Dev Hardware

Hardware for Web Development

One doesn’t need a cutting-edge machine to develop web sites, but it does need certain enhancements. Any modern office computer system will do fine, provided it has enough memory. For example, I use an Athlon-XP 1800 system, but upgraded it to 1.5 gigs of ram and a decent 19-inch LCD display. Some optimization pointers include:

  • Get a compact keyboard, a laptop-layout but with full-sized, full-travel, mechanical-switch (Alps or Cherry) keys. As stated above, this gets the mouse in closer and reduces injuries. One gets accustomed to the embedded-keys layout in a few days, and comes to prefer it. I use the Strong Man SMK-85E but unfortunately these excellent keyboards are now very rare. Google “compact keyboards” for dealers. I cut a hole in my desk and installed the keyboard flush, eliminating both movement and the need for a wrist rest (a bold and perhaps foolhardy commitment to one model).
  • Get a good 19-inch 5:4 LCD display and run it at it’s native 1280x1024. Set Windows to run ClearType, or Linux to run LCD sub-pixel hinting (you'll love it). Avoid wide-screens and stick with what the public are typically running. Stay with a mid-range video card, for the same reason. Keep the DPI at 96 and system fonts at their default sizes, again for the same reason. See my lighting article for suggestions on color-correction and proper lighting, else risk adjusting client’s photos to improper hues.
  • Get a good quality, wired optical mouse that fits your hand. Most mice are too big and I have found that notebook or “travel” mice are more comfortable. Adjust it so the wrist remains still and yet go anywhere just by moving the fingers. It should have high-precision when slow, and high acceleration when going fast. With modern 800-dpi optical mice, try setting the acceleration about 3/4, and check “Enhance Pointer Precision.” Select the Large or Extra Large pointer set, and if you have problems with blinking tooltips, see my blinking tooltips page and get my new-n-improved I-beam cursor (or fix the stock one).
  • Install at least 1 gig of ram. Development machines run many background services and several hungry apps concurrently, and usually need more ram. That’s the cheapest way to de-bottleneck the system.
  • Get broadband internet service. Add a good ethernet router/switch and another computer to use as a backup system. If not familiar with setting up a LAN, see my LAN article.
  • Get a good UPS and maintain it properly. Remember that they all use gel-cell batteries that must be replaced every couple of years, and are nearly as expensive as the unit itself. I have found that the APC units are reliable, and a decent one for the home office runs about $100 online.
  • Get a good, office-type all-in-one printer/scanner/fax. Clients will sometimes send photos to scan, and some will want to fax materials. I have found that the cheapo ($100) units are not very reliable, and the decent units start at about $250. Look for the “monthly duty-cycle” rating as a broad indicator of reliability, and always go online and read those customer reviews first.
  • Learn to maintain your hardware. Open it up and blast out the dust twice a year with an air compressor. Remove and clean fans. A drop of 409 on a q-tip is a good way to clean blades on the tiny processor fans, but be careful: they break easily. Pipe cleaners work well to clean between heat sink fins. During normal operaiton, beware condensation: Many phantom computer failures are likely to due to firing up a cold computer right after taking a hot shower. Control your workspace humidity.
  • USB Stick: It’s a good idea to back up all changed files to a stick every day. Note that this is not the one to carry around and lose! This is the one you grab if the house is on fire. The 8-gig units are now around $20 and dropping. If you get one, get a fast one. I recently found an A-DATA PD7 8-gig 200x for $22 (down from $144). Though nowhere as fast as advertised (30/20), it still does a decent 25/15 on large files and writes at 6-7 on small files (numbers = read/write, in megs per second). I find it handy for all those little utilities that I don’t want cluttering up my hard drive and registry. Lots of good, free “portableware” is now available for sticks, including stuff like FireFox 3 and 3.
  • Update: USB Hard Drive: $60 for 500 gigs—what a deal! And they run much faster than USB sticks. Set up SyncBack (a nice and free backup program) to back up your working folders to the USB HD every little while, and your whole system like once a week.
  • Update: Now (2011) running a 3 GHz Pentium dual-core with 4 gigs RAM, W7-x64, a Filco Tenkeyless keyboard (with Cherry blues), and for backup a Cavalry eSATA-II with a 1TB Hitachi drive. Oh my!

Good hardware and regular maintenance are essential to keeping the work-flow flowing.


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