Thoughts from a random software engineer

My New Setup

Device, Remote, Productity, Work · Published the 29 Oct 17
1504 words · 8 min read

Now that I work remotely, I have more control about how I setup my “work station”. I had a few bullet points to check: Minimum of câble, everything portable (except the second screen of course), powerful computer, high resolution for both screens. For now, I work in my living room, but I will find a new flat in the next months (once my 3 months trial is finished, because France), and my new flat will have a dedicated room for my office, to clearly define a space dedicated for work. In this short post, I’ll just present what I did, and why.

The central piece: The computer

I work on Linux (I really don’t like the ergonomics of Mac OS, and during the 6 months I used it, I really felt that I did not have full control of the OS, but that’s really personal, and I know most Software Engineer use Mac nowadays, especially in the web community), and there is a wide range of powerful and beautiful computers. In my previous job, I used an ASUS Zenbook. I don’t know if it was the series we bought, but we all had an issue after 1.5 years with the hinge. My first Zenbook is now a two part computer with a keyboard and screen only linked by a thin cable… Beside this “little” problem, it was an awesome computer, and I would have happily continue with it if I was not fearing to encounter this hinge problem again. Lenovo also makes some sweet laptop, but this time, I decided to go with Dell, because the latest XPS seemed so nice. I went with an XPS 13, but frankly I regret not going for the 15, especially since the bezel makes it as small as a classic 14 computer. I have the 1080p panel, clearly enough for a 13 inches screen, and I prefer to have a mat screen over a glossy one. Plus, Linux is not as good as Mac OS to manage the apps scaling, and the 4K screen would have needed scaling.

For the inside, my main focus was the processor. I wanted the best i7 Dell would offer me, and I wanted an 8th gen. It limited my choices, since Dell has not fully updated its XPS line. The best I could chose with this i7 8th gen was 256gb SSD & 8gb RAM. The SSD is fine. Frankly I never reached the 128gb of my ASUS, and the single criteria I had was met by being a full SSD, not a SSHD or something like that. By I really wanted 16gb RAM too, it helps with Docker or VirtualBox. But it was not available and I needed my computer now. Too bad.

It’s been two weeks since I’ve used this computer full time, and he is really impressive. Despite being full spec, I can work easily 10h without my charger. In fact, I forgot mine in Paris this week (I live in Lyon, 500km away), and I was able to get a full day of work with it before buying my 2nd screen (I’ll get back to this later in this post). The XPS Screen is awesome. I watch some movies, YouTube videos, worked a lot on it, its awesome. Nice color, nice brightness (I’m mostly using it at 5-20% brightness, so I think I have some margin if I need to), really awesome. I really love the keyboard, even though I use mostly an external keyboard as you can see in the photo, the touchpad is working perfectly, it’s only a little less smoother than the Magic Trackpad from Apple, but exactly as responsive and precise. The feel of the carbon fiber around the keyboard is so smooth and nice. It’s really an awesome computer and I’m happy with my choice. Especially since everything worked out of the box with Linux, but I’ll make a post about my Linux installation later.

Oh and it was only 1200€ taxes included, as opposed to 2109€ for a similar specs Mac Book Pro. And I have real life connectics, not just 2 USB-C.

The accessories

Working on a laptop can really put your neck in bad position. For the last few years, I decided to elevate my laptop and let my neck stand correctly, and if you’re not doing it, I would really encourage you to do it. My current stand is the Nexstand K2. Portable, cheap, efficient. I use it even on a train to watch a movie and have the computer at the right height.

Since my laptop is elevated, I use a keyboard. For almost 3 years I’ve been using the Logitech K750. Really happy with it, but I wanted more portability. So I switched to the Logitech k380. Seeing it, the first impression is “what is this, is it a toy?”. But after I tried it, I never thought this again. The key travel, the silence (even though it’s a little less silent than the K750), the build quality, this keyboard is perfect almost perfect. The only missing feature is the backlit keys, and I really hesitated with the k810 because of that. But I like that it uses AAA batteries. Since they are easily changed, no more dead battery in 3-5 years! Also, it’s bluetooth, no more Logithech unifying receiver. And it can be paired with multiple devices, like my tablet.

I have a Lenovo Yoga 2 tablet. I bought it for 99€, but it had high end specs. I’m really happy with it, nice remote for my Chromecast/Plex, really good to play some board games in app version, and now it’s part of my work setup, mainly to always have Todoist right in front of me without takin any space on my screen. I can easily switch my keyboard from my computer to my tablet by just pressing one button, that’s nice.

Since a keyboard is not always enough, I have to use a trackpad or a mouse. I decided to try the Magic Trackpad by Apple. I love working with a trackpad, even though some operations are still better with a mouse. But the multi-touch gestures, really well implemented on Linux by the way, are also really powerfull. And having a small trackpad is way more space efficient than a mouse with its mousepad.

I also wanted to have a portable speaker with integrated microphone to make audio/video calls without the need of a headset, and with better quality than the integrated speakers. I chose the Bose SoundLink Color II. It worked out of the box with Linux as a speaker, but I had to recompile PulseAudio with some patches to be able to use it as a microphone. It would have been easier to buy a USB Speaker with integrated microphone, but at this time I was still not sure I will have a screen like the one I bought.

I wanted to let me a few weeks before buying a new screen to really try working with only one screen. But frankly, always alt-tabing/switching workspaces became tiresome fast. So when I forgot my laptop charger so far away, without any plan to get it back in the next week, I decided to go full USB-C and buy a screen than can recharge my computer, all the while avoiding the cables by connecting everything to the screen, and only have this one USB-C cable connected to my computer. So now, I’m just connecting my “charger cable”, and it gives me a second screen, an ethernet connection, and why not an USB mouse, or USB drive, or USB speaker, or anything I want, since there is still so much ports on my screen. The screen itself is the Philips 25" 258B6QUEB. Again, I wanted to avoid 4K, but 1440p is a nice comprimise. The colors are really nice, the brightness is a little too much for me, but for most people I think it’s perfect. And the USB-C charging is awesome.

What’s next

I’m really happy with this setup. The portability is awesome, I just remove the USB-C cable from my laptop, put it in my bag with my keaboard and trackpad, “close” my stand and put it in my bag too, and voilà. When I’ll move to my next flat, I’ll have to chose a new office chair, and even a new desk, maybe with an option to switch between standing and sitting. I’ll make sure that the screen cables are invisible, only the USB-C will be between my laptop and screen. I will need drawers to keep some documents in an orderly fashion, surely an IKEA Billy to keep my technical books, and a convertible couch to be able to take a nap, work in a more “chill” way, and also being able to transform my office in a second room if I have friends or family coming from across the country.

If you think I could add something nice to my setup, or if you want to share yours, don’t hesitate!

Marc Alexandre
Full-Stack Engineer for more than 5 years, working on performance, scalability and user experience. I grew a great knowledge of Python, Javascript, Node and Angular, but I also like to follow all the other technologies.
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