My Desktop PC build in 2020 for $1000 It's been 8 years since I got my last computer and it's time for an upgrade. This time I'm chosing desktop instead of laptop, for $1000.

by
on October 21, 2020
(5 minute read)

It’s been 8 years since I purchased my last computer so it’s now time to go shopping. A lot of things have changed since back in then, both in software and hardware.

Things I’m buying on Amazon this week

In terms of software, I’ve always loved how Linux is super performant, even in a very old computer the responsiveness is stellar so having Linux in a high-end computer makes it even better. Having response times below 100ms is a joy. The problem with Linux (be it Ubuntu/Mint, Debian or whatever) was that not much of my essential daily-use software was available for Linux and I didn’t want to virtualize or spend hours trying to figure out how to make it work, so I chose Apple OS X instead… I can’t live without a Unix console and filesystem.

In terms of hardware, Mac computers where much more open a decade ago, you had more connectors and you could disassemble them to clean them up or to upgrade a few parts here and there. Nowadays, specially in laptops, you get very few connectors which force you to buy an extra gadget just to plug in the few basic things (mouse, USBs, external fan…) while also making it impossible to upgrade. Check out Tie’s article and discussion for more.

I’ve still got my Macbook that I can carry around, the battery lasts for 15 minutes so I’ve always ended up plugging myself. I found out that usually when I’m at home I am always plugged in, and when I’m out and about I just need a computer to take some notes or to do some non-intensive work such as connecting to a server, coding or deploying. So I got a cheap $200 surface laptop clone to go to meetings and do this light work from the occasional coffee shop. Hence, instead of buying a $2,000 Apple laptop for everything, I’ve now got a $200 laptop and am buying a $1000 desktop computer. I am saving a ton of money but also getting incredibly much more power and performance for it.

My usage

As a web developer and tech manager, here’s what I mostly use my computer for (not counting the usual of sending emails, watching YouTube videos or making Zoom calls…):

  • 80% web development (programming, server management and deploys, virtual machines, etc.)
  • 15% graphic design, video editing, 3D renderings (Unreal Engine) and other stuff that come to mind from time to time
  • 5% gaming (from time to time I like playing games, I don’t need them to be in ultra high settings or 120fps)

Operating System

Linux

The idea is to try not to depend so much on Mac. Every one or two years I install some Linux distro just to try and make the change but I always end up going back to Mac/Windows.

A few months ago I got back to installing Ubuntu (on my personal server I use Ubuntu Server so I thought the closer to it the better) and it’s a pass, Ubuntu has changed a lot and a lot of software is already compatible without hacks (VSCode, Unreal Engine). I still miss some apps such as Sequel Pro (the alternative is DBeaver or Workbench which are not as good but I guess I can live with it) and also Sketch (the alternative is Figma and works great, just need to get used to it).

This was installed as dual boot in my Macbook so now for this Desktop PC maybe I will install Linux Mint (also based on Ubuntu) or continue with Ubuntu, I’m pretty happy with it.

As mentioned before, the software I need and I miss is:

  • Sequel Pro: very simple and powerful SQL client, it is very well made. It allows you to connect to remote databases via SSH and much more. I’ve looked at DataGrip (from JetBrains) but it’s more cumbersome (you have to write the SELECTs, which to do complex things is cool, but to quickly edit something from the DB sucks). Sequel works almost like an Excel and then you write queries if you want to do JOINs, etc.
  • Cyberduck: very simple and powerful SFTP and Amazon S3 client. There’s alternatives such as Visual Studio Code, which has FTP but is not as powerful as Cyberduck.
  • Sketch: graphics editor, replaced with Figma.com
  • Other software that is natively supported: AnyDesk, Audacity, Chromium-based browser, Dropbox/Mega, Unreal Engine, Virtual Box, Visual Studio Code
  • And then I try to use as much web-based apps as possible such as Google Docs or my self-made custom tools.

Windows

Having a dual boot with Windows is always useful, it wouldn’t be the default OS because I hate a few things about how updates are managed and the overall UX/UI. I also prefer Unix commands in the console and the filesystem.

Mac OS

I would love to live without Apple, even though I’ve been with Apple for many years and I have stuff like Sketch graphics files that I still use, although my Sketch license expired some time ago and I am eventually migrating everything to Figma.

Hardware

I’ve been on laptops for a long time, and I have the Macbook Air which even though the battery lasts 15 minutes is enough for Web Development and office use. I want a desktop computer because it is easier+cheaper to make upgrades and also maintain it (clean dust, etc).

I have a 18″ screen so I’m going to upgrade it too and add it to this list. In terms of keyboard and mouse I’ve got some around so I’m not spending more money on them.

Budget: 1000€ (around $1,180)

My build is based on the “Great AMD Gaming Build” from pcpartpicker.com but I made a few changes.

I looked for a gaming computer because I the graphic capabilities will allow me to work in 3D/video. The dedicated graphics card is optional and I won’t be buying it yet since it’s damn expensive and I’d rather have a nice screen.

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A few notes:

  • Computer screen: it’s a designer’s screen and not a gaming screen. What this means is that while the refresh rate and response time is not super fast, it’s got better color definition.
  • CPU fan improvement: the CPU already comes with a fan, this is both in terms of lowering the temperature even more and also to put a more silent fan in it.
  • Motherboard: I have chosen one with WiFi integrated so that I don’t need to add anything else to it.
  • Case: It’s not the prettiest one and doesn’t have that “gamer’s feel”. I prefer it, the case looks pretty professional even in an office environment and I save money on not having LEDs and other fancy things I don’t care about.
  • Power Supply: I’m getting something good here because this will be feeding everything else
  • Hard Disk: I’m OK with 500GB, eventually I’ll buy an extra one for storage which doesn’t need to be 1900MB/s.

Thanks to Pau for helping me get this build together and for his expert advice!

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