Still glad I built that PC

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, March 3, 2020, 4:10 PM | comments: 0

Back in July, with bonus money burning a hole in my pocket, I built my first PC in more than 14 years. I did follow up that build with a second monitor and a stand for both, since the original stands were like a Jell-O® mold wobbling when I typed. So my all-in cost was actually $2,100 in the long run. Again, not cheap, but still way less than the single-screen iMac I had bought four years before. It was a great purchase.

Having two 27" 4K monitors is life changing. It's staggering how quickly the prices came down for more pixels. I'm a huge fan of painted-on text. For the longest time, I was pretty satisfied with a single 27" monitor, I suppose because it felt gigantic relative to the days of having 20" or 24". When I'm doing actual work, I tend to not have anything open that isn't necessary, so Alt-Tab-ing around isn't a big deal. But the biggest change in the last few years, when you're writing code, is that you've got all of these distributed "things" doing work all at the same time. While it isn't strictly necessary, it gives me a certain amount of comfort when I can see that something in a browser happens which makes something in some serverless thing happen over there which lights up something else. Sure, we write all kinds of tests and automation to make sure all of this loosely coupled stuff works together, but particularly early on when you're prototyping and such, it's nice to prove that what you're doing actually works.

Speaking of all that compute stuff spread around, lots of cores and memory is cheap and easy these days. Eight cores and 32 gigs of RAM is overkill for everything that I'm doing. For example, to run the hosted forums locally, I have two web apps, a bunch of Azure functions, SQL Server, some queues and both Redis and ElasticSearch running in containers. Then with Visual Studio running, plus VS Code (where I'm writing the documentation), a bunch of Chrome tabs, music playing... I still don't think I've exceeded 18 gigs of RAM actually in use. My CPU cooler changes color when it gets hot, and it's always green.

I'm still a little nervous about everything being straight-up Windows, as opposed to the Mac with Windows VM's that I can reset or throw away, but so far I haven't experienced any OS rot. The only thing I really miss is having the last non-subscription version of the Adobe CS apps, but honestly, they were barely working on the newer Macs, especially since they all pre-dated high-resolution displays. I am buying the Photographer bundle with Photoshop and Lightroom, but I miss Illustrator, Premier Pro and After Effects, even though I didn't use them that frequently.

One final note about the build, it would be quiet if it weren't for the power supply. It's not like a jet engine, but it makes some minor white noise. It's unfortunate, because the liquid cooler fans and case fans are nearly silent. It's not a deal breaker, and to be fair, my previous iMac did sound like a jet engine every time you did a long running build.

Maybe the best part of building my own thing is that its shelf life is fluid. When you can replace parts, it's not just something that you try to get three years out of and replace entirely. As long as the various interfaces stick around for awhile, the innards will connect to each other. I haven't paid attention enough to know if it's all just bus speeds and sockets changing. Certainly the case, the SSD's, video card and the cooling hardware should last for a bit. The CPU, RAM and motherboard might need to be upgraded together, but I'm not starting from zero regardless.


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