Scott Hanselman

Hanselminutes Podcast 74 - Jeff Atwood overclocks the Ultimate PC

July 28, 2007 Comment on this post [20] Posted in Gaming | Podcast
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My seventy-fourth podcast is up. Back in show #69 folks had some very valid questions and comments about whether a developer machine is just a fast PC. Is a gaming machine also a good developer PC? What about RAID. Rather than trying to learn all this myself, we had Jeff Atwood on the show and asked him.

If you have trouble downloading, or your download is slow, do try the torrent with µtorrent or another BitTorrent Downloader.

Do also remember the complete archives are always up and they have PDF Transcripts, a little known feature that show up a few weeks after each show.

Telerik is our sponsor for this show.

Check out their UI Suite of controls for ASP.NET. It's very hardcore stuff. One of the things I appreciate about Telerik is their commitment to completeness. For example, they have a page about their Right-to-Left support while some vendors have zero support, or don't bother testing. They also are committed to XHTML compliance and publish their roadmap. It's nice when your controls vendor is very transparent.

As I've said before this show comes to you with the audio expertise and stewardship of Carl Franklin. The name comes from Travis Illig, but the goal of the show is simple. Avoid wasting the listener's time. (and make the commute less boring)

Enjoy. Who knows what'll happen in the next show?

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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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July 28, 2007 4:00
There's a couple things about raid that I think are important to point out.

First, at least one spare drive is important for fast recovery and to maintain data integrity. Any raid (1+) can survive the loss of one drive, few raid implementations can survive the loss of two drives.

Second, raid can provide a measure of data integrity through fault tolerance, but it should never take the place of a backup.
July 28, 2007 4:09

I have never listened to the Hanselminutes Podcast, but after this one, I'm hooked. Thanks!

July 28, 2007 4:20
Those shows were fun to listen to - I've built all my own PCs since 1990 when a buddy pulled a prototype 386sx out of a dumpster at Intel (his internship was there) - the first mod was adding a 387 Math co-pro.

Still, we need to hear metrics or at least benchmarks Scott. Why do you need so much power on a dev PC? In 2004 I installed a Raptor HD to an XP1500 based system and it blew me away. Since then I've had several mobo/CPU/memory upgrades and never noticed much boost in performance related to dev work. The latest systems are Core Duo @ work and A64 4000+ @ home, work gave everyone a Raptor after my nagging and with the fast hard disk I see no performance difference between home, work and my old work machine (P4 + I added a Raptor & some fast memory).

So, why did I recently buy a single core A64 4000+ people will ask? Well the cheap mobo has a built in DVI + optical SP-DIF ports and a single processor plays 1080p material perfectly. In time more s/w will utilize multi-cores, but in time those processors will be $60 too - for years I've lived a year or two behind the cutting edge, sold old parts on eBay and spent very little on hardware compared to peers.

Please keep up the podcasting Scott, I particularly love the interviews.
July 28, 2007 7:56
I agree with you somewhat Paul, it's ideal to stay a little behind the times in an existing paradigm. When switching to a new design paradigm however; I think it's best to go b/leading edge as budget permits.

As far as needing more dev power? If you're running some database server, a couple copies of your favorite dev environment, a webserver, your favorite mail client, a couple web browsers, some remote desktops, plus whatever utilities out there you're partial to using and you're going to run out of room fast. Start adding some virtual pc's to the mix and you're going to be hard up for resources.
July 28, 2007 8:40
From my point of view you can NEVER have too much power or a fast enough hard drive. I'm CONSTANTLY waiting for my computer. I hate wasted time.
July 28, 2007 12:31
Do you also use a drive image program to make an image file of the system drive ? After installing windows, it always takes a lot of time to be up and running again, installing all your tools, drivers etc. Saves a lot of time, in case things go bad ;).
July 29, 2007 0:55
Just throwing in my recent experience and thanks to Jeff and Scott for giving me the nudge I needed to purchase a new case (Antec 180B/182) and 750w powersupply (Thermaltake W0116RU) they are awesome! My official excuse is my current case and power supply (350w) would not allow me to mirror my OS and data hard drives.

In addition to the case I also added hard drives to mirror the 200gb C: (os/programs) and 250gb D: (data) drives. I'm using the built in RAID feature of my MSI motherboard and so far it is working great. I had to use the built in motherboard raid because Acronis True Image, which I use for drive imaging, does NOT support Microsoft Dynamic Disks. I emailed Acronis about this issue and they said only their enterprise edition ($999) supports dynamic disks not the home version ($59). I've used Acronis for years and the latest home edition is nice but I'm very disappointed that they are not supporting the full features of XP Pro like dynamic disks.

In the podcast there were several discussions about what is the difference between a gamer pc and development pc. I think the main difference is mirrored drives. Restoring your home game machine drive from last night's backup isn't that big of a deal. Doing the same for your development machine IS a big deal plus mirroring your drives is cheap.

My System:
MB/CPU: MSI K8N Neo Platinum with Athlon 64 3000+ (2ghz)
RAM: 2Gb Ram (DDR400)
C: os/programs 200gb 7,200 (no page cache) <-- will upgrade to two 10,000 rpm raptors next month
D: data 250gb 7,200 (page cache)
3.5" with memory card slots
Case: Antec 180B (they shipped me a 182 :-)
PSU: ThermalTake W0116RU 750w modular
OS: XP Pro (not switching to Vista until I have dual core or better)
(3) 20" Samsung 204B LCD's (these are 4:3 aspect ratio not 16:9. 4:3 works better for me)
nVidia 6800 GT & nVidia FX 5700 LE video cards
Network Backup: 1.4tb ReadyNas NV+ (using four 500gb drives)

I will upgrade my motherboard/cpu and main drives in the next month or as soon as I can invent a good excuse to use on my business partners ;-)

BTW- Great podcast! I hope you will do a few more on hardware.
July 29, 2007 21:19
There was a point in the podcast where a commenter from the first show said that quad core was too much. That may be the feeling with any of the components that you have selected. However I have to agree with Scott in that no PC is too powerful. When I graduated college I spent about 3k on a computer which had the bleeding edge of everything. In that time 64Mb of Ram was standard in most PC's and 128-256 was "high-end". I put 512 in. Not one to buy a new computer every few years, soon this configuration was well out of date. I've since added 1Gb.

Buying a quad-core today which may seem like "too much" may be adequate in a year and out of date in two. I'm feeling this even moreso with Orcas coming out in the future. So if it me building/buying the new computer (which I am), I'm going to buy as much computer as possible so that it performs as newer, more resource intensive applications are release.

July 30, 2007 4:27
I think RAID is really maligned in this show. Early on, there was the comment that said effectively "you're spending two thousand dollars on this new PC, why not look around at keyboards and spend seventy dollars to get a good one". However, when the time came around to talk about RAID, the consensus was different--don't bother.

First, I agree that RAID 0 (striping) is a bad idea. Why double your failure risk while not increasing the performance much (or at all) over that of a high-speed Raptor or similar drive? And second, I actually disagree with Carl that mirroring the system drive is important.

My opinion is that RAID 0 and RAID 1, while popular among amateur enthusiasts a decade ago, have outlived their usefulness. The best way to go is to use a very small but fast drive for the system (such as one of the original, lower-capacity Raptors), then build a RAID 5 or RAID 6 for your user data. 7,200 RPM 300 GB drives are the sweet spot right now in my opinion; I was able to buy four of them for under three hundred--at $60 a pop from Fry's, no rebates or anything. With a RAID 5, four 300 GB drives = 900 GB usable storage, and it's fully redundant. Just mount the RAID as drive D, and use that to store all your user files. Better still, make that box your fileserver and store everyone's files there (I don't know about you, but 900 GB is a bit much for me to fill up on my own).

Sorry for the rant, but given the amount of research you and Jeff appear to have put into this, I was surprised that you would have completely neglected what I consider to be the number one most important part of a computer system: making sure your data are safe!

July 30, 2007 22:58
Keyboard and mouse are well worth spending what you ever money you can on...your interface to the computer and you need to be comfortable and enjoy using it.
Personnally I have been using the MS 6000 desktop and the "soft touch" keys are awesome :) Tried the di-novo bluetooth but sent it back due to shocking lag on the keyboard and mouse.
July 31, 2007 18:22

For using monitors of different sizes side by side, there's Synergy:
It allows you to calibrate the sizes of the monitors to physically match each other in terms of length of side and position so that you don't get the jump when you switch monitors. I've used it and it works pretty well. The Interface use to calibrate it isn't that great, but you only have to do this once.
July 31, 2007 22:42
Hi Scott,

Like you, I hate wasting time. I feel like I’m spending my life waiting for computers. If my computer takes more than 10 seconds to do anything, I’ll want to fill that time doing something else and often loose focus on the task at hand, which is not very productive for development.

When you compare the bandwidth of processor/memory vs. harddisk, there is a HUGE discrepancy. Your CPU could circle the globe in the time it takes your harddrive to get to the corner store (or so it seems). So if you find yourself waiting for your computer, chances are the harddrive light is blinking away. So on a limited budget; it makes sense to focus your resources on improving this bottleneck.

I would buy the cheapest CPU possible in the newest technology (65nm core 2 duo) and spend the rest of my budget on as many raptors that I could afford and run them in RAID 0 or 5 depending on how many I could afford.

When you look at the benchmarks from Tom’s hardware raid scaling charts, they actually scale quite well. They use 320GB 7200rpm drives in this review, so using raptors should be considerably faster.

And while I agree that redundancy is critical for production systems, for home PCs having a smart backup strategy can have you working on your tier 2 system (the kid’s computer) with little or no lost work.

And if I had a wife like Richard Campbell’s wife, I would probably do dual 4 gig RAM drives in a RAID setup for the system disk. Imagine booting up Windows in 3 seconds!

August 01, 2007 0:57
I'm glad that you mentioned the Evoluent Vertical Mouse in the show. I was looking for something like this. I ordered one and and just got it in the other day. I t feels great so far and hopefully this will help in the long term with my hand pain.
August 01, 2007 18:59
I would probably do dual 4 gig RAM drives in a RAID setup for the system disk. Imagine booting up Windows in 3 seconds!

Imagine it actually not making that much difference in the real world, because that's what actually happens.. read the benchmarks and weep:

I am sympathetic to the backup argument for RAID5, but that's a *lot* of complexity to absorb in a system configuration. And there are many, many ways to back up. I'd rather back up online, personally-- what if your house burns down? What if you're on-site with a client and you need access to backup files from your house? It's a lot more logical for the backup to be in the cloud than on a local disk.

Furthermore, RAID 0 and other "speed up the disk" approaches deliver very limited performance returns, not even remotely enough to justify the massive amount of added complexity and rebuild risk (vs. simple, single drives). Again, read the benchmarks and weep:

But you probably saw that coming. If the RAMdisk results weren't that impressive (effectively INFINITELY fast), there's no way physical disk results could be better.
August 02, 2007 0:03
There were a few mentions of keyboards and hand soreness in this podcast. I'd like to point out that I too had this issue about 6 years ago and I bit the bullet and learned the dvorak keyboard layout and have never had an issue of soreness or numbness in my hands since. There were 3 painful weeks of retraining my brain before I was back to my QWERTY speed, but after that it's been all downhill. There have been days when I've been tying/coding for over 14 hours without any issues. Another side benefit was my typing speed has went from around 60/min with QWERTY to 90/min using dvorak. It's just that big of a deal. Imagine, using a layout based on a statistical analysis of the English language vs using a layout defined in 1910 to keep typewriter arms from jamming. Just wanted to offer it as a discussion item.
This content hasn't changed much, but is still relevant if you are evaluating the switch.

August 02, 2007 5:10
Hi Jeff,

The windows boot time claim was actually made by Richard Campbell on one of the DNR shows. I forget if he said 2 or 3 seconds. I just remember thinking “Holy Cow! That’s what I want!” Give him a smack for me if you find out he lied ;)

It would be interesting to be able to compare system builds to see which wastes less of a typical developer’s time, like installing windows, windows updates, Office, Office updates, SQL 2005, SP2, VS 2005 and all of the other utilities that we need and use. Is it just me or does everyone feel like they totally wasted a perfectly good day? If we can shave a few hours out of that time, that’s hours of my life that I would love to have back.

It would also be interesting to find out the true risk involved when using RAID 0. There is a mathematical formula which can be used to calculate the MTBF of the RAID series. Then calculate the probability of failure within the first 2 or 3 years of typical use. I could have done this when I was younger and more mathematically inclined. Perhaps someone could chime in and provide the formulas?

I hate wasted time. When I’m waiting for my computer, I’m waiting for the hard drive. If I can calculate more hours saved than lost due to a possible failure, I’d do it.
August 02, 2007 10:40

Regarding the reference to my comment in the show, what I was trying to say is that you can get a Quad CPU now but I am not sure if XP and VS 2005 will benefit much from multiple CPU cores. I didn't suggest that it was a waste of money to get such CPU now if you're running XP. I am pretty sure at some point in the future, you will be putting more demanding software and which will more efficiently use extra CPU for desktop apps.. like Vista. More desktop apps wil show up which are aware of multicore CPU's.

Comment to Carl Franklin: I use a Logitech mouse and I installed its mouse driver to use the programmable buttons. Logitech is a reputable big company. I am certain their driver is not malware. I am sure it's not going to pop up an ad or send spam while using the mouse :)
August 02, 2007 10:59
Thanks for the clarification abdu! You have good points.
August 03, 2007 23:34
I was wondering if I was the only one who hated those "mangled" keyboards (arrow keys in diamond shape and Insert/Home/PgUp/Etc rotated). I have a MS Natural 4000 at work and an older Ergonomic Pro at home which is the mangled one. I get aggravated whenever I use that keyboard at home... :-(
August 04, 2007 2:18
I'm with Mr. Atwood on much of this technology stuff.

Two dev monitors is really a minimum, I'm currently working on 4 and don't think I would appreciate less than 3. For those devs working on only one, I've been there. However, the cost of a good 22" monitor is like $300-400, and setting up even two 19" is about $400. Working on less just doesn't make any sense.

The same goes for ergo keyboards and mice (and fricken wrist rests). I've been complaining since 2000 that this is not standard operating hardware. I can't believe that any company would ask somebody to type on a computer for 8 hours/day and not automatically offer wrist rests, same for reception and hands-free sets. Companies should be on this proactively as the cost of one CTS lawsuit far outweighs 100 sets of ergo-mice and rests.

I actually feel that it's worthwhile working the boss on these points. It may take some patience (next fiscal budget), but just mention that this stuff is important for both productivity and health/safety. If the answer is "we can't afford it", then brush up your resume and start looking. Two monitors and an ergo keyboard cost $600 (or significantly less), if they're cutting these corners, it's unlikely that your next pay-raise is going to be very good.

As to the Quad-core and RAID etc. Jeff is pretty much right on. Screen real-estate is really important and so is responsiveness. After you've installed your 20GB of developer-ware, the smallest Raptors will satisfy your space needs, so it's probably worth focusing on speed over size.

The other use for Quad core and lots of RAM (not mentioned) is Virtual PC. VPC is a very useful tool, but usually comes with the downside of bogging down your machine. Having 4 cores, means that you can "effectively" hand one off and not lose your own processing power. Much the same goes if you're running local copies of SQL Server or IIS (solo/prototype projects). You're now able to run at regular speed and just let the "extra" cores handle these services.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.