Desk space rationalisation

So I ended up with three computers on my desk: my old desktop, the new Raspberry Pi 4 machine, and my work laptop. I had a little KVM switch that allowed me to switch a VGA and two USB devices (keyboard and mouse, obviously) with two machines. Which meant that if I wanted to use the third machine, I had to re-configure the whole cable mess on my desk. Not ideal if I want to switch quickly. And I use two monitors, so even if I had a KVM switch that did three machines, I’d have to get one that supports three machines too. Those do exist, but they are frightfully expensive!
But the monitors I use have three inputs each: one VGA and two HDMI inputs. So I could have each monitor hooked up to all three machines at the same time, and I could just select the right input on the monitor — or rely on the auto-input-select if there’s only one machine running — without having to mess with the cables. That made my life quite a bit better!

I also replaced my two-way KVM switch with a four-way USB switch with four ports, the Aten US424. It acts as a USB hub, and it has (just like the KVM switch, which was also by Aten) a small button that allows you to switch between the four connected computers. At first I used it un-powered so it was powered by the USB port of the machine it was connected to. This turned out to be a problem when using my USB headset and the webcam: those just shut down after a bit. So that meant I had to connect those directly to the machine, which meant that I had to re-plug the headset and webcam every time I switched from work laptop to personal desktop for a video call, for example for an online RPG session. It works, but it’s not ideal.
But there is also a mini USB port to provide USB power available on the US424, and I’ve since scrounged up a cable with the correct plug. Connected to a USB powerplug, it provides power to the switch, making it now a powered USB hub — and the headset and webcam don’t shut down anymore. Very convenient!

But this all meant that my desk was quite full: two monitors on their stand, a work laptop with its docking station and various bits and bobs. And the monitors were not high enough to be fully ergonomic. I had been looking at monitor desk-mounts for a bit — we have ’em at the office, and it’s really convenient to be able to set the right position. However, they can get pricey too, especially for two monitors and a full range of motion. But this week, I saw one that got reasonably good reviews that was on sale — only twenty euros, and even if it wouldn’t fit my situation, that wouldn’t break the bank. So I ordered it and yesterday I set to reconfiguring my desk.

Starting state of my desk. Lots of stuff lying around that maybe shouldn’t be on there?

Empty and cleaned.

First stage: the two holders built up and connected to the desk.

Getting the monitors off their foot was a bit of a hassle, but after a bit of fiddling with that and with connecting the mounting brackets on the back, the two monitors are now on the holders.

Each monitor has four cables connected to it: one power, one VGA and two HDMI. I didn’t think that would fit inside the cable guidance… things… that came with the deskmount, so I used tie wraps to keep ’em together. There’s enough slack that I can still move the monitors around.

Done. On the left is my work laptop, the power brick I use with it and the docking station. I put one monitor stand back, so that I could hide the USB hub and the cables underneath it — and so I had something to put my little micro-brick model of the Kamakura Daibutsu on. The little nine-key macropad left of the keyboard is programmed to send keyboard shortcuts to Microsoft Teams, using AutoHotKey. It’s very convenient during work meetings to be able to (un)mute and hang up quickly without using the mouse.

I’m not sure for how long it will stay this empty — but there is much more space for cats to sit, which is definitely a big plus! I used this setup to play an online RPG session, and it worked quite nicely. I’m thinking of adding a little ring light or something like that next to the webcam, so that I’m a bit better visible during video calls.

3 thoughts on “Desk space rationalisation

  1. Quite a nice setup! Thanks to your suggestion, I’d also used a KVM switch for a while but ran into pretty comparable issues. I hadn’t thought of checking my work laptop outputs to see if I could hook those up directly (though I suspect my work laptop only had an HDMI output).

    Thank you for the inspiration!

    1. I’m not sure I understand the problem. You have your work laptop hooked up to the monitor through the KVM switch, right? Unless the switch transforms the video connection from one protocol to the other, you could hook it up directly, right?
      You just need to make sure that you have the right connections on your monitor for each device. But there are also dongles that transform HDMI to VGA and all that. I use one of those for my desktop, and I have a USB-C ‘docking station’ connected to my work laptop that adds an extra HDMI and VGA connector. That’s what I’ve been using.

      1. My problem was with the dual monitor setup; I had a single monitor KVM switch (back then my work’s home office budget was extremely limited), and my work laptop only has one HDMI out. So yeah, I ended up with a similar idea as what you’re describing and getting a USB-C dock to attach to the other two monitors

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