My Dedicated Box

Ego tells me that I need a super computer to house my publishing empire. Prudence  tells me no, you need nothing of the sort.

So, before I set off on a shopping excursion, this post is my bow to Ma’am Prudence lest I spend too much or not enough.


As much as I lust for cutting-edge computer hardware, I’d rather put hard-earned capital into book marketing than fancy electronics.


The good news is that the software I run is totally free. No license fees. Hardware is a one-time capital expense that I can amortize over the course of my self-publishing venture.


Question is: Just how much computing power do I need?


It’s a given that I want small, quiet, and low power consumption.


Intel NUCs tick all three boxes. Plus, they support dual monitors and have ample input/output ports.


Experience tells me that three specs satisfy the full extent of my likely requirements:


  • Processor
  • RAM
  • Persistent storage


## Processor


All but highest- and lowest-end NUCs come with one of three processors:


  • Core i7
  • Core i5
  • Core i3


These processors differ by how much concurrent work they can do (cores and threads) and clock speed. For our purposes, all we need to know is that i5 is faster than i3 and i7 is faster than i5.


Oh, and expect a big price jump as you step up for higher speed.


For my my purposes? i5 is fine; i3 may work as well. Perhaps I’ll test in a later post.


## RAM


Every NUC within the round up we’re interested in supports at least 16 GB (gigabytes) of RAM (random access storage). Higher-end models support up to 64 GB. For my needs, 16 GB is downright luxurious.


## Persistent Storage


One of the very earliest computer disk storage devices, IBM’s model 350, had fifty 24-inch diameter disks stacked on a spindle, stored the equivalent of 3.75 Megabytes of data, weighed a ton, and leased for $750 1956 dollars per month.


The primary persistent storage device on a NUC is an M.2 solid state drive roughly twice the size of a stick of gum.


If you’re extravagant, you can deck out your NUC with a 2 TB drive for a tad more than $250. That’s two TERRA BYTES of storage—and that, if my math is corect, is 533,333 times as much storage as the IBM 350.


But what do such awesome numbers mean?


The interior PDF file for of my books, 300 sum pages, runs just shy of seven megabytes. Too big by nearly twice to be stored on the IBM 350. But more than 285 thousand such book files would fit on a 2 TB solid state drive.


Doubt that I’ll write anywhere near that number of books in my lifetime.


Okay, let’s sum it up.


We’re not playing computer games. Not into heavy image or video editing. So an i3 processor might just serve us fine. An i5 is a happy medium; i7 is nice if you have discretionary capital, but likely overkill.


From experience, 4 GB of RAM might be enough for our use case, 8 GB better, 16 GB or more might confer bragging rights but it’s not clear that it buys clear-cut benefits. Hmmm… Maybe another thing to test.


And storage capacity?


Let’s compare Amazon prices for M.2 solid-state drives:


128 GB — circa $20 to $30

256 GB — circa $22 to $50

512  GB — circa $40 to $70

1 TB       — circa $100 to $140


Take take these numbers with a grain of salt. They change, often downward. And read reviews—performance and quality differences to consider.


Here’s what I’m driving at:


Turns out that it’s a 15-minute well-documented-on-Google operation to add or upgrade RAM and storage on a NUC. I’ll post a how-to by-and-by.


If capital is tight, buy an i3 NUC and 4 GB of RAM and a 128 GB drive; upgrade when you sell enough books to justify the expense.


## Buy New?


If money were no object, I’d buy new from System 76. The system would come with Ubuntu Linux 22.04 installed ready to fire up and get down to work.


Specs:


Processor: i7

RAM: 64 GB

Persistent storage: 1 TB M.2 ssd

1 TB 2.5-inch ssd

~ Price: $1,200.00 [^system76]


[^system76]: https://system76.com/desktops/meerkat


I can bring that down into the $600 range if I go for less extravagant specs.


Note that NUCs come in two case sizes: tall and short. Tall NUCs have space for a second 2.5-inch solid-state drive.


For half the high-end System 76 price, I can buy an i5 NUC with Windows 10 Pro installed from Amazon. Easy enough to swap out Windows for Linux. I’ll post a how-to anon:


Processor: i5

RAM: 16 GB

Persistent storage: 256 GB M.2 ssd

Price: $530.00


Shop around. Take prices with a grain of salt. Consider buying a NUC kit, e.g., you install RAM, storage drives, and operating system. On Amazon, expect to pay $300 for an i5 processor.


As of this writing, you can buy two Crucial RAM 8GB DDR4 2666 MHz memory sticks for $32. [^memory]


[^memory]: System Memory Requirements for Intel® NUC Products

https://www.intel.com/content/www/us/en/support/articles/000005561/intel-nuc.html


## Buy Used?


If an anaconda budget has you in it’s squeeze, hang out in the eBay NUC listings. Be discerning and picky. Steals to be had.


Looking now, I see a seventh generation i5 NUC with 8GB of RAM and a 128GB ssd drive for $70.00 plus 20.00 shipping. Of course, one would need to install an operating system. I’ll show how in a later post.


If you dive into the used NUC market, it’s more than prudent to understand model numbers. Stick to more recent generations and Intel Core processors and you can’t go far wrong. Details here:


https://www.intel.com/content/www/us/en/support/articles/000031273/intel-nuc.html


My used NUC is on order. Will kit it out in a post to come.