What I Use – My Home Office Setup v2.0

Back in March 2020 I posted a blog showing how I had set up my home office. Since then I have upgraded a few components and thought I would update this blog.

In my previous post on my home office setup I commented that the headline picture showed a desktop that was way too tidy for mine. The above image is a lot closer to mine, but still way too tidy.

My Setup

When I work from home I have an office setup which is in a separate room that has all the hardware I need to do my job. The way I connect all this up is shown in the diagram below, and I will explain this in some detail.

The centre of my setup is a Keyboard/Video/Mouse (KVM) switch. This provides the ability to connect up to four PC’s to share a single Monitor, Keyboard and Mouse. The one I have has:

  • Four 4K/60Hz HDMI input connectors to connect the video output from up to four PC’s/devices
  • Four USB connectors to connect the shared Keyboard/Mouse to up to four PC’s
  • Additional USB Ports to provide access to Printers, Headsets, etc.
  • A dedicated Keyboard/Mouse USB connector to connect the shared Keyboard/Mouse
  • One 4K/60hz HDMI Output to connect to the shared monitor.

I also now have two 2K 24″ monitors that provide a dual screen display. The primary monitor is driven through the KVM switch. The secondary monitor is connected through a HDMI splitter switch that can take four 4K HDMI inputs and switch to a single monitor. As a result I can independently switch the primary and secondary monitors between two sources. This means I can use the primary monitor while monitoring another PC on the secondary monitor, or switch it to the same PC and use it as a dual screen setup.

The following PC’s are connected to the KVM Switch:

  • My desktop PC, which is what I use for doing the heavy lifting for running Virtual Machines for development and testing as well as high CPU utilization requirements
  • My Home server which runs my local storage and a few other services
  • My Personal laptop through a docking station (when needed)
  • My Company Provided Laptop (when needed).

These machines are connected to the Internet through my Internet Router via a mixture of wired and WiFi connections. My smartphone, tablet and other PC’s/tablets/Smart TV’s/TV set-top boxes are also connected through the router using WiFi.

This looks complicated, but really once you have all the connections done, you can control the whole setup through Keyboard shortcuts that switches to different PC’s connecting the shared Keyboard/Mouse/Monitor to the four connected PC’s. All I have to do is make sure the appropriate device is switched on and the rest just happens by a few keystrokes.

The secondary monitor requires a manual switch to the required source device, but as that is between the two monitors, it is trivial to do.

The way I have my home office configured allows me to connect multiple PC’s together. However, you could also use the KVM/HDMI switch to connect your monitor to a:

  • TV set top box (e.g. Sky Box, Cable TV Box)
  • Chrome-cast device
  • DVR
  • Video conferencing system
  • Game Console.

Equally the HDMI switch could be used for several multi-media devices and would be especially useful if you had several streaming devices connected to your TV.

The possibilities are endless.

The KVM switch I use only has a single video output, which in hindsight was a mistake. There are KVM switches that provide a dual monitor output and in time I may upgrade to one, although right now these are very expensive. When you use a laptop, especially a Windows PC, you can also configure the laptop screen to extend to act as a second/third monitor.

How to select the KVM Switch

First decide how many inputs you need. I needed four, but if you are connecting more devices you will need more video/USB inputs.

Decide how many outputs you need. At the time I bought my KVM switch needed one HDMI/4K capable output, but if you want a dual monitor setup then you will need two or use a separate HDMI switch.

Decide if you need 4K video input/output support as this cannot be added later.

The switch will provide enough USB connectors to connect the individual input PC’s to the shared keyboard/mouse. However, how many more do you need? For example do you want to connect:

  • A printer
  • USB Headset
  • External Speakers/amplifier
  • Smartphone for file upload/download/charging
  • External Hard Drives and NAS Drives.

You will need a USB port for each, or extend one using a USB Hub.

Regarding the USB ports, investigate whether you need Type A (the normal rectangular USB connector) or the Type C (rounded/reversible rectangular connector) connections. At the moment going for Type C USB support will be more expensive, but this can be provided using a USB hub supporting Type C connections connected to one of the Type A ports or a Type A/C converter.

There are several grades of KVM switch available from the home setup that allows you to project 4K video all the way to professional switches that serve industrial size displays. The price for each varies depending on the features. What you do want to make sure of is that the video connector is HDMI 2 an above, or possibly Display Port 1.2 and above, and not VGA or DVI which is a very much older display connector standards and won’t support the 4K output. DVI is a digital video connector that is provided on a number of desktop PC’s, but is limited when you consider 4K output.

8K video Input/Output and scaling is also available, but at a cost.

How to select the HDMI Switch

In selecting the HDMI switch you need to match the number of input video signals to the number of PC inputs for the KVM switch as well as match the video quality (e.g. 4K @60hz). I have selected the same manufacturer for both the KVM and HDMI switches, which I would advise you also do.

How to Select Multiple Monitors

When you select your monitors, you really need to figure out what you want to use them for. There are various qualities of video rendering and configuration depending on the application. For office use a standard HD or 2K monitor is adequate. 4K is more suitable for gaming and detailed work such as Computer Aided Design. The colour configuration is sometimes important if you are using graphics applications. All these options come at increased cost. You will also need to match the video quality to the output of your graphics card.

The primary trick here is that once you have selected your monitor, buy two of the same model. Attempting to use monitors from different manufactures, different models and/or different resolutions will drive you crazy.

A 24″ monitor is now the typical office setup. Two of these will normally fit on a single desk. Going any higher and you may find you are overwhelmed or can’t fit them onto a typical desk so that you can see both. You can also consider the ultra-wide monitors which typically give you 1.6x the width of a typical HD/2K/4K monitor. If you are going for video editing or gaming, you need to look at the refresh rate. for typical office applications a 4ms refresh rate is adequate, but for video intensive applications you need to consider getting closer to 1ms refresh rate.

In deciding how big the monitor should be, try taping several sheets of A4 paper together and marking out the screen dimensions. Drape it over your existing monitor to get a feel for how it will look.

The choice here is endless and will depend on how you intend to use the monitor.

Using USB Type C/Thunderbolt Connections

I haven’t found any KVM switches supporting Thunderbolt yet, but I am guessing they are available and probably very expensive. USB Type C is also becoming a standard for connecting to a monitor, so I am also guessing that when the technology matures these will be available (if not already at a price).

Telephony/Video Chatting

When I need to do telephone calls, IM or video chat I tend to use a service like Skype via my PC, hence a landline doesn’t figure in my home office setup. There are several more services, but Skype is free with your Microsoft/Outlook account for consumer and non-profit organizations and can be accessed via:

  • The Outlook Website
  • Desktop apps for Windows and MAC OS
  • Mobile apps for Android and IOS.

Skype provides international dialling at local dialling costs as well as local incoming landline numbers, voice mail, instant messaging and video chat – all cross platform. You really don’t need to buy extra services so long as you are either a not-for-profit organization or you are using it for non-business purposes. If you are using it for business purposes, then there are subscriptions that allow multiple connections through Microsoft 365.

There are many other services similar to Skype, but I do recommend you look at the terms of use and their privacy policy before you use them. You should also look at their cross-platform capability so that you can access your phone service from anywhere.

There are also enterprise wide services provided by the main telephone hardware manufacturers that provide soft-phone, chat and Video conferencing services for companies. These can be accessed via the cloud, so there is really no need to have your own telephony PBX in your office any more.

Conclusion

Using the setup I have above I can work productively using a dual monitor setup. Using multiple monitors really does increase productivity and if you are working from home you really should look into investing in a similar setup. You employer may also be able to provide some of the hardware.

When this current Covid-19 health crisis resolves itself (and it will eventually), there will be a new Business-As-Usual that will feature home/remote working more prominently. Companies will realize that they don’t need expensive offices housing thousands of employees in prime locations. People will start to realize that they can have a better home/life balance when working at least some days from home and saving on expensive commuting costs into cities like London and New York. Offices will be for specialized/secure working environments as well as jobs where a remote option is not possible. If I was setting up a Start-Up company now, remote working would be my first choice with hiring offices and meeting rooms on an as needed basis for client meetings.

I hope this updated blog has been useful.


Headline Image provided by Photo by Oğuzhan Akdoğan on Unsplash

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