These desktops, laptops, and tablets — from Microsoft, Lenovo, and HP — are all on sale

Originally published at:

Lenovo ThinkCentre Core i7 (16GB RAM, 512GB HD) - $1,129.99; originally $1,329

That doesn’t sound like a very good deal. For half the price you can get IBM X3850 with 64 GB ECC RAM and 40 physical cores, in perfect condition. It’s a bit more noisy but the performance is way better.

You can certainly do better than that price for respectable used/refurb gear; but a big mean 4U is arguably not a a meaningful replacement for a smallish form factor desktop for almost any application.

If you don’t mind doing a bit of silencing; or racking them in another room, used servers can be shockingly cheap, and now that PCI-X and parallel SCSI are basically forgotten, quite practical to use with disks and expansion cards that aren’t stupidly expensive; but if you are shopping desktops used workstations are a much fairer comparison and much more practical(also often shockingly cheap for the punch, if typically a little on the large side and more power hungry than desktop tier stuff).

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I use 3U server (other model that is quieter than X3850) instead of a desktop computer right now :slight_smile:
It’s really nice for things like raytracing and photogrammetry and as a workstation for engineering computations that absolutely need ECC ram. Less demanding stuff like games and web browsing work OK too, son there’s no reason to buy second machine. A friend bought X3850 and uses it as a workstation, but you are right about used workstations being a far better choice, mostly due to noise.

I went with a 4U case when I put my desktop together so that I could save desk space by letting all the computers live on the rack, along with all the network bits except for my awful little cable modem (some may ask why redundant routers make sense when the obvious weak link is a $50 plastic box, some questionable coax; and comcast; I say that their faith is weak); but some of the gear took a lot of silencing to be usable.

I pretty much had to avoid 1Us entirely; unless I was willing to rearrange them into at least 2Us worth of space for cooling; but the really irksome bit about even servers with a roomier layout is the sheer number of hotswap PSUs that rely on a screaming little 40mm because any rear space occupied by PSU cooling and cabling is a sacrifice of what could be ports and expansion slots.

You don’t get the same low cost and quality engineering if you start with the basic ATX-but-with-ears cases; but not having to fight with those little fans can be worth it at times.

I periodically have a look for any decent deals on the nicer KVM extenders that do reasonably modern video and actual USB passthrough, not just peripherals only, so I could just ignore noise and banish the rack to another room; but it seems like prices rise painfully quickly as you get toward the feature set you need to interact more or less transparently at a distance.

Basic HDMI switches and extenders are dirt cheap; you can often get used VGA IP KVMs for not much, but full USB passthrough is unlikely and encode decode latency makes those pretty painful for workstation use rather than just for prodding server without decent BMCs; supporting audio or full USB passthrough seems to radically bump the price; as does supporting more than one head(especially if your resolution needs rule out the older DVI units you can sometimes find used for cheap). If you want a couple of Displayports and USB passthrough things just get ugly.

I keep looking; but suspect that I might have to stop being lazy and do some bodging together of the extenders you can get for peanuts; jack a microcontroller into their buttons, IR receiver ports, or RS-232 inputs so that I can get the extension and KVM functions I need with a unified interface without needing to find something with the exact combination of features I need that doesn’t cost more than the computer it is connected to.

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