My Setup (September 2014)

I know, I know, I promised some of you months ago I will write about what setup I use at home, what hardware is there and what purpose it serves. Not to mention showing some pictures.

Being urged by a friend I finally decided to do so. Except I ran into a problem right away: I am currently in the process of making some changes to my setup and it’s one bloody mess unsuited for any photos. I did however made some photos of the setup not so long ago for another friend to show and I’ll use that to give you an idea what I work with.

My setup consists of two desks opposite of each other. I admit it is a rather strange way to arrange desks, but there is a good reason for that. It allows me to get less distracted by what is happening on the screens behind me. My work setup is mostly focused on the left desk you see in the picture below. It used to be a MacBook Air 11” connected to a 27” Dell U2713H monitor.  For some months now my work requires a serious amount of screen real-estate and the tiny 11” display of the MBA combined with a 27” display running at 2560×1440 couldn’t cope with it.


My new main workhorse these days is a Late 2013 MacBook Pro 15” with Retina display, 16GB RAM, 512GB flash storage and GeForce GT 750M. When at my desk it usually runs in 1920×1200, but every now and then I actually run the display’s native resolution of 2880×1800.  As a matter of fact, I had the native resolution running for most of last week. Let me tell you this: that MBP’s display is just amazing!

When at home, the MBP is connected to two 27” Dell monitors (U2713H and U2713HM), both running at 2560×1440 and one 23” Dell (U2311H) at 1920×1080 that’s always in portrait mode.

That’s right, the MBP runs 3 external monitors on top of its own high-rez display.  It’s driving almost 15 million pixels in this setup and that’s some very serious screen real-estate driven by a slim 2kg notebook!

The MacBook Air is not connected to any external monitor these days and takes the role of a floating companion. I still carry it with me from time to time and use it mostly for communication while having all screens of the MBP occupied with work.

Sound is covered by an Altec Lansing Octane 7 (VS4621) 2.1 speaker system that replaced the Harman Kardon SoundSticks II that went downstairs to the living room . The subwoofer is located on the right side on the bottom of the cabinet. The black cone in the right corner is one of its two speakers. They project the sound downward using the surface they stand on to achieve better sound. As it turned out, they work just short of incredible on IKEA desks as those are sort of hollow inside and thus allow for much better vibrations hence sound than a solid wood desk would. That’s however also the problem with these speakers: they works great on some surfaces and work mediocre at best on others.

On each side of the desk there is a small, open cabinet. They not only make the desk more stable, but also cover some storage needs. The right one holds the subwoofer, a TP-LINK gigabit switch, various external hard drives I like to keep easily accessible and a NAS (Synology DS214se with 2x 4TB WD RED). On top of the cabinet I also keep a Twelve South HiRise I plug my iPhone 5S or iPad mini Retina into.

Speaking of which, the row of green lights with a blue light beneath it in the left cabinet is my main NAS: Synology’s DS412+ with 4x 4TB WD RED HDDs. It runs my main storage, my own little cloud to sync some of my data across all devices and it also runs a Plex server with transcoding to feed us with movies and TV shows.

Unfortunately mostly out of the picture, there is also an AC Time Capsule (3TB) on top of the cabinet. Its purpose are Time Machine backups of all my Macs and to connect the network in my home office with the AC AirPort Extreme downstairs that provides the internet connection (50Mbit downstream, 5Mbit upstream).

My Mid 2011 Mac mini (i5 2.5GHz, 8GB RAM, Radeon 6630M, 600GB Fusion Drive) is next to the Time Capsule and is connected to the left 27” monitor (U2713H). The nice thing about the U2713H are two DisplayPorts so whenever I need the Mac mini I can switch input on the monitor to the other DisplayPort the mini is connected to and then switch back to the DisplayPort that’s hooked up to the MacBook Pro when I’m done. I use the mini very often for testing. As a general rule, I never test stuff on my main workhorse as I need to rely on it being fully functional at any time.

The Mac mini’s keyboard is a Kanex multi-sync keyboard sitting on a retractable keyboard shelf under the desk. The Kanex allows you to connect it to two other Bluetooth devices and even to a forth using USB. I keep if wireless though and out of shit and giggles have it also connected to the iPhone and the iPad.

My Mid 2010 Mac mini (Core 2 Duo 2.4 GHz, 8GB RAM, GeForce 320M, 500GB HDD) is downstairs serving as a HTPC connected to the TV in the den (there is also an Apple TV, but I can’t be bothered to make it work with Plex so it’s used for AirPlay only).

Apart of the insane screen real-estate, there is another thing I highly value about this setup: all these devices are virtually silent, even the Network Attached Storages. The only thing that occasionally makes some noise is the MacBook Pro 15” when stressed.

There is also a AMD PC (FX6350 @ 3.9GHz, 16GB RAM, GeForce GTX 460, 120GB SDD + 1TB HDD) under the desk that doesn’t see any use these days as it got replaced by a new one on the other desk.

The other desk. I have to admit it’s a bit less interesting, but that will change shortly when I’m done setting up the new gear.

What you see in the picture is a 21.5” Mid 2011 iMac (i5 2.7GHz, 8GB RAM, Radeon 6770M, 1.2GB Fusion Drive). What you cannot see is a duo of 24” Dell (U2412M) monitors standing next to each other connected to my PC (i5-4670K @ 3.4GHz, 8GB RAM, R9 270X, 120GB SDD + 2TB Hybrid HDD). Both monitors are running at 1920×1200 and in case you don’t feel like doing the math, that’s just 4.1 million pixels combined – which simply pales in comparison to the 15 million pixels on the other desk.

Both monitors serve a double purpose – well, the right one actually serves a triple purpose. The left one is connected to the PC via DVI while also being connected via its VGA port to my Mac mini G4 (PowerPC G4 1.42GHz, 1GB RAM, 120GB HDD).  The right one, apart from being connected via DVI to the PC is also connected via its DisplayPort to the iMac. It is however also connected to a tiny PC (Fujitsu Esprimo Q5030) via its VGA port. If I need to check something on the mini G4 I just switch the left monitor input source to VGA. If I need a second display while working with the iMac, I switch the right monitor to DisplayPort or VGA whenever I need to check up on something on the Esprimo.

The display quality and connectivity of Dell’s UltraSharp line of monitors is why I like them so much. I really love the ability to connect one monitor to different computers as it saves a lot of space on a desk and also ends the hustle of switching cables whenever you need to check something on one of the infrequently used computers. Yes, there are KVM switches for that purpose, but the ones allowing you to run 1920×1200 in good quality more often than not cost more than the computers you are connecting to it. That’s why I went the display input source route. For keyboard and mouse I use a tiny USB switch that switches a Logitech G110 gaming keyboard and a Razor DeathAdder mouse between the PC and the Esprimo. The Mac mini G4 has its own keyboard that’s sitting on a keyboard shelf under the desk while the iMac’s wireless keyboard and mouse are on the desk in front of the iMac.

The PC’s sole purpose is games. That it turns means that lately both 24” monitors spend most of their time being connected to the iMac and the Esprimo.

The job of networking my right desk falls to my previous generation Time Capsule (2TB). Turns out its WAN port can be used as a LAN port after all. For the new setup I will have to deploy  something with more ports, as now there will also be a Mac Pro under that desk and possibly also another MacBook Pro when I find a spot for it…

Well, that’s it for now. I will write another post once the right desk is set up properly. What you can look forward to is a 4 display setup powered by a Mid 2010 Mac Pro and a PC.


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