Hardware advice

For work, I’m building a performance-regression detection system, similar to what Marcel Duran talked about for Twitter at Velocity a year or two ago.

We have the software and non-WPT hardware aspects figured out, but I’m unsure about Windows-based hardware for the WPT agents. I’m especially concerned because I’ve got quite a limited budget and I don’t want to blow it on the wrong option.

Up to this point, I’ve been testing with a spare old Windows 7 box (dual core, 3GB RAM, slow disk), which takes a pretty long time to open and close browsers and so on. Has anyone got practical advice they can offer on Windows hardware specs for this purpose?

Our budget probably runs to either one very high-spec machine running a number of virtualised Windows instances, or a number of small form-factor machines running independently. I realise this is all very hand-wavey and ambiguous, but I’d appreciate hearing any and all opinions before I start spending money. Anyone?

We allow 2GB, and a 1 CPU (2 core) per VM for our test agents

I’m a huge fan of using SSD’s for the disks, regardless of running on physical hardware or VM’s (they don’t need to be big or even particularly good/fast SSDs). That eliminates any local I/O bottlenecks and the browsers should start almost instantly.

Depending on what your needs are, VMs can work really well (and it doesn’t necessarily need insane hardware). I usually run 6-7 VM’s on a single-socket Xeon E3 system (i7 effectively). They may be CPU-bound for some activities and can’t do hardware-accelerated graphics so it kind of depends on what you’re testing.

For physical machines I’m a big fan of using i5 Thinkpad T430’s from EBay ($500 each or so). They have built-in remote management, have GPU acceleration (Intel, don’t need discrete) and come with Windows licenses. I usually replace the disk with a cheap SSD though.