Virtualization and PC?

I want to treat myself to a new computer. Then I want to be able to install lots of different operating systems. What would people recommend? Does Xen install and play well on Ubuntu? Should I wait for VMWare to offer their GSX product for free? How easy-to-use is QEMU these days?

Also, what brand o’ computer should I go with? Before you suggest it, I’m not ready to switch to an Apple yet. Right now I’m thinking Dell or HP. Dell has those frickin’ huge 30″ screens. But note that they dropped the 15-pin D-sub input, plus the S-video input, the composite video input, and the component video input. Plus it doesn’t look like the 30″ will do the 90-degree swivel trick that other Dell monitors can? And everytime I spec out a machine on Dell’s website, I get bogged down in all the extras that they try to offer, and it seems like they’re a little more likely to use proprietary parts. That said, I still lean toward Dell a little bit. I sometimes end up cobbling together my own, but I’m not really in the mood for that this time.

I’d like the PC to be very quiet (watercooled?). I don’t play many/any games, but I’m a sucker for lots of screen real estate and plenty of hard drive storage. So, what would you recommend? Any PC hobbyists out there with insights?

111 Responses to Virtualization and PC? (Leave a comment)

  1. Still sounds like you need an Apple (I know, I know, you didn’t want to hear this). You may not feel ready, but once it arrives….wow. With the new intel processors someone will figure out soon how to load the other OS on there, is my guess. I’ll never go back to Dell now.

  2. Hi Matt,

    Maybe this screen will meet your needs ?

  3. I think you misfiled this one, Matt.

    Personally, if I could have a Sun Solaris server for my laptop, that would be a power play.

  4. I don’t have any computer recommendations, but after looking into the Dell and Apple monitors, I ended up getting the 23″ HD Apple. The employees at the Apple store were very disappointed when I told them I was hooking it up to a PC. It’s a beautiful monitor. It doesn’t swivel though.

  5. I was drooling over an Alienware PCs I configured online the other day. Watercooled, RAID, insane processors and graphics cards…go configure your own at this URL.

    You can buy your big friggin monitor wherever you like, but Dells aren’t always the most reliable, and if you can afford to buy something nice, I wouldn’t go looking for it in an HP box.

    Oh, and buy me one too, while you’re at it.

  6. Hi Matt,

    If you want my opinion, don’t buy a computer from a brand name company. Get yourself a computer geek to source you the parts and build you your own box. For what you’d pay at Dell or some other company, you could build yourself a monster machine. I did that for a friend and he got a dual core AMD with RAID drives for less than a Dell computer with much lower specs. Find the intern in the Google IT department and make him build you a computer. Asus motherboards seem pretty good along with Antec power supplies.

    OCZ looks good for RAM.

    I use a Mac but I wouldn’t recommend those at the moment either. Too much is up in the air with all their transitional crap. Having said that, I think it is a great machine for everyday work and design if you ever feel the urge to switch.

  7. ….Dell PC’s aren’t always the most reliable, that is. I’ve heard nothing but good stuff about their monitors.

  8. Hey Matt,
    I’ve been using a dell XPS (gaming pc) and it’s great. It is a monster with plenty of storage. It isn’t watercooled, but the power supply is in its own case within the case. I’ve never had a problem with it – so I’m a huge fan. I don’t game on it, but I run adobe CS, macromedia, etc. It handles it all with ease. Can edit my sites, burn a dvd, and listen to my itunes and never miss a beat.

    By the way – are you going to SES in New York???

  9. Michael Martinez, thanks. Google/SEO is my default category, and I forgot to change it. Changed it.

  10. I know you said no apple, but I have switched and been very happy. It cooperates very nicely with my *nix boxes too…

    If I had to pick PC hardware, I prefer Dell over HP, and would definitely say no to anything made by Sony with all their proprietary extras that require a million extra drivers. Whatever brand, format the thing as soon as it shows up. I think that the worst crime these companies commit is all the extra software that 3rd party vendors pay to get into the box. It makes the box cheaper, but raises the cost of ownership.

    When it comes to monitor, the Apple’s are very nice and I have one.

    As far as virtualization if the VMWare thing happens, that is the way to go. It is dead simple and you can get a lot of machines going quickly.

    Hope some of this rambling was helpful πŸ˜‰

  11. I am inthe same boat as you… I have been trying to build a computer at dells site for a while, always spec it out, keep playing and then never order it.

    I would suggest if you do go with Dell, go right to their small business computers and look at a dual core optiplex. You can then install a dual head video card, and I think you could run 2 24″ widescreen monitors (my budget will only be enough for 2×19″ or 2×20.1 wide). My friend bought one and said he can barely hear it, so no water cooler to worry about.

    You should be able to get a maxed out workhorse machine with 2gig + of ram and the dual head card for around 1400US, and then whatever monitors you choose. Also their small business machines come with a 3 year warranty so you should be safe from it breaking down.

  12. What Nick said. Find a hardware geek, do it yourself, or buy an Apple. Apple’s the only hardware company that I feel pays enough attention to detail to make a perfectionist happy (and last I checked, most geeks like us qualify as perfectionists). Dells, HPs, etc tend to be made for people who don’t care about how well made the machine is, they just want it to work. And the cheap capacitors, lousy motherboards, terrible computer layout, and such things that most manufacturers do or use — those all work, but they don’t make your inner geek happy.

    If Apple’s not on the list I’d go with doing it yourself. You’ll learn a lot in the process, and it’s really quite fun. (Although, you may end up wasting inordinate amounts of time reading HardOCP as well.) Plus you’re quite likely to get a much better performing system as a much wider array of hardware is available to the DIYer than the Dell-buyer (not the least of which is AMD chips). Just realize that you’re not like to get it exactly “right” until you’ve built, oh, probably your third computer, or at least done a whole bunch of upgrades.

    Getting a friendly geek to help you out (I’m sure there’s plenty around at Goolge) is a great option, but if you go with the custom-built option, just remember that part of the fun is the pride of simply having gone the DIY route. It’s not just your computer, it’s the computer that you built yourself.

    The only major reason you shouldn’t go with the DIY option is if cost is an issue. It used to be that DIY was actually cheaper than Dell and co., but that’s far less true these days. But since you’re talking about big, huge monitors and other such things here, I’m going to assume that’s not an issue.

    If you pick up a new laptop though, seriously consider the Apple. (The DIY laptop is a bad idea.)

    I hear Xen is nice, though I’ve never tried it myself. Apparently lots of neat tricks can be done with it.

  13. Matt:

    I’ve been drooling over L’s Hollywood 17″ laptop (

    Until I can afford it however, I’ll stick with IBM/Lenovo’s T42 which (knock on wood), is a real trouper and you can’t beat IBM’s first class service and support.

    have a great wkend.


  14. I’m running a Dell XPS 600 dual core with hyperthreading. 2G ram, WinXP, 3.2 ghz. 23″ Sony lcd monitor. Other than the deep hummm (not exactly fan noise) and the refrigerator-esque weight & size of the cpu, I like this machine, but I wouldn’t pay extra for the hyperthreading technology again (about $600, I think).

  15. Hi Matt
    IMO custom is the way to go and not OEM. I have always gone for a custom set up right down to purchasing the separate license for the operating system and all software that I need. Having an OEM comes with its own set of problems like certain software not working, pre-installed low-line security and proprietary software.
    Custom would be the better option and pick and choose your hardware, By having a custom set-up its easier to upgrade components and find suitable ones for your job. Look at next generation CPU’s that are 32/64 compatible.

  16. If you want to go water cooled, from what I’ve read Alienware systems are the way to go.

    They are geared for gaming but if all you want is screen real estate, they will handily do the job.

    My next system is going to come from them.

  17. I have a Dell System with the dual 24″ Wide Monitors (Dell 2405FPW). Love it. Found a coupon code on this site where I got a dell system with the 24″ Wide Monitor for $899. Of course I had to tweak the system a bit (opted for the Dual Core Processor) but still got out for under $1200. I added the second 24″ monitor later with another hot deal from TechBargains. The second monitor was $824.25 shipped free. The monitor alone usually sells for $1200. Every few months or so it seems like they have the complete system deal packaged with the Dell 9150 and a 24″ monitor. You have to check the site daily though, because some of the coupons expire after 24 hours, or X many uses.

  18. What are the specs on your current system?

  19. I’d also join the DIY/custom voting class.

    Matt, you’re a smart guy. And the person who’s going to configure the system that’s best for you is…you.

    And as Vincent said, the ability to upgrade/replace components is always there.

  20. If you value your time and your money and really want to get as much out as possible (work-wise) from your system, go for Apple.
    Having said that, I would wait until they start shipping their Intel based PowerMacs or whatever they will call those.

    The iMacs are sweet but you may need a bigger screen sooner or later and you won’t be able to upgrade ( you will, however, be able to place it next to your mac and double your screens ).

    Presumably, you will be able to run Windows on those Intel based Macs along with Linux and BSD and whatever else you may need.

    Dell, Gateway, HP will provide you with a nice system alright. Use your friends Apple systems for a while, ask them to explain you what makes it feels ‘right’ before you go with those companies though. You may decide you don’t really wanna be their customer this time.

  21. Custom build is the only way to go Matt.

  22. This is what you need, man.

    The DIY oil cooled PC

    Very quiet and very delicious. I don’t have some fancyass degree in thermodynamics, but I would imagine you could fry up a mean batch of doughnuts in that bad boy.

  23. I love VMWare and sure, wait for that! πŸ™‚

  24. If you want a quiet PC … get some long cables, and put it in the next room.

    Low tech: Yes.
    Works: YES!

  25. I’m probably going to take heat for this, but I’m with you Matt – I like Dell a lot. We’ve been buying them for the company for 10 years now and have never had to call support or get something fixed (not even one time). They’re not the most powerful machines out there, although their new gaming PCs are pretty impressive, but they can provide a very solid machine for a long time.

    Those 30″ monitors are darn click, too, but why would you need it to swivel?

  26. Hey matt…

    Just got this monitor from Sony… its awesome.. its also VESA compliant so you can mount it on a wall or desk arm.

    23″ PremierProβ„’ Widescreen LCD DisplayspacerSDM-P234/B

  27. heh wow thats a long link didnt…

    how about use Frooooooooooogle to find it

  28. Did someone say custom computer? You could search Google πŸ™‚

    And quiet….

  29. If you are not worried about upgrades go with a good Dell business class or XPS system. Clone hardware is fun when you have a computer wholesaler down the street and you can return the bad parts right away.

  30. Matt,
    Get a Mac and everything will be all better

  31. Somebody was talking about the Lenovo (IBM) laptops. Just a very quick warning for all of you out there. You cannot install a third party laptop in the T43 (and probably some other machines) without receiving an error on boot. After much complaining Lenovo finally released a firmware update but you still get a loud beep and warning screen on boot. What’s pathetic is that the drive I’m using (Hitachi Travelstar 7K60) is functionally the same as what IBM sells. The difference is that they’ve updated the firmware and Hitachi won’t do the same. So if you want a bigger, faster HD, you have to go through Lenovo. Pretty pathetic of Lenovo!

    Read about it here:,10801,106734,00.html

    or search Google for “Lenovo 2010”


  32. Matt, I gotta say Dell over HP any day.

    I’ve had experience with both companies dealing with their customer service. With HP, there CS tried to get me to buy a refurbished scanner from their inside repair department when my automatic document feeder broke. When I did some research, I found that a new one was less than the refurb. I ended up having to write a letter to their management with a CC to our purchasing department (major fortune 500 company) in order to get the proper results.

    Dell’s outsourced support may be a pain sometimes, but I’ve found them to be a little better over the last year or so and they have never treated me badly. Most of the repairs I’ve needed have been my own fault with the Dells anyway. That’s why I always get complete care with my laptops, I am just way too clumsy. If its spillable I’ve fried a keyboard with it πŸ™‚


  33. I recommend buying one off a vendor that’ll actually give you DISCS.

    I bought an HP desktop less than a month ago and discover you have to burn-your-own-copy of the craphouse partition they make with 100+ programs pre-installed.

    Their notebooks (i bought one 4 months ago) do come with “clean discs” so you can do a build that doesn’t come with 27 ways to manage photos and 50 ways to communicate with a camera.

  34. Can’t help with your choice of machine, but got to agree with you about the Dell Website. Whenever I go there I see something I like for around Β£400.00, but by the time I get to page 2 of all the extra add-ons I’m nearly always back up to over Β£800 :o(
    I resisted the temptation with my last laptop though, and got a great one for under Β£400.00, you just have to resist the temptation of adding on the extras.

  35. I just spec’ed this question out, again, for a client. For the money, Dell’s totally and absolutey suck. Period. HPs look pretty good to me if I was going to get a commercial box from a name brand vendor.

    But the bottom line is that if you DIY your box will be cheaper and better. Every part will be better, except the CPU of course.

    I’m always amazed to see how huge a gap exists between these big companies and a DIY box, especially when you consider that when you buy retail parts you’re paying a lot more for the part than Dell or HP is. But HP looked very good, they had dual core amds for a very reasonable price. But it’s still a junky case, not nearly as good as a high end case.

    Pay the geek, he’ll be happy, making high end boxes with high end parts is fun. It’s techncially impossible to ever end up with a box that is worse for the same money from what I can see when you have it built yourself. That’s why Dell puts out those high profits.

  36. Raphael Salomon

    It sounds like your requirements are quite similar to mine… My primary computer is used to do a lot of web application development, with occasional viewing of HD video content. I have recently finished setting up an Athlon 64 X2 4200+ on an ASUS A8N-VM CMS motherboard. The mobo is one of the more recent highly integrated solutions, based on the NVidia 6150 chipset. If, like myself, you don’t use the machine to play 3D intensive games, then the built-in display adapter will give you all the 2D processing power you’re likely to need including HDTV video. It has DVI-D output and GbE (which is was a requirement for me). I have a Samsung 20″ display, you’ll likely want to get a bigger one depending on your budget. I have 2Gb of RAM and there’s also a WD 250Gb for local storage. I’ve found the dual-core capability to be quite effective in speeding things up in the type of work that I run here.

    Regarding noise: The mobo above is in the microATX form factor, which I put into a neat little enclosure I found in a local store. It’s a relative low-cost Chinese made box, but you can tell that someone was really making an effort in designing it. Screwdriver-less screws, *three* nearly noiseless fans, and very nicely done exterior. It positioned vertically on my desk so it consumes very little space. For a CPU fan I used a Zalman 7000 which is virtually inaudible (the ASUS board varies its rotational speed according to the CPU’s temperatute). It’s leaps and bounds more quite than my previous “desktop” solution: All it generates is a very low humming sound that you have to concentrate to really hear. If you have higher noise sensitivity than mine, Antec makes uATX cases that could be even more quiet and some makers offer completely passively cooled solutions which I’d personally recommend only if your ambient temperature is controlled.

    There you have it: My complete recipe and shopping list. I spent less than an hour assembling the machine. I might have gone for a brand name solution if I could find mine that matched my specs, more or less, but they have yet to appear on the market. Unless you go with a 30″ monitor which requires dual DVI-D outputs, this solution could possibly work for you well. If you need dual-heads, just pop-in an extra PCI Express display. Since you’re not into games, SLI wouldn’t be of that great advantage to you.

    Most distirbutions (Fedora 4, Ubuntu and SUSE included) require some hacking to get to work on this setup (it’s a fairly recent chipset/motherboard), but Fedora Core 5 (test 2) worked cleanly out of the box. It’s scheduled to be released next month, but the test release looks very solid and works perfectly here. The reason I bring this up is that FC5 is as “XEN-enabled” as it gets. Getting XEN on it for server consolidation is much more streamlined then what it used to be. It also takes advantage of the dual-core nature of the platform which is really nice to have (their default AMD64 build is SMP enabled). It’s been a few years since I worked on an SMP workstation, and it’s kind of nifty to have two CPU monitoring applets on the desktop instead of one…

    A couple of months ago gave QEmu a try (through Win4Lin) but had, errr, mixed experiences. I do use WINE to run MSIE6, but I primarily use VMware Workstation for Windows applications, which is nothing but a pleasure to use. Both Workstation and GSX have relatively high overhead because of the code translation involved. The guy at the recent IDC I attended estimated it at around 50%, which informal testing I’ve done more or less confirm. So if you want server consolidation, it’s a suboptimal solution. But for mixing Windows and Linux (MacOS?) desktop environments in a streamlined fashion it’s probably the best solution around. If you do care more about performance, and you have no need to run Windows, go with XEN. We actually have a hosted production box which runs XEN and it’s rock solid.

    I missed that VMWare news clip about the free GSX offering… From their web-site, VMWare will probably make significant announcement on Monday (Feb 6). Let’s all wait and see what they’re up to…

  37. I have had two dell laptops and currently using an HP. Bought one Dell thru their EPP (employee purchase program for their big big corporate accounts) side and the other via the website as just Joe Consumer. The difference in customer service is night and day. The HP CS is beyond pathetic. I view laptops as throways now, so it is just comes down to price.

    My suggestion is to either have Google setup a corporate account with Dell and buy through that, or get one of the googlers that sets up the 10k+ servers you have and let him trick out a box for you.

  38. Apple

  39. Matt,

    I am from Austin, and Michael and Susan Dell do a ton of wonderful things for our community, so I’m going to have to whisper this…

    We have 8 computers at our house (4 kids, 2 parents desktops plus a couple of laptops) and the only one that gives us trouble is my new Dell. The flatscreen monitor is great, but the computer itself gives me fits. I had a similar situation with a Dell the last time I bought one many years ago, and I said never again… but I somehow forgot that and ordered one online several months ago. I love the Dells, but I don’t want to buy any more computers from them.

    We have another local company, Wallinford, that makes machines to order, and that is where I find I get a good price and great performance. I’m sure wherever you live (in CA?) probably has a place like that.

    Someone mentioned Alienware; my son got one, I personally think because it looks hip and cool, and it was a little more expensive, but no problems.

    My daughter has an Apple iBook that she loves, she makes films and apparently you can’t edit on a PC; and their service and tech support has been great. They even fixed something once at no charge that was entirely her fault for dropping it… I was shocked, and impressed.

    With Dell service and tech support, I’m just shocked. The only time I get what I consider good service from them is when I’m buying… from there it has been downhill.

    Good luck!

  40. APPPLLLL… What? Oh, not Apple.

    I wouldn’t recommend a Dell. Their monitors are good (especially since they shrank the bezel (my 2000fp has a huge border)), but the computers kinda suck. My brother and a friend both have the 2405fpw and really enjoy them. Also, all the monitors at my school are Dell (all 2000fp or 2001fp, except on the Macs). All the Dell machines I’ve done work on for people for money have been pretty crappy. Their quality has gone down considerably since we got ours in 1997.

    If you aren’t up for building one yourself, then I second the recommendation to find a neighborhood geek to whip one up. I made a Shuttle PC for someone, and one of my old clustermates has one, and they are cute little machines. They are no Mac mini, but they have better performance and are very portable and nice for a PC.


  41. Many above suggested DIY, however, take it a step further and HANSBI

    (That’s Have A Nearby Shop Build It)

    No matter what you buy, Dell, HP, or box of parts from Fry’s, on average 12% of those parts will be bad within the first 30 days. I speak from the experience of buying name brands and building white boxes for 100’s of machines.

    Matt, you want the closest, friendliest computer store near you that has evening and Sunday Hours to build you a top performer. They’ll build it to your exact specs, and they’ll be there to swap out bad ram while you wait.

    Every neighbohood has a store or two they can count on, and I encourage the support of your local business. Don’t settle for less!

  42. Chris DiBona wrote a review of a tricked-out AMD64 box from a small vendor, Monarch:

  43. I’m sort of stuck inbetween I suppose (between the Dell and the Do-It-Yourselfers).
    My last box was a Dell, and it was amazing for the money I spent (the Dell Outlet is a great buy almost everytime), and it even survived the upstairs bathroom flooding through the floor onto it (I literally emptied it out in the back yard, let it dry, plugged it in, and it booted up just fine).
    But now I have a box that I build from spare parts, mostly frim TigerDirect and PriceWatch. It might have cost just a little less then my Dell, but if you factor in the like 8 hours of working on it to get it to work..I’m sure the price is about equal. The one thing that makes me lean towards the Do-It-Yourselfers is just that fact. When everything is said and done and you realized your 52 mistakes in setting up jumpers and the like, theres just this pride that goes with building your own box. Plain and simple.

  44. Maybe you can build your own mini datacenter at home,. πŸ™‚ I was kind of expecting that you had one already in your basement and or adict.

    By the way, next time your 2 bosses visit brasil, let me know upfront. Now I missed the chance to invite them for a beer.

    (and when you visit yourself,.. We also have sprite here,. :D)

  45. You shock me Matt, I figured you were the kind of person always in search of knowledge. You don’t know your computer properly unless you buit it yourself.

    I also say nothing beats a seperate machine. Get yourself a server rack, PCs and a KVM.

    Oh and Michael Dell’s rich enough already. Find a local PC store if you must buy a pre-built one.

  46. Dell is my buddy too randfish, don’t be ashamed! A rose, is a rose, is a rose!.

    I bought the 24″ widescreen with my last desktop just before the 30″ came out. GOSH! However, my office setup requires me to slightly peer around my LCD to chat with whoever is in the chairs opposite my desk and I imagine that the 30″ would make it much worse. Excuses. I should just refactor my office and knock down walls to accomodate the 30 incher.

  47. Joel: Trust me, you want to avoid L like the plague. I bought one of their laptops, and trust me, you can’t use it as a laptop. Stick that thing on your lap and you’ll have 3rd degree burns in no time flat. Plus the air intake design on the chassis is terrible. Intake is on the bottom, so if you put the laptop on your lap, it’ll suck your clothing up into the intake, blocking the fan and causing the laptop to crash.

    And of course, the laptop isn’t nearly as fast as advertised.

    Oh yeah, and they’re lawyer-happy too. I’ll probably get a C&D letter for writing this comment and at least a few spammy messages accusing me of libel or some such.

    Actually though, there is one good thing about L: They were so lousy that I swore I’d never buy another Windows-based laptop and ended up switching to Apple. Best decision ever.

  48. I’d never buy a stock system. Find a geek and get it built.

    If you have to buy, go Alienware.

  49. I prefer to custom build my machines, bt I certainly understand not being in the mood to do so. I’m a lazy bastage most of the time (or “Why make a steel belted radial when a sawed off log will work just fine?”), so unless I have a specific need for certain features, I just pick up something cheap. Thus, my son got a new Dell for christmas, while my wife got a new dual core AMD with 2gb of ram, a 400gb hd, 3 video cards, two sound cards, and a nice rackmount case for her DJ stand. If you’re looking for your new pride-and-joy primary pc, get an intern to build it. If you’re just looking for another toy to abuse, get a Dell. If you don’t have an intern, let me know. I’ll gladly build you a PC if you’ll just put my link in the center of the second O on in the Google logo. πŸ˜‰

    My call center has used Dell for 6 years now. They get used 24/7/365. in that time I’ve seen maybe 3% of the PCs go bad. The monitors (750’s) worked quite well for the first 4 years, but I am now experiencing about 1% failure rate each month.

  50. My bad, I didn’t read properly. You do build systems.

    Still, I say buy local. You won’t get Dell building a water cooled system. Give a local shop a try.

  51. I highly suggest building your own computer Matt, when you do, it becomes a part of you and if it ever has issues you can quickly diagnose and repair/replace parts.

    You can also make it a slammin’ water cooled gaming monster with lights glowing through it’s plexiglass case like something out of an aliens movie. This is cool if you like to stay up late, it will shines a little light at your feet while you destroy entire spam networks with your geeky keyboard shortcutts’. πŸ˜›

    You have stated that you like shiny objects so get with the program and build yourself a unit or two.

  52. Alienware unless you find a builder

  53. Hey Matt. Go with Dell.

    I have a Latitude D600 with 1.6 GHz and 2 GB of RAM and two (yes two) 17″ flat screen Dell monitors with a Dell docking station. The HD has 60 Gigs.

  54. Xen works very very nicely on Ubuntu, at least in 32-bit mode. 64-bit Xen is somewhat more experimental. is a good starting place.

    As for QEmu, with the Ubuntu packages it’s easier to use than it was, but I was pretty unimpressed with the performance.

  55. big screens, graphics, and noise

    Those 30″ screens are nice, but they might increase the overall noise level as graphichs cards are pretty noisy. I got myself a passively cooled nVidia 6xxx (something, can’t remember what, it’s inside the box now) – that made a huge difference to the noise level.

  56. I’ll just repeat and add a “me too” to too what Nick said above

    “don’t buy a computer from a brand name company.”

    ESPECIALLY if you want to run multiple OS’es. Don’t get caught up with some proprietary modem/wifi/graphics/ tv-tuner/ram/memory stick/ cam/ whatever. HP has a bad reputation for HP ram, and Dell has a bad rep for pretty much anything, except their e-trade interface (I see you enjoyed it *lol*). Oh, and don’t buy the latest-greatest specs of peripherals. you rissk that they’re so new that they’re really still windows specific only.

    You don’t want all the hassle with getting dirvers ans stuff. It’s just not worth it. Go for a “bamboo machine”, it’s really less hassle, and the price point is a usually bit more attractive too.

    Usually, as when you build your own you tend to pick better parts, and then the costs end up at brand name level anway (but the specs should be way above brand name level)

    Oh, and install windows first, as it will otherwise overwrite your boot record. Windows is a bitch like that.


  57. Matt,
    don’t build it yourself. After a while, it is no longer fun trying to chase bugs or figure out what’s wrong; you just want to call them and fix it, or ship you a new one. I have a Dell XPS, pimped out to 2 GB and all, but it can be sometimes noisy. I traced noise to some loose things in the case that hold drives, and can be tightned. Sometime I smack the case and the noise goes away. Otherwise, everything is perfect. I can run a gazillion programs without running out of CPU or memory, and would buy it again.

    I was going to buy a workstation with two Xeons and such, but couldn’t justify the costs and Christmas had already passed. However, you can do it :-). Oh, and buy at least two monitors; it’s the best thing I ever did.

  58. To add,
    don’t forget Dual Internal Drives, either with RAID or some other daily backup mechanism, and an external drive USB drive to make a weekly or so backup. If something happens with the computer you can always use the internal one to restore, the external drive is that once-in-50 years event, and you would store at a friend’s house or in the garage. You never now!

    As far as the brand: I doubt you’d see many differences between Dell, HP and others. This is what they do for a living, so they have perfected it. With all the options you will get, the 5% or so difference in performance that could exist between Dell and HP, will not even be felt.

    Good luck,

  59. [quote]either with RAID or some other daily backup mechanism[/quote]

    OK, this needs shooting down right now. If I hear this misinformation being spread one more time, someone’s going to get shot.

    RAID is NOT a backup mechanism. If your data gets corrupted, the corrupted data gets mirrored across all of the drives immedately.

    RAID just prevents the likelyhood of you losing data through hard drive failure.

    Seeing as I’m at it, Dell and HP aren’t the same. they both use different types of proprietary components. This becomes a problem when you want something replaced or upgraded.

  60. Maybe you should hold out for one of those Google Cubes we’ve been hearing so much about. They are supposed to be under 100 bucks. πŸ˜‰

  61. Matt –

    Your a professional computer Geek – like me. You can’t just go to Dell and get an “off the rack” personal computer. You’ll be thrown out of the Geek club and all the other Geeks will laugh at you (nothin’ worse than that…).

    You’ve got to build one yourself. I’ve built my last five computers and it’s a breeze (after you’ve built your first one). If you’re too busy to build one yourself (or you’re all thumbs). Then spec. one out and have a pc custom built for you.

    My first PC was a dual CPU (700 mhz) PIII – which presented me with many special challenges. I wanted to learn Linux so I made a dual boot machine – Windows 2000 Pro and Redhat.

    If you decide to build one yourself, make sure you check the hardware compatibilty lists (HCL) for the Linux flavor you’re thinking about. This way the motherboard and devices actually work. The nice thing about a dual boot machine is that you can decide if you’re in learning mode (with the new O/S) or speed mode (with the one you know).

    If you’re too busy (working on Big Daddy) to build your own, then have one custom made. Yes, you will pay more but the components will be better, the computer will last longer (before it’s outdated) and you can choose where you want to upgrade (graphics, drives). I’m sure with a little searching around you can find somone to build you exactly what you need – like a quiet, water cooled machine.

    Finally, dual CPUs are now everywhere. Folks that say it’s overkill don’t realize how smooth a dual machine can be – especially if you’re running antivirus / firewalls. I still have that dual CPU machine and it never, ever crashes or hangs. Keep us posted, let us know what you decide!

  62. Matt,

    Find a high end system builder and have a very long chat with them.

    I’ve never bought a brand name home system, of the systems group I was once a part of most of the folks bought a brand name only to have nothing but service trouble.

    That was a combination of HP, Dell, Compaq, and Gateway systems over some 16 years.

  63. Matt O/T here but…
    sometime please post your reviews of the best “safe surf” filters for home use.

  64. Hi Matt,

    I would honestly say HP over Dell any day of the week for a number of reasons and having worked on both of their support desks I think I have a good insight of both companies.

    HP the company is amazing and having a long line of amazing products they have sure proved they can be the leader of home technology. Their support are a brilliant bunch of people that truely love what they do, in Ireland anyway πŸ˜‰

    As for Dell well I am not going to comment much on them to stop you or myself getting into trouble from their legal eagles. All I am going to say is that Dell Hell comes to mind – remember the site DellHell that is no longer with us? Check this out

    As for Josh’s comment on HP sending out refurb parts during the warranty period – this is standard procedure for most PC companies and yes Dell has done this for many years.

    Good Luck with your selection Matt.

  65. If noise is an issue, you should certainly consider Hush. I don’t own one myself, but they do look nice πŸ™‚

  66. Don Marti, I was thinking something by a vendor like Monarch might be a cool idea. Then you get the computer without a lot of software cruft surrounding it. If you ever want Windows, you could buy a copy at the store and pop it on with something like VMWare (thereby getting less cruft). If I knew the virtualization would work well, this would be a pretty tempting way to do it..

  67. I never had much fun in buying a computer. I always prefer building my own. Its like asking me is buying a suit ok or is it better to have one made. I prefer taylor made goods.

  68. RE: Cruftiness – just wait until WMW Boston and pick up a computer in front of Cruft Hall at Harvard….

  69. I just built a machine, I’m no computer hardware geek but I do find the buyer’s guides here handy combined with newegg makes getting your own machine a snap. The machine I built compared to dell was about 500 dollars cheaper and with name brand hardware and I get some nice RAID features.

    Xen is too fresh for me to swallow, you can use VMwares already free image player on Ubuntu, there’s a write up on their forums or wiki somewhere. I’ve never really been a fan of running vm on my work station, prefer to use multiple partitions or to have a cheap old bastard machine to run whatever os I access only occasionally @work we use vmware esx pretty heavily though it would probably be worth waiting for the gsx thing if you regularly swap around os’s, personally I just don’t like committing the hardware resources to a vm partition I’m using only every now and then.

  70. Matt,

    A geek-assembled computer is like your uncle tuning your Lamborghini (which I know you have). My hobbyist “insight” would be: get yourself a Packard Bell. Inexpensive and uncool, but a [i]clean[/i] machine – faster and smoother than a Dell.

    (unless you want CDs to reinstall from).

  71. Matt;
    regarding Virtualization, you’d probably do well to wait until Intel and AMD release their new line of CPUs with hardware virtualization as part of the specs – it’ll be a day-and-night difference compared to the software virtualization offered by VMWare and its ilk.

    As for the monitors though; definitely go with Dell there.
    I’ve got two 24″-beasts right now, and I’m strongly considering the 30″ ones.

  72. Hi Matt,

    I would have a look at Virtuozzo. It is much cheaper and in my opinion hugely better than VMWare.

    Check it out –

  73. I was starting to think everyone completely missed the point about VMWare and Linux needs until I saw the last 3 posts.

    Oscar is totally correct, if you’re going to use Xen, you have to wait for the new Intels with VT or AMD’s with Pacifica hardware virtualisation, VMWare not so much, but it will probably help there too. The free VMWare GSX server will be ready by then too.

    If you’re going to run Linux on it (as host OS, not a VMWare guest I assume) then your best bet is a DIY box so you can make sure the hardware is going to work, unless you get a RedHat-certified box from Dell, still not guaranteed to work with Ubuntu though, but I guess you Googler’s like that OS πŸ˜‰

    I’d love some of what Marten is smoking if he thinks Packard Bell are even worth considering! Jees, you might as well get a Linspire box from Walmart.

    Virtuozzo is good, I use it on my webserver, but it’s not really anything like VMWare, you can’t run multiple OSes, you can run multiple instances of a particular OS, kinda like BSD jails or Sun partitions.

    Finally, have you considered two monitors? Maybe two 19″ LCD’s, one for code, on for layout – or one for VMWare, one for your desktop.

  74. I’d be interested in your virtualisation choice. Just trying to make that decision at the moment myself.

    As for quiet PC’s, if you want performance the best option is certainly to build yourself. Disappointed at my previous main machine (a shuttle) which had replaced my last quiet PC… I’ve just finished constructing a new quiet machine, using QuietPC ( components. Not totally silent but whisper quiet and quiet enough to now be able to hear the slight buzz from the LCD panel. hmm time for a new screen… πŸ™‚

    Just rebuilding it as my new 64bit KDE4 dev box then I’ll be comparing vmware, qemu/kqemu, qvm86.

  75. Hey Matt,

    WhatΒ΄s your problem with German cars? πŸ™‚

    First Mercedes and now BMW… YouΒ΄re too funny Matt.. πŸ˜€

    I read somewhere that Germany has a google density use rate of 95%. Way above the average. But now youΒ΄re attacking publically 2 of their most valued brands and pride.

    Maybe the next example can be about something in France πŸ˜€


  76. Matt, I would (and am going to) go with VMware Server – as apparently it’s called.

    VMware is a FAR sight easier to use than QEMU or Xen (and Xen, UML, vserver, etc. only support Linux VMs anyway, today). It’s plug-and-play. I don’t know much about Virtuozzo, but of course VMware has that “free” thing going for it now.

    For my desktops at home and work, I use Linux (Debian & RHES respectively), each with a constantly-running Windows VM for all of the Win-only stuff I need to do.

    That may sound silly, but I’m virus-free and crash proof on the Linux side, and I can roll back a Windows VM when (not if) some piece of software munges up the registry or system files.

    Best of all worlds would be if VMware would work on OSX, but I don’t think it does.

    If you want to play Windows games at all, you may want keep an XP bootable partition around. You can play many Win-only games with Cedega, but not all.

    Enjoy your new rig!

  77. Did anyone mention ol’ Tom’s Hardware? Excellent site BTW, bookmark them in your Google Toolbars for world domination and cast your vote πŸ˜‰

    You people who say “Don’t build one” must live in homes with carpets, Zap!

  78. Matt,

    You said you wanted something quiet – maybe water cooled. I must suggest that you look at Shuttle systems.

    There are a wide range of costs and specs all in a very neat small chassis with liquid cooling and a fan that turns off whenever possible to reduce noise. I absolutely love them, even above build-your-own.

  79. Hey Matt

    On the virtualisation front, I recommend VMware over anything else. Xen (I believe) requires the guest to be recompiled, I think VMware is the only real solution at the moment. At home I have a gaming machine running Windows XP, but when I want to do some programming I fire up Ubuntu in a VM (or rather, resume it which takes a couple of seconds) and carry on where I left off. I believe it really is the most efficient way to get work done. Just don’t expect your TCP connections to be alive when you resume πŸ™‚

  80. I think that you are missing the point when you lament the lack of a DSUB connectyor to the 30 inch screen.

    This thing has a native resolution of 2560×1600. Forget DSUB, even a single DVI won’t cut it. You need dual-link DVI. That is NOT the same as dual DVI, only dual-link will do.

    DSUB is *so* 20th Century…


  81. Matt,

    Just saw your blog from link off “”

    DO NOT BUY A “BRAND NAME” COMPUTER! The only thing you get is straight retail price for cheap commodity parts like mobo’s with onboard everything. Might as well buy a laptop since it will be about as upgradable. If you are into the “latest & greatest” hardware, wait until late 2006 as new stuff coming will make what you buy now, obsolete by years end.

    Go visit you friendly local computer store (Where you know and TRUST the people), buy a nice aluminum case w/ 400 watt or better Power Supply and start looking at AMD (not intel) 64 bit processors. Ask which socket version will STILL be available in 2007 and find the BEST motherboard that supports SATA hard drives but also has one older ATA/IDE interface so you can attach your old HD for file transfer to new PC. BUY a new legal copy of your OS. If XP get XP PRO! NEVER get a “backup partition” or other bullshit “Restore Disk” version like Dell, HP, Compaq etc. like to offer. Get at least 512 meg ram but 1 gig (or more) is better. Figure out what display(s) you want and THEN look for video card(s) to support them. More Video Ram the better but lookout since many new videocards are as noisy as the cpu fan.

    The rest of it is as simple as “Tinkertoys” now IF you read the manuals and can format & partition your drives w/out problems. You probably know this but you ought to think about partitioning your drives relative to the number of OS’s that you want to run. Get a good partitioning program so you can adjust them, if need be, without re-formatting them again. You might want to think about a “Boot Screen Manager” program as well.

    Building your own PC will take more time and perhaps a little more money than buying a “brand”, but the satisfaction of “rolling your own” is well worth it. And you know how to replace or upgrade it, since YOU built it. Manufacturers warrantee’s are often MUCH longer on “retail” parts (mobo’s, drives etc.) than those offered by Dell or HP. And you are not stuck with proprietary Dell or HP mobo’s, power supplies etc that make inexpensive upgrade or replacement impossible! By the way, adding water cooling systems will almost always void mobo & CPU warrantee’s.

    I have built and repaired many friends PC’s and without fail, the “Brand Name” boxen always gave me much more trouble than did the “Beige Box” PC’s. You don’t always need the “latest and greatest”, just one that works till it’s truly obsolete. Just look for the “sweet points’ of price vs features and find something you can live with.

    That’s my two cents worth. Good luck!

    Dan Paul

  82. If you don’t mind spending money I supposed you could go with something like a Dell or HP. Personally I’d avoid any HP product. Period.

    If you’re tech saavy, which you appear to be, I’d recommend the DIY approach. Sure, my current computer is a Sony VAIO which has been a GREAT and stable computer over the last 4 years but I’ve learned a lot in those years and in the next year or so I plan to go the DIY route and just build my own rig.

    If you’d rather just spend the money and have a shiney new puter shipped to you I’d recommend Dell or Sony.

  83. Matt, you should check out the Dell Outlet site. They have loads of machines that were ordered by people and then never shipped. The best part was I didn’t have to pay for all the extra crap. I got an 3.4Ghz Dual Proc system for a little over $600, and it came with a 1 year warranty.

  84. Matt,

    If you end up getting a Dell, you can use these coupon codes I found to save yourself some bucks.

  85. Matt, being a PC reseller for SMB, I would look at HP. We’ve sold every major brand over the last many years, and have become strictly an HP Business reseller. Keep in mind, we sell ONLY the business line, which is a COMPLETELY different product than the HPs you can buy in Staples or Best Buy. You get phenomenal tech support (unlike the home users), and if you need a new part, it will be at your door the next day via UPS Red.

    Here is the link for the HP dc7600 business line: (They will even customize without Windows). I can’t suggest an HP monitor, because I’m still using my 8-year old Gateway EV700 CRT…

  86. We use HP products for all of our desktop machines and have been quite pleased with them so far.

  87. Matt, I just spend a few minutes to read the above posts, and noted claus’ post regarding HP-branded memory. It’s not actually HP proprietary memory, it’s Infineon. Cheap, of course, but I always get the base (lowest amount possible) memory, and buy memory from Crucial, which is guaranteed to work with your system.

    Another thing to keep in mind with the HP business line is almost all models come with a standard 3-year warranty, at which time you’ll most likely be replacing your hardware anyways. That means 3 years down the road, if the hard drive spits it’s grease, or a USB port goes out, you’ll have the new part, even a motherboard, delivered the very next day by the man in the short brown shorts.

  88. Michael Dowling

    For the love of god, you work at Google – build your own PC. πŸ™‚

  89. Matt,

    I build a lot of computers. Email me and if you want to go to Frys, I can meet you there. You can put together a great computer with water cooled additions for real cheap. If not, do not get an Apple, go with a VAIO. I have had HP’s, Dells, Apples, Thinkpads, and on and on. A VAIO is awesome.

    Plus, I also use a video projector that projects the image onto a screen in my office. It is huge and easy on my back and neck too because I am looking straight ahead. You can get a fantastic projector for 725.00 there. Let me know …

    By the way, your security codes are really hard to read, make them black and white.

  90. I would definatly say with stick to building your own, only takes a few hours… purchase the AMD Opteron processor (one of the server range), it is a tenth of the price of the fastest AMD 64 FX, and can be safely overclocked to out perform the 64 FX with standing cooling !

  91. By the way, those Dell monitors use exactly the same TFT panels as the Apple displays… the difference is (a) the Apples look gorgeous where the Dells are black and plastic (b) the Dells (except the 30″) have millions of connectors in the back (VGA, S-video, HDMI etc) so can double up as a monitor for a cable/satellite/digital system.

    Oh yeah, and they cost less.

    Me, my new power machine will be a Quad G5, to be ordered before the Summer.

    As an ex-PC fanatic who has never owned a pre-built machine, who works in a design studio where all the studio machines are Macs and all the office machines are Macs… I say go with a Mac. BUT… They’re not perfect, and the wrong software (say, Intego Virus Barrier X4) can wreck ’em. Don’t believe the hype. But if you prefer a machine that crashes 3 times a week as opposed to 3 times a day…. Mac Mac Mac. With Virtual PC.

  92. Hey Matt,

    I prefer you building your own computer. It’s the best way, and you get everything you want :-).
    Watercooling isn’t the only choice to get computer “shut-up” – these days fans can be quiet but yet good.

    At your case, I would prefer Intel processor, tho it gets little warmer than AMD, I think.

    Get your friends together, go shopping for the parts and build the computer with / without your friends. It’s cheaper and better way :).
    Hope this helps.

    ~ Skirmish

  93. I’ve done a split-solution –
    an old IBM Xseries server with 3.5GB Ram running Xen for all my toying around needs, plus the storage, backups and firewalling or whatever I feel up to. Due to Xen’s nature I can simply fire up a domain running Linux if I want to play with oracle and disband it when I don’t want to play with it any more.
    On the other end of the cable is a (selfmade) regular PC built out of quite cheap components (Athlon64 3200+, 1.5GB, 80GB HD with 60GB unpartioned because I haven’t yet needed the space)

    I won’t get brand hardware for my desktop, in experience they always mess with BIOSses or whatever they get hold of.
    It won’t matter until You decide to run solaris or anything and suddenly find You just can’t fix a stupid setting that’s in the way.
    not to mention DRM kit is quite seldom with the cheaper mainboards πŸ˜‰

    On the other hand, the new dual-core Opteron Sun workstations are not ‘cheap’ but still give a lot of power for the money.

  94. Every now and again Dell have a set of offers on, you will find if you go through the options and change the 3 year onsite warranty to 1 year return to base, change the OS to none (assuming you already have an operating system) and change the express postage to 7-10 day you will save yourself over Β£100 on the offer price.

  95. I saw an expose on a Dell computer a while ago. That poor thing had so much bloatware it could hardly run.

    Whatever you do, make sure you run a clean system. Somehow get a computer that has a real copy of windows (if that’s what you’ll be running).

    Dell apparently doesn’t provide a real copy of windows, only their own bloatware version in a rescue partition on the harddrive. Do some searching.

    Those Alienware thingies sounded sweet.

    Oh, although the hardware is often quite simple, Fujitsu Siemens have relatively clean systems. The rescue CD’s don’t even have special drivers.

  96. Matt: “I was thinking something by a vendor like Monarch might be a cool idea”

    I ordered a computer from them years ago, and while the process was painless, and I got all of the components that I wanted, but I still had failure. My power supply died within a year, I lost my hard drive and had to replace the motherboard.

    The biggest problem with someone like that would be that you are still limited to the warranties based on the hardware, unless they now offer a complete warranty on the machine. If they do make sure that they send the parts to you before you have to send the bad one in, otherwise you can experience long down time.

    Oh and on top of that it was loud!

  97. I use Quemu to create a “disk” which can be used with the free VMware Player, see: for two articles which describe this process step-by-step for Windows XP and GNU/Linux distribution Ubuntu.


  98. Matt,
    if you are looking for big horsepower in a desktop and want to run vmware with multiple OS’es then I highly reccomend the widowPC Arachnid –
    this is listed as a gaming PC tower but I am using for development and running GSX server with multiple OS’es. I am running this PC with dual Opterons processors, 4GB of ram, SATA drive arrays and bridged SLI graphics cards and it is smokin’ fast. Please do your research on the use of the opteron processor vs. xeon – the opteron can’t be beat for pure multi-threading power which is critical in GSX server. It is amazing what this machine can do compared to a pentium or xeon. this also has amazing graphics capabilities with one or multiple monitors (my configuration can run 4 monitors at full res) with the multi-threding it sounds like you will be doing you would be very happy with this PC and their support is outstanding. At the time I set mine up, it was rated as one of the fastest production PCs on the planet, faster than Alienwares best. see reviews/comments here

  99. Hmm my dad works for IBM so recommending anything other than a lenovo would be blasphemy but on another note screw dell 30″ go get that westinghouse 37″ and use it as a monitor πŸ™‚ or if yer rich enough one of those big ass new dlp 1080p’s

  100. Matt,

    Dont sell yourself short.. πŸ˜‰ some of the best computers out there have to be built by hand. My personal recommendation (I know Im partial) is the Asus A8N motherboard with a 64 bit processor and using 64 bit windows. I know! I know! that some drivers for this might still be difficult to find and I had fun getting a couple of my printers to work for this very reason but this is the most stable machine I have ever built. In fact i dont think I have had it lock up or crash yet and I run it nonstop. I am not ashamed to admit that I play games on it too even though I am 36 years old. I test out and try many of the latest and greatest games. I run the hard drives in 200 gig mirror config. Monitors can be found anywhere in allshapes and sizes. This poor boy has to settle for a 19 inch lcd from walmart but hey it works. If I had more money I would get the latest version of this motherboard and the FX version of the processor and max out the ram. Of course I would get the top of the line sli pcie video cards to top it out. The neat thing about this system is you can build it for less then a thousand or if you want you can drop a couple more thousand into make it ultra uber. πŸ™‚ I think if you used it you would love it as I do.. Now if I could just keep this darn hard drive from filling up.. πŸ™‚ Best of luck with whatever you choose.

  101. Oh yeah.. forget crucial memory and go with matched Corsair memory. I been building machines since the xt days and I am swapping out all that other junk memory for corsair memory and finding alot of little nuances(“features”) disapearing. I have had some issues with fry’s but you cant go wrong with awesome customer service plus great selection plus they ship most everything free.;)

  102. For I would suggest 4 x 19″ LCDs for your video. Right now you can get FujiPlus FP-988D 19″ at for $249CDN or for $209US at They have a 3 year warranty and VGA and DVI connectors.

    I have 4 of them here and like them very much. If you go that way you will want a good video card like Colorgraphic’s Xentera GT. I am looking at moved to 8 x 19″ LCD and I am considering getting a pair of them. Right now I have a PCI and AGF dual video.

    If you want to really geek out you could go for 8 headed but then you would want to get 2 Ergotron Quad Monitor Stand DS100 so you can run 2×4.

  103. Voodoo makes watercooled pc’s, don’t they? And they are so sharp looking. All of their components are top of the line, so they should work well for a long, long time. Swivel monitors, I don’t know if they have. But not too difficult to *search* for swivel monitors, no? πŸ™‚

  104. Matt,
    I would wait for 2nd VMware Server beta.
    Critical new features could come to help you choose better.


    Alessandro Perilli, CISSP, MVP

    Blogging about IT Security on
    Blogging about Virtualization on

  105. I recently built a work only comp using a silent solution which doesn’t involve water, a bit expensive but it is totally silent. I also opted for an asus p5wd2 mobo, 4 gb ram. so far the only pc i’ve built which doesn’t struggle with photoshop cs2 running alongside the other cs2 apps at the same time. all i need now is a 64 bit os and the apps which will eventually make use of it.

  106. Matt,

    If it’s not too late, I think that Cheapstingybargains’s Dell Coupon page ( )is the probably the most comprehensive on the net.


  107. You work for Google and they don’t give you them for free?

  108. Hopefully you have converted to Apple by now, especially since Chrome just launched for Mac.

  109. Matt, just came across this post. The Daily Opt mentioned he hoped you’d converted to Mac. I’d have to weigh in with my dream machine at the moment being a 17″ MacBook Pro with dual 27″ LED screens using the new Thunderbolt technology. Seems like the best of both worlds, although not cheap.