Six screens, one desk

When I sit down at my desk in the Benchmarking Sweatshop, it feels like maybe I could tap into the Matrix. I’ve slowly added monitors and other hardware over the years, and my most recent upgrade left me with no fewer than six displays; 137 inches of liquid-crystal goodness is wrapped around the seat I occupy for all too many hours each day. Along with the LCDs, there are three keyboard-and-mouse combos and a KVM switch within my reach, plus stereo speakers all perched on a single desk.

Yeah, it’s pretty awesome.

My work space wasn’t always this well-equipped, but amazingly, I’ve been using the same basic desk for nearly a decade now. This monstrosity started as an Ikea Jerker, which sounds like someone who should be on a national registry. Instead, it’s one of the most beloved pieces of furniture to be produced by the Swedish manufacturer. This modular desk hasn’t been sold for years, but the Internet is littered with fan sites dedicated to its memory and even petitions calling for its return to Ikea’s lineup.

Although the Jerker was available with all kinds of shelving and PC-specific accessories in its heyday, I opted for the basic desk to start. My needs were simple and, to be honest, I was broke. All I needed was a giant surface on which to place a massive CRT monitor, a couple of small LCDs, and speakers old enough to be beige.

That single flat surface proved sufficient until just a few years ago, when I moved into my current home office and was forced to rearrange some furniture to make everything fit. The room isn’t wide enough to accommodate the Ikea Ivar shelving unit that used to serve as a makeshift extension to the Jerker, leaving nowhere for my speakers to sit. At the time, the desk’s generous surface was completely consumed by a pair of 24" Dell 2408WFP LCDs and a hulking Mitsubishi 19" CRT. The surrounding walls aren’t terribly conducive to hanging anything heavier than a picture, so I tried my hand at crafting a custom solution.

After wandering the local hardware store for inspiration, I struck gold with banister spindles and the double-sided screws used to anchor them in place. Scrap wood was trimmed to make platforms for the end of each spindle, and within minutes, I had a pair of Abit iDome speakers perched perfectly above my then-modest monitor array. Total cost? Less than $20.

My next desk mod was prompted by a monitor upgrade. The CRT tied to test systems was being replaced by a cheap 24" LCD to give me an HDCP-compliant HDMI input for integrated graphics testing. I was also spending an awful lot of time benching hard drives, and I wanted to resurrect an older 17" LCD to keep an eye on my dedicated storage rig. For that, I needed to add another keyboard and mouse alongside the combo already connected to my KVM. Once again, the Jerker was out of real estate.

This time, my girlfriend served as muse. As an occupational therapist, she was appalled by the ergonomics of my work space. The monitors were too low, she said, so I built up—and out. Go big or go home, right?

After another trip to the hardware store, my desk gained an expansive—if slightly ghetto—second floor. Atop supports chopped from a 2×8, I laid down a shaped slab of 3/4" plywood, adding just the right amount of height for my monitors while effectively widening the desk by a foot. The extra width provided plenty of room for all four LCDs, but I didn’t have a good angle on all of them from my usual seat. The solution: mounting the 17-incher on a strut cut from some leftover 2×8. I found an adjustable-tilt VESA bracket for less than $30, which suited the desk’s budget roots and cost way less than a full monitor arm.

The extra keyboard and mouse still needed a home, and Ikea delivered in the form of an inexpensive sliding tray to hang under the Jerker’s new shelf. Although the tray hung a little too low at first, tweaking its metal frame in a vice gave me just enough clearance to stack two peripheral combos. Phase two was complete, if a little ugly.

I’m a fairly handy guy, having spent a good chunk of my youth helping my dad with construction projects around the house, but I have little patience for finishing work. Sanding, staining, and painting aren’t nearly as fun as building, which is why my desk upgrades have done little to improve the overall aesthetics. Utility reigns supreme in the Benchmarking Sweatshop.

As with phase two, a monitor upgrade spurred my most recent modification. After years of flawless service, the 2408WFPs attached to my primary desktop began displaying vertical lines a few pixels wide. The screens were replaced by a trio of Asus PA246Q IPS panels: two for my desktop and a third attached to the KVM switch that manages most of my test systems. I wanted a surround gaming setup for graphics testing, and I was sick of the lackluster colors produced by the TN panel dedicated to test rigs.

Swapping in the Asus LCDs didn’t require any desk hacking. It did get me thinking about what to do with the old Dells, though. Vertical artifacts were only annoying on my primary displays and would only be a mild distraction while benchmarking.

With no room to widen my desk further, I was forced to think vertically—and a little bit about weight. The venerable Jerker had started to sag, something I noticed when using a level to align the three Asus displays. (OCD? Yeah, maybe just a little.) Wall-mounting the extra screens seemed like the best option, but since the space behind my desk is mostly window, I had to put up studs of my own. The scrap wood pile in the garage provided a pair of 2x4s, which are now anchored to a 4×4 on the floor and tied into the desk with shelving brackets. A 2×8 spanning the studs serves as my wall, suspending the Dell LCDs at just the right height.

Getting the screens dialed in took more effort than building the entire structure. Articulated monitor arms would’ve saved me some time, but I again went the budget route, using two more tilting brackets and spare wood as a spacer. The top two screens will rarely be connected to the same system, so they’re split and angled in to give me a perfect view with minimal head movement.

Although I’ve yet to take full advantage of the six-screen setup, I can already foresee the payoff for the next benchmarking crunch. There have been times I’ve had four test systems running in parallel, and I can now monitor all of them simultaneously—and without sharing the monitors hooked up to my dual-screen desktop PC. I’ll be able to migrate that dually display upstairs when I need to test surround gaming setups, too. That capability alone is worth the hours it took to get everything just right. Seeing blondes, brunettes, and redheads spread across six screens is just a bonus.

Comments closed
    • Tamale
    • 8 years ago

    Very nice, Geoff!

    This reminds me of my setup I used to have at my last job.. we had nice desks there where every monitor was attached with a fully-adjustable arm to a completely modular desk.. by the end of it I had:

    2x 30″ IPS Dells, both horizontal, one right on top of the other. These were both hooked up to my primary desktop
    2x 24″ IPS Dells, both vertical, one on each side of the 30″s. The left one was on a second desktop.
    1×19″ TN Dell, under the 24″ on the left. This just connected to a thin client and monitored server stuff through the terminal

    ..and my 15″ macbook pro went under the 24″ on the right, completing the 6 display layout. It used the 24″ directly above it as a secondary display.

    • Wirko
    • 8 years ago

    So, if I have one 24″ LCD at work and one 21″ at home, does it add up to 45″ or would both have to be in the same room?

    • indeego
    • 8 years ago

    Too much head movement. If it isn’t easily available via peripheral vision it starts to get to be a PITA.

    Also the top monitors are a definite ergo no no.

    • anotherengineer
    • 8 years ago

    “I found an adjustable-tilt VESA bracket for less than $30”

    GEOFF!!!

    Where did you find that bracket, I could use one of those, or several actually.

      • indeego
      • 8 years ago

      [url=http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=VESA+wall&x=0&y=0<]Amazon.[/url<]

      • Dissonance
      • 8 years ago

      Was able to find it locally: [url<]http://www.leevalley.com/en/hardware/page.aspx?p=59986[/url<]

        • anotherengineer
        • 8 years ago

        Thanks

        I will have to add that item to the list for the next Lee Valley visit when I am down in Ottawa next time.

      • SoM
      • 8 years ago

      i got one for my 40″ LCD from my local goodwill for $15

    • RtFusion
    • 8 years ago

    The good ‘ole wood ‘n bolts combo. Can’t beat that!

    Great setup!

    • leor
    • 8 years ago

    I see your 137, and I raise you, er 136!

    [url<]http://leor.com/setup.JPG[/url<] I apologize for the poor photo quality, but that's 3x Dell u3011 screens on Ergotron articulating arms mounted on the wall, and a Sony 46 inch LED screen on top. Here's a side view: [url<]http://leor.com/setup_side.JPG[/url<] I'm still refining this setup, just put it together a short while ago. I replaced a pair of Dell 2410s with 30s to flank the middle screen this week, I was going to sell the 2410s but your setup now has me thinking about buying more wall mounts . . .

      • Kougar
      • 8 years ago

      Nice cat

    • slaimus
    • 8 years ago

    Microsoft recently discontinued the Wheel Mouse Optical 1.1 like the ones you have. I had stocked up on some and maybe you should too. They are some of the best tracking mice ever made.

      • SomeOtherGeek
      • 8 years ago

      Yep, so true, they just don’t die!

    • thesmileman
    • 8 years ago

    “an Ikea Jerker, which sounds like someone who should be on a national registry.”

    The placement, the timing, the complete contrast to the tone of the preceeding comments, and the fact you didn’t address it and just continued on with the article. That’s gold sir… comedy gold.

    • Welch
    • 8 years ago

    Badass setup Geoff… And I thought my co-workers 4 monitor 24″ square setup was impressive :). I can’t believe he uses a trackball “mouse” to control them though, eeewwwwww!

    • cheapFreeAgent
    • 8 years ago

    Great setup !
    So we’ll be having gaming-performance benchmark in eyefinity-like in the future, right ?

      • dpaus
      • 8 years ago

      I want to see a video of him playing Angry Birds across the three lower screens – that would be some awesome ballistics!

    • Nutmeg
    • 8 years ago

    Wow, I feel like a total luddite now with my single 22 inch LCD.

      • [+Duracell-]
      • 8 years ago

      I’ve felt like one ever since I was graced with dual monitors at work. I feel like I would be vastly more interested in doing coding in my spare time if I had two monitors…and an idea and some motivation.

        • khands
        • 8 years ago

        I’ve got a second on it’s way, unfortunately they’re both ancient 17″ 4:3 monitors but I make due with what I can get.

    • End User
    • 8 years ago

    That is all kinds of awesome.

      • flip-mode
      • 8 years ago

      That sums it up.

    • ALiLPinkMonster
    • 8 years ago

    *DROOL*

    Now you can watch two movies, play three games, and look at pr0n… ALL AT THE SAME TIME.

    • SnowboardingTobi
    • 8 years ago

    I hate you.

    • chuckula
    • 8 years ago

    I see the redhead!

    • sweatshopking
    • 8 years ago

    HOW MUCH ELECTRICITY YOU MUST USE! SO HIGH PAYMENT!

      • Palek
      • 8 years ago

      Geoff, [u<]clearly[/u<] this guy is one of those comment spammers from a developing country. Obviously. No doubt. (*whisper* Maybe you could "accidentally" ban him.)

      • EtherealN
      • 8 years ago

      Yeah, horrible. If the screens are like my main screen, he’s looking at ~90 watts for the whole set. That is – one lightbulb. 😛

        • sweatshopking
        • 8 years ago

        I didn’t realize they used so little. that’s great news!

        • anotherengineer
        • 8 years ago

        Depends, the old Dell 24″ 2008 IPS/VA monitors usually were around 80W each. TN with cfl bulbs use less since the light “goes” through the screen easier than an IPS monitor. The newer 6-bit LED ips screens around the 24″ size tend to run 25W area (calibrated)

        However one has to consider the video card also, so the power does add up.

      • dpaus
      • 8 years ago

      You [i<]do[/i<] realize that ALL CAPS uses 1.68 times as much power to drive all the extra pixels, right? Now, on a single screen, or even on 6 screens, that's not that much. But consider the [Sagan][i<]billions and billions[/i<][/Sagan] of TechReport readers around the world, and then cringe at the staggering amount of power you just wasted with your thoughless use of ALL CAPS in your comment. I sincerely hope you're ashamed of yourself. And that you think twice next time.

    • tbone8ty
    • 8 years ago

    love the matrix screenys …..ignorance is bliss 😉

    • Captain Ned
    • 8 years ago

    Stay thirsty, my friend.

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