New computers: what should your company be buying?


Processors keep getting faster, hard drives keep getting bigger, memory keeps getting cheaper.  Enterprises want their computers to last longer, too.  So you would think that would mean that they would buy something close to the best in order to extend the life of the machine.  Frighteningly though, I still hear from companies buying machines that are marginal in today’s world.  This is especially true with memory: given the price of RAM today, buying less than 2GB should be a crime.  Yet I still hear from companies that are buying machines with half of that, or even worse.  Maybe you can get by for three years (or more) with a slower processor or smaller hard drive, but limping along without enough RAM should be easy to avoid.

Don’t do it, buy more RAM!

So what do you consider to be a mainstream computer configuration?  I’ve been out of the corporate environment for four years now, so maybe I’m a little out of touch, but I would expect to see something like this:

  Desktop Laptop
RAM 2GB 2GB
Disk 160GB SATA 80GB SATA
CPU 2GHz Core 2 Duo or equivalent 2GHz Core 2 Duo or equivalent
Video Just about anything Just about anything
Networking Gigabit Ethernet Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11a/b/g

So is that anywhere close to what your company is currently buying?  (Replace "Core 2" with "Pentium 4" and put in slightly smaller hard drives and that’s what I was recommending four years ago, although it was a tough sell at that point on the 2GB of RAM…)

On a related topic, machines with 4GB of RAM are becoming more and more common.  Be aware that if you run an x86 OS on these machines you won’t be able to see or use all 4GB.  See http://blogs.msdn.com/hiltonl/archive/2007/04/13/the-3gb-not-4gb-ram-problem.aspx for some background information.  Note that there are some changes in Windows Vista SP1 to show you that there is more RAM installed but it will still show the reduced usable number.  Simple solution: use Windows Vista x64 to get access to all the memory you installed (assuming the chipset supports more).


Comments (3)
  1. Anonymous says:

    Most of my clients are getting new hardware with 4GB now as a standard. Memory is cheap compared to years before and having additional RAM now will alleviate headaches and manpower later to upgrade.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I agree, certainly buy 2 or 3GB RAM.  In laptops, if you have the choice of 2 sticks of 1GB or 1 stick of 2GB, by the 2GB in one stick option so you have a slot spare to upgrade if required.

    Deploying x64 is not so simple.  Application compatibility testing would be required.  You’ll probably have to upgrade your corporate antivirus client to something that supports x64.  And x64 drivers are not as common as 32bit drivers so you’ll need to do hardware certification work. Plus you’ll have a mixture of 32bit and 64bit clients, instead of single standard platform.  Tough to justify.

    What workloads require more than 3GB?  The typical information worker can make do with less. Developers running multiple virtual machines might need more, but the VMs would be better moved to dedicated 64bit virtual servers. Spending extra money on a faster harddisk (more RPMs) is worth while.

    When evaluating hardware performance, try Vista’s built-in WinSAT program and keep a copy of the XML files it generates.  (winsat aurora is a little Vista easter egg). You then have some metrics to compare hardware.

    Now, with all this extra power in modern desktops, isn’t it time to let users share PCs, at the same time.  I’d like to see 1 vista machine, with 2 quad video cards, 8 screens, 8 USB keyboards and 8 USB mice. Some real virtualisation! http://userful.com/products/dm

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