Big new computer

You must be familiar with that itch in the wallet that tells you it’s time to buy a new toy. Sorry, I’ll rephrase that into more Inland Revenue-friendly terminology – time to buy an “upgrade to the essential infrastructure of the network that fully leverages the distributed computing paradigm, increases productivity and maximises effective working time and practices”. Well anyway, you know what I mean.

Big new computer

It’s been a while since I upgraded my day-to-day desktop machine, and as some of you might already have guessed I’ve actually been running a twin G5 Apple Mac desktop system for some time. After nearly 20 years of running Windows as my “daily driver”, I deemed a move to some other operating system would be good therapy. Of course, I still have a high-powered pure Windows machine, which boots between various installations of Windows XP and Vista courtesy of Ghost. And there are numerous servers in my machine room rack that run everything from Windows 2000 to the new April Community Preview of Longhorn, with a sprinkling of OS X Server and Linux boxes in there for good measure too.

However, before upgrading my main desktop, I decided I could do with a new laptop based on the Core 2 Duo chipset. Having tested just about everything on the market, and hence being able to define what I wanted, it turned out there was only one game in town; namely, the Apple MacBook. This small, lightweight black monster is now the best laptop going, and frankly it’s even better than its MacBook Pro big brother, which is aimed more at the portable desktop market. The solid metal case, the superb keyboard and its “machined from solid” steel feel distinguish it from most of the competition. And, best of all, I can run just about any OS on it, either natively in their own partitions or by using the virtual machine managers produced by Parallels and VMware. The latter’s new Fusion client even allows for DirectX 8.1 3D game support under XP within a windowed session. The sophistication of this solution is astonishing. Indeed, last week while I was flying to Los Angeles I plugged the power adapter into my armrest and spent a joyful hour installing various beta OSes into virtual machines, which was more fun than watching the in-flight movie.

Anyway, with my laptop requirement fully sorted a new desktop machine beckoned, and I decided this time it needed to be a really big one, something that would last me two or preferably three years. It would have to have an extreme level of performance and a breakthrough amount of RAM too. That could mean only one thing: a dual quad-core Xeon running at 3GHz fitted with 16GB of RAM. All those extra cores and gigs of RAM would be necessary for running local virtualised machine environments over and above a full working desktop set.

I tried a quick trawl around the Dell website and discovered its extreme games machine could take only a single quad processor and a meagre 4GB of RAM. So I dived into Dell’s “workstation” offerings and found I could rack up a more suitably specced machine quite quickly, but it would be limited to 2.66GHz for the processors rather than the 3GHz I wanted, and although I could get 16GB of RAM installed, the hard disk options were limited. Disappointed, I put the matter to one side, only to discover the following day that Apple had just increased the specification of the Mac Pro to include the twin quad-core Xeons at the full 3GHz speed. 16GB of RAM presented no problem, and I could order four 750GB hard disks to be fitted from the factory. Yes, buying them that way was more expensive than if I’d slotted them in myself, but I prefer to have a single place to point the finger at if something goes wrong, so the three-year warranty seemed like a good idea too. The final bill was somewhat frightening, coming in at around £6,000 plus VAT, but the lesser Dell offering would have cost nearly £2,000 more.

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