People will often ask IT folks for their opinion regarding what brand they should go with when buying a home machine. This is like asking a car dealer what their opinion is of X model. There’s a wide variety of cars to drive and opinions are probably equally varied. I think the better question, would be “What are you driving?” or for computers “What are you running at home?”. Thus, let me detail my setup at home. Only one of the machines is a name brand, one is a built to specs by another company, and the remaining two were home-built machines that I put together. Controlling each component is a valuable aspect to understanding and getting the most from your machine for the money. If you don’t have the understanding or the time to build a machine yourself and would rather go with a big box manufacturer, I’d recommend Hewlett Packard/Compaq. Their tech support has been great and their machines are reliable performers for a good price.
My four computers:
- 1 laptop, a Sony Vaio 5 years old running Windows XP
- 2 desktops, one a year old, one two years old both running Vista Business
- 3rd desktop, a budget PC running Gentoo Linux
We’ll go from least used to most used.
The laptop has run faithfully for me these last five years with only one problem. About a year into ownership, the Alt key became stuck, electronically but not physically, and required being sent in for an under-warranty repair. Besides taking an excessively long time (thanks Best Buy…), the laptop was returned formatted but working perfectly again. It’s undergone a few rebuilds to keep it at the top of its game with Windows XP and has now retired to sitting next to my TV where the use of its video out functionality allows videos from the network via a wireless card to be displayed on the big screen.
The second least used machine would be the Linux desktop. My parents bought this machine a while ago from IBuyPower.com and I since replaced it with a machine I built. This is pretty dated compared to a new machine, but it works perfectly fine under Gentoo and it was still working just fine on Windows XP, and a rebuild would have sped it up. It was really used as more of a learning device so that I could go through a Linux installation, figure out any bugs, and use it to test Linux things out. I’m a Windows person at heart, but it does the brain good to be stretched a different way and I really think Linux and Windows system administration is of different mind sets. I’m not saying one way is better than the other, they’re just different. I can make Windows do anything I want it to and anything the stupid Mac ads say is so difficult to do on a Windows PC, easily.
I don’t see the Linux machine becoming my primary workstation any time soon, but it’s fully featured and seems to be fully reliable. It will probably be used frequently to try out new things that I read about or even becoming the primary machine I use for development.
The next machine shares a KVM switch with the Linux machine, utilizing a 19″ IBM CRT monitor. This machine was a budget PC I built my Junior year of college and didn’t quite have the funds to build a high-end machine. I did manage to get quality parts in there, but it was a turbulent time and Intel was just about to take the lead back from AMD and ATI was about to lose to Nvidia. Of course, I bet on the wrong horse and have an AMD processor and an ATI video card in this machine, but both have proven to be very sufficient for my needs, and when building on a budget there’s not a whole lot of room to complain. The part of this machine that really shines, and has allowed its continued use has been the ASUS motherboard inside.
This computer, running Vista Business, is primarily used as a File Server. Essentially it’s a repository for all my files that I wish to keep and archive. The motherboard is so essential to this component because I am using its on-board RAID to control two RAID-1 pairs. This means that I essentially have two hard drives, but each hard drive is mirrored onto another one in case one should fail. This redundancy simply removes the threat of a hard drive failure. It doesn’t prevent from major catastrophe, but it’s an extra layer of protection and acts as the central hub for all my files. I’m using a Samsung T-Point 500 GB hard drive for one pair and a 750 GB perpendicular Western Digital hard drive for the other pair. I’m really pleased with the Samsung drive, but am a bit indifferent towards the Western Digital drives because they run hotter and louder.
My primary machine is another home built compilation. This time, a year later and with a better budget, I was able to correct the “mistakes” of the last machine. With an Intel Core 2 Duo E6600 and an Nvidia 8800GTS, I struck for the ultimate balance between price and performance. I’m very pleased with this machine. It’s been stable right out of the box(es) and has enough horsepower to do anything I ask of it. Between playing games, running Photoshop, or just the day-to-day this computer has been a reliably great experience with plenty of ventilation to keep it cool and enough versatility to keep it as “future-proof” as I can get. I installed Vista Business on here so that I could learn the nuances of Microsoft’s latest offering and I’ve honestly been able to configure it so that the computer works for me, not the other way around, but that’s a different post.
Some of the prouder peripherals connected to this machine would be the 20″ wide-screen Samsung monitor that is big enough and perfect for viewing anything from video games to movies to word processing. The Logitech G5 mouse is also a great addition. I think this has really saved my wrist some angst with its defined shape for the right hand. Also, the fact that it is a laser mouse replaced the problem I was experiencing with a standard optical mouse in that the cursor would randomly fly to the corners of the monitor, adding to my frustration and the mileage on my wrist. Another worth-while peripheral has been the Canon Lide Scanner which uses a series of LEDs instead of a large bulb. It’s compact, quieter than most scanners, and scans a perfect picture powered only by the same USB cable it uses for data transfer.
So, I have four computers, but they are all doing such varied tasks that it seems justified. A lot of the machines have allowed me to learn a great deal from them and will continue to teach me new things, as an IT Professional, that is a crucial component to remaining competitive and flexible. Some of these machines might have been junked long ago by the average consumer, but in their niche roles their lives will be greatly lengthened while serving needs that otherwise would not be filled.