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Buying hardware... computer recommendations?

To all,

Recently I've started a new company and am the CTO (as it were). We're in the process of evaluating computers for purchase and I'm curious what folks here would recommend for a company that has a mix of users (developers, creative, and sales).

Right now I'm looking at notebooks for all main machines. What would you all suggest? Dell? IBM? Or something more exotic like Alienware? I'm trying to keep in mind that the hardware requirements are pretty stiff for the creative folks and developers.

Conversely, if you think I should buy desktops, convince me as to why.

Thanks in advance.

Andrew Scott
Friday, December 19, 2003

Your creatives will hate laptops because they can't get their colors right assuming you mean graphic designers) and because of the dinky screen.

Your developers will hate laptops because they can't run dual head monitors.

Let everybody get whatever computer they think best with the only restrictions being no gaming cards and acceleration kits or built in tivo cards.

Friday, December 19, 2003

Any fairly recent IBM laptop will allow for dual output to monitors - and you will want to give people real monitors.  This should take care of both  creatives and developers.  If your sales force is going to spend a great deal of time out of house you should look at getting them lighter machines then the house-bound folks.  One of the nice things about IBM machines is that you can buy from multiple product lines and still be assured that they are all using the same driver base.

Saturday, December 20, 2003

Didn't realize that. I'm not as big a fan as some others of laptops but if I had to get one, I'd get an IBM because I love the force-sensitive joystick in the keyboard. That rocks. Mousepads on the other hand suck.

For sales guys laptops make sense.

As a developer I would point blank refuse to use a laptop because I can not handle the ergonomic stress on my hands and neck.

Saturday, December 20, 2003

If you go with laptops, go with a "brand name."  (Dell, Gateway, IBM, HP, etc.)  Laptops tend to break more often and are harder to repair. 

The most important thing is to get ones from a manufacturer with good customer service and a good warranty program.  (E.g., same-day or next-day service for 3 years.)

Robert Jacobson
Saturday, December 20, 2003

The reason for using desktops is simple: RSI.

I find that after a fortnight of college vacation using the laptop my neck aches, my shoulder aches, my biceps and triceps ache, and my wrist aches.

Unless you want to cripple your work force get them alll desktops, with dual monitors for the developers, and let them choose their own keyboards.

Get laptops, possibly with docking stations for sales.

Stephen Jones
Saturday, December 20, 2003

To give some further information about my thoughts:

1. Good god, there is no way I would make a laptop the main machines without providing full monitors (19" or more), keyboards and mice. That takes care of the RSI issues. There's a number of business reasons for this, such as the fact that our developers travel to client sites often for meetings and I'd like to have them be able to takes notes/prototype/whatever else on the fly.

2. Thanks for the input on IBM -- didn't know much about their product line. I'll have to look into that.

Andrew Scott
Saturday, December 20, 2003

I agree with the other posters... you don't want to use a laptop keyboard for vast amounts of time (8+ hours a day) unless you have tiny hands.  And even then it's suboptimal compared to a full keyboard, mouse, and monitor.

Why laptops?  You can get two nice desktops for approximately the cost of one nice laptop.  Are your people going to be constantly traveling, or frequently working from home?  Seriously, give them one for home and one for work.  You can always keep a couple of "floater" laptops on hand that people can sign out when you really need to take something on the road. 

If you have some people with basic know-how, you can build your own PC's for a few hundred dollars each (sans software licenses).

Athlon2500 cpu: $85
512MB ram: $75 (or $150 for 1GB)
80GB WD Hard Drive, 8MB: $80
Shuttle XPC small form factor case: ~$300 (includes sound, dual VGA video, network, USB2, Firewire)
CDR Drive: $60

So... $600 for a really nice rig.  They're small and quiet and perform like the "big boys".  Only difference is the number of PCI/AGP slots (one of each).  Very easy to build, since most of the components are built into the motherboard.  Just drop in RAM+CPU+HDD+Optical.

If you go with a generic case+regular mobo instead of the Shuttle (save $150) and go with a Duron 1600 instead of the Athlon 2500 (save ~$40) you can do it for $400 or so.  The Duron is a great performer... I have a zillion coding tools open at once (IDE's, text editors, SQL tools), multiple web browsers, occaisonal Photoshop work, and the Duron1600 runs great- of course, for only $40 more, seems a shame not to have just gotten the Athlon.  :P

John Rose
Saturday, December 20, 2003

There's a number of business reasons for this, such as the fact that our developers travel to client sites often for meetings and I'd like to have them be able to takes notes/prototype/whatever else on the fly.
Oops, Andrew, I apologize.  I didn't see this post of yours before my reply. 

Depending on exactly how often your staff is on the fly, the "many desktops+a few floater laptops" thing could still be the best bet in terms of balance between giving your developers the niceties of a desktop as well as the flexibility of having laptops to take to the clients.  Naturally if 50% of your staff needs laptops at the same time, the economics aren't as rosy.  :P

With the multi-user features of XP it shouldn't be too much of a hassle for users to share laptops...

John Rose
Saturday, December 20, 2003

"Any fairly recent IBM laptop will allow for dual output to monitors - and you will want to give people real monitors."

When you say "dual output", are you talking about having dual VGA output from the laptop, so that you can hook up two external monitors?  Or are you referring to the ability to use the built-in laptop monitor as well as one external monitor simultaneously?  I think most modern laptops have the latter; I don't know of any with the former.

The "laptop screen + one external monitor setup" is pretty awkward... I used a setup like that for a number of months and hated it.

Since I was using a separate keyboard with the laptop, the laptop screen had to be positioned way off to the side.... the huge honkin' laptop keyboard gets in the way; it's hard to position the screen next to your external monitor for anything approaching a seamless arrangement.

I'm a HUGE fan of dual monitors and consider them a near-requirement for coding work, but that setup was so awkward that I just wound up keeping all apps on the external monitor and none on the laptop screen, effectively negating any dual-monitor-setup-goodness.  :P

That sort of setup miiiiiiight work if somebody doesn't mind using the laptop keyboard full-time.  But I don't know anybody who enjoys doing that for 8+ hours a day.

John Rose
Saturday, December 20, 2003

Building your own machine is always more expensive than buying ready built; the labour costs of assembling a desktop are under $10 and the big companies get discounts for bulk buying ten to twenty times that.

It's worth doing it once, just to know how, and if like me you are always replacing your machine piecemeal, then you will never actually get round to buying a whole new machine, but as a business proposition it's crazy.

If you're going to have two docking stations for the laptop, one at home and one at work, together with the cost of the monitors and keyboard and mouse, then you are almost spending the cost of a desktop twice over on top of the cost of the laptop.

If your workers are always commuting by car, and will not be doing much work at home, then it would probably be OK to have a laptop and a docking station just at work, but I wonder if it's worth it.

Stephen Jones
Saturday, December 20, 2003

Have you people really never heard of docking stations?

Laptop, docking station, 21" monitor, full-size keyboard of choice, mouse. Now indistiguishable from a PC.

Two primary considerations regarding workforce and laptops:
1) Theft. If everyone's got a laptop, you want cameras and videotape on every entrance. It is too easy to walk out with one. You also need to put extra effort into protecting proprietary data on the laptops, since if one's stolen in a train station you may find all your contacts getting "ha ha screw you" emails, ostensibly from you...
2) Why are you giving the workforce laptops? The only acceptable answer is "so they can work from home." Give your devs good laptops with the understanding that they can work from home a few days a week (if they show productivity), and they'll love you forever.


Saturday, December 20, 2003

>>2) Why are you giving the workforce laptops? The only acceptable answer is "so they can work from home."

A laptop is neither necessary nor ideal for working at home.  As someone else already noted, you can buy two nice desktop PCs for roughly the same amount of money that you'd pay for a laptop, one for the office and one for home.

I am posting this from home on a PC provided by my employer via broadband internet service, also provided by my employer.

Saturday, December 20, 2003

To all the people suggesting two desktops ... I've gone down that route, and I find I end up spending as much time dicking arround with my programming environment as I do programming.  Every day at work, you'll change some small thing on your work machine (install new software, change an environment variable, or something).  I found I wasted enough time every day replicating those changes that it really wasn't worth it to have that work machine at home.
Get laptops, port replicators, and monitors.  They're not THAT expensive.

j b
Saturday, December 20, 2003


The only data point you've given on usage patterns is that your developers going to do some flying and you "want them to be able to take notes/prototype" on the fly.

My suggestion is that you talk to your employees and find out what will help them be the most productive and effective.  Some people work best when they're "chained" to a desk -- they don't mix work time/space with the rest of their lives.  Others are the opposite, working best when they are free to take their laptop and go down to Starbucks, or indulge in a late-evening coding session.

Two other points to consider: First, it's a lot easier to manage a bunch of the same type of system than a variety.  Second, consider the future: what are you likely to need in two years?


Saturday, December 20, 2003

If you decide to build you own, give some thought about making it quiet before you jump in and purchase lots of stuff. IMO it is hard to make a PC yourself that is as quiet as a "factory" model. If you have an office, your quiet zone will be destroyed by "Megatron" humming away in the corner.

I've bought stuff from before to try to quiet my home PC. I have tried to balance sound vs. heat buildup, which is a problem with my current machine, so I haven't tried some of their more exotic products.

Saturday, December 20, 2003

"Have you people really never heard of docking stations?

Laptop, docking station, 21" monitor, full-size keyboard of choice, mouse. Now indistiguishable from a PC. "
I find dual monitors at 1280x1024 preferable to one 21" monitor presumably running at 1600x1200.  Like has been discussed previously, dual external displays aren't an option with laptops.

Also, do people really use docking stations anymore?  Every laptop I've seen lately has keyboard and VGA out as well as all the necessary other ports...

John Rose
Saturday, December 20, 2003

Well, if the difference of opinions on this thread has proven one thing, I think it's that there are a lot of people on either side of the issue, often with strong preferences.

Therefore, perhaps it's best to let your devs choose on a person-by-person basis.  :-)

John Rose
Saturday, December 20, 2003

John - actually I use a 21" CRT (1800x1440) and a 19" (1280x1024) LCD, and I highly recommend it. :-)

As for docking stations - power, keyboard, network, usb and the reverse. In addition, the laptop takes up room on the desk. I've done docking stations in the past, and it's nice to just slide the thing in under my monitor and forget it's there.

For the original poster - how about simply giving new hires a PC budget and letting them get what they want?


Saturday, December 20, 2003


That's actually not a bad idea, and one I hadn't considered. We're a small company at the moment so it might work. My one concern is that as we grow, that may become unmanageable in terms of support.

I'm still pondering what should be done... in addition to this question, I also need a new machine personally as well. Too many decisions! :)

Andrew Scott
Sunday, December 21, 2003

How about just standardizing on one manufacturer to minimze support issues (you can't go wrong with Dell), and then giving your employees a choice of a desktop or laptop/docking station?

Robert Jacobson
Sunday, December 21, 2003

You can't go wrong with Toshiba Tecra's and a good 3rd party onsite maintainance contract. I have heard good things about the IBM range, but no experiences here. Dell is very good pricewise, but not always the highest quality.

Just me (Sir to you)
Monday, December 22, 2003

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