Building My Dream Developer Battlestation
The desk is a slightly custom standing desk, built from the following components. This is v2 of the desk, with v1 being inspired by the infamous Amazon door desk.
- Uplift Desk Commercial V2, frame-only. C-Frame, 27.5" feet, black, with the Advanced Digital Memory Keypad.
- 32" x 80" unfinished solid core door. The exact one I bought doesn’t seem to be available on Home Depot’s website anymore, but there’s a similar (smaller) version here.
- 2x Ikea SIGNUM cable holders.
- 8' x 4' Post-it Dry Erase Whiteboard Film. That exact one seems to be unavailable via Amazon at the moment, but this looks similar / identical.
- 16" x 36" desk mat.
Building this was pretty straightforward:
- Put together the frame. This should be doable on your own.
- Flip the frame over. This will need a friend.
- Go buy the door and install it on the frame. This will also need a friend.
- Install the whiteboard film on the top of the door. This will benefit from having a friend around, but isn’t strictly necessary.
- Optionally, install some of the remaining whiteboard film around the side of the door as a form of edge banding. Alternatively, just cover it with some white gaffer’s tape.
I wanted a large, cost-efficient desk that would be able to support the multi-monitor setup I had envisioned. It turns out that unfinished doors are among the cheapest solid pieces of desktop-style material you can get, especially if you’re looking for something deep. Reddit loves the Ikea KARLBY countertop, which is finished really nicely, but unfortunately it’s not even 26" deep, which I’ve found to be too short for my multi-monitor use. It’s also a little pricey. So, v1 of this desk was just the unfinished home depot door (solid core, for strength) with a couple 4x4s screwed into it for legs, similar to the Amazon build guide.
I had the 4x4s cut to just about 27", such that the height of the desktop plus the legs was the same as the Ikea LINNAMON + ADILS desk I had before. This let me move that old desk off to the side, for a little additional table space. This height ended up being a little too high for me though, so I switched to a standing desk frame that would let me adjust the height.
I specifically chose the Uplift standing desk because of the reputable manufacturers I was able to find for a reasonable price point (~700 or less), Uplift’s was the one which went the lowest. I also chose a proper whiteboard surface, rather than just a thin film or paint, since I’ve had poor experiences with both of the latter in the past. Going with a reputable manufacturer (3M) was also intentional, since whiteboards are hard to get right, and bad whiteboards are just infuriating. There wasn’t too much thought put into the other selections, just picking whatever looked reasonable from Amazon / Ikea.
Thoughts After 2 Years
As hinted above, I got the commercial version of the standing desk because I’m short, and the commercial frame is able to go down an inch or two lower than the normal version. This turned out to be a good idea, because with the thick door top (~1.5"), I end up keeping the frame at nearly its lowest height when sitting down. I also don’t actually use the standing functionality that often (read: ever) for its intended purpose, but it’s super convenient for making slight adjustments in height when sitting down, or adjusting for different people (when I have guests), or matching to the height of one of my side desks, or raising it up all the way to be able to manage cables and clean underneath it more effectively, etc.
Also, I’m glad I went with the flat version of the numpad for the desk (with memory), rather than the one that would be slightly angled, since it means the numpad is flush with my desk. The memory is also definitely worth getting (even though you’re definitely being overcharged for it).
With the monitor setup I have, I think 32" is the right depth. 36" would probably put me a little further from my monitors than I’d like, and 30" would sacrifice 2" of very valuable whiteboard space. The 80" width has been absolutely phenomenal, and it’s ruined smaller desks for me (i.e. the 5' desks at work).
The whiteboard top works pretty well, though I didn’t realize how soft the top would be, and made the mistake of not using it with a desk mat initially. Thus, there’s a couple somewhat deep scratches in the top. Luckily, they only happened under my mouse / keyboard, and they’re now completely covered by the desk mat.
The desk mat itself works fine, though at this point you should probably buy something a little nicer (probably with stitched edges), like this one from GN or one of the LTT ones. I’m considering getting one that’s a little smaller than the one I have, as I don’t use the top couple inches of the desk mat, and I can always use more whiteboard space. The width I could also potentially lose a couple inches from.
- Markers: I originally bought these Expo markers, but found that a few of them didn’t seem to work right out of the box, and the tips ended up getting fat pretty quickly. After some searching, I ended up buying these from Quartet, and have been pretty pleased. The ones I have have an eraser at the end though, and the ones at the Amazon listing don’t, so it’s possible the product has changed I bought it. IIRC Reddit also recommended the Staedtler markers, something like these, but I think I had trouble finding the right ones available for sale.
- Cleaning Solution: I had some old Expo fluid which worked well, but the spray bottle had started to leak (after many years of use), so I decided to get something new. With the Quartet markers, I also got their cleaning fluid, but it doesn’t seem to clean as well as I’d hoped. I’d recommend getting something else, probably with more toxic chemicals.
I believe that today (2022), the sweet spot for monitors is 27", 1440p, high refresh rate (144+ Hz), IPS displays. This keeps text legible (for me) without requiring DPI scaling (which can be a problem on certain Linux desktop environments), while still allowing for enough screen real estate for the productivity tasks I do. 1440p is also a good target for today’s videogames, as even the highest end graphics cards aren’t able to run AAA titles at high refresh rates without some form of upscaling. IPS, of course, provides better viewing angles, and can offer better color accuracy. The 27" size (as opposed a super ultrawide, i.e. 32:9) also doesn’t require any special programs to be installed on the machine to allow quadrant snapping of windows to get something usable. With larger monitors (ultrawides), you either live with quarter snaps being way too large, or install some third party software to perform the snapping, neither of which I wanted to have to deal with.
With all that in mind, I picked 3 of the LG 27GL83A-B monitors, and connected them with displayport to my primary workstation’s GPU. I ran this setup for a while (~1 year), before I realized I could make do with a little more screen real estate. Adding additional monitors horizontally didn’t make sense, as I’d have to turn my head too much, so I aimed to add more on top instead. Unfortunately, it seems Nvidia GPUs only support 4 display outputs at a time (at least, the consumer ones), so I could only get a single additional one. I opted for the LG 34GP83A-B, which has the same DPI (roughly) as the other monitors I was using, to allow for content to be moved between windows without scaling issues. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any more Displayport outputs on my GPU, so this monitor is connected with HDMI instead, and I’m not able to take advantage of its full 160 Hz.
At this point, I think I’m happy with the number of monitors. I rarely fill up all 4 monitors, and don’t think I’d be able to make use of a 5th monitor at all if I got one at the moment. I also primarily use the lower 3 (27") monitors, with the 34" being relegated to holding chat apps / email, and occasionally reference material (i.e. StackOverflow). I’ve thought about moving the 34" monitor to the center instead, and then perhaps dropping back down to 3 monitors, but I’m worried about the additional amount I’d have to turn my head (and general additional horizontal space), as well as the amount of effort it’d be to redo the cable management. So, for now, I think this is the setup I’ll stick with.
This is one place where I’ve come to understand how much of a difference there can be between the cheap stuff and the expensive stuff. I started with a couple of the cheapest monitor arms I could find, from VIVO. Unfortunately (but perhaps to be expected), they turned out to be quite difficult to orient properly, and didn’t allow for (or at least, make it easy to do) the fine adjustment required to make my monitors gap-free and level. After some trial and error, I’ve ended up with the following arms:
- This one from AmazonBasics, holding up the left monitor.
- This slightly higher end one from VIVO, holding up the right monitor.
- This one from Ergotron, holding up the middle two.
I’m pretty happy with the Ergotron arm (and I should hope to be, given the price). The bottom monitor of the two is absolutely rock solid, and doesn’t move at all when I’m using the control stick (though perhaps this is also related to it being sandwiched between 3 other monitors). The top arm isn’t bad either, though I wish it could go just a little higher, as I have it extended to the top of it’s range already.
As it turns out, the AmazonBasics arm is basically an Ergotron knockoff (perhaps made in the same factory), so that one also works pretty well. IMO the genuine Ergotron arm is a little better, so perhaps Amazon is getting ones that failed QC for whatever reason, but it still does its job reasonably well.
In last place is the VIVO arm, as it’s a little wobbly, but this is also perhaps expected given that it’s the cheapest. Still, I think it works considerably better than the original VIVO arms I tried, and is well worth the additional few dollars (at time of writing), especially since you get the USB connectors as well.
Monitor Arm Foam Padding
I noted above that the whiteboard surface I’m using is a little softer than I’d like, and thus scratches easily. In order to avoid permanently deforming the whiteboard surface in the areas that the monitor arms are clamping down on the desk, I purchased a 12" x 12" x 1/16" thick sheet of soft, self-adhesive, grippy silicone foam from McMaster. I applied it to the underside of the top of the clamps for each monitor arm (see poor trimming job above), and it seems to be helping with distributing the load from the arm and leaving less of a hard dent.
Cables and Cable Management
There are some long cables going from the monitors on the standing desk to the PCs on the floor. In order to accommodate the maximum height of the desk, I purchased some cables which were quite long (10 - 15'), all from Cable Matters, which I’ve found to be a generally reputable seller on Amazon.
I’m also running a couple of these USB 3.0 extensions for e.g. a USB hub / Yubikey.
To keep my cables contained, I’m using some of this wire loom. It’s cheap, and does the job, but it was a pain to get cables into. If I were to do this again, I’d probably try to find something zippered, like this, but getting that in the precisely correct length is likely to be impossible, whereas the cheap plastic one can be cut down as needed. Perhaps something like this, which comes with a dedicated zipping tool, could work just as well?
Audio / Video
On my desktop, I’m just using a Microsoft LifeCam Cinema. Unfortunately, this camera seems to constantly be searching for focus and changing exposure during video calls. I’m not sure whether that’s due to my particular lighting configuration, or if it’s something inherent to the camera, but it’s not something I’d recommend for others.
If budget is unlimited, the most OP setup seems to be a mirrorless camera (commonly the A7s III), possibly with an HDMI capture card, acting as a webcam. It used to be possible to find older generation MILs on Ebay, but those have become basically nonexistent as people have started to realize this use for them during the pandemic.
Given some budget restrictions, I’d look into one of the nicer 1080p60 camera-only webcams from e.g. Razer or Logitech, though I don’t have a specific recommendation, because I don’t use my desktop webcam too much.
I’ve had a terrible microphone setup for a long time. I’ve used a couple different wireless headphones with older laptops and with my desktop, and the built-in mic (when processed through the Linux bluetooth and audio stacks I was using) sounded absolutely terrible. I’ve received lots of colorful analogies about the audio quality on e.g. Discord, ranging from dying babies to jet engines taking off. The mic in the webcam above was a bit of an improvement, but not by much.
Eventually, I opted to buy this Yeti bundle, which had a mic, shockmount, and arm. This mic seems to be one of the most common decent-but-not-super-expensive recommendations on Reddit, and the fact that it’s now a Logitech product (a company that I’ve had nothing but good experiences with, especially in customer support) helped me pull the trigger. I wish the lower part of the arm was a little taller, in order to allow me to not mount the mic at a slight angle, but otherwise I’m pretty happy with this setup. I haven’t received any audio quality complaints since I’ve switched to this mic.
I’m currently using a pair of Logitech Z200 speakers. There’s nothing special about them, and I chose them because they were reasonably cheap. Unfortunately, I have no idea how to pick a good set of speakers that strikes a balance between affordable and quality. It’s very, very easy to spend way more money than I need to here, so I’ve just opted to spend none instead. My one complaint is that these speakers don’t always get loud enough for quiet content. I’ve thought about replacing them with a TV soundbar, but I’m not yet willing to give up that much desk space. Recommendations welcome.
Perhaps more important, though, is how I have these speakers connected. I’m using the 3.5mm audio output on one of my monitors, which allows me to switch the speakers at the same time as I change input on my monitors, rather than requiring some separate audio KVM.
I had a 10" Facebook Portal issued to me from work at the start of the pandemic. At the time, I wouldn’t have bought one for myself, but given how well it integrates with our calling and scheduling software (Workplace / Workrooms), I found (and continue to find) myself using it for nearly every meeting during WFH. There’s also support for Zoom and BlueJeans. The webcam quality (imo) exceeds that of the Microsoft webcam I’m currently using (or, at least, it doesn’t suffer from the same autoexposure problems), and the tracking is convenient when I’m moving around during meetings. The microphone array is also better than what I had on my PC until just recently, when I upgraded to the Blue Yeti. At this point, I only use my PC’s attached hardware for non-work meetings / calls (i.e. discord), or when I need to see content on a larger screen (i.e. watching a presentation).
See my notes on a split keyboard. See building-a-custom-split-mechanical-keyboard.
I was using a Logitech MX Anywhere 2S as my primary desktop mouse for a long while (many years). Recently, though, I started noticing my wrist hurting. While I don’t necessarily attribute this to the mouse, I figured having a cramped hand position for this small mouse wasn’t doing me any favors, so I looked to upgrade to a slightly larger one. I’d heard rave reviews for the MX Master 3, so I bought one. It took a bit of getting used to (given how small my mouse was before that), but I’m now quite happy with the purchase, and would gladly recommend the mouse.
I also have a Logitech G604 Wireless on my desk which I use as a mouse for MMOs, due to the additional bindings I can put on the thumb cluster. Mappings from mouse buttons to keyboard inputs don’t seem to persist on the mouse itself, but I was able to find an open source program to help with that on Linux. Windows and Mac mappings can be done with Logitech-provided software. This mouse isn’t rechargeable (but I’m using rechargeable AAs), and isn’t as good for general purpose use as the MX Master 3, but it’s been quite helpful for MMOs, so I don’t see myself getting rid of it any time soon.