The Ultimate Developer Machine Contest…At Work!

You may have heard of the Ultimate Developer Machine competition between Scott Hanselman and Pete Brown in which they competed against each other to build a machine with a 7.9 Windows Experience Index score.  I recently put together a new developer machine, a server and a Windows Home Server with decent results.  I’m definitely a fan of building my own machines as I think it’s fun and it’s a nice way to customize for your specific needs.

However, I was absolutely thrilled that the CIO of the company I work for decided to host a work sponsored “Build the Ultimate Rig” contest.  With a $1,500 budget, pizza party run-off, prizes and getting to use the machine when we’re done, it’s a great way to help foster a fun work environment.  Plus, how many times have you complained about the standard piece of garbage companies hand out to their developers (if you’re like me, then the answer is “a lot”)?  This is a chance for us to put our money where our mouth is and build something we really enjoy working with. 

Here’s the part list I came up with (no over-clocking or water-cooling allowed):

Qty Product Price
1 NZXT Phantom PHAN-001BK Black Steel / Plastic Enthusiast ATX Full Tower Computer CaseNZXT Phantom PHAN-001BK Black Steel / Plastic Enthusiast ATX Full Tower Computer Case $139.99
1 EVGA SuperClocked GeForce GTX 560 Ti (Fermi) 01G-P3-1563-AR Video CardEVGA SuperClocked 01G-P3-1563-AR GeForce GTX 560 Ti (Fermi) 1GB 256-bit GDDR5 PCI Express 2.0 x16 HDCP Ready SLI Support … $259.99
1 Antec EA750 750W Continuous Power Antec EarthWatts EA750 750W Continuous Power ATX12V version 2.3 SLI Certified CrossFire Ready 80 PLUS Certified Active PFC … $89.99
1 G.SKILL Ripjaws X Series 8GB (2 x 4GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600 (PC3 12800) Desktop MemoryG.SKILL Ripjaws X Series 8GB (2 x 4GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600 (PC3 12800) Desktop Memory Model F3-12800CL8D-8GBXM $99.99
1 GIGABYTE GA-P67A-UD3-B3 ATX Intel MotherboardGIGABYTE GA-P67A-UD3-B3 LGA 1155 Intel P67 SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.0 ATX Intel Motherboard $129.99
1 Intel Core i7-2600 3.4GHz LGA 1155 95W Quad-Core Desktop ProcessorIntel Core i7-2600 Sandy Bridge 3.4GHz (3.8GHz Turbo Boost) LGA 1155 95W Quad-Core Desktop Processor BX80623I72600 $299.99
1 Crucial RealSSD C300 CTFDDAC064MAG-1G1 2.5Crucial RealSSD C300 CTFDDAC064MAG-1G1 2.5″ 64GB SATA III MLC Internal Solid State Drive (SSD) $144.99
1 OCZ Vertex 3 Series – MAX IOPS Edition VTX3MI-25SAT3-120G 2.5OCZ Vertex 3 Series – MAX IOPS Edition VTX3MI-25SAT3-120G 2.5″ 120GB SATA III MLC Internal Solid State Drive (SSD) $319.99
  Subtotal $1484.92
  Shipping $10.23
  Grand Total $1495.15

* Images are courtesy of Newegg *

As you can see, I slid in right under the $1,500 limit.  Like all things, I had to make some trade-offs to hit my budget but I tried to make good decisions based on what I learned from previous builds.

For instance, I wanted to get a second OCZ SSD (have you seen the read/write rates on this thing?!?) but couldn’t make that work so I settled for a slower second SSD that I will put my main applications on (like Visual Studio).  I wanted to try RAID0 with SSDs but that was too expensive.  I also wanted to get a third drive that was a large data drive, but again I’m right at the limit so it was one of the things to go.  Same went for the i7-2600 instead of the i7-2600k (or even better the i7-980X for a mere $1k).  I splurged on the case because if cases could look hot, this one would be smoking.  I also upped the video card (even though the i7-2600 comes with built in HD) because I didn’t want the graphics to limit my WEI score.

I’m positive that this machine will be a blast to work with on a daily basis, and I’m hopeful that I’ll be respectable in the competition.  Let me know what you think of the build or where you think I could have made better trade-offs.

If you’re interested in working at a company that has these kind of fun events and treats their developers like valued members of the organization, please email me at sean.briscoe@inmar.com (or tweet @seanbriscoe) as we are always looking for talented developers willing to work in Winston-Salem, NC.

Windows Home Server 2011 – My Custom Build (Part 2)

Now that I’ve got the hardware for my build, let’s look at what I actually did with it.  As you may recall, the main reason I went with a custom build was for the RAID so let’s start there first.

After taking out the drives in my old MediaSmart, here’s what my hard drive configuration looks like:

image

From the WHS Dashboard, you can see the the drives:

image

* Note that WHS 2011 creates a 60 GB C: partition for the OS.

And I’ve arranged the folders:

image

I didn’t mirror the OS drive simply because I didn’t have a second matching drive and didn’t want to buy any more drives than I already had.  In retrospect, I wish I’d just bought a 1.5 TB drive and used one of my existing ones to mirror as the 500 GB drive is kind of a waste.  When this drive crashes, I’ll buy two new drives and mirror them (and test out the restore process while I’m at it).

I have the Documents, Music and Pictures on the RAID1 drive for safety and the 1.5 TB’s will be plenty of space for these three things even long term.  The RAID5 drive I’m using for stuff I don’t care about quite as much and that is likely to take up a lot of space.

As you can see from the WHS Dashboard image, I am backing up to an external USB drive.  I should say supposed to be backing up to it because right now it fails pretty regularly (a separate post on that in due time).  I’ve also got another external USB drive that I’ll put in the fire safe.  Lastly, I plan on adding a cloud based back-up solution (Cloudberry is the forerunner right now).  Once I have my backup / restore plan in place and tested, I’ll do a follow-up post on that.

* Hard drive images are from the Crystal Clear set of icons.

Windows Home Server 2011 – My Custom Build

I was previously a big fan of Windows Home Server (v1) and had purchased HP’s MediaSmart server.  This served me and my family well until the OS drive failed.  I replaced the drive and reinstalled the OS using the appropriate CD’s from HP.  Thankfully I didn’t lose any data (that’s the point of WHS after all), but remote access never worked for me again.  Given that I have a lot of geographically distributed family that used the server, a non-working remote access is a serious problem.

About this time, WHS 2011 went RTM so I thought it was the perfect time to go for an upgrade.  Unfortunately, a software upgrade wasn’t really an option from Microsoft (even more so since HP has dropped future WHS hardware).  I thenI looked at re-purposing the MediaSmart hardware and doing my own installation.  The first hurdle is that the MediaSmart server I have is 32-bit and WHS 2011 is a 64-bit only OS.  I considered upgrading some of the internals, but ultimately decided against it because Drive Extender was dropped from WHS.  DE’s removal from WHS 2011 caused a lot of angst and gnashing of teeth among enthusiasts, but I’ll save my thoughts on that for another post.

The point is that Drive Extender created a pool of storage that enabled an easy approach to redundancy (mirror) and different size drives that will definitely be missed.  Now that it’s gone, I needed an alternative…enter RAID.  Since my MediaSmart server didn’t support RAID, I figured it was time to build a new server.  More important than form factor, I wanted something cheap.  I’ve already got a big desktop and another tower server, so one more wasn’t that big of a deal.

Here’s the hardware I ended up with (all from Newegg along with the pictures):

Qty Product

Price

1 G.SKILL Ripjaws Series 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600 (PC3 12800) Desktop Memory Model F3-12800CL9D-4GBRL
G.SKILL Ripjaws Series 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600 (PC3 12800) Desktop Memory

$49.99

2 3ware CBL-SFF8087OCF-05M 1 unit of 0.5m Multi-lane Internal (SFF-8087) Serial ATA breakout cable, forward
3ware CBL-SFF8087OCF-05M 1 unit of 0.5m Multi-lane Internal (SFF-8087) Serial ATA breakout cable, forward

$39.98
($19.99 ea)

1 Antec earthwatts EA500 500W Continuous Power ATX12V v2.2 80 PLUS Certified Active PFC “Compatible with Core i7/Core i5″ …
Antec earthwatts EA500 500W Continuous Power

$69.99

1 SAMSUNG Spinpoint F3 HD502HJ 500GB 7200 RPM SATA 3.0Gb/s 3.5″ Internal Hard Drive -Bare DriveSAMSUNG Spinpoint F3 500GB 3.5

$49.99

1 GIGABYTE GA-H55M-USB3 LGA 1156 Intel H55 HDMI USB 3.0 Micro ATX Intel MotherboardGIGABYTE GA-H55M-USB3 Micro ATX Intel Motherboard

$109.99

1 Intel Core i3-540 Clarkdale 3.06GHz LGA 1156 73W Dual-Core Desktop Processor BX80616I3540Intel Core i3-540 3.06GHz LGA 1156 73W Dual-Core Desktop Processor

$119.99

1 HighPoint RocketRAID 2680 SGL PCI-Express x4 SATA / SAS (Serial Attached SCSI) Controller CardHighPoint RocketRAID 2680 SGL PCI-Express x4 SATA / SAS (Serial Attached SCSI) Controller Card

$99.99

1 Antec Three Hundred Black Steel ATX Mid Tower Computer CaseAntec Three Hundred Black Computer Case

$59.95

  Subtotal $599.87
  Shipping $18.53
  Total $618.40

I plan on using the hard drives from my existing WHS which is why you don’t see more space here.  The form factor sucks compared to the MediaSmart or Tranquil PC’s Leo HS4, but it’s got room for the future.  Plus, the major reason I went with a custom build is to incorporate RAID while still keeping it pretty cheap.  This price point is about the same as the MediaSmart and less than the Leo, so I hit my goal.

In a later post, I’ll detail out what I did with the hardware in terms of how I set up my shares.

New Developer Machine

I recently found myself in the market for a new development machine.  My previous development machine was a Lenovo T61p and while it was good for every day tasks it was not everything I hoped it would be for development (typically 2-4 Visual Studio 2010 instances, 10-20 browser tabs, iTunes, photo editing, emulators, outlook and occasionally Messenger).  So as I started to look into getting a new development machine, I knew I wanted to get a beefier class of machines.  As I looked into the prices for some high end laptops with room to grow, I realized I was going to have to spend a lot more money than I wanted.  Combine that with the fact that I had used my laptop outside of my office probably all of six times over the last two years and I came to the conclusion that it was time to start looking at desktops again.

While I am a huge fan of Scott Hanselman, I do not have $3k to spend on the Ultimate Developer Rig.  While I would definitely like a machine with a Windows Experience Index of 7.9, I just cannot justify the cost (trying to run a profitable business here).  What I really wanted was something solid in the $1k range that would noticeably improve my development experience.  I am not a hardware expert, so this is not a recommendation of any kind.  Rather, I just wanted to provide some information on the components for the machine I built and some of the results I have experienced first hand.

I used the following guidelines to help with my purchasing decisions:

  • I want to be able to expand the obvious areas (hard drives, memory, etc) in the future.
  • Find a balance between cost and performance.  Remember, I am shooting for around $1k.
  • SSD is a must as I really want to try it out.
  • Secondary larger data drive to keep to the second and third points (I would love a 200+ GB SSD but that really blows my budget).

With that in mind, here is my final parts list (all from NewEgg along with the pictures):

Qty Product Price
1 LITE-ON 24X DVD Writer Black SATA Model iHAS424-98 LightScribe Support
LITE-ON 24X DVD Writer Black SATA Model iHAS424-98 LightScribe Support
$25.99
1 Antec Nine Hundred + EA650 Black Steel ATX Mid Tower Computer Case 650W Power Supply
Antec Nine Hundred + EA650 Black Computer Case With Side Panel Window
$159.99
1 Rosewill RX-C200 2.5” SSD / HDD Aluminum Mounting Kit for 3.5″ Drive Bay
Rosewill RX-C200 2.5” SSD / HDD Aluminum Mounting Kit for 3.5" Drive Bay

* This ended up not working in the Antec case.

$9.99
1 ICY DOCK MB990SP-B Dual 2.5″ to 3.5″ SSD & IDE/SATA HDD Bracket

ICY DOCK MB990SP-B Dual 2.5" to 3.5" SSD & IDE/SATA HDD Bracket

$14.99
1 WD SiliconEdge Blue SSC-D0064SC-2100 2.5″ 64GB SATA II MLC Internal Solid State Drive (SSD) – OEM
WD SiliconEdge Blue SSC-D0064SC-2100 2.5" MLC Internal Solid State Drive (SSD) - OEM
$119.99
1 EVGA 512-P3-N871-AR GeForce 9800 GTX+ 512MB 256-bit DDR3 PCI Express 2.0 x16 HDCP Ready SLI Support Video Card
EVGA GeForce 9800 GTX+ 512-P3-N871-AR Video Card
$119.99
1 CORSAIR XMS3 6GB (3 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600 (PC3 12800) Triple Channel Kit Desktop Memory Model TR3X6G1600C9
CORSAIR XMS3 6GB (3 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600 (PC3 12800) Triple Channel Kit Desktop Memory
$159.99
1 SAMSUNG Spinpoint F3 HD502HJ 500GB 7200 RPM SATA 3.0Gb/s 3.5″ Internal Hard Drive -Bare Drive
SAMSUNG Spinpoint F3 500GB 3.5
$54.99
1 Intel Core i7-930 Bloomfield 2.8GHz LGA 1366 130W Quad-Core Desktop Processor BX80601930
Intel Core i7-930 2.8GHz LGA 1366 130W Quad-Core Desktop Processor
$289.99
1 GIGABYTE GA-X58A-UD3R LGA 1366 Intel X58 SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.0 ATX Intel Motherboard
GIGABYTE GA-X58A-UD3R ATX Intel Motherboard
$199.99
2 ASUS VW246H Glossy Black 24″ 2ms(GTG) HDMI Widescreen LCD Monitor

ASUS VW246H Glossy Black 24

$439.98

($219.99 each)

Workstation Subtotal $1,155.90
Monitors $439.98
Shipping $12.89
Total $1,611.76

My existing monitor was on its last leg, so I decided to get two new monitors (a splurge all in the name of improving productivity).  I ended up getting two ASUS VW246H Glossy Black 24″ 2ms(GTG) HDMI Widescreen LCD Monitors which totaled $439.98.  My first thought after setting this up on my desk was I may have purchased too much…I mean two 24” monitors…who can really use that?  I quickly came to my senses and realized that yes, I absolutely needed that much real estate as you just cannot have too much. 

The installation of the hardware went smoothly as the Antec 900 has plenty of space (and a whole lot of blue fans) which made it easy to work with.  However, when it came time to install the SSD I ran into my only problem.  The drive fit perfectly in the Rosewill mounting kit but when I went to install it in the case I just could not get the screws to line up correctly.  I am sure that the mounting kit works fine in other cases, but I was never able to make it work with the Antec.  I ended up purchasing an ICY DOCK MB990SP-B Dual 2.5″ to 3.5″ SSD & IDE/SATA HDD Bracket for $14.99 which worked perfectly.

Let me say that this was my first SSD hard drive and I do not think I will ever be able to go back.  The Windows 7 install took mere minutes instead of the lengthy affair this kind of OS install tends to be.  The boot time dropped into the sub 10 second range (very scientific I know). 

My Windows Experience Index went from 5.2 on the ThinkPad T61p

image

to 6.9 on the new machine.

image

I was a little surprised at first that the hard drive was the limiting factor in the score and not the cheaper graphics card as I thought (close second though).  I did buy a mid-range SSD (WD Blue Line) that connects over SATA 3.0 Gbps so I guess it makes sense.  I thought about buying a higher end drive that uses SATA 6.0 Gps but I could not justify the extra money.  I also rejected the idea of striping two SSD drives due to the cost.  Besides if it becomes an issue, I can always buy a second matching SSD and use Windows Home Server to restore to the new striped drive.  If I do that, then I would need to improve the graphics set up (either higher end card or possibly buy a second graphics card to run in SLI configuration). 

As is, I have been very happy with how well my new developer machine performs especially given the cost (did I mention that two 24” monitors is soooo worth it?).

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