Home » I turned my laptop computer right into a desktop PC and I’ve by no means been extra productive

I turned my laptop computer right into a desktop PC and I’ve by no means been extra productive

by Anjali Anjali
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The 15-inch laptop computer show makes a superb auxiliary display with out interfering with work


My workplace has modified dramatically prior to now few years. Part of that makeover is only a matter of logistics: Three years in the past, I moved from the Southwest to the Southeast. As a part of the good downsizing, my workplace grew to become considerably smaller. It’s basically a really spacious cubicle within the visitor room. A pleasant cubicle, in a pleasant visitor room! But nonetheless, so much smaller.

Downsizing is a significant component, but it surely’s not the one consideration driving the best way my workplace setup has modified. An equally essential a part of the equation is technological progress. Over the years, PC {hardware} has gotten sooner, smarter, smaller, cheaper, and extra full-featured. 

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For many years, I did most of my work on a conventional desktop PC, which was housed in a tower case and often sat beneath my desk. A second desktop PC sat beneath a second desk. (If you are curious, I wrote about that configuration a number of years in the past: “Inside Ed Bott’s dwelling workplace: ‘Two of the whole lot.'”)

That all ended once we left New Mexico. I donated or bought each little bit of desktop PC {hardware} earlier than we hit the street. But I did not depart the desktop expertise behind. In my new workplace, I’ve assembled a useful however extraordinarily compact workspace that does the whole lot I would like with out cumbersome desktop {hardware}. The secret is tying the whole lot along with Thunderbolt 4.

Here’s a take a look at the expertise I’m utilizing right this moment to make that transformation.

When is a desktop not a desktop?

My desktop PC of alternative nowadays is … a laptop computer. And not simply any laptop computer. Technically, it is a Dell Precision 5560 Mobile Workstation, whose identify means that it has better-than-average specs for its class. This is a two-year-old machine that ought to have a helpful lifetime of not less than three extra years. Its successor, the Precision 5680, has a 16-inch show however is in any other case related in design.

(The configuration I purchased had a listing value of round $3600; I paid $1850, together with tax and delivery, by shopping for from the Dell Outlet. This laptop computer is indistinguishable from one which was model new.) 

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I’m undecided something about this well-built PC qualifies it as an precise workstation, though it might in all probability maintain its personal on gentle AutoCAD and video enhancing chores. But even when it falls a bit brief on the type of energy that essentially the most superior customers would possibly need, it really works simply high-quality for me; it does not even break a sweat on enterprise duties. 

The CPU is an eleventh Gen Intel i7-11850H; it has a really quick 1TB NVMe SSD that makes use of PCIe 4. For networking, it provides a WiFi 6E adapter. It has 64 GB of RAM. (Yes, 64 GB may be overkill, however I often work on initiatives that require working a number of digital machines concurrently, and it is good to not have to fret about working out of reminiscence.)

The 15.6-inch IPS LCD (non-touchscreen) has a 1920 x 1200 decision with very slim bezels. Although it has a discrete graphics processor along with the Intel built-in graphics, its Nvidia T1200 Laptop GPU just isn’t precisely a powerhouse with regards to intense graphics workloads. But it should do for the enterprise software program I’m largely working.

That {hardware} is considerably extra power-hungry than your common business-class pocket book, so this laptop computer requires a 130W energy provide. (That element will change into essential later.)

For biometric authentication, this PC provides each an infrared digital camera for Windows Hello face recognition and an built-in fingerprint reader. Having the fingerprint possibility turns out to be useful when I’m working very early (or very late) in a dimly lit workplace and the Windows Hello digital camera cannot acknowledge my face.

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And crucially, this machine has three USB Type-C ports, two of which assist Thunderbolt 4. Those ports hook up with the subsequent hyperlink within the {hardware} chain.

Choosing a Thunderbolt 4 dock

Over the previous two years, I’ve examined a half-dozen Thunderbolt (3 and 4) docks. They all ship on the promise of one-cable connectivity to a full complement of exterior units, and each one of many Thunderbolt 4 docks I’ve examined provides a roughly related characteristic set:

  • You can hook up with a number of exterior screens, often two 4K shows or one 5K show, utilizing your alternative of connector sorts, together with HDMI and DisplayPort.
  • An RJ45 connector and a built-in Gigabit Ethernet adapter assist you to entry a wired community.
  • One Thunderbolt port (often clearly labeled) is for connecting your Thunderbolt-compatible PC to the dock. That connection provides energy to the laptop computer (by way of USB Power Delivery) and in addition manages the movement of information to and from units plugged into the dock.
  • The dock itself contains an additional two or three Thunderbolt ports that may hook up with high-performance gaming screens, exterior storage units, and exterior seize units.
  • And, after all, there are many USB ports (Type A and Type C), with some additionally able to charging cell units.

This is all packaged in an oblong enclosure gadget that is solely as huge because it must be to accommodate a small mainboard and all these ports. This, for instance, is the StarTech.com Thunderbolt 4 Dock, which matches for beneath $300 at Amazon.


Rear view of StarTech.com Thunderbolt 4 Dock


If I had nearly another mainstream Windows laptop computer or MacBook Pro, the 96W obtainable by way of USB Power Delivery from the StarTech dock could be greater than ample and I might be fortunately utilizing that mannequin.

I’d additionally advocate Kensington’s modern SD5760T Thunderbolt 4 dock, or the SD5750T, which has the same characteristic set however was designed to be used with Thunderbolt 4-compatible Surface units, together with Surface Pro 8, Surface Pro 9, and Surface Laptop 5. Both fashions supply 90-100W utilizing USB Power Delivery.

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Remember earlier once I talked about that my Dell Precision Workstation requires a 130W energy provide? They’re not kidding. If I plug in a dock that provides 90-100W of Power Delivery, I’ll see a continuing reminder that my energy provide is insufficient. I would even discover the battery draining (albeit slowly) if I set it to a very demanding and time-consuming activity. 

During my testing, I labored round that limitation by preserving the laptop computer’s authentic energy provide plugged into one Thunderbolt port and connecting the docking station to the opposite port. That works, but it surely additionally cuts off entry to that further port, which I desire to make use of for an exterior laborious drive.

And that is why I finally selected Dell’s WD22TB4 Thunderbolt 4 Dock, which was made particularly to be used with Dell-branded laptops like this one. It’s in a position to ship 130W of USB PD to Dell units (however solely 90W to non-Dell laptops), which provides it a transparent edge for my use case. I discover it mildly annoying that the dock does not embrace an audio jack for output, and it solely has a single USB 3.2 Gen 2 port (the opposite two USB ports are USB 3.2 Gen 1). But it will get the job finished.

How all of it works

Now, let me be clear right here. I take advantage of this laptop computer PC as if it had been a desktop PC. It is at all times linked to exterior energy, and it’s at all times linked to an exterior show (a 38-inch Dell Thunderbolt 3-compatible monitor), with a full-sized keyboard and Bluetooth mouse. The solely time I ever use the built-in keyboard and trackpad is when the exterior units aren’t working or I’m doing upkeep duties whereas disconnected from the dock.

When I would like a PC to make use of elsewhere, I’ve a MacBook Air and a Surface Pro 9 to select from, synced to the identical cloud providers I take advantage of on the desktop/laptop computer.

If that each one appears bizarre to you, I get it. But this is why this setup works for me.

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First, it is the best association of twin shows for what I do.

I spent years working with a pair of side-by-side 24-inch LCD screens. But I’ve discovered this configuration is far more sensible. The laptop computer sits off to the aspect, and I repeatedly use its show to maintain tabs on social media websites and Slack; it is also ideally suited for internet hosting Zoom and Teams conferences and watching YouTube clips whereas I work with two or three apps (sometimes organized aspect by aspect) on the bigger show.

All that {hardware} is about up on a Blu Dot Desk 51 which has a built-in keyboard tray that is at precisely the proper peak. The desk is sufficiently big to accommodate each the ultyra-wide show and the laptop computer on the aspect with out feeling cramped. The docking station sits inside simple attain.

Staying completely linked means I at all times have an exterior keyboard and mouse obtainable, which I discover important for prolonged working. I do quite a lot of work in Excel, too, so I really want the full-size quantity pad, which you’ll be able to’t get on a typical laptop computer keyboard.

As for anxiousness over journey weight and battery life, I’ve none, as a result of this machine is at all times linked to exterior energy and infrequently leaves my workplace.

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Then there’s wired Gigabit Ethernet, which is about 33% sooner than the built-in WiFi and significantly better for functions like videoconferencing.

And it is all a lot much less cluttered and messy than my previous desktop. It occupies approach much less area, with fewer cables, and people cables are simpler to handle. I’m not always bumping my knee on a tower PC case, and the fixed fan noise (and warmth) are gone for good.

My setup wound up being all-Dell for one easy cause associated to energy necessities, and I’m completely pleased with the dock. But that Dell dock is lower than ideally suited when linked with a laptop computer from another OEM. It’s significantly ill-suited to be used with a MacBook Pro, the place you may should cope with an array of recognized limitations, some critical. You can do higher elsewhere.

If you want to copy a setup like this one, I like to recommend getting a laptop computer with not less than a 15-inch show to maximise its effectiveness as a second monitor. As lengthy as each the dock and the laptop computer assist the identical Thunderbolt model, it’s best to have glorious growth choices. Just bear in mind to examine that your dock is delivering sufficient energy to drive your PC. Some lower-priced docks high out at 60W of USB PD, which is not sufficient for a high-end laptop computer.   

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