Spending Brent’s Money
Reason number infinity spacetime + 1000 why working here rules is having a generous annual
tax writeoff hardware budget. The first time around, I basically blew it all on working from home essentials. This time around I’m building a cool toy: a big beefy desktop.
Why, in the age of the cloud, am I doing this? Well, our AWS lab is cool, and has versions going back to 2005 for testing script compatibility, but I have to turn it on and off, spinning up new machines adds new costs, and spinning up enough to account for the different HA/DR scenarios I’d like to explore would be annoying. There are other reasons the cloud can be difficult: networking, good I/O is expensive, and emulating shared storage is a bummer.
With a beefy home desktop, I can create my own VPC with all the VMs I want, my own AD, and with enough hardware, the limits on what I can set up are few. I can have VMs for Log Shipping, Mirroring, Failover Clusters, and AGs. I can also mix features to look at interoperability.
Doing that on my laptop would kinda stink, especially because most of the time I’m also trying to work on it. That means I have a bazillion Chrome tabs open, Slack, PowerPoint, Excel, SSMS, and various productivity apps like Spotify. With 32 GB of RAM, I have plenty of room, until I start doing anything with the Stack Overflow database. While I could get a second laptop, it costs a lot more to put in commensurate hardware, and you hit hardware caps a lot earlier than you do with desktops.
Shutting SQL down helps, but I still have a lot going on.
My CPUs are generally quiet. These aren’t a problem, until I start doing something stupid in a couple different SSMS windows while I’m trying to do other stuff. Then things get messy.
Since a desktop would be the best fit, I started trying to find one that would work for me out of the box. Cursory Google searches for “128 GB desktop” were useless. Sites like Logical Increments can give you a decent baseline for building a gaming computer, but the RAM tops out at 64 GB, and you can’t mix and match components to test different combinations for different price points. This didn’t help me because I don’t need a crazy graphics card, but if I had to build a gaming PC, I’d probably start here.
Where you can play the mix and match game is PC Part Picker. Here you can mix and match, you get warnings if parts are known to be incompatible, and you can keep an eye on your power draw vs your power supply. Good? Good.
Honorable mention: Buying a barebones Dell Precision workstation and outfitting it with the parts I want. You get the case, the motherboard, a power supply, and (usually) a fan. The rest is up to you. My processor choices here were limited to Xeons, which wasn’t a dealbreaker, but the sourcing made it a bit more difficult to check for incompatibility issues.
What did I end up with?
The link to the build is here, if you want to play with it.
During the process, I sent my potential build to a couple people who really helped me out. My Favorite College Boy, Jeremiah Peschka, and The Man Whose Tweets Change Software Development, Nick Craver. While I’d love to build the official Stack Overflow developer desktop, it’s a little too far above my budget cap of $3000. I could have split the costs into next year, since it’s so close to the New Year, but whatever. I’d rather save that just in case I have a laptop failure, or Mark Rippetoe designs a computer desk that’s also a power rack, for full
Are you out there?
So, hardware people, have at it. See any glaring problems? Obvious tweaks? Better choices? Let me know. I haven’t started ordering parts yet.
I’ll be blogging more about this when I do start ordering parts and building in a week or so. It’s my first from-scratch desktop build, so it should be a hoot.
Thanks for reading!
After tons of great feedback in the comments section, I made some changes to my build. Most notably, upped the CPU, downed the GPU, and went with the slightly newer M.2, plus I got rid of the monitor, since I really don’t need it. I also took off one SSD to compensate on the price. I’ll probably end up ordering drives after the 1st to fill up the ICY DOCK, but it’s okay because I don’t need those immediately. I have no idea how long it will take me to get parts and build this, so waiting on extra drives isn’t a big deal. Of course, here’s the link if you want to mess with it.
Brent says: It’s crazy that you can get 128GB RAM in a desktop for under $3k. Also crazy: 38″ ultrawide curved monitor for $1500. When you get $3k/year for hardware, you can start making these longer-term investments in your working gear.