Monday, April 19, 2010

Development Demo Machine Recommendations (Laptop vs. Small Form Factor Workstation)

As part of my discussion on development environment recommendations I wanted to review demo workstation recommendations also. First, the key is virtualization. Unless you have a compelling reason not to virtualize (USB support was an issue with Virtual PC 2007, however, Windows Virtual PC within Windows 7 has great USB support). Second, choosing the right virtualization configuration is a critical decision. There are two main options a laptop or small form factor workstation. While the laptop is the clear choice for portability the unique requirements for virtualization bring some factors into questions beyond portability.

In the virtual environments you need lots of RAM with 4GB being shared between the host and client (2GB each) and a secondary hard drive to the primary host OS drive. While secondary USB hard drives are ok they generally lack the speed to really be effective.  I have found huge variations between drive models even with the same vendor and interface.  A better option is eSata external hard drives and the best are SATA internal drives. Both eSata and secondary internal drive bays on a laptop are reserved for the higher end workstations.

Originally I purchases an Iomega Max Drive 1TB eSata external drive for my virtual machines, however, I have had constant issues with the drive and would not recommend it for VPC. It is a great drive for storing files and the price and speed is good.

While a high end laptop will meet the requirements another option is a small form factor workstation (from Dell’s mini towers, all-in-ones and mini desktop units). These are relatively inexpensive and easy to add additional lower cost desktop Ram and hard drives. A laptop that will work well for this will run around $4000 while a comparable small form factor solution will cost in the $2000 range.

The bottom lines is the laptop solution is the best (when cost is not a factor), however, if your use your primary development workstation as a demo unit you can reduce the overall cost and with the virtual demo machine your note jeopardizing your development environment. You can also have the demo virtual machine on standby for when you need it and it is easy to share. The small form factor is really only an option when cost is a major factor. You can stretch your dollar a lot more with these units, however, you suffer in portability which can be critical if you travel a lot.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this topic so be sure to comment…

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