What? Hardware? You’ve only been complaining about Python for 3 out of the 4 articles….
So yeah I decided last night to talk about my computer…or at least my history of “computing” and how I ended up with this workstation. When young Randy walked out of college I’m not entirely sure that he had a computer. It wasn’t until something like 1998 where I made my first purchase of a large unwieldy desktop (Gateway). Most of my computing needs were handled at work (Federal Gov’t) where we had this mix of Sun Sparc stations, Intergraph Hardware, and some HP workstations.
When we made the move from ESRI Software on Unix machines to Windows machines I suddenly had to care about hardware and all the parts inside of a computer because the IT Department didn’t care. So we’d sit down and go “well we think we need this so lets double it” and we had some very very expensive computers back in the late 90s to early 2000s. How expensive? I can’t put my fingers on any proof but at one point we purchased a Dell Workstation that cost about $14,000 dollars. I think that was right about 2001 or 2002. We had a Silicon Graphics Workstation that I’m 100% sure cost something like $35000 in 1999 dollars.
Flash forward to “Randy owning a small business” and what did I do? My first purchase was a Dell mobile workstation ($3000 pictured above). Next was a Dell lower end workstation that was about $1500. One day for fun I bought a cheap HP Laptop in late 2012. I think it was 14inch and it had a 100 GB hard drive and a whole 4GB of RAM for $350. I loaded Linux on it and started playing around in my spare time with it and trying to see what could I do GIS wise. Over time the answer was “I can actually do quite a bit in 2013 with this laptop”. Sometime that same year I started my move into a mixed environment of ESRI/FOSS4G. Sometime late in 2013 I decided to move my main workstation (Desktop) over to linux and run windows 7 in a virtual machine. That led to more experimentation.
What did I learn from all of this? FOSS4G runs light on the hardware end. I can work with cheaper equipment – not that I like or advise doing it but I can if I have to. I decided this year to go more high end than I have in the past so I bought a System76 Laptop.
What does this get me? Well – I’m looking at at least 4 to 6 years of service. I carry it out with me to clients. I might carry it into the field. I went canoeing with it once (no it’s not water proof but I didn’t feel like leaving it in the car). 32 GB of ram is a bit much – but I wanted as much as I could afford for longevity purposes. I went slim on hard drive space because more of my life is going “in the cloud” so to speak.
I’ve got another laptop with 16gb of Ram and it’s very capable – I just like the system76 one better. It’s a lenovo business class machine and it’s fine. I’ve done one thing with it and that was stick a SSd drive in it to speed it up – other than that it’s stock and boring.
What do I do when I get my laptop?
- Load QGIS from the official QGIS repositories
- GRASS Comes with QGIS.
- Load PostgreSQL/PostGIS from the postgresql repositories
- Geoserver on docker or as an executable so I can run it when I want.
- OpenJump (more on this later)
- Anaconda with PDAL
I also run whatever is current from Ubuntu. Yes – Current. I don’t do Long Term Releases except on servers and one desktop machine. Although I’m currently using Pop-OS and enjoying it (it’s based off Ubuntu).
…and I do more things – but this is a good first whack at a workstation. My assumption is when I go to a clients I have no internet. I can’t tether to my phone is my next assumption because cell service won’t be available. It’s pretty much me and what I take with me (so I take all the software). No joke – I went to a client’s location in NW Tennessee and had no phone service for 4 days (Thanks Sprint) and at least one day of 0 internet. I was at the mercy of the Hotel and the Client for internet most days and that wasn’t a given. I was left with my brain to get work done – no “hive mind” for me that day.
What do I tell my clients? Get what you can afford. Maybe go just a bit better than you think but this isn’t a long conversation of gaming computers vs workstation vs nvidia vs radeon vs etc etc. It’s actually nice to look at a laptop and go “If you don’t blow up you’re good for 4-6 years”. I’m all for equipment with warranties and not running hardware to death – I just don’t care a lot about hardware anymore. My current fantasy is linux on a chromebook to see what I can do with some lower end computing power where my battery runs a good part of the day. Can I have a decent workstation with the cheapest of cheapest hardware? I think so.
“Yeah but what if I run Windows?” That’s 200% fine and there is nothing wrong with it (and some days I wonder if it would make my life easier). You may need something a bit better than a business class machine but you don’t need a gaming computer to run your FOSS4G. If you’re running ESRI Software there is enough info out there on what you need – but whatever you get your FOSS4G will work just fine on it. I say that and don’t be completely ignorant about your hardware – but you don’t need to worry as much as you think you need to worry. I’m big on not worrying these days.
So anyway – Hardware. Something I don’t worry a ton about BUT it is important BUT it’s less important than having good clean data.