Big Plans, Phase 1

In addition to my Deep Dive reviews, I am planning on adding some technical content to the blog. Towards that goal I have started researching what I need to set up at home for a testing environment. At the same time I am looking at what level of laptop I can afford to start doing some presenting.  I am a software geek at heart and while I can usually figure out the hardware side of technology, I don’t enjoy that particular puzzle as much. I spent more time thinking about computer hardware this weekend than I have in a long time.

At most of the jobs I’ve worked at I’ve been lucky enough to have access to good technology and a virtual place to play with new software and test ideas. Which has translated to having computers at home that simply get the job done. I think the newest one is three years old.

We have three PC’s at home. Sort of. We have our main computer, an older Dell Inspirion, which runs windows 7 and is topped out at 2 GB of memory. There is another Dell running Vista that the kids play games on and there is our old Compaq Presario running XP with 512 MB of memory. We kept the third machine for the kids to play games on too, but they are much more discerning than that. Prior to this weekend it hadn’t been booted in more than a year.

Because I am thrifty, my first thought for a home testing environment was to boot up that old machine and add SQL 2008 R2. I could have it running under the desk with no monitor and just remote into it or maybe I would get a KVM switch so I could flip back and forth between our main computer and this one. With this in mind I dusted off the Presario and plugged it in. I was pleasantly surprised when it booted up and I started looking around at what would need to be updated. It was quickly obvious I would need more memory and after a quick Googling decided I could upgrade to 2GB for about $50. At about this time the computer abruptly shut off and would not come back on.  Not a good sign.

After waiting 20 minutes or so it did power back up, but it appeared that maybe the power supply needed to be replaced. Another $50. I was also going to fill up the 20GB hard drive pretty fast so I would need a new hard drive. Lets say $100 for 500GB. I knew from my visit to that I could get a new computer for only $350 with better specs than the Presario plus these upgrades. Of course neither the Presario or a new deal-of-the-day Dell was really the best choice for what I am hoping to set up. I kept poking around on the old computer because it was sort of nostalgic and I had taken the trouble of connecting it up. I ran Windows updates, removed almost all of the applications, and watched slide slows of old photos that I think only exist on an external hard drive these days.

My first look at getting a laptop quickly went over my budget. (A budget which is entirely made up, but I had a number under $1000 in my head.) I wanted to get a laptop that could support multiple VM’s so I can have  multiple copies and versions of SQL Server running. I starting pricing on Dell’s website and found that if I wanted top of the line with 8 GB of memory and Solid State drives I was looking at a minimum of $1200.

I eventually realized that these aren’t hardware issues so much as financial issues, so I called a quick meeting with the rest of the finance team, aka my wife. The expression on her face when I said the words “$1200” was all I needed to know that this was not a likely scenario. Not a surprise; It wasn’t really a number I liked either. We talked about options off and on over the weekend. The idea of replacing our main computer had come up already so that got mixed into things as well. This gave rise to my suggestion that I buy a high-end laptop and we use a docking station to make it our new home computer. This adds cost, but means we can still use the flat screen monitor as our back up Netflix viewing station and have a full-sized keyboard for typing long documents (like blog entries). Proving that two heads are better than one, my wife asked if we could just get the laptop now and buy a docking station later to spread out the cost. I thought that was a great idea. Such a great idea in fact that I took it a step further. I don’t really need multiple VM’s running on a single machine for the presentations I am planning right now. I can get a medium-end laptop now and then add more memory, solid state drives, etc if I need to later.

I had hoped to get things set up this weekend and start playing with SQL Server outside of the office, but I am glad that I have a plan for next weekend – laptop shopping. In the end I did get to play a little bit. I installed SQL Server 2012 R0 on the family PC and ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed’ over its shininess before going to bed last night.


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