • Crucial C4 256 SSD drive (2.5” with adapter)
  • Western Digital 2 TB Green Drive (not quite as fast as their Velociraptor but uses less energy :)) 3.5”
  • 12 GB RAM from Crucial

I also ended up needing:

  • a DVI to Display Port adapter for my 2nd monitor (I ended up with this)
  • an extra hard drive tray – proprietary to Dell and specifically made for that model. I should have ordered it with the computer! (for an extra $9 rather than $25 from dell after the fact or trolling ebay)

Putting it all together:

  • I took out the 1TB drive and it’s still on my shelf but will go to good use.
  • I installed the SSD as my O/S drive and the 2TB drive as a secondary drive.
  • I installed WIndows 8 pro on the ssd and split it in half. So 128 for the c: and 128 for d: which will be critical data that I use a lot. The rest of my stuff is on the 2 TB drive.

Note that this is not where I store things like photos and videos. This is just my development machine. I also have a laptop for email, writing, etc and a have an in house NAS that I use for storage and sharing.

  • I also installed the extra RAM so I have 16 GB.
  • I have two DVI monitors plugged into this machine. One is plugged into the DVI port on the graphics card and the other into the display port on the same graphics card (via the DVI to DP adapter I bought).

The performance is great (if you ignore the graphics which are more than sufficient for my needs).


And it’s very quiet which is important because I record screencasts for So quiet in fact that I started getting bothered by the clock ticking on the wall and had to move it!

Where I notice the difference in speed on this machine is when I’m rendering videos in Camtasia. I imagine some of this may be due to the fact that it’s also a new version of Camtasia, but the videos render SO fast. What used to take about 45 minutes now takes about 2 minutes. I’m sure that the RAM, the processor and the SSD all contribute to that.

So I’m happy with this and have been using it for a few months now and just wanted to share in case anyone is in my boat — which is that I am NOT a hardware nerd and don’t have it in me to become one. And it did not cost me an arm and a leg. All told it was under $1500 which is relatively inexpensive for what I ended up with. Also, I need to consider that this is one of the few monetary investments I have to make for my business once every few years which makes it a bargain!

Sweating over all of the options will be the death of me some day. Thanks to the super-sensible Ryan Christensen-Schwarz (@mamanze) for talking sense into me. He was the one who said “oh just get a Dell”.

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10 thoughts on “My new rig (aka a development box for a geek who is not a hardware nerd)

  1. Hi Julie,

    I tried to say that to, but sometimes in an effort to be nice I end up unclear. Congrats on the new machine!


  2. ahh you’re always nice and very helpful Mark. Ryan just said "get this dell optiplex. It’s quiet and it’s good enough for me so probably for you too." He even highlighted the low power PSU option for me. 🙂

  3. I’ve had great experiences with using AVADirect for my systems the past several years. It’s slightly more than Newegg prices, but they built/test it then send it over.

  4. Hi Julie,

    Thanks for this post. I was just going to start my list-building cycles, yet this is just sooo much easier & I’ve not a lot of time to be spending trying to be a hardware nerd either! I’ll probably follow your specs right down to the minute… thanks again! Oh, and I’m learning a LOT from your Pluralsight videos!

  5. It’s interesting that anyone can be quite good at programming and quite bad at building a system. I wouldn’t buy vendor-built in a pink fit, because they make appalling compromises designed to maximise their profits, they use non-standard parts, B-grade memory, inadequate ventilation… the list of reasons goes on. Building my own system doesn’t necessarily save me money, but I always get a far better quality system that’s very fast and easy to repair (because it’s never hard to get replacement parts). My current system boots Win7 in about 8 seconds. I understand why you didn’t want to build your own, but I feel let down on your behalf that none of your hardware oriented friends stepped into the breach.

  6. @Peter, oh they tried. But after the first failure, I didn’t want to hear of it. 🙂 Maybe I’ll get back in touch with you in 3 or 4 years when I’m ready to go again. 🙂

  7. Julie would you expand on the details of your dual monitor set-up? I am just looking for an excuse to upgrade to a second monitor for my Visual Studio based work.

    My current thinking is an asymmetric screen config with a new large primary monitor @ about 27" and my current 22" relegated to a side jockey role for trace/debug windows.

  8. Julie, after Tweeting with you recently on your BDD forays, I decided to surf over and check out your blog. After having met you at Codemash 2012 (we played games until the wee hours with @ardalis and friends), I truly enjoyed your company. Now I learned something from your post that makes sense of why I knew I liked you when we first met. You and I are both Libras. I totally got your remark about being indecisive. Heck, one of the big reasons why I don’t have a blog yet (besides time constraints) is because I haven’t figured out what blogging software to use. Anyway, I wanted to leave you a note and let you know I enjoyed your post. Thanks for all your efforts in the community and being such a great contributor and sharer of knowledge. Someday I hope to have a fraction of your knowledge.

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