Prior to Microsoft, I had a monster server. the case alone was over 100lbs and would take a dolly or two people to move. All steal case with 6 fans built into it. It housed a high end server with lots of memory and had the best processors at the time. I spent a lot of money on everything inside her, all the parts, motherboard, processor, memory, storage, and so on. Once I had everything I put her together like Frankenstein or Humpy Dumpy. I ran my lab off of her, my home domain, even when I cut the cord to cable and TV, she had a media server where I could watch everything from anywhere on any device I had. She was the most obnoxiously loud when I started her up. The neighbors knew when she was powered on. She would heat up the room better than my HVAC or wood stove. She was an AWESOME BEAST. but time has come and gone and she got replaced with a new girl; now she is hidden in my shed collecting dust, or as I say the old computer home.
As a Microsoft Premier Field Engineer, I have some company laptops that I enhanced to do more labs with, I don’t use them so much anymore since I am migrating to Azure for almost all my labs. They are still powerful and great laptops that I have had zero issues with. I think the only complaint I would have is that each laptop weighs about 20-25 pounds. It isn’t much until you carrying all day long in your backpack. My newer laptops are much lighter, which is why I leverage Azure for most of my labs or remote into my home labs. I carry and travel with a lot less now days.
Kevin Holman told me once that a good place for hunting cheap systems is on eBay. There are some excellent refurbished systems out there. It is where I bought my HP z800 system, with 12 cores, 96GB memory and 6T of drives, with a number of other bonuses. The only thing that was wrong with it is the audio jack didn’t work, but who cares, a USB or Bluetooth headset resolved that minor issue. I used this for a few years; now it is just sitting there powered off. At some point I will be converting it for media use. So I am providing a couple of links that will assist with researching and help find something that works best for you.
My pride an joy right now is a Gigabyte bare bones system. It is an i7, with a M.2 512GB SSD, 32G of memory, and another 2T SSD. My Operating System is on the M.2, while my labs are on the SSD. A very good buddy of mine turned me onto these little boxes, small, lightweight, hold it in the palm and works great as a lab. The only drawback is that the memory is max at 32GB. I think soon they will be able to go up to 64GB or more. At least I hope so. Here is where you can find more information about what I am using.
I would also recommend buying a powered USB hub. I do run into some issues from time to time where the box can not provide enough power for everything.
I also have a couple of USB Monitors, which are thin and very light weight. I will plug them into the hub so I have a monitor on the go. very useful if you need it. If not the HDMI works great.
What I would like if I had the funds would be this monster. Maybe in time and if there is a need, then I might. But right now the $$$ isn’t right for me and they would need to increase the maximum memory to at least 64GB before I seriously thought about it. 2xM.2 SSD, 2x SSD, and 32GB memory. And when you add everything up, reality hits me and it just sits on a with list some where.
My newest edition to my lab is this wonderful 55” Ultra 4K television that I am using as my monitor for all my machines. It’s a little over kill, but when I am presenting or demonstrating something in my lab, it is well worth it. The price was right.
Again, do your homework, check out the other brands because they might have something better. If you want to copy what I have, you are more welcome to use what I have provided. If you do use a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse like I do, make sure you have a backup plan just in case you accidently turn off the Bluetooth.
So there you have it.