Build Me A Build: What’s Your Hardware Budget?

UPDATED 12/15/2016

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.

TABLES

 

Shutting SQL down helps, but I still have a lot going on.

Shut It Down

 

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.

Palooza.

Choices

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?

A beast by any other name

 

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

SSD

HIP

DRIVE

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!

UPDATE!

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.

Brand new

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.

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51 Comments. Leave new

  • Noah Engelberth
    December 14, 2016 8:28 am

    I was initially going to note that, unless you plan to overclock the CPU, there’s no technical benefit from having RAM that has a higher speed than the CPU’s “native RAM speed” (DDR4-2400, in the case of the Core i7-6800K — I always use https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Intel_Core_i7_microprocessors as a pretty good source for the matching CPU/RAM speeds). Going with higher speed RAM just means the RAM will down-step its own speed to match the CPU’s communication speed (“front side bus” in older generations, though it’s not technically called that any more with modern CPUs).

    But then I looked through the list on PC Part Picker and saw that it wouldn’t actually save you any money for this RAM configuration to use PC4-2400 memory instead of the PC4-3000 anyway. So for this specific build, the RAM “over speed” isn’t really a concern, but I figured I’d drop the explanation here anyway, in case someone else is looking into a hardware build and this comment can help them.

    Reply
    • That’s a great link. I didn’t think to compare the two. I will probably overclock, because, you know… I can replace the CPU next year 🙂

      Reply
  • I’d consider getting a cheaper, fanless video card unless you need more graphics power to connect a bunch of monitors, watch videos, etc. I have a box that I use for similar purposes that has an old Radeon HD 5450 512MB with a heat sink only (no fan) and it drives two 24″ monitors just fine.

    Reply
    • The video card choice is insurance. I don’t plan on watching videos or driving multiple monitors, but if my laptop dies and I need to use the desktop, it will have to drive 2×27″ monitors, and all the other stuff I do during normal use. I chose an underpowered one because it’ll be temporary until I get a replacement.

      Reply
    • I agree completely! On every machine in our office, the first thing that fails is the damn fan for the video card. And while the fan looks easy to replace, I haven’t found a good source…so I have just been replacing the card with ones with passive cooling. Lately I have been using an EVGA GeForce card…1Gb Ram, DVI/HDMI/VGA…and under $30. Drives two monitors (in a business environment) with no problem.

      Reply
  • Why no ECC RAM? Are you worried it would correct you on your deadlift form?

    Why did you go with an i7 over a Xeon? Also, why only a single monitor, or do you have a few already? I have 3x 24s and I use every pixel of each one. Mirin’ all those SSDs too. I have one for my C: drive but my D: drive where my dev databases live is still on a 7200 RPM phonograph.

    Reply
    • 1. I have great deadlift form for someone with 3 kinds of scoliosis.
      2. It didn’t look like any of the ECC kits were compatible with my MB
      3. i7s are better for 8 hour arm days
      4. I already have 2×27″ monitors on my desk, so the single 24″ is all that will fit. I may not even buy it since I only need peripherals for the initial setup, and then I’ll only be remoting in and never ever playing any video games because this is a serious machine for serious work.

      Reply
    • I strongly recommend at least two 24″ monitors. The 38″ curved monitor might be a very good investment if you think of it as a long term investment. You can always put it on the Jan 01 budget ?
      On my laptop that sits on my coffee table where I can switch between watching tv and working on laptop, I have a 32″ HD TV as a monitor which sits about 4 feet in front of me (so I sometimes have to enlarge web browser or work at lower resolution), but at work I always insist on 2 24″ HD monitors, which I set at max resolution and put as close to me as possible. That really allows me to work faster and more efficiently. Now I’m envious of the 38″ curved monitor.

      — And I wear 1.75 reading glasses from Dollar Tree — $1 ea :))

      Reply
  • The Tech Report’s System Guide might be a good starting point to find quality components. They periodically update their system builds and outline Budget, Sweet Spot, and High End components.

    http://techreport.com/system/

    Reply
  • says not building a gaming pc… buys a 1060… I believe you, but some other more skeptical people might not.

    Reply
    • It’s a 3 GB 1060 though. If I wanted to be slick, I’d buy a teeny tiny card and put the savings into something else, and buy a 1080p 8GB card on my own. Which, uh…

      BRB CHANGING STUFF

      Reply
      • Might want to sneak a M2 or pci SSD in there for the os or temp db or whatev. I mean, I’m not saying I’m buying one just for super awesome benchmark screens, but I might be.

        Reply
  • This looks like an impressive build, Erik.
    I couldn’t imagine you’re going to stumble across many bottlenecks here, but the only thing I wondered when reading through the parts list was why you chose not to add a fancy raid controller to go with all those SSD’s?
    Regards,

    Reply
    • I do have this in there. What would you go with instead? I do have to make some price choices, here, and things like fancy RAID controllers can be added down the line.

      Reply
  • Some people get 3k to spend…… eBay, Dell off lease, 2 yrs old, $300.00 75 Gig DDR3 triple channel ram, old zeon L5520 16 cores. Added Hyper-V data center running on SSD, 10T of hybrid platters for another $500, 4 virtuals for dev and testing with memory allocated per server usage.. solid as a rock…

    Reply
  • I just snagged a refurb Dell T5600 for about $700 with a holiday discount. They normally run about $1400. It has 2 x Xeon E5-2650’s for a total of 16 physical cores, 32 hyperthreaded. It came with 32GB, but supports 128GB. You can keep an eye out for something like that. I got it with the same idea in mind as you are looking for. With another $2300, you could do some awesome storage and monitor upgrades.

    Reply
    • We discussed that in the company chat room too! I love those, but the clock speed on ’em is pretty doggone low.

      Reply
      • True, but 16 cores gives you a lot of clock cycles to work with, upgrades for Gen1 E5’s aren’t too expensive and I believe it supports V2’s also. Bang for the buck on the refurb is incredible!

        Reply
  • I will recommend the following:
    1. Get a dual socket Motherboard and plug in two Intel Core i7-7700K @ 4.20GHz processors. Turn OFF cpu hyperthreading in the BIOS. Windows 10 Enterprise will support 2 CPU sockets.
    2. Build a mirrored PCI-Express SSD’s array for heavy I/O testing. It will perform much better than SATA. Use SATA SSD’s for anything else.
    3. Use ECC RAM (try to get a motherboard that will support it). ECC certified motherboards by definition have better reliability.

    Reply
    • If it makes a difference, this is going to be running Windows Server 2016. VMs will run different OSes, maybe, but I would feel weird installing a desktop OS on what I intend to use as a server.

      The chip you referenced doesn’t appear to be out yet, so I’m not sure how I can buy two of them.

      Maybe I’m not looking in the right places, but can you find 128 GB RAM kits with ECC for a similar price?

      Reply
      • Server 2016 will run fine too. The CPU chip is available in the first week of Jan 2017 (3 weeks time). Well worth the wait. ECC RAM will be more expensive. Also only available in heavily tested speeds only (usually a little slower e.g. at DDR4 2400). If you’re not planning to run business-critical loads, then non-ECC RAM should be fine too. Your choice of Corsair memory is pretty good for that.

        Reply
        • Yeah, the problem is that I have to use my budget for this year. Maybe next year I’ll switch CPUs, if it’s a priority.

          Thanks!

          Reply
          • I believe you can “earmark” these funds today for tax purposes and make your purchase in Jan. Please check with your tax guy. I think there is an allowance available for that. I suspect prices will also fall in Jan as new chips get released.

    • The Core i7-7700K is not going to work with a dual-socket system.

      Reply
  • I just built my first PC this year, too! Personal use, so it was a bit…cheaper. Cost savings tip: check out Micro Center. They often have great deals, particularly on processors. I was able to save a few hundred in total over the costs listed on PC Part Picker. Who knows, it might be just enough to add on that 6th SSD!

    Reply
  • Victor Choltco
    December 14, 2016 1:23 pm

    Go for the new Samsung 960 Pro instead of the 950. Significantly faster for about the same money.

    http://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2016/10/samsung-960-pro-review-the-fastest-consumer-ssd-you-can-buy/

    Reply
  • I would consider getting an Intel Core i7-6900K rather than the i7-6800K. It is significantly more expensive, but it does offer eight physical cores (at a slightly lower base clock speed), and much more importantly, it supports 40 PCIe lanes instead of only 28 lanes with the i7-6800K. I would also look at an X99 motherboard that has more than one M.2 slot (especially if you upgrade the CPU) and Thunderbolt 3 support. I would also be looking at a Samsung 960 EVO or PRO M.2 NVMe card.

    Reply
    • Hi Glenn,

      I did consider those things, but yeah, they add a significant bump to the price tag. So let me ask: if you had $3k to spend, what would you get? I think I did a pretty good job balancing things out to work with my budget, but maybe you’ve got some tricks up your sleeve.

      Thanks!

      Reply
      • Ok, a less expensive CPU upgrade would be the i7-6850K. It has also 6 cores, a higher base clock speed of 3.6GHz, and it has 40 PCIe lanes instead of only 28 lanes. With only 28 lanes, you are not going to see full performance from all of the storage you are planning on buying. I would dump one of the SATA 3 SSDs, to stay within budget. Seriously, I would try to find an X99 board with two M.2 PCIe x4 slots.

        Reply
  • Matthew Monroe
    December 14, 2016 3:56 pm

    That CPU cooler is probably more than you need. I went with a Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO recently and it’s very large, has a single fan, and is half the price of the one in your build. It’s also quiet. My recent build also has an EVGA power supply and EVGA GTX 1060 video card (3GB) and on both the fans only turn on when necessary, which is really nice and keeps the noise level down. Great selection of SSDs; planning on mirrored RAID?

    Reply
  • Finally, if you are going to run Windows Server 2016 natively, be careful if the motherboard has Intel NICs. Quite often, the Intel NIC drivers won’t install when you try to use desktop Intel NICs with a Windows Server operating system. One workaround would be to use Windows 10 Professional natively, and then use Hyper-V for VMs (so you can run any guest OS you want).

    Reply
  • In your parts list i see a geforce 1060 and a 24” 1080p monitor.
    I know this video card provides for top notch gaming on 1080p (more expensive graphics cards without 1440p or 4k is wasted), wouldn’t it be worthwhile to downsize the 1060 and get a 1440p monitor instead?
    Personally I use a 25” Dell U2515h and it looks incredible. A geforce 1050 Ti should be enough for casual stuff and would net you the difference (based on dutch average prices, your mileage may vary).

    Of course I’m not looking to spoil your daily fix of battlefield 1 ;-).

    As for the Samsung 950 pro, what is the reason for taking the older model, instead of the 960 pro or the 960 evo (the latter one is supposed to kick the 950 pro’s behind at a lower price level)?

    Reply
  • If this PC will be located at your workdesk be sure to have silent fans on the CPU, PowerSupply, Graphics Card, Case, … .

    Where do you store your daily / weekly backup? Cloud or external disk? Be sure to have a new version of your backup everytime and do not overwrite the old backup. If an encryption trojan hits you your backup will be overwritten by encrypted files of you don’t cut it of fast enough!

    Do you create a software raid? If yes which one? Be sure to not use a “desktop” raid controller. Buy a good one!

    Reply
    • I will likely do RAID 10, and just buy a big slow drive and stick backups on it, like a 6 TB SATA or something.

      I’m not too worried about encryption trojans, since no one in my household is a project manager.

      Reply
      • Intel’s chipsets do not have hardware raid. What they have is a firmware-assisted software raid that allows a software RAID volume to be bootable. I used it for RAID5 and lost all my data.

        To prevent data los I would recomment buying a real RAID Controller and an external backup solution.

        Reply
  • Hello Erik,

    I’ve bought a few days ago the Super Micro SYS-E200-8D (6-Core) and equipped it with 128 GB RAM and a Samsung M.2 disk. The total price for it was about EUR 2300 (excl. TAX).
    Why such a “server”? Because of its weight! It has only 1500 grams, therefore I can take my “Data Center” with me. And I’m using a MacBook 12″ to connect and work on the head-less server.

    I’m quite happy with it, and already looking forward to the 2 TB Samsung 960 PRO M.2 disk – when it is finally available 🙂

    Thanks,

    -Klaus

    Reply
  • Hi, I would also suggest Supermicro, but I´ll go with the X10SDV-8C+-LN2F Mainboard with Onboard Video, 128GB ECC RDIMM (Kingston), a not yet specified M2 PCIE Card only for caching, a Raid 10 of Samsung’s 960 PRO 1TB SSDs and a Silverstone CS01-HS Case with an Enermax Power Supply…
    …another option,, would be a QNAP TVS-682, 64GB, 2x M2 SSD, 2x 1TB SSD, 4x Sata-HDDs …plus 😉 .because we´ve already spent a lot of money, one 1TB Intel PCI-E “super i/o storage” card

    florian

    Reply
  • If you are fully wanting to take advantage of the virtualization and bang for your buck, I might suggest a Xeon processor. More bang for the buck. I’d recommend it for more cores at a slightly lower clock speed for the virtualization. However, I see it’s not a big concern for your build, so it might just be a moot point.

    With virtualization, are you planning on running something on top of Windows Server or are you planning on Hyper-V?

    Reply
  • late to the party but this might be a worthwhile addition for future readers.
    http://www.techspot.com/review/1218-affordable-40-thread-xeon-monster-pc/

    The core idea of taking engineering samples Xeons, may be updating the mother board could code a long way for thread heavy users.

    Reply

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