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I'm in the market for a new pc/laptop. Judging from what I've seen around here, a lot of people are discussing having a laptop for their personal GIS use. Portability is not an issue for me, so I'm leaning more towards a desktop, since it will be easier to upgrade specific components at a later stage. The problem is, I have a limited budget, but I need to get it by the end of this month (I'm scared my Dual Core laptop is going to burst into flames everytime I load ArcMap). My basic components which I plan on getting now are (converted from R8 ~ $1):

  • Processor: Intel® Core™ i7 2600 - 3.40GHz Quad Core, Socket 1155, 8MB L3, DMI Bus, 32nm, x64, Intel HT, Intel VT, Intel HD Graphics @ 850MHz = $404.27
  • Motherboard: INTEL® "Classic Series" "Woodworth" H61 Chipset: Socket LGA1155, 2.5GT/s DMI, For: 2nd Generation Core i3, i5, i7 LGA1155= $97.33
  • RAM: Kingston 4GB 1333MHz DDR3 Non-ECC CL9 DIMM = $24.80
  • Tower case: FOXCONN Midi Tower Case & 350W PSU - supports 1x 12cm Fan = $59.99
  • HDD: Seagate® Barracuda™ 7200.12 Series - 1TB Serial ATA II (SATA3) Plus - Serial ATA 600 (6Gbps) With 32MB Cache @ 7200RPM - NCQ = $146.06
  • Screen: LG E2041T 20" Wide HD LED, 1600 x 900, 5ms, Contrast 5 Million:1 = $129.82

    Total ~ $862.27

This would be my initial setup. I'll add a graphics card and more RAM next month. I've never really been interested in hardware (always been into software/programming), but it's about time I find out more about these things, so I would like to know if this setup is good, if I haven't left any component out (!) and if it will be easy to upgrade later. I'm not sure if that PSU will be suitable with the motherboard either. The prices are just guidelines, as I still have a few other places to check out, I just want to be 100% sure of the specs before I spend any money. Also, it must be able to open ArcMap faster than the 10 minutes it currently takes my laptop to open it. Any advice would be appreciated.

edit Response to 1st comment:

  • I was planning on getting a SSD in a few months (based on that article you linked to), but I thought going straight for the i7 would be better. Your combination of the i5 with the SSD does make sense though. Unfortunately, these are the options on the pricelist of a reliable computer parts shop that has better prices than most places around here:
  • Intel® Core™ i5 2400 - 3.10GHz Quad Core, Socket 1155, 6MB L3, DMI Bus, 32nm, x64, Intel VT, Intel HD Graphics @ 850MHz, 3 Year = $259.78
  • Plextor® M2S Series - 128GB Solid State 2.5" SATA III Plus Drive - 128MB DDR3 Cache - Performance Drive - Serial ATA3, Acronis Software = $276

    • Antec EA-430d green , 430watts EArthwatts ( 12v : 384w ) , 80PLUS bronze certified for energy saving - 24pin ( 4pin detachable ) , with active-PFC , 1x 6pin PCI-E power , dual 12V rail , 1x 80mm thermal controled fan ; 5x SATA , 4x molex , with OVP, OCP, SCP = $79.23
  • COOLERMASTER ELITE 311 BASIC, ATX CHASSIS without PSU, BLACK/BLUE = $41.46

  • While I am not currently working with ArcScene or ArcGlobe (only some light Google Earth work), I do want to anticipate any future possibilities, and as I intend on starting my postgraduate studies next year, I do want to be prepared. It is not an immediate need though.

  • ASUS NVIDIA GEFORCE GT440, 1GB DDR5, 128-BIT, PCI EXPRESS 2.0 / D-SUB X 1, DVI-I X 1, HDMI X 1, DP X 0. = $139.50

edit I can't afford the SSD right now, but I do need the pc asap. I was thinking this so long:

  • Intel® Core™ i5 2400 - 3.10GHz Quad Core, Socket 1155, 6MB L3, DMI Bus, 32nm, x64, Intel VT, Intel HD Graphics @ 850MHz, 3 Year = $259

  • Antec EA-430d green , 430watts EArthwatts ( 12v : 384w ) , 80PLUS bronze certified for energy saving - 24pin ( 4pin detachable ) , with active-PFC , 1x 6pin PCI-E power , dual 12V rail , 1x 80mm thermal controled fan ; 5x SATA , 4x molex , with OVP, OCP, SCP - 3 years warranty = $79.23

  • COOLERMASTER ELITE 311 BASIC, ATX CHASSIS without PSU, BLACK/BLUE = $41

  • Seagate® Barracuda™ 7200.12 Series - 500GB Serial ATA III (SATA3) Plus - Serial ATA 600 (6Gbps) With 16MB Cache @ 7200RPM - NCQ = $107

  • LG E2041T 20" Wide HD LED, 1600 x 900, 5ms, Contrast 5Million:1 = $129

  • RAM: Kingston 4GB 1333MHz DDR3 Non-ECC CL9 DIMM = $24.80

Cost of minimum setup: R5000 ~ $644.

I could add the SSD in a month or two. The small storage space is fine (that's what externals are for), and yes I would have to reinstall ArcGIS etc again on the SSD, but honestly I am so used to formatting/partitioning/reinstalling all my stuff that it doesn't bother me anymore. To be added later:

  • ASUS NVIDIA GEFORCE GT440, 1GB DDR5, 128-BIT, PCI EXPRESS 2.0 / D-SUB X 1, DVI-I X 1, HDMI X 1, DP X 0. = $139.50
  • Plextor® M2S Series - 128GB Solid State 2.5" SATA III Plus Drive - 128MB DDR3 Cache - Performance Drive - Serial ATA3, Acronis Software = $276

Any last comments would be appreciated, I want to be absolutely sure that I have all the components for my basic setup so that I can budget properly and purchase next week.

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Related: gis.stackexchange.com/questions/22371/… –  blah238 Apr 12 '12 at 7:03
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You mentioned adding more RAM. Keep in mind that you will need a 64-bit OS to address more than 4GB of RAM, and that 32-bit applications such as ArcGIS Desktop will still be limited to 2-4GB per process even on a 64-bit OS. See this for more info: gis.stackexchange.com/questions/18103/… –  blah238 Apr 12 '12 at 7:31
    
Thanks for those links, I actually read those questions first before posting this, as I felt it needed to be more specific. I am aware of those limitations, I am just trying to anticipate my future needs as much as possible (though that may be a futile venture) –  Arabella Apr 12 '12 at 8:15
    
350W power supply will likely NOT be enough juice for anything but the Intel HD graphics. If you upgrade to a discrete card keep in mind you'll need a new power supply too! As far as ram goes, ArcGIS may only be able to access up to 4 GB of ram, but other applications built on 64bit architecture do not have that limitation. ArcGIS 10.1 is still on 32bit, but the server version has already been upgraded to 64bit. –  Roy Apr 13 '12 at 16:17
    
Indeed. I keep forgetting that while I am trying to optimise the computer for use with ArcGIS, there are other programmes I want to run too! I think I will get the 430W PSU that @blah238 mentioned, because I see no point in buying a lower wattage one now, only to have to buy a more powerful one in 3 months time. Will the 430W be enough for now? –  Arabella Apr 13 '12 at 17:59

2 Answers 2

up vote 7 down vote accepted

My main suggestions would be to:

  1. Save a little on the CPU by getting a slightly less powerful but much less expensive model and use the savings to get a solid state drive (SSD) to put your operating system and applications on. This will make boot and app startup times very short, as well as effectively eliminate those common little stutters caused by random disk accesses during normal app usage.

    You can also use it to speed up certain types of IO-intensive GIS operations like raster conversion, although space will be at a premium compared to a conventional hard disk drive (HDD). See Looking for quantitative evidence supporting SSD adoption for more details.

    Suggestions:

  2. Instead of purchasing a case with power supply unit (PSU) included, which are usually bottom of the barrel and inefficient/unreliable, purchase a case without PSU and a separate name brand PSU with at least an 80 PLUS Bronze rating, which indicates its energy efficiency and quality standards.

    Computer hardware enthusiasts will tell you the PSU is the most important part of your system as a large portion of reliability issues such as random reboots, black screens, BSODs, etc. are often remedied by replacing the PSU. So don't skimp!

    Suggestion: Antec EarthWatts Green EA-430D Green 430W - $54.99 USD

    Computer case choices are largely subjective and its likely most any < $50 case will do fine so I'll leave that up to you. Just remember you don't need one with a PSU included if you get a separate one.

  3. Lastly will you be doing complex realtime 3D visualizations, such as with ArcScene, ArcGlobe, or Google Earth?

    While the on-die Intel HD Graphics 2000/3000 chipset on the generation of CPU you specified does have a basic level of 3D graphics compatibility (it supports OpenGL 3.0, which ArcGIS 10 requires at least version 2.0), for more complex scenes it will likely perform inadequately and may lack some advanced features.

    In the most demanding cases you would want a dedicated workstation-level graphics card such as AMD's FirePro or NVIDIA's Quadro series. A consumer-level graphics card may also be sufficient if you don't need the advanced features of a workstation card.

    Suggestion: Stick with your CPU's on-die Intel HD Graphics unless you run into performance or compatibility problems. If you do plan on getting a powerful video card though, you'll want to check its power supply requirements and get a higher wattage PSU to match.

    See also: Optimal video cards for GIS programs

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All good points +1 from me –  Hairy Apr 12 '12 at 12:37

I have always based anything I have built on power and performance. I would never recommend an onboard Graphics capability if you are doing serious GIS work. Remember, also, if this is your development machine, it's likely to be running something like Oracle/SQL Server* and Java, or VS2010 and these are very, very hungry beasts. ArcPy itself likes to chew memory up too.

Essentially, GIS is a numbers game, with most of it based on maths, so raw computational power is a must for me. Then get as much memory in there as you can afford, and do go SSD.

There's no getting away from the fact a very good GIS desktop will cost a lot of money if you want to do it right. I have a stupidly powerful desktop and laptop, the best specc'd money could buy at the time, and if I am developing an Oracle based, java AGS 10 solution, with JS front end, with arcpy geoprceissing scripts, you can't do much else.

*other types of RDBMS are available

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If your software relly needs that stupidly powerful box you you should maybe consider changing platform and software suite. Gis is math, but the math can be done in more or less efficient ways. The shortest line from A to B does involve no Arc ... –  Nicklas Avén Apr 12 '12 at 7:55
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I will be doing Python scripting, as well as developing Silverlight applications, and using Java. I will definitely get the SSD then, and add more RAM asap. –  Arabella Apr 12 '12 at 8:09
    
My undergrad training was in ArcGIS, my internship training was in ArcGIS, the company where I work now uses ArcGIS, my postgrad studies will be in ArcGIS, for every job advert requesting MapInfo/QGIS/something else, there are ten adverts requesting Arc...not much choice around these parts. For my own personal development, I will dabble in open source, but professionally (for now at least), I'll have to stick with what I know. –  Arabella Apr 12 '12 at 8:13
    
@Nicklas Avén but you see, the shortest path from A - B in GIS does involve an arc... I use most GIS platforms, and they're all hungry beasts. Start popping Java/Oracle etc on top, and you'll soon run out of puff. I have been doing this for nigh on 20 years, and in using GIS packages with dev tools, and databases, you need muscle. Period. –  Hairy Apr 12 '12 at 12:35
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My analyze is different, but your period stops me from arguing. –  Nicklas Avén Apr 16 '12 at 7:24

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