What is the Perfect Web Developer Setup?

If you’ve worked an office job during your career, you’ve probably noticed IT departments can be quite fussy about the hardware they choose to rollout. Sometimes this is because of internal politics, however if the business is run well, this is usually about the efficiency of product selection and the overall cost-effectiveness of technology.

If you’re running a web development agency, the hardware you choose can be a major inhibitor to the pace you’re able to work at if your team’s not setup for an optimal working environment.

Now depending on whether you're talking to a web developer, IT staffer, or someone who has a passing interest in tech; they’ll all likely have a different opinion as to what the best hardware setup for web developers is. However, at OSE we’ve recently gone through the process of choosing a developer agnostic platform for our team and can share the following findings.

Option #1: Laptop only setup

Web Developer Setup: LaptopChallenges: When assessing the “laptop only” solution for our developers we found a number of issues straight away. This included:

- Developers preferred to work with multiple screens

- Developers were comfortable working on Windows-based machines due to the lack of support in Mac environments for multiple screens, and

- Developers generally preferred more powerful machines.

Cost-effectiveness: One thing which was apparent about laptop only solutions was that they did offer great value for money, at least when we review Apple laptops. Through the limited exposure to malware/spyware issues which exist across MacOS, and the superior build quality of Apple products, this was a real standout in this area.

However, due to the inefficiencies of not having multiple monitors to work with, developers were strongly opposed to this option and we were forced to question the cost-effectiveness of this option long-term.

Benefits: For developers, the benefits of this option were limited. Sure, the cost-effectiveness long term does exist, but the rate at which work could be completed was an issue. However, for developers who were moving between meetings and desk-time, there were some benefits of portability that laptop only solutions provided.

Option #2: Laptop plus a single monitor

Web Developer Setup: Laptop Single MonitorKnowing that we were beginning to hear a few consistent points of contention by now, we shifted our focus to setups consisting of a laptop (allowing us to use Apple laptops) paired with a Dell 27” monitor.

This option received a lot of positive feedback from our team, and is my personal favourite. Because I spend my team between meetings, writing quotes, and the odd bit of development; out of all the options we investigated this was the most flexible, however there were some challenges.

Challenges: Believe it or not, many of our developers found that although they had access to multiple screens via this solution, the screen size differential threw them off. Personally, this isn’t an issue for me, allowing me to take advantage of the best of both worlds, but hey, you can’t please everyone.

The other issue which was mentioned to us was the number of ports available on laptops vs desktops. Again, not an issue for me as we move to a USB-C driven world, but if your developers find this an issue it may be worth considering.

Cost-effectiveness: From a purely financial standpoint, this solution when compared to a laptop only solution required only a few extra hundred dollars for a monitor. Practically I think there’s a great deal of value long-term with this option. For example, if you go with Mac laptops you usually get 5+ years hardware life, whereas a PC is often less. Combine this with the reliability of a quality monitor, and this option really sells itself.

Option #3: PC only

Web Developer Setup: PCWhether you’re a fan of PC or Mac’s, considering a PC only option was always an option we had to review before deciding on our ideal web developer setup.

Single monitor built-in PC or desktop box, the solution didn’t really matter in terms of reliability, it all came down to the fact that developers loved multiple monitors.

We have a legacy iMac in the office, and although this is a great machine, the lack of a second monitor just doesn’t work well for us. This would be the same for a desktop PC with a single monitor, it seems dev’s just love that second monitor.

Cost-effectiveness: When it comes to the all-mighty dollar, desktop pc or in-built monitor options are pretty competitive on price and you do get a lot for your money. You can easily pick up a powerful i7 Intel processor based machine with plenty of hard-drive space and RAM for under $2,000 that will last up to 3 or 4 years. But when it comes to productivity, that all important second monitor is where you need to be looking to get the most out of your team.

Benefits: When it comes to desktop computing the real benefits of this option come with the power of the PC and the size of the screens you can work on. At OSE all our monitors are 27” inch which is not too big, but not too small. This option is affordable and easy to work with when you’re online all week.

Option #4: PC plus dual monitors

Web Developer Setup: PC Dual MonitorIf you’ve taken the time to read to this point, it should be no surprise to you that our developers (and for that matter the developers within our community), are for the most-part pretty big fans of desktop PC’s combined with a dual monitor setup.

From a managerial stand-point, there are a lot of benefits which we see from this setup. For example:

- Our developers are happy with their workstations

- This solutions proves to be the most productive

- This solutions is great at providing a "code" and "design" view per screen

- Gives staff the option to work on a cost-effective powerful setup, and

- Enables developers to work faster than if they were using a single monitor setup

Challenges: So, what are the challenges of this setup? Well to be honest, not many. However, with Windows-based operating systems we do see a slight rise in performance issues and occurrence of malware when compared to our Mac users, and the resale value of these machines is slightly less than a Mac. However over the lifetime of the machine and the overall output of dollars earned, this is pretty limited.

Bonus Tips

Because of the nature of our job, we’ve been around various hardware vendors quite a bit. As you’ve probably guessed, we stick with Dell for PC’s and monitors, and if we're buying laptops we generally go with Apple Macbook Pro’s.

This may be for some an unusual mix, but at a web development agency we need to test cross-platform and browser quite a lot, which is a nice benefit of this approach. We stick with Apple laptops due to their longevity and value for money, and feel the same way about Dell monitors. Although there are a number of desktop PC vendors, Dell is excellent for the business market and quite affordable too. After all, why else would so many major organisations choose them for their platform.