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Building a new computer workstation from scratch, please help me.
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sek929
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Mar 26, 2024, 03:21 PM
 
Its been so long since I've been here but once I started to embark on my new project my head starting swimming and the only place I could think of for some straight answers is right here. You fine nerds have never steered me wrong before!

The Plan

Build a modern computer desk workstation from the ground up, getting rid of my old desk and old computers in the process. Replace with one large screen and one keyboard/mouse to control everything.

The Moving Parts

My partner got a big promotion (hooray) and will also be working from home a lot more (also hooray) but her new position has put a strain on our cluttered and inefficient workspace. I have a 2012 27" iMac, backup drive, printer, usb-c dock for her windows laptop, second screen for said laptop and second mouse and keyboard for said laptop. this all sucks.

The New Kids

I've settled on replacing my iMac with an M2 Mac Mini, my computer needs are few (I cut wood for a living) but we need a family machine that will serve as the anchor for years and years. I've also decided to get an Uplift electric desk so my s/o can have a comfortable area to work while she is doing things around the house or settling in for a long zoom meeting. this is another area i dont mind shelling out some bucks. Lastly the focal point will ideally be a 27-31.5 inch display that will serve both her work laptop and the Mac Mini.

The Problem

It's been a long goddamned time since I've kept up with technology and reviewing my options for simple connectivity is making me feel very, very old. At first I was convinced the only way to achieve my vision is with a KVM switch but now I'm not so sure. Most monitors have a plethora of inputs, including USB-C (thunderbolt?) So it would appear on the surface that i don't need to switch video inputs but rather just merge one keyboard and mouse to both machines? Past that I'm unsure whether i should shoot for HDMI, Display Port, or simply USBc for my monitor connections. Can monitors accept multiple inputs and switch between them? Gaming is not a huge concern to me but id like to keep the resolution at a minimum of 1440p, no curve either. My biggest concern is some weird compatibility issues between sharing one monitor with a mac and a pc.

I've got a bunch of stuff bookmarked but as i started to diagram my connections I realized I really didn't know what the hell I was doing, hence this post. This place has been such a great destination for me over the years when i have tech questions and thank you all for the current and past help you have given me.
     
subego
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Mar 26, 2024, 04:05 PM
 
Unfortunately, my experience is limited to the LG 27MD5KL-B. Practically speaking, it’s the 27” Retina Apple Thunderbolt Display that Apple never brought to market. A solid contender only if it’s all Macs.
     
sek929  (op)
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Mar 26, 2024, 04:27 PM
 
Originally Posted by subego View Post
Unfortunately, my experience is limited to the LG 27MD5KL-B. Practically speaking, it’s the 27” Retina Apple Thunderbolt Display that Apple never brought to market. A solid contender only if it’s all Macs.
Unfortunately the second machine is an old-ish windows laptop provided by her company
     
reader50
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Mar 26, 2024, 04:32 PM
 
In general, 3rd party monitors have more ports as they get more expensive. IPS displays are almost standard on monitors today - everything but the very cheapest, and a few oddballs with something different, like OLED. Note that it's become common for audio to be output through the monitor cable, so you now get stereo sound via your DisplayPort / HDMI / USB-C connection. 4K monitors are also cheap, used for Retina resolutions. Don't buy a 1440p monitor - Retina looks better, the higher the base resolution.

You should be fine with a decent monitor, switching inputs between Mac and PC. I'd expect the audio source to switch along with the video, but it's possible the audio source would need switching separately via the monitor menu. That's the only possible gotcha that comes to mind. Check the monitor connections panel(s) before buying. The specs online don't always list everything. Like if you have a legacy DVI port (for hooking up an older computer to reach old apps or games) or if the USB-C port supports TB. From the jack panel, you can see if the lightning-bolt TB logo is present.

note: TB 3 or 4 over USB-C is an extra feature. Some USB-C connections only do USB, while others do USB + TB. For monitor use, this will affect the cable. Make sure it supports TB too.
     
Laminar
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Mar 26, 2024, 04:34 PM
 
A KVM is probably your best bet for a partner-friendly one-touch switch to swap a single mouse/keyboard/monitor between two PCs.

Maybe something like this one that expressly claims Mac compatibility and can charge the laptop through USB-C so it's only a one cable connection to each device.

https://www.amazon.com/MLEEDA-Comput...A3PG7Y5OYBDW90

Note that the M2 Macs can't run Windows natively like the Intels could, so your gaming options are limited to what you can run in Mac OS or how much you want to fuss with Windows virtualization.

I've never run into the 8GB limit of my M1 Mini but if you're going for a decade of use you might as well get the full-bore 16GB version.
     
sek929  (op)
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Mar 27, 2024, 06:50 PM
 
Originally Posted by reader50 View Post
You should be fine with a decent monitor, switching inputs between Mac and PC. I'd expect the audio source to switch along with the video, but it's possible the audio source would need switching separately via the monitor menu. That's the only possible gotcha that comes to mind. Check the monitor connections panel(s) before buying. The specs online don't always list everything. Like if you have a legacy DVI port (for hooking up an older computer to reach old apps or games) or if the USB-C port supports TB. From the jack panel, you can see if the lightning-bolt TB logo is present.

note: TB 3 or 4 over USB-C is an extra feature. Some USB-C connections only do USB, while others do USB + TB. For monitor use, this will affect the cable. Make sure it supports TB too.
Good stuff, thanks, any recommendations for a ~30" display that doesn't break the bank?

Originally Posted by Laminar View Post
A KVM is probably your best bet for a partner-friendly one-touch switch to swap a single mouse/keyboard/monitor between two PCs.

Maybe something like this one that expressly claims Mac compatibility and can charge the laptop through USB-C so it's only a one cable connection to each device.

https://www.amazon.com/MLEEDA-Comput...A3PG7Y5OYBDW90

Note that the M2 Macs can't run Windows natively like the Intels could, so your gaming options are limited to what you can run in Mac OS or how much you want to fuss with Windows virtualization.

I've never run into the 8GB limit of my M1 Mini but if you're going for a decade of use you might as well get the full-bore 16GB version.
Funny I felt compelled to go 24gb upgrade just for shits because I know everything is set in stone and can't be upgraded, But if 16 is fine then ill spend that money elsewhere, Thanks for the link to the thunderbolt kvm, that definitely seems like the easiest way to get everybody set up. Elminating HDMI or DP cables wasn't something I was aware of until recently hah.
     
ghporter
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Mar 29, 2024, 06:10 PM
 
I am using a DP KVM for my two Linux desktops, and I’m quite happy with it. I chose this one because I only needed USB 2 and it has separate connections for DisplayPort and a number of USB devices. The only issue (if you can call it that) is that DisplayPort audio through my monitor’s speaker jack sounds bad. But I use a USB soundbar anyway, so that’s not a big deal. A Thunderbolt KVM will be slicker and much simpler for the kind of equipment you’ll be using.

My setup went from a thrown together mess to something a lot more structured in December when I added a second machine. I planned it out for the network stuff and the two computers to be close together and be accessible from behind, so connecting it was easy. I have them both connected to the network via Ethernet, and having true gigabit internal networking is great.

My bottom line is this: think out what you want ahead of time, compare options, then take your time putting things together. I can’t tell you how much better it is to have “cables to computer #1” all bundled together, and not mixed up with “cables to computer #2”. When you set up things on the fly, it’s hard to keep them structured, maintainable, and neat.

Glenn -----OTR/L, MOT, Tx
     
reader50
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Mar 29, 2024, 07:58 PM
 
Originally Posted by ghporter View Post
I can’t tell you how much better it is to have “cables to computer #1” all bundled together, and not mixed up with “cables to computer #2”. When you set up things on the fly, it’s hard to keep them structured, maintainable, and neat.
On that note, I've taken to using a label printer. Put labels on each cable, near the ends. Designating what they're for. Makes it much easier to disconnect the right cable, as well as plug everything back in if a component gets pulled for service or upgrade.
     
subego
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Mar 30, 2024, 10:47 AM
 
It’s been awhile, but when I last tried this with P-Touch tape it would slowly but surely unstick from itself.
     
ghporter
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Mar 30, 2024, 11:09 AM
 
Yep, P-Touch is not a great, long term solution. Because they are laminated thermal tape, the outer layer separates, then the printed layer comes unstuck, and it falls off. I even tried adding clear packing tape over the P-Touch tape…no dice, they still came off and left the cable sticky.

I bought laser-printable cable labels to address this. These look like they’ll work well. I haven’t printed any of them yet, but it seems like it’ll be pretty straightforward to print them (or use the included marker to label them) and apply them. I’ve finalized all of my cabling, so the labeling process is part of my plans for the upcoming week.

The package includes labels in 9 colors, so color-coding can be a thing as well. The vendor offers a Word template for the labels, but it didn’t look like it actually aligned with the labels on the page. Fortunately they also offer an editable PDF template that seems to line up properly. Too bad they don’t have a Pages template…

Glenn -----OTR/L, MOT, Tx
     
Waragainstsleep
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Mar 30, 2024, 11:24 AM
 
You could plug the monitor, keyboard and mouse into a USB-C dock of some kind, then you just switch the USB-C cable between the Mini and the laptop. A switch would be more elegant but this takes the keyboard and mouse with it and means you don't need a KVM.
I have plenty of more important things to do, if only I could bring myself to do them....
     
reader50
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Mar 30, 2024, 01:45 PM
 
Switching physical cables on a regular basis is bad. Ports are rated for only a certain number of insertions.
     
subego
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Mar 30, 2024, 05:43 PM
 
USB-C is supposedly rated for 10K cycles. At two per day it would take more than 10 years to reach that.
     
ghporter
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Mar 30, 2024, 09:10 PM
 
“Supposedly rated” is anything from the QC folks verifying some large percentage of a product actually tests to failure past 10k cycles, to the maker having tested at least one specimen to survive somewhere close to 10k cycles.

The combination of wear on the shell, the contacts, the strain relief, and the cable itself is a not-good thing to bet on. Which does not address the ports’ wear patterns; cables are cheap, ports not so much.

I’d go with a KVM just to avoid the chore of changing what’s plugged into what, but from an electronics technician perspective (I actually did that gig for over 25 years), accumulating connector cycles is just plain bad.

Sek, what KVM I’d recommend depends on the inputs to the monitor you wind up with. Primarily it comes down to what inputs the monitor has

Glenn -----OTR/L, MOT, Tx
     
subego
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Mar 31, 2024, 07:58 PM
 
Obviously, it would be best to avoid cable shuffling.

If that’s not possible for whatever reason and one is concerned about the duty cycle (totally reasonable BTW), a good solution is to plug and unplug from a sacrificial coupler. I’m forced to do this on occasion with HDMI.
( Last edited by subego; Mar 31, 2024 at 09:12 PM. )
     
ghporter
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Apr 1, 2024, 02:40 PM
 
My previous reply sounds almost preachy, which was not my intent.

I have to admit that I am extremely biased against cable shuffling, and I'm extremely cynical about "rated cycles", but not without reason.

For a while when my duty assignment was to maintain Air Traffic Control equipment, we had a very rough time because the controllers would get bored and twirl their hand microphones, like this one:


The coiled cord was rated for many thousands of stretches, but the cord would fail very quickly when that heavy mic pulled on it while being twirled by the cord. The replacement cords were expensive, and they were also a royal pain to replace.*

So I am skeptical of a duty cycle rating without also having access to how this was tested. And I have a healthy respect for how real-world use of something can (and often does) vary from its designed functional envelope.

*The management fix for this situation was stellar. The squadron bought each controller a Plantronics headset like this:

Expensive and spacey, the controllers loved them. The catch was that each individual was responsible for his or her own headset, and if they broke it, they bought it. "Boredom" problems essentially disappeared after this.

Glenn -----OTR/L, MOT, Tx
     
subego
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Apr 1, 2024, 03:12 PM
 
I’m completely with you. HDMI is rated for 10K. Don’t buy that for a second, hence the coupler solution if shuffling is required.

HDMI is such a shit design though. I trust USB-C a little more.
     
sek929  (op)
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Apr 6, 2024, 02:36 PM
 
Originally Posted by ghporter View Post
Sek, what KVM I’d recommend depends on the inputs to the monitor you wind up with. Primarily it comes down to what inputs the monitor has
We went to a physical store today so my partner could visualize monitor sizes, we settled on 27" so 4k resolution is definitely within the budget now, I'm currently on newegg with those filters applied (also thunderbolt) and seeing a wide variety of brands and prices. Any recommendations from the hive-mind would be appreciated. refresh rate isn't much of a concern since this will primarily be for browsing and excel.

Swapping cables would be annoying, I'm really interested in having everything be thunderbolt if possible, i assume the KVM would also be able to distribute one ethernet input through thunderbolt to both machines?
     
sek929  (op)
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Apr 27, 2024, 06:17 PM
 
Small update,

The Mac Mini is ordered and on the way, I’m very excited, this is my first brand-new Mac since….I think the old G4 in 2001. Everything else has been refurb or hand-me-down.

The screen (Philips Brilliance) and KVM (the one Laminar linked, thanks!) are all set up currently, the only snag has been neither the monitor nor the power strip I bought outputs enough watts to charge the work laptop. I’ve got a 100w brick arriving soon which should fix that. 4K is gorgeous (thanks GH) I’m glad I didn’t settle for a cheaper 1440 display.


As always you guys narrowed my options and cleared some fog. Thanks!
     
sek929  (op)
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May 3, 2024, 01:50 PM
 
So the whole setup is finished and, naturally, there is one glaring issue I’ve been wrestling with.

When hooked to the KVM my mini thinks my new 27” 4K display is some generic 17” monitor and does not have any resolutions over 1080p. Hooked directly to the monitor everything works great and the screen looks amazing. I tried an app called ResX but even it doesn’t have any resolutions over 1080p. I’ve come across “EDID” issues online and was able to export my monitors EDID when hooked in direct but I have no idea what to do with that file now. Short-term I can hook the mini in directly on its own input but my dream of a one keyboard and mouse solution for two machines is off to a rocky start.

My partners old Dell laptop sees the screen just fine through the KVM, and all cables are either Thunderbolt 3 and HDMI 2.0.
     
Laminar
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May 3, 2024, 03:33 PM
 
Not sure if this is it, but I'm seeing rumblings of "EDID," which is Extended Display Identification Data. If the KVM doesn't support EDID, it's not passing display info to the Mac so the Mac doesn't output the correct resolution. That could explain why the Mac is fine hooked straight to the monitor but not through the KVM. Not sure why the Windows box would be okay.

https://www.blackbox.com/en-au/insig...edid-emulation

I looked at the original KVM I linked and there's no mention of EDID, plus Amazon is now noting that it is "frequently returned." If you're not outside the return window it may be a good idea to see if you can send it back.
     
sek929  (op)
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May 3, 2024, 04:27 PM
 
Haha, makes sense. If only I knew of this obscure acronym before it became a problem, instead of afterwards!

It’s really unfortunate because it works flawlessly otherwise.
     
sek929  (op)
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May 4, 2024, 03:47 PM
 
As a last ditch attempt I plugged the Mini into the other USBC port on the KVM and lo and behold the monitor instantly switched to full resolution and displayed all pertinent info. The only difference from port 1 to port 2 is that port 1 is powered from a seperate USBC block and port 2 is not fed any power. The only thing i can currently think of is that the powered port is able to transfer the EDID while the unpowered port does not. I'm going to power both ports and see if that solves everything.
     
Laminar
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May 6, 2024, 08:13 AM
 
Nice!
     
BLAZE_MkIV
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May 8, 2024, 09:58 PM
 
There's a display port feature to run dual monitors over one USB-C cable. My work Dell laptop can. The MacBook doesn't support it so It just mirrors the signal to both monitors. That may be the issue with one port vs the other.
     
sek929  (op)
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May 9, 2024, 12:32 PM
 
The final conclusion:

The KVM is getting returned. After getting both machines hooked up and displaying the correct resolutions I have run into intermittent screen flickering and black screens on the Mac side, and USB disconnects on the Windows side. Pretty disappointing since at first it looked like everything was working great. The more I research the more I see this style of USB KVM is a pretty new concept and besides some very expensive options there’s really nothing out there I trust to buy at the moment.

The workaround for now will be switching inputs through the monitor and a separate keyboard and mouse per machine. Not ideal but hopefully in the coming months another manufacturer makes something worth buying. The demand for a KVM switch with thunderbolt switching is huge online, but most people agree the hardware just isn’t there yet.

The Mini is awesome so far, installed Minecraft just for shits and holy crap I can set the render distance really far with no real hit to performance. Usually sitting around 90FPS with about 70% GPU use.

Civ 6 and Cities Skylines are next on my wishlist, alrhough Baldurs Gate 3 has gotten rave reviews and it has native Apple Silicon support which is nice. I’ve also read some stuff about downloading the Windows version of steam and running it in Sonoma somehow but with how much struggle I’ve had with tech this last week I’d like to cool it on the messing with stuff front.
     
Laminar
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May 9, 2024, 01:14 PM
 
It blows my mind that I used to spend days and days messing with extensions in OS 7, 8, and 9 and screwing with stuff and playing with Wine emulation and doing Hackintosh stuff and now if Chrome takes three extra seconds to load I basically lose my shit and go to bed.
     
sek929  (op)
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May 9, 2024, 03:42 PM
 
Originally Posted by Laminar View Post
It blows my mind that I used to spend days and days messing with extensions in OS 7, 8, and 9 and screwing with stuff and playing with Wine emulation and doing Hackintosh stuff and now if Chrome takes three extra seconds to load I basically lose my shit and go to bed.
Dude, my patience for technology has never been smaller. As a carpenter I wrestle with the physical world all day long I’ve got nothing left for the digital one. One day Disney+ didn’t have audio for some reason and my daughter was loosing it and I swear I almost threw the appleTV out the window.

I used to adore breaking stuff in computers and then figuring out how to make it work again, now if I have to google something and I see only a forum post from 2018 I just give up.
     
reader50
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May 9, 2024, 03:57 PM
 
We all had more free time when we were younger, and less money. So we fiddled with things.

Today, we're more likely to buy replacements and maximize precious free time.
     
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May 12, 2024, 08:50 AM
 
Originally Posted by Laminar View Post
It blows my mind that I used to spend days and days messing with extensions in OS 7, 8, and 9...
Oh, man, I do miss extensions, though. There were some pretty fun ones, back in the day. I definitely don’t miss trying to figure-out which one has borked things, though.
     
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May 13, 2024, 05:01 AM
 
Originally Posted by Thorzdad View Post
Oh, man, I do miss extensions, though. There were some pretty fun ones, back in the day. I definitely don’t miss trying to figure-out which one has borked things, though.
It was the Suitcase extension. It was always the suitcase extension.
This space for Hire! Reasonable rates. Reach an audience of literally dozens!
     
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May 14, 2024, 05:18 PM
 
sek, I’m sorry your KVM didn’t work out, and I hope you find a better solution.

Unfortunately, it seems that non $OMG-priced KVMs can be sort of hit or miss. My DP KVM is better than I had expected. My VNC (RealVNC) chokes if I log into the machine that isn’t feeding the actual monitor - it gets almost everything about the display wrong, which suggests to me that there’s some built-in resolution emulation that isn’t even close to a real monitor…. “It’s always something.”

Glenn -----OTR/L, MOT, Tx
     
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May 15, 2024, 09:26 PM
 
I'm still using an old USB+DVI KVM and display port adapters.
     
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May 16, 2024, 03:53 PM
 
Originally Posted by Doc HM View Post
It was the Suitcase extension. It was always the suitcase extension.
or how about redoing the scsi daisy chain to see which order it would see all the devices in... put the zip last.
     
sek929  (op)
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Jun 22, 2024, 03:53 PM
 
Originally Posted by sek929 View Post
The workaround for now will be switching inputs through the monitor and a separate keyboard and mouse per machine. Not ideal but hopefully in the coming months another manufacturer makes something worth buying.
A little update to the setup.

Thanks to the MX ANYWHERE 3S mouse from Logitech along with the MX KEYS S we can fairly easily use one keyboard and mouse between the PC and Mac. First off the mouse is amazing, and is by far the slickest part of this whole godforsaken process. Both machines paired immediately with it and switching between is a flash. The keyboard takes a few seconds to switch and connect but again works very well. F key functionality inside windows has been a mixed bag, my partner uses some weird-ass proprietary systems for her job that goes well above F12. The keyboard can access those functions but it requires a few more strokes and throws her off.

Also, a a seasoned Excel guru she hates Numbers, any suggestions?
     
reader50
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Jun 22, 2024, 05:30 PM
 
LibreOffice is free, and has a Calc section. I'm told it's familiar for Excel users.
     
subego
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Jun 23, 2024, 11:58 AM
 
Why not Excel proper?
     
sek929  (op)
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Jun 23, 2024, 06:42 PM
 
Originally Posted by subego View Post
Why not Excel proper?
I was under the impression the Microsoft suite was a subscription service now? That seemed excessive for some light home bookkeeping and whatnot.
     
subego
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Jun 23, 2024, 07:56 PM
 
Got it!

It is, and it is.
     
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Jun 24, 2024, 04:29 AM
 
Originally Posted by sek929 View Post
F key functionality inside windows has been a mixed bag, my partner uses some weird-ass proprietary systems for her job that goes well above F12. The keyboard can access those functions but it requires a few more strokes and throws her off.
Your wife needs an aircraft carrier.
Originally Posted by sek929 View Post
Also, a a seasoned Excel guru she hates Numbers, any suggestions?
For me it is the reverse, Excel is driving me batty. I haven't used LibreOffice in about 15 years or so, but last I tried it, they tried very hard to copy Microsoft Office in most respects — to their own detriment in my opinion. But it should be fairly close.
I don't suffer from insanity, I enjoy every minute of it.
     
Laminar
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Jun 24, 2024, 08:15 AM
 
Google Sheets is close, but anyone that likes Excel won't be happy without Excel. I bought a lifetime Office 2021 license for $40 last year, looks like it's $50 now. Now sure how long "lifetime" really is or if they'll nuke it and force a subscription at some point but for now it will work.

https://www.stacksocial.com/sales/mi...time-license-5
     
subego
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Jun 24, 2024, 02:35 PM
 
Against my better judgement, I kinda like Excel. My latest creation…



For logging our TikTok footage.
     
Laminar
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Location: Iowa, how long can this be? Does it really ruin the left column spacing?
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Jun 24, 2024, 03:17 PM
 
Wait how did you find that horrible font that all of the Chinese companies print their manuals in?
     
subego
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Jun 24, 2024, 03:25 PM
 
It’s built in to Excel! Microsoft’s name for it is “MingLIU”.

The moment I found it, I knew what needed to be done.
     
Laminar
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Location: Iowa, how long can this be? Does it really ruin the left column spacing?
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Jun 24, 2024, 03:34 PM
 
Oh man I love it, not sure if I can use it because it feels like a niche joke. But maybe that's how you find your people.
     
ghporter
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Jun 24, 2024, 05:21 PM
 
Originally Posted by sek929 View Post
I was under the impression the Microsoft suite was a subscription service now? That seemed excessive for some light home bookkeeping and whatnot.
Check out this offer from CNET. I snagged a similar deal last year and got the whole thing for both my Windows laptop and my Mac.

I use Numbers for only very minor things, likewise Keynote doesn’t fit my needs. So having the MS suite makes it easy for me to do what I need to do.

Glenn -----OTR/L, MOT, Tx
     
subego
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Jun 24, 2024, 05:40 PM
 
Last time I gave Numbers a shot it couldn’t do basic things. Like, IIRC, there was no way format a number with leading zeros.
     
ghporter
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Jun 24, 2024, 05:50 PM
 
I haven’t given it a chance to fail me at that sort of thing.

OTOH, LibreOffice is easy for a MS user to pick up. It isn’t anything like the same, but if you know what you want to do, you can figure it out pretty easily. And it WILL do things that Word, or Excel will do. Their PowerPoint replacement is a little less easily figure out-able, but with a bit of effort it also does the job. I use Libre on my Linux machines (it comes with Debian distros), and it does a workmanlike job.

Glenn -----OTR/L, MOT, Tx
     
Laminar
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Location: Iowa, how long can this be? Does it really ruin the left column spacing?
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Jun 25, 2024, 02:32 PM
 
Google Sheets can do almost everything Excel can do as long as you don't need to share documents with Excel users. Everything I do at home (including some semi-complex VLOOKUP stuff) I do on Sheets. Maybe if you got into more advanced VBA scripting Excel would have the edge, but I haven't found that use case yet.

At work we all use Excel so I use real Excel.
     
   
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