Cost effective Windows machine for testing and builds

Hi all,

I do all of my development on Mac, and have done limited testing using Parallels to ensure everything also works as expected on Windows, however now that I’m getting close to release I feel I should probably have a dedicated Windows machine so that I’m testing against a ‘real’ Windows environment and can ensure that performance is as expected, etc. It just feels a little dishonest to say I’ve tested against Windows when it’s really a virtual machine on a Mac…

So ideally I’d like to get a small, relative cheap (I’m hoping under £500) Windows machine which I can use to do realistic perfomance tests (so it can’t be too underspec’d) and ideally automated builds/packaging (so it’s not just £500 spent for the odd test every month or so!)

Can anyone recommend what kind of spec I should be aiming for? I’m assuming I should rule out any of the AMD Athlon/Ryzen range (as Intel is more likely to be what end users will be using) and probably the low-spec CPUs like Celeron and Pentium. So of the Core i3/i5/i7 is i3 also too low-spec for realistic UI testing and therefore I should be looking at i5 and above?

Ideally I think a desktop rather than laptop makes more sense (so it can do automated builds overnight) but ideally a small form factor rather than a monstrous tower (which often means the lower-spec’d chips unfortunately).

Any advice on what other predominantly-Mac-Devs are doing for cross-platform work would be much appreciated!


Assuming you’re working towards releasing commercial software; IMO, it’s either you go fully in and buy a proper dev machine so you don’t have to reboot frequently to build and test, or you buy a machine that emulates the lowest common denominator in your target market (where you take a build from Windows/Parallels and drop it on this separate Windows machine to test).

If you decide to choose the latter option, and if you know your target market (do you know what features you need to test that are platform-specific?), selecting a CPU may not matter between AMD and Intel at all. My suggestion here is to get a system with 2+ cores, with Windows 64-bit (there shouldn’t be much functional difference between Win 10 and 11). And when working on audio plugins, it’s better to test across many DAWs, so find a system with a large enough drive.

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Thanks for the reply, that’s really helpful advice.

I’m building VST plugins mainly, with quite rich user interfaces (spectrum analysers, meters, etc.) which have taken quite a bit of time to optimise the rendering on the Mac to get good performance with the software renderer. So I’d like something for Windows that is representative of a lower-end machine an end-user is likely to have, so that I don’t find that on Windows the rendering drops to a couple of frames per second and the first I hear of it is when a Windows user downloads it! That’s why I’m a bit hesitant to purely rely on Parallels because, at the end of the day, that’s running on the same Mac hardware.

You can find very cheap second-hand laptop. I bought a 250 euros machine for testing on the Linux Manjaro distribution for instance. But it appears that most of the devs prefers to use VM and CI/CD and all the services provided by GitHub and others, than to invest in a farm of silicium heaters.

When I upgraded my mac to an m1max I faced this problem and asked folks in the surge community for almost exactly what you wanted. Mini desktop, under 700 bucks, powered well enough, boots win and lin. The folks who are more win experts there helped me find which I’m really happy with. I have it hooked up to the same monitor and keyboard my MBP drives and it lets me do win and lin work now parallels isn’t part of my day due to the new mac

That said when on Intel mac I had no problem using parallels for all my dev, but the surge community has a great cadre of testers in heterogenous environments so we could also rely on more folks with native hardware to test.


In case you are on an Intel Mac, using Bootcamp is also still an option to run Windows native on your Mac. While having a separate Windows and Mac machine at my desk for my daily job, I take the bootcamp route to develop my personal open source project, I even moved my Windows installation to an external SSD to free up some internal disk space. Works great, costs nothing.


Try looking for IBM/Lenovo ThinkCentre or Dell OptiPlex small form factor computers. You can find a lot of them in used but very clean condition at a nice price (totally in your budget).

I’d add HP Z series workstations as an option. I’ve had several now. The quality is excellent and the second hand pricing is cheap. if you are feeling lazy. Or eBay if you want better pricing and can waste time looking for the right machine

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Like @PluginPenguin, for the last few years I’ve just used older Intel macs as my Windows machines using boot camp whenever I upgraded. For example my old 2014 iMac works great as a Windows machine!

I wouldn’t call those macs “cost effective”, but they kinda are if you already have them.