Tag Archives: developer

Buying a lean, mean, compiling machine

Nearly two years ago I wrote an article about speccing my ultimate development PC. Somehow there was always something more pressing to do. But I finally took delivery of my shiny new PC this week, partly spurred on by the fact that I wanted tried and trusted Windows 7 for the OS. Also my current development PC is getting increasingly crufty after 5 years of continual use.

I emailed my requirements to the top 3 custom PC companies in the UK as rated by PC Pro magazine : Chillblast, Cyberpower and CCL:

Hi,

I’m looking for a PC for developing software. Prime requirements in order of decreasing importance:

1. reliability
2. cpu + disk speed
3. quiet
4. value for money

Here is my wishlist of components:

-i5-3570K CPU
-an SSD (at least 128 GB) + 2 fast and reliable HDDs (7200 rpm, at least 1 TB each)
-ASUS, Gigabyte or EVGA motherboard supporting USB 3.0 and SATA/600.
-16 GB of fast RAM
-Windows 7 64 bit professional
-quiet is good, open to suggestions on sound insulation, fans and/or passive cooling
-AMD Radeon HD 6850 graphics card
-at least 2 USB ports on the front and 2 USB ports on the back (ideally more, ideally including USB 3.0)
-DVD drive
-Gigabit ethernet
-full size case
-kensington security slot, so I can lock it to the ground
-I don’t need a monitor, keyboard, mouse etc
-I don’t need WiFi
-It has to be *super reliable* – I want reliable SSD + HDDs, good quality motherboard, good quality branded power supply etc.
-target price, not more than 1,500 inc VAT, less is better obviously

Can you build something to meet this spec or get close? Please send me the spec and your price (including UK delivery).

Both Chillblast and Cyberpower sent me quotes for a system fairly close to what I wanted within 1 working day. I then spoke to their sales people and went online to tweak their suggested systems using their web based system ‘configurators’. In the end I chose Chillblast over Cyberpower due to:

  • higher rating from PC Pro readers
  • cheaper for a comparable system
  • better warranty
  • better online configurator (I found the number of choices on the Cyberpower online configurator a bit overwhelming)

However there really wasn’t a lot in it. CCL took nearly 2 whole working days to respond to my initial email,  so I discounted them as insufficiently responsive.

Following some suggestions made by the sales people I spoke to, this is the spec I ended up with:

  • Chillblast Fusion Longbow
  • Windows 7 Professional 64 bit
  • Onboard High Definition Audio
  • Corsair CX 750W 80 PLUS Bronze Certified PSU
  • Sony 24x DVD-RW Drive
  • Seagate Barrcuda 2TB 7200RPM Hard Disk
  • AMD Radeon HD 6850 1024MB Graphics Card
  • Intel 120GB 520 Series Solid State Drive
  • 16GB Corsair PC3-12800 1600MHz DDR3 Memory
  • Asus P8Z77-V LX Motherboard
  • Akasa Venom Voodoo Ultra Quiet CPU Cooler
  • Intel Core i5 3570K Processor 3.40 GHz (No Overclocking)
  • Fractal Design Define R3 Low Noise Case – Black Pearl – USB 3.0 Edition
  • Total price: £1089.80 + VAT (inc MSOffice Home Edition)

I take security fairly seriously. I have a motorbike style ground anchor in my office and I want my shiny new box physically locked to it. But I was told that almost no PC tower cases have a Kensington lock slot. This seems crazy to me. My current Dell tower has one and the cost of one tiny little extra slot in the chassis must be pennies. So I had to buy a lock adaptor kit. It’s not the most elegant solution, but it works fine.

I ordered the system on 02-Oct and it arrived on 22-Oct. Here are a couple of photos of the new system with the side panels off.

The PC took a few days longer than the originally advertised time to arrive. This wasn’t a big issue in my case. But I only found out it was going to be late when I emailed them after the expected completion date. It would have been a lot better if they had been more pro-active and emailed me first. Other than that I am fairly satisified with the service from Chillblast so far.

There are a few issues with the case, which aren’t really Chillblast’s fault. It looks rather lovely in its big, black, minimalist sort of way, a bit like an obelisk from ’2001 a space Odyssey’. But the case scratches rather easily if you lay it down to change a component on my laminate floor. The side panels are also a bit fiddly to get on and off (my old Dell PC is better in this regard). Worst of all, it has rubber grommets (is that the right word?) that fall out into the case (and potentially into the fan or heat sink) if you even look at them funny. This means lying the case down to retrieve them, struggling with the side panels and more scratches. I have had to do this at least 4 times so far. It seems that they have made them of rubber that is far too soft for the job. Grrr.

How fast is the new PC? It certainly feels very snappy. I benchmarked it against my old Dell development PC (Dual Core 2.13 Ghz, 4GB RAM) building my event table planner software from scratch. This is 83k executable lines of C++ according to SourceMonitor:

Build time Old PC New PC
Debug build 6 minutes 56 seconds 1 minute 32 seconds
Release build 6 minutes 23 seconds 1 minute 28 seconds

So it is more than 4 times faster than the old PC at its key task – building software. Admittedly it isn’t a ‘fair’ comparison of the hardware. The older machine has a different version of Visual Studio, a different OS and probably some unnecessary services running in the background. But it is the best I can do in the circumstances and I doubt a ‘fair’ test would be much different. Despite the fact that I only went for a mid-range graphics card, the new PC can also handle playing Half-Life 2 on full 1920 x 1200 resolution without any noticeable issues. Hopefully the faster build times will give a significant boost to my productivity (as long as I don’t play too much Half-Life 2).

The new PC is also eerily quiet. I would guess more than 4 times quieter than my old PC. Even when it is doing a build, all you can hear is the faint whir of a fan.

Only time will tell how reliable it is.

Where I program

whereiwrite.org is a photographic project showing science fiction writers and their offices. I started wondering what the offices of other microISVs and small software companies look like. Were they Zen temples of minimalism, with just a desk, a chair and a laptop? Or were they mad scientist labs, piled to the ceiling with obsolete equipment and empty pizza boxes? I rather hoped it was the latter, so I wouldn’t feel so bad about my own cluttered little office. I asked for photos of offices on some forums frequented by independent developers. I got a great response. Click the images to see larger versions.

oryxThis is my own cluttered office. The image comprises 6 photos stitched together using Autostitch to simulate an ultra wide angle lens. This makes it look bigger than it is. My unexciting view of suburban Britain is enlivened by regular sightings of Red Kites. I resisted the temptation to tidy up, beyond emptying the overflowing wastepaper bin. The garage is full of envelopes and CDs and there are lots of programming book’s in my son’s room. We are in the process of selling the house, partly so we can buy a house with a bigger office. I like the idea of a treehouse office – one where I pull up the ladder when I need some peace and quiet.

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whereiprogram-steve

“In my office, I kind of try to separate the digital and analog worlds.  Some days I’ll be coloring with my kids at the oval, English partners-desk in the center and helping with homework, but most days I’m doing software development to the right.  I love it here in the Pacific Northwest; if I’m awake early enough I can catch a beautiful sunrise over the lake right outside my office, and even go for a swim by afternoon in the summertime if it gets too hot.”

Steve Murch, www.bigoven.com

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rv-office“This is my temporary office while on the road. I use the TV as a monitor for the second computer (Windows 7). The normal monitor can be switched between either computer. I sometimes miss the third monitor, lazerjet printer and other stuff but not often.”

A roving microISV, who doesn’t want his customer to know he (temporarily) has no fixed abode

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DSC_6544“Living in Hong Kong, where residential and office space is so scarce and expensive, I work in a small corner of my small apartment. However, I have everything I need: my trusty two years old MacBook Pro, a not too comfortable chair, and a couch where I can take as many naps as I want. Oh, and a nice view of the mountains outside!”

Cesar Tardaguila, www.bambooapps.com

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alwin-at-work

collectorz-programmers-at-work“This is me at my desk at the Collectorz.com HQ. As you can see, I am a Nintendo gamer, vodka drinker and Porsche fan. Now I must say that this not a real ‘where I program’ pic, because I don’t do a lot of programming any more. Check the 2nd pic for my developer team.”

Alwin Hoogerdijk, www.collectorz.com

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iPhone June 23 2009 132“I *hate* having clutter on my desk. You’ll notice that I didn’t show the rest of the office. It’s pretty messy! I started with two monitors several years ago and then moved straight to 4. I can’t live without at least 3 and the 4th makes a nice place to stash IM windows while I’m working. My music computer is on the left side (yes, it’s a Mac!), and I’m not sure that it isn’t the most important computer I own since I could never work without music playing.”

Mitchell Vincent, www.ksoftware.net

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myroom“As you can see the office is as crammed as possible, and the distractions are pretty obvious — the wine is waiting for its place in the cellar, and there is a bottle of whiskey on the shelf.  Oh, and there are two Commodores C-128 behind the desk (invisible on the photo, they worked the last time I checked) along with 1081 monitor and a Playstation or two. And yes, there is a guitar behind the chair. The bad news is that the plans for the new house are ready and the next office will be four times as big! Regarding the workplace as such — I have two 19′ monitors and a computer box under the desk. I spent a lot of time making it silent, which really improves work comfort, especially during quiet night shifts.”

Piotr Kuzora, www.powerkaraoke.com

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ofi-shots-117

ofi-shots-150“This is my home office, in the city center of Vitoria-Gasteiz. Nowadays I spend as much time, if not more, at the J1CK office, my other entrepreneurial project, but this office is great for ViEmu and Codekana work: a lot of light, and the irreplaceable Dell 2408WFP in vertical position. The chair and the table are from Ikea, nothing fancy there.”

Jon Beltran de Heredia, www.viemu.com and www.codekana.com

(who can apparently control his own opacity)

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MJT_Marcus_Office_small“This is in my office looking out on the larger office area.  Our office is in a modern, purpose built office complex just outside the beautiful historic Saxon hilltop town of Shaftesbury in rural Dorset.”

Marcus Tettmar, www.mjtnet.com

(under monitors – where obsolete technical references go to die)

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home_office_tekblues_small“My home office is a large basement, it has windows and good light, but it’s very cold. I am a very messy person, it’s full of books, boxes, old computers and even toys my kids left there. Luckily, it doesn’t show in the photo but my dog left some bones under my desk in the morning!!”

Javier Rojas Goñi, www.tekblues.com

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GreentramDesk“Melbourne city skyscrapers in the background – I’m 26 floors up. I should have done this yesterday when the sun was shining.”

Tony Bryer, www.greentram.com

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IMG_6740_small“There is one thing that is missing in the photo. That is my two year old daughter. She likes to sit on the table and pull out the books from the rack. Unsurprisingly, her favorite is ‘MicroISV From Vision to Reality’ by Bob Walsh. Somehow she enjoys tearing papers off from the book while her father is busy coding.”

Prasanth, www.simfatic.com

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20090624dayoffice

20090625nightoffice“I recently cleaned up my office so I took these photos… but my office is slowly returning to the big mess that it usually is. I need to do a tidy-up before things get out of hand again. I really like my Vornado 542B that’s clipped to a bookcase and set to blow air on me! Really cools me off. I have it on a remote control so I can easily turn it on and off from my desk. I am near Dallas, Texas.

Albert Wiersch, www.htmlvalidator.com

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gurock_office“This is one of the offices at Gurock Software here at the Technology Park in Paderborn, Germany (that’s Tobias in the picture). When we originally looked for office space, we wanted bright rooms with enough space to accommodate large desks and small reading corners. Getting our new office space (and 3×24″ monitors ) was easily the best investment we’ve made productivity-wise.”

Dennis & Tobias Gurock, www.gurock.com

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Dokix2_smallTim Haughton, www.homedocumentmanager.com

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antair_office_1

antair_office_2“This space suits us perfectly. It fits everyone very comfortably. It’s very, very bright, with lots of natural sunlight. The outdoor patio is perfect for morning group breakfasts and afternoon lunches when it’s warm. And … there’s a great pub downstairs to celebrate the days when we ship a new software product or a major update release.”

Andrey Butov, www.antair.com

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office“My office is a mess because I’m a very passionate person.  I love my work and when I’m not doing that, I’m out doing something else I really love.  I have no love of cleaning and organizing though.  In fact, 99.9% of the time I prefer chaos.  The other .1%, I purge my mess and the cycle starts again.  I know this isn’t a good system, but for now it works.”

Ian Drake, www.notifywire.com

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ian_1 “My office is never really very messy… sorry.”

Ian Landsman, www.helpspot.com

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officedog2“Here’s where a real code monkey works.”

Dan Hite, www.spellquizzer.com

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office2

view“I work with specialized hardware for my software and there’s a school bell and a siren/strobe light flashing on the desk.  On the far right side of the desk, I have a couple of IP phones and an IP speaker. I want some additional monitors.  The two I have are a 23″ and a 24″, both at 1920×1200.  I also use a second room as an office in my house and have another PC and a Mac. Below is the view from the window. The trail behind the house connects into a 300 acre park and there are usually mountain bikers and hikers on the trail on the weekends.”

Danny Weidig, www.acrovista.com

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DN_office1_small“Mine’s a bit messy. I stare out the window to distract me from it.”

Doug, who doesn’t want his blue chip clients to know he works from a messy home office

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SAIG+Office3_small

SAIG+Echidna+outside+Office_small“The 16th fairway of the golf course is just through the trees. The group of 3 trees on the left is actually one tree and it is a magnificently old (opinions vary from 100 to 600 years) Moonah Tree. Below is an Echnida which waddled past on Monday.

Neville Franks, www.surfulater.com

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Not had enough yet?:

Mitch Haile’s home office

Scott Hanselmann’s home office

Home office snapshots

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I am not sure which is more diverse, the offices or the software that gets written in them. Thank you to everyone that contributed.

Have you got a bigger, smaller, untidier or more stylish office than any of the above? Do you have a better view out of the window? Add a link to your photo in the comments.