A Shack PC

One of the integral parts of your Shack is your computer – if you choose to allow one, of course!

Whatever its purpose; something to browse the internet, read forums or check propagation – it needs to do the job and still have some left over for special occasions.

For a long time, I’ve built my own PCs because I like to pick ‘n’ choose the parts as well as find the best deal.  This has usually been a £300-400 project for a decent (but not crazy) spec machine.   Add to that the cost of a legitimate Operating System  – Heck, I could just buy another radio for that sort of money.

Over the last few years, I’ve needed a few machines as test units for software (eg: set it and forget it) and the vast range of refurbished Dell Optiplex SFF models caught my eye.  Back in 2016, I purchased 2x Dell 760 machines for £48 each via a seller on Amazon.  The PCs were Core 2 Duo, 2.6GHz 4GB RAM with 320GB HD.  Nothing fancy, but they did have an old 9pin Serial Port and both DisplayPort and VGA outputs – allowing for 2 monitors and the COM port was especially useful for the test projects I was running.

For about a week, I had recently put one of these older 760s to work in the new Shack running PZTLog, WSJT-X, Firefox and some other desktop bits – it seemed quite comfortable but, as I planned on using 2 screens with my work stuff as well as Ham (FT8!) at the same time, it needed to be a tad beefier.  I opted for a Dell Optiplex 790 costing £110.

The 790 was offered in a variety of flavours: i3, i5 etc – here’s a library pic showing the in/out bits:

Dell Optiplex 790 PC

And here’s the spec of mine:

  • i5-2500 @ 3.30GHz
  • 8GB RAM (with room for more)
  • 250GB HD – I’ll probably swap it out for an SSD at some point
  • DisplayPort – primary monitor (web, e-mail, work etc)
  • VGA – secondary monitor for Ham apps
  • USB – Keyboard/Mouse, CAT leads to IC-7300 and TS-590SG
  • 9pin COM – CW Keying via PZTLog on TS-590SG

It’s RF-quiet, and not too loud under the desk – as a SFF, it’s around 32x32x10cm so doesn’t leave much room for expansion.  One of the big advantages is that they come with a genuine Windows licence sticker.  I also used a special audio driver for the onboard device to give me “Stereo Mix” recording capability – very useful if you need to record live audio off a WebSDR.

There are quite a few sellers on both Amazon and eBay selling these “ex business” machines and they are ideal as a low-profile Shack/office computer if you don’t want to spend too much.  They come pre-loaded  but you may wish to do a fresh install yourself – particularly if you plan on changing the hard-drive.