Running with a Third Screen on my Desk

Scott’s post prompted this post as I’ve found that unlike Scott, my recent upgrade to a third screen is really helpful. I run with two PCs under my desk. One PC is a simple Dell tower with 4GB of RAM, a dual core chip in it and a couple of SATA spindles – it’s a few years old at this point I think [1]. This is what I call my personal machine – I do email, IM, and pretty much everything else on it – all my files are stored here. My second machine is a fairly high end Dell tower with dual Xeon chips, 8GB of RAM, and about 1TB of storage online in a RAID. I run a 64-bit OS on here and run numerous VMWare instances. I also have my company issued laptop on my desk sometimes sitting on the docking station when I need it for one reason or another.

On my VMWare machine, I have all of my lab and test VMs, and I also have one VM for each of my customers. By having a virtual machine for each customer, I gain a few things:

  • I keep customer data separate
  • My customer machines are portable – when I travel I copy the VMs I need to my laptop and I have everything I need to do work with that customer
  • I can be VPN’ed into multiple customers at once
  • I can run multiple types of VPN clients (right now I have four different kinds across my VMs)

Up until a couple weeks ago, I ran with two screens on my desk – Dell 19″ flat panels. Each of these panels has two inputs, so, when I needed to move between machines, I would change the active input and toggle my KVM. This worked, but, it was a complete context switch. The most inconvenient thing was the lack of clipboard synchronization.

About a year ago, my manager was kind enough to ship me a screen that he felt I should have for my desk, and I left it in the box as I didn’t really have a use for it. I discovered this program called Multiplicity the other day which basically acts as a KVM over the network. Multiplicity gave me a reason to unbox my third screen and connect it. I now have my screens arranged horizontally in the following fashion:

A    B    C

Screens are connected in the following fashion:

Screen

Input

Machine

A

1

Personal

B

1

Personal

2

VMWare

C

1

VMWare

 

I have Multiplicity installed as a “server” on my personal machine, and as a “client” on my VMWare machine. Now, whenever I move my mouse to the edge of screen B, it jumps to screen C which is actually physically wired to the VMWare machine. The only time I use my KVM now is if I need to do something in text mode (e.g. BIOS change or something). I also have synchronized clipboards [2]. If I upgrade to the more expensive (like $20 more) version of Multiplicity, I could even add my laptop as a client, but, I don’t really have a need for that right now.

Overall, I think this new setup is great – I can bounce between tasks in a much smoother fashion now and it’s just generally more convenient. This is what it looks like:

[1] I actually just got a replacement personal machine as Dell had a refurb Quad Core w/ 4GB going for ~$600 the other day. I haven’t put it into production yet but I am planning to run Windows Server 2008 x64 on it now.

[2] I run so many applications that play in this space that my clipboard chain is seemingly broken half the time so this has some limited value


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