SSD + I7 950 + 12GB + Three Screens = Fast and Productive Development

I’ve been developing on the new computer I built for about two months now, and I am very happy with my investment.  So far I have spent $2,100 and a couple evenings of personal time. The results are lighting fast compiles, the ability to run a couple of VMs without impacting the performance of my VS 2010 development environment and plenty of screen real estate to work with. In short, a much more productive development environment.  The key parts are as follows:

  • ASUS P6X58D-E Motherboard
  • Intel I7 950 (lightly overclocked to 3.2Ghz)
  • 3x4GB G.Skill  DDR3 1600 RAM
  • Corsair Force 240GB SSD (primary drive)
  • Western Digital Caviar Black 1TB (data drive)
  • Sapphire 1GB Radeon HD 5770 Video Card

I used to develop on a fast laptop since I had to travel quite a bit.  Therefore, the only existing parts I could use were the external monitors.  Since I already had them they are not included in the cost of the new computer.

  • Two relatively cheap 1920×1080 23″ widescreens  that I was using with the laptop at home ($199 ea about 6 months ago).
  • One much older 19″ in portrait orientation (1024×1280).  This monitor was sitting in my closet because I could only hookup two external monitors to my laptop.

The biggest improvements come from the SSD.  I installed the OS, SQL Server and development tools on it, which left me close to 200GB free  for my code.  Compiles are dramatically faster, which gives me less time to sip my soda while I wait for my unit tests to run.  Computer startup, whether from hibernate or from power off, is also greatly improved.   The Corsair is a second generation SSD and includes TRIM support, which should keep performance consistent for the life of the drive.

VS 2010 + Resharper is also much snappier now thanks to the four cores with hyper-threading available on the I7-950.  The development environment has been so fast that I was encouraged to turn on Resharper’s solution-wide analysis feature on my biggest projects for the first time.  Surprisingly, I did not notice any slowdown.  The Java IDE I use for Android development, JetBrains Intellij, is also running faster than before.

Adding a third screen in portrait mode has also improved my productivity.  It lets me keep documentation in view at all times and frees the widescreens for development environment, GUIs I am debugging, VMs and remote desktop screens.

Speaking of VMs, plenty of RAM and CPU to spare lets me run a couple big ones without impacting the performance of the development environment.  I tend to keep the VM disk images on my data drive, but even so I have noticed a small improvement in their I/O performance.

The other nice thing about the desktop is growth potential.  I can double my RAM to 24GB by adding three new 4GB DIMMs.  There is plenty of room for more hard drives and I even have a couple 6GB/sec SATA 3 ports to let me take advantage of the even faster SSD drives that are coming in 2011 and beyond.  Mid-range video cards making their way to market now support up to eight monitors.  Some day I can even upgrade the CPU with six or possibly more cores running a bit faster that the cores I have now.  The bottom line is there is a good chance that this box will carry me to the day where my development environment lives in the cloud and all I need at home is a terminal with a huge screen.

Oh, the Windows experience scores are as follows:

  • Processor 7.6
  • Memory 7.9
  • Graphics 7.4
  • 3d Graphics 7.4
  • Primary Disk 7.5

Author: Tom Cabanski

Software Developer and Entrepreneur

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