We hot-rodded an ordinary desk into a superlative laptop (and gaming) station. By Glenn Derene and Anthony Verducci
Modern laptops are exercises in restraint. The trend toward super-lightweight, razor-thin ultrabooks has forced computer makers to jettison extravagances such as optical drives, large-capacity hard drives, extra ports, big screens and multi-memory-card readers. Most of that stuff just weighed us down when we took our laptops on the road. But the thing is, when you sit at your desk, you sort of want it all back. Optical discs may be a thing of the past, but we’ve got plenty of such things of the past sitting in our offices. Cloud storage for your files is nice, but a 2-terabyte drive on your desktop is even nicer. And a laptop with two USB ports is about four short of acceptable.
So we decided to make the best of both worlds. We took a Dell XPS 13, one of the sleekest, sexiest ultrabooks on the market, and designed a docking station that incorporated everything the computer was lacking, and then some. The idea
was to take a sturdy, generic desk from a local home supplies store, then screw and strap a bunch of accessories on to it
– a perfect marriage of home electronics and retail convenience.
Being shameless PM nerds, we insisted on a few eccentricities that, frankly, made the project a lot harder. For instance, our 61 cm Sony PlayStation 3D display didn’t have standard VESA mounting points to mate to our swingarm Ergotron desk mount, so we drilled a few holes into a steel plate and fashioned our own adapter bracket. That allowed us to hide a PS3 under the desk and use the monitor for computing and 3D gaming. Why, you ask? Well, why not? If the Dell ultrabook demonstrates the elegance of understatement, the desk underneath it is our tribute to the awesomeness of overkill.
MOD YOUR DESK
That “finished” piece of furniture you bought is a few holes, wires, ports and outlets short of its cyborg ideal. Charge up your power tools.
1 START WITH THE BORING STUFF
Position your equipment where you want it on the desk. Group the gear around one or two spots where you can route all
of your wiring, then mark those spots for drilling. Clear off the gadgets and tape the desk surface to prevent damage. A 25 mm holesaw will make an opening for five or six wires.
2 FREE YOUR MONITOR
This PlayStation 3D monitor was not made to be mounted, but we did it anyway, using a few semi-trustworthy anchor points and an Ergotron LX desk mount (about R1 400 from Amazon, or similar). A monitor on a swing arm is worth the trouble – it frees up desk space and lets you place your screen virtually anywhere.
3 EMBRACE THE UNDERBELLY
If you’re trying to accommodate lots of stuff, try this tactic: we flipped our desk over and attached components (PS3, optical drive, extra USB ports) to the underside using duct tape. When possible, we also used the desk’s existing fasteners.
4 DON’T SKIMP ON OUTLETS
We needed a power strip, but we didn’t want to see it. And don’t you just hate it when surge protectors get crowded by large adapters? This seriously long multiplug thingy fixed both problems with a whole bunch of amply spaced outlets and mounting brackets that let you hide it under the desk.