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Choosing the Right System

One question I’ve been hearing a lot is how to select the right processor for desktop deployment. While this reminds me of the processor wars in the previous century, the reality is that any of the multi-core, 64-bit capable processors, installed on a system board that will also support x64 OSs, will run today’s OSs well, with a little bit of future-proofing thrown in the mix. And given the price deltas between business systems that are just below the top-of-the-line, bleeding-edge hardware technology, and those that are at the trailing edge, I see little reason these days to buy hardware on the edge of obsolescence.

Every now and then a persistent reader asks what I use for my desktop and isn’t put off by my protestations that I use two desktop computers and desktop replacement notebook on a daily basis. The question boils down to what kind of system do I use to get my work done?

My workspace is typical of any IT guy who evaluates systems and technology prior to adoption. I run servers and workstations and can reconfigure the systems to meet specific testing needs. But the system I run everything from, and where I do most of my work, I upgraded in the last six months.

My previous primary desktop is still in use. It’s a few years old but as a 3.6GHz Pentium 4 with 4GB of RAM and a terabyte of storage, it runs Windows XP very well. So why did I upgrade? I wanted to run Windows Vista as my primary workspace (and wasn’t willing to upgrade the existing, stable, XP system), and I wanted to take advantage of virtualization and newer video and display technologies.

No one offered a business-focused system that had the features and capabilities I was looking for at a price point I was willing to hit. I had traditionally used SMP-capable systems, but the workstation class systems were very pricey and used Xeon CPUs (nothing wrong with that, but not what any of my readers were asking about as desktop solutions) and had video options focused on the CAD marketplace. So I looked at systems marketed to the small business and home user.

After a lot of research, I bought what would be considered a gamer system as my main desktop computer. I bought the computer stripped and upgraded the storage, memory, and video to meet my needs; a cost-effective measure, but not one I generally recommend.

So what did I end up with? Well I’m writing this column on a Dell XPS 720--not your average business computer. Yes, I can play games on it, but no, that’s not something I often do. Configured with an Intel Core 2 Extreme quad-core processor, 4GB of very fast RAM, 3TB of internal Serial ATA (SATA) storage, and dual nVidia GEForce 8800 GTX display adapters (driving four monitors), the setup is efficient for me. For example, as I write this I have a few downloads streaming from MSDN, a video presentation playing in Windows Media player, two virtual PC sessions running--one installing a copy of Windows Server 2003 R2 and the other doing some Web serving to a test running on my network--plus an RDP session into a Windows Server 2008 instance installing applications running elsewhere on the network.

I can keep an eye on all this without leaving my desk. I haven’t noticed display lags and according to the processor core meter running in Windows sidebar, aside from an occasional burst into the 50 percent range for one of the four CPU cores, my current workload is staying well under 20 percent, giving me plenty of head room for future growth.

In the small business world, you buy the system you need to get your work done. For the majority of business users, this is a simple question to answer. For others, there are plenty of solutions that can deliver systems more powerful and capable than the applications that you’ll be throwing at them today.

Tip –
Microsoft Virtual PC 2007 is an excellent way to maximize the use of your existing dual-core systems with lots of memory. You can test installations of other Microsoft OSs, install older OSs, and run applications that won’t run on newer OSs, and you can explore the features of both server and client OSs without the need to invest in additional hardware. Virtual PC 2007 will run on Windows Vista or Windows XP and it’s free. You can download it here:

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