Mac users: What's the best way to set up a home and satellite workspace?
August 29, 2021 9:11 AM   Subscribe

My S.O. is about to move into an office space but will still need to work at home as well. She's in the design profession and laptop monitors are too small for her. Right now I can think of a few ways we can do this. Price is definitely a factor, but so is convenience (she doesn't like to deal with a lot of setup, cables, etc).

Here are the options as I see them:

Option 1: two imacs, one at home and one at the office (maybe the most expensive but the most convenient)

Option 2: one macbook that shuttles back and forth, with an external monitor/keyboard/mouse at both locations

Option 3: mac minis at both locations, with monitors/keyboards/mice at both locations

Option 4: one mac mini that shuttles back and forth, with monitors/keyboards/mice at both locations (this seems like it would be cheapest but does anyone do this with mac minis??)

Are there any options I've overlooked?
Thank you!
posted by malhouse to Computers & Internet (11 answers total)
Only downside to using a Mac mini as a "portable" is that it lacks the third option: use alone, during a meeting in an office, or in transit.

If she has a phone that functions in these cases, or *only* uses the Mac at those two desks, it is an option.

The other question: what sort of files is she working on, how would they transfer between machines? Via iCloud, or some other option?
posted by nickggully at 9:22 AM on August 29, 2021 [2 favorites]

#2 by far. More convenient than #1 given that you don’t need to worry about keeping software and files in sync. Get a Thunderbolt dock and it’s a one-cable solution.
posted by supercres at 9:38 AM on August 29, 2021 [12 favorites]

Option 2 is almost certainly your best bet. You can buy docking stations that connect over one cable so you can leave any wired peripherals plugged into the docking station and just connect or disconnect one cable. Some monitors may basically be the docking station, providing power over the USB-C cable that connects to the MacBook, and providing accessory USB ports for other peripherals as needed.
posted by fedward at 10:16 AM on August 29, 2021 [3 favorites]

I have used #2 for years, at each end a Mac USB-C adapter with power in, HDMI, and USB out.

3rd party brands don't juggle 4k, sleep/wake, and fast ethernet nearly as much as the actual Apple hardware in my experience.
posted by nickggully at 10:22 AM on August 29, 2021 [1 favorite]

In my experience no one leaves their computers at work anymore, for like the last 5+ years it's been considered too big a security risk, plus the inconvenience factor of having to sync files. Syncing files just with your coworkers is already hard enough. If she told anyone she was doing anything but option 2 she'll be looked at like she has 2 heads.
posted by bleep at 10:23 AM on August 29, 2021 [2 favorites]

Is she working for someone or is she independent? If she's working for someone else, they should be helping her set up optimal workspaces for both home and work in this situation. My work provided me a monitor and desk chair for my home office because I work from home three days per week.
posted by cooker girl at 10:33 AM on August 29, 2021

In my experience, having two computers for the same purpose is a miserable experience. There's always something that you need on the other computer, even today when everything is in "the cloud". Have one computer and take it between locations.
posted by meowzilla at 10:46 AM on August 29, 2021

Go for #2 -- it's very common.

Buy a cheap dock for both desks so there is only one cable to plug in. The non-Apple docks aren't very expensive, and definitely save annoyance every time she arrive or leaves each location.

One thing to think about is a small fan: driving an external monitor often moves the graphics processing from the main CPU to a secondary graphics processor (GPU) -- which increases the heat load, making your Mac's fans to run loudly.

When I have both external monitors plugged in to my aging MacBook Pro, I keep a super-cheap USB fan blowing on my laptop's (closed) cover so it doesn't need to spn up its internal fans. The USB fan is quiet, whereas the laptop's internal fans are noisy.

(Not sure of the GPU-versus-onboard-graphics issues of whatever laptop she owns or is considering buying, so take my idea with a big grain of salt!)
posted by wenestvedt at 11:06 AM on August 29, 2021

I also agree with option 2, and did it that way off and on for more than 20 years with a variety of Mac laptops. I would HIGHLY recommend that you have an at-home backup solution, as if she is shuttling her work back and forth, that means it's not in the office to be backed up (unless she's working from the cloud, and even then, the cloud can be unreliable, and it's key to have two backups). At the very least, use Apple's included Time Machine software (and also use the free TimeMachineEditor to make sure it's not trying to backup while she is working; the incremental hourly backup it does is not worth the drag on performance, in my opinion) and an external drive that is used for nothing else, leaving the laptop on but dimmed overnight if possible to complete the backup.
posted by Mo Nickels at 4:19 PM on August 29, 2021

One laptop that moves around will work the best.

What I wanted to add is; is there a big screen TV that could be used during work hours? If the OS on the Mac is too old to extend a desktop to an airplay target (smart TV or Apple TV), AirParrot will. That might help with the cost of the home setup.
posted by krisjohn at 4:54 PM on August 29, 2021

I think you've got the possibilities mostly covered. Just for a some counterpoint to the comments above, let me mention that I am working with something of a mixture of the options you listed. More specifically, I have an iMac at the office and a MacBook Pro at home. I keep the stuff that I'm currently working on in the iCloud drive, which makes it seamlessly available in both locations. Once I'm done with something, I back it up on both computers and move it out of iCloud.

The main advantage of this setup is that I don't have to carry anything when I go between offices, which I really like. The disadvantage is that I have to maintain two computers (setup, updates, backing up, etc.), but I find that to be negligible. Also, if you're constantly working with huge files, then you might bump up against iCloud storage limits.

I'd like to add that if you do want to go down the path of having two computers, rather than one, there is something to be said for one being a desktop and one a laptop (with an external monitor, if needed). That gives you the greatest amount of flexibility--you can travel with the laptop, you can bring the laptop in and have two computers in one place, etc. For example, sometimes I find it convenient to have two computers in one place, with one being used for logging into Zoom/Teams meetings and one for the real work. You can accomplish more or less the same effect with one computer and multiple monitors, but it's still a nice benefit of having a desktop and a laptop.
posted by epimorph at 7:06 PM on August 29, 2021

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