11.10.21

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What It’s Like to Work With Eight Monitors on the Cheap (Less Than $1,000 in Total)

Posted in GNU/Linux, Hardware at 3:43 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Video download link | md5sum 775441e5399d60277dfdd84f18872840

Summary: At the start of November I shuffled things around as my audio system (since 2013) had died; today I show the way I keep an eye on things while researching and producing articles/videos/short posts (it’s a very personal preference, which I’ve optimised for my needs over time)

The workstation I use is actually an aggregation of several low-cost ones; the cheapest one cost 35 pounds (brand new) and the other one, which is also ARM-based, cost 149 pounds more than 4 years ago in Argos; the screens are cheap, either second hand or low-priced as new, which brings the sum total to around 800 pounds (5 computers, 8 screens). When one device breaks down it’s easier to replace or repair with no downtime, just a shuffle on the desk — a routine I do every 1-3 months. 80% of the devices are laptops with batteries in them, so electric outages have no major impact except on the router and external screens. No need for UPS, which in its own right can be more expensive than a simple laptop.

“As it stands, KDE Plasma simply has the most features.”The set-up I have is very unusual (when I was a teenager I moved to dual-head, which back then was quite unusual in its own right). I don’t know anyone else with anything remotely similar to this current configuration, so I get asked questions about it. It’s hard to explain without showing a bunch of stuff, so I’ve been wanting to record/show this for a while, even if it’s done quite crudely given the practical limitations. I try to avoid proprietary things, especially anything with DRM. All the machines run only GNU/Linux, typically with KDE although the machines shown in the video also run GNOME, XFCE4, and LXDE (the machine behind me). As it stands, KDE Plasma simply has the most features.

The video shows the 7 screens before me (6 in front and one to the side of me). The largest monitor is behind me and not shown in this video, albeit in videos where the camera faces the other direction — and we make such videos every day — that monitor and the SBC it is connected to are clearly visible. It’s the eighth monitor, which carries out a bunch of different tasks.

“The screen recording software (be it either Free or proprietary) cannot feasibly work seamlessly across multiple, separate machines…”This video was done without preparation and it was very difficult to make, partly owing to the lack of a tripod or software-defined stablisers (some devices have them; even a decade and a half ago). The screen recording software (be it either Free or proprietary) cannot feasibly work seamlessly across multiple, separate machines (assuming they’re connected over Synergy/Barrier, as opposed to some other fashion), so an external camera is used instead. I don’t have a mobile phone, so this is a standard Linux driver with simple external camera; the quality of the picture is poor, but it doesn’t matter all that much when the key point is to show and explain things while personal information remains mostly blurred/obscured (for privacy’s sake).

Upon checking the first few minutes of the recording I noticed an issue with my hand covering my mouth for a bit, or sort of standing in the way between the microphone and all the other things, which means that the sound (noise-cancelled vocal audio) has a dual sort of ‘mode’ (less audible when the hand holding up the portable webcam is near the face). Maybe with a little preparation it could be done more properly. Despite all these limitations, I think I did manage to cover or at least mention almost all the activities, except for the machine behind me.

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