Panasonic Youth

Ultimate Developer Rig - the Mac version

Jeff Atwood of CodingHorror fame recently put together the “ultimate developer rig” for Scott Hanselman. Both these guys are primarily microsoft devs, so its forgivable that the machine is a PC box with Vista on it. Still, if I were to build my own pc, I would put Ubuntu Feisty on it and be done with it. I have built my own PC from parts, and though it was a nice learning experience I see no reason to do it anymore. I also can’t imagine not using Mac OS X right now for dev work, though I would consider Ubuntu in a pinch.

So here is my outline for the ultimate developer rig who prefers Mac – any decent Mac can run Windows of Linux anyways, so why mess with Vista or XP? This is assuming a nice budget to make a top notch programmer happy, but not assuming so much that we can just throw away money:

Base System - Mac Pro

  • Two 2.66GHz Dual-Core Intel Xeon
  • 4GB (4 x 1GB)
  • 250GB 7200-rpm Serial ATA hard drive
  • ATI Radeon X1900 XT 512MB (2 x dual-link DVI)
  • One 16x SuperDrive
  • Apple Keyboard and Mighty Mouse - U.S. English
  • AppleCare Protection Plan for Mac Pro/Power Mac

Cost: $3700

This is the base Mac Pro system, purchased from Apple. Quad core seems future-proof without being wasteful, while four gigs ram should be considered the minimum now for any serious developer, especially with the overhead when using virtualized OS’ses. We get the Radeon to support up to two 30” monitors, and can always add the basic Nvidia card if we need to support more then that. Hard drives, monitors, and other addons are just stupid expensive through apple, and upgrading the Pro should be dead simple. Lets do that through NewEgg or Dell…

Addons for the Mac Pro

Our add ons give us a gig of hard drive space, plus the Raptor for the boot drive and any key applications we have. The 750 gig drive is for the massive quantities of, uh, public domain movies and music. The MX mouse is awesome and the default Apple mouse is lame-city.

Monitor configuration could be its whole blog post, or even its own entire blog. I’m still a bit amazed by certain coworkers who have full 20”+ LCDs available at the office, yet still use a 15” laptop screen! Obviously opinions diverge a lot on monitors, but anecdotal reports, personal experience and research shows that bigger screens == bigger productivity.

Currently, 22 and 24” monitors are in the sweet spot on the price performance curve - so I choose two Dell 24” for this fantasy config. One could always add a 30” monitor and another video card when they become more reasonably priced in the future. If you do decide to go with a 30”, please get a Dell or HP and don’t pay the Apple surcharge. I used a 30” Apple for over a year, and while its a gorgeous monitor, there is no reason to pay an AppleTax when Dell and HP have the same or comparable quality for hundreds less.

This brings the total price to $5300, but to be honest I think a decent laptop is really needed for today’s developer. Since the desktop here is so powerful, we can elect for a plain jane Macbook:


  • 2.16GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
  • 2GB 667 DDR2 SDRAM - 2x1GB
  • 120GB Serial ATA @ 5400 rpm
  • SuperDrive 8x (DVD±R DL/DVD±RW/CD-RW)
  • Apple Mini-DVI to DVI Adapter
  • AppleCare Protection Plan for MacBook/iBook - Auto-enroll

Cost: $1700

The machine listed above is plenty capable for coffee shop work and giving presentations, though I wish you could add more then 2 gigs ram to a macbook.

That brings the total cost to $7k, and doesn’t include any software, taxes, backup solutions, or networking gear. I think this setup would keep *nix or mac based dev very happy for at least a couple years, especially given the Mac Pros expandability.

I would love to hear opinions on this setup, in particular the optimum monitor setup (besides something crazy $$, like 2 30”) and the macbook vs macbook pro for heavy web dev work.