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My Desktop Setup


Random thoughts, bright ideas and interesting experiments. In short the ramblings of a fulltime nerd.


My Desktop Setup

Jakob Westhoff

As the response to my evaluation of iPad keyboards and personal workflow has been very positive I decided to do some kind of follow up. In this post I am going to introduce you to my workspace setup I am using for day to day work.

Retina Macbook Pro 13"

As main workhorse for all my computational needs I am using a Retina Macbook Pro 13" (first generation). I am quite satisfied with its capabilities. Furthermore it is compact and light weight enough to be carried around by me to customers on a regular basis. Instead of having different machines for mobile as well as stationary usage, which required quite some synching effort, I decided to use only one system for both situations years ago. While being at my desk at home I am of course using a lot of additional hardware to make my life easier.

Apple Thunderbold Display 27"

In order to have adequate screen estate I am using a 27" Apple Thunderbold display, which does not only provide me with more pixels, but with several USB ports as well as a gigabit network connection. All of this connected using only a single Thunderbold cable to my laptop. Unfortunately the USB connection is only version 2.0, which is kind of slow with regards to current USB 3.0 being available. But more on this later on.

I am really happy with the display. It definitely is one of the best screens I ever bought with regards to picture quality as well as manufacturing quality. Furthermore it kind of looks good on my desk ;).

Since the day I got this display I thought about buying another one of those for even more screen space. However I decided to wait until the next generation of those displays was released. I always hoped for Apple to incorporate the changes made to the latest iMac model into their displays. Unfortunately this hasn't happened yet. Currently I am hoping for some display with a 4k resolution, or retina, how Apple will most likely call it, to appear in the near future. I would most certainly need a new laptop to power such a display. Nevertheless I think I would invest the money, as the difference between my retina laptop screen and the Thunderbold Display is quite significant. Even though the picture quality of the Thunderbold Display is quite astonishing, as I said earlier.

External USB 3.0 Storage

The storage capabilities of my notebook (256 GB) are usually quite sufficient to hold all kinds of work related applications and documents. However it does not suffice for all my storage needs, when I am at home. In addition to several different Virtual Machines holding all kinds of different browsers and environments, I sometimes need some scratch space for video editing or other work. To solve my storage dilemma I am using several NAS systems, which I might detail in another post in the future, as well as a bunch of external SSDs connected via USB 3.0. While I of course could have used Thunderbold to attach the external storage devices, I decided for USB, for different reasons:


USB 3.0 storage pods are A LOT cheaper than Thunderbold enclosures.


While being slower than Thunderbold of course the USB 3.0 solution is quite enough for me with regards to speed. My external SSDs provide me with read/write rates between 200 and 270 Mb/sec. That is enough for everything I would like to do with them.


The backwards compatibility of USB 3.0 with USB 2.0 allows me to attach the storage to older hardware, which does not support the newer standard. Cables aren't hard to come by and will most likely be lying around, even if I forgot to pack one. Furthermore USB 3.0 has a lot higher availability than Thunderbold with regards to the hardware ports.


After quite some research I found a neat solution for docking my USB enclosures when being at home, while still allowing me to take them out easily. The Fantec DD-25U3 is an external USB 3.0 enclosure made out of aluminum including a 5.25" docking station. I mounted 4 of those docks on my desk and attached them using 2 ExSys 4-Port USB 3.0 hubs, which are mounted to the desk as well. As the Fantec enclosures use a simple USB 3.0 port for connecting with its dock it is possible to simply take it out and on the road, without the need for any special cable or connection adapters. As I attached everything using USB hubs I only need to connect one extra cable to my laptop in order for everything to work.


I put different SSDs inside all of the enclosures. Currently I have one OCZ Vertex 3, one Sandisk Extreme 2 and two Crucial MX100. All of those devices are either sized 256 or 240 GB, as those are most cost effective at the moment. I like the pricing as well as performance of the two MX 100s, which have been my last acquisition.

I am very happy with the whole external solution, as it is the perfect compromise between cost and comfort for me at the moment.

External Blu Ray Drives

In order to be able to read DVDs and Blu-rays I am currently using two Samsung SE-506AB drives. Even though the devices are capable of writing all different kinds of formats as well, I haven't been in need to write a CD, DVD or Blu-ray in ages ;).

Keyboard and Mouse

I am not using any external keyboard with my desktop setup, as I positioned my Macbook in a way allowing me to use its integrated keyboard. However I like using an external mouse while sitting on my desk. The hardware of choice is an Apple Magic Mouse. As I don't want to change the batteries all the time I am employing an Artwizz Induction based Charger. As this product seems to have been discontinued, I asked a friend for a recommendation. He is quite happy with the Mobee Magic Charger, which is essentially the same thing :).

iPhone and iPad Docks

While sitting on my desk I want to have my iPhone as well as my iPad at my fingertips. Furthermore I want them to be connected to a power supply, while they are docked. The docks are supposed to be functional as well as good looking, to fit the overall style of my working environment.

ElevationLab iPhone Dock

Quite some time ago an iPhone 4 dock appeared on Kickstarter. Being worked out of a massive aluminum block it caught my attention. I backed the project, which was created by a company called ElevationLab. Some time later the dock arrived at my doorstep. I am still kind of in love with it. By now there is a new version of the dock which works with newer Lightning cable based iPhones as well. In order to allow the iPhone to be removed with one hand, without holding down the dock with the other, a perfectly fitted sticky pad is provided. The pad fuses the dock to your desk, without leaving any residue behind should it be removed again. The dock itself is available in different colors. The one currently used on my desk is black anodized aluminum.

I have tested quite some iPhone docks over time. The ElevationLab Dock is the best I found so far. Even though it might be a little pricey it is of really high quality. The aluminum finish is optically very appealing, while it is manufactured with high precision.

Daxndox for the iPad

My iPad is hold in position by a Daxndox dock. The dock is precision made by an Austrian company out of ceramics. It is quite heavy and manufactured with high precision as well. In addition to holding the iPad in place, a Lightning cable can be mounted inside the dock to provide it with power, while it is put into it.

I bought the Daxndox not that long ago, but up until now I am very satisfied with it.

The right flow of Air

If you are asking yourself what is standing on the right side of my desk, looking like a black ring on a solid footer, it actually is a fan: A Dyson Air Multiplier AM06. It is a fancy blade less fan. I like this thing, because it provides a nice and coherent flow of air, while being quite silent (at least at lower levels of operation). Furthermore it looks really nice and futuristic, while satisfying the gadget nerd in me ;).


It is my hope that this article inspired you with regards to different technological components, which may be used in conjunction. Maybe there are parts of my setup, which are interesting for you as well. If you are using different solutions, please tell me. I am always interested in optimizing my working environment. If you got any questions regarding the described setup, just post a comment. I will get back to you then.