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Quandary: gotta have a PC at the workbench but what kind of setup is best?

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peteb2:
(Lets go with a Money no object scenario). So for years i have used your usual junkbox hack come 2nd hand PC running some sort of Windows so i can use the USB test gear i own, to hunt the interweb for free service manuals, parts data, do orders with the likes of Digikey, Mouser etc, design stuff, simulate circuit ideas, cad yadda, yadda. The current junker is my SurfacePro3 that i actually bought myself for some stupid reason wayback when. Once i found it to be beyond annoying it became my hack at the workbench... but even though it has the full compliment of accessories it's beyond pathetic using the USB ports on the external brick i/o. They maybe faulty now or they are just unreliable!  I really need something to replace the setup. I don't like the idea of a laptop because of the footprint they occupy. I've come to like dual screens (i tend to work with stuff parked on one for reference the main work displays on the other) that don't need to be huge (but for some reason now new screens are big). A small BT keyboard & BT mouse so they don't hog valuable benchtop space. Lots of USB-2 sockets & a few USB-3 to connect to my testgear & at least an SD card slot.... My workbench is not massive but it has a return so one part of its real-estate has become the PC i/o test-gear zone so to speak. 

I'm thinking minPC or NuC or something... I've just been given a boat anchor of a HP Z800workstation of all things that i know nothing about & haven't even fired up but was pulled from duty and the two top-end graphics cards removed...(it's actually very clean inside) .... the opposite sprt of hardware to ever becoming my repair bench PC.... or is it?

Love to know your ideas, & apologies if this is discussed elsewhere. I searched the forum for threads on this subject but none cut quickly to the dilemma i'm facing. TIA.

Ian.M:
If the PC is under the bench, it really doesn't matter how big a tower case it is.  You'll need extension cables to bring up USB (at least one port direct for kit that doesn't play well with hubs + another feeding a powered hub) to the back of the bench, a wall mount for the monitor, and preferably a keyboard draw, to keep it out of the way e.g. when you are soldering.  With a draw, a wired keyboard is acceptable.  The monitor should be multi-input so it can be used when testing stuff that needs one (if you have a second screen, the primary one can be single input PC only).  It may also be worth fitting a second network card and bringing its cable up to the back of the bench as well, so you can get at various gadget config pages without loosing LAN and internet access.

rdl:
I use a Core2Duo system I built in 2008 in a mid-tower case that sits on the floorand a wall mounted 24" monitor. It runs Windows 7. It has lots of ports. I use wired mouse and keyboard just because it doesn't bother me. The way my bench is set up all equipment that needs AC power is on shelves not on the bench top. This makes it easy to pull it out from the wall when needed and makes for the largest possible work surface. A laptop would be unacceptable to me because of how much surface area it needs.

NiHaoMike:
Mount a rack server to the underside of the bench. Easy way to make use of space that otherwise is likely unused.

Brumby:
My desk is a multi-purpose work space.

Underneath, I have a 2 drawer filing cabinet to the left and a regular tower PC to the right.  (IanM is right, size of the PC box is not really a concern.)

On the desk, to the right I have a 19" 12U rack which is straddled between the desk and a storage unit I made.  (I could get more space on my desk if I could move that rack further to the right, but the storage unit has a laser printer on it that SWMBO uses, so I only get a third of it.)  The rack has an old shelf unit I made sitting on top.  Nearly all my accessible TE is located in these (at the moment) and this includes my soldering and hot air stations.

At the back, I have two 27" IPS monitors, leaving the space in front for all manner of work.  Wireless keyboard and mouse - so they can be easily moved out of the way at any time.

Above the monitors is a double shelf which contains a variety of bits and pieces which include lighting and a camera for photography, label printer, some commonly used tools and so on.  This area is the subject of a complete redesign to allow for placement of some TE - such as my 3478A - to be accessible but out of the way.

I have a direct connect USB extension cable as well as a 4 port USB hub snaking up, coming out from under the rack.  The monitors have 3 inputs each - two HDMI and one VGA.  They are both connected to the PC as well as one being connected to a microserver.  There is a spare HDMI cable connected to one and a spare VGA cable connected to the other.  Since dual monitor KVM switches are so expensive (and I don't use that functionality much) I get by with manually switching inputs to the monitors.  I did, however, make myself a little USB changeover with a mechanical 4PDT switch in a box with a USB socket for the keyboard+mouse receiver, with two cables.  One goes to the main PC and the other is 1.2m that I can plug into another machine.

Behind me to the left is a storage unit for all the common bits and pieces and the other storage unit under the rack, for less frequently accessed stuff.


It is cosy - but I manage.

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