These days, computing from home makes more sense than commuting to an office. As a temporary measure, a mid-range gaming laptop works well as a home workstation. From a long-term perspective, a desktop PC will yield much bigger gains. Thinking of investing in a desktop PC as the heart of a powerful and luxurious home office? Learn the functional and aesthetic benefits gained by making the switch.
These days, high computer hardware demand is driven by PC gaming enthusiasts. For instance, buying an MSI 3090 graphics card now costs over two thousand dollars on Amazon. For a staggering price, you get better graphics when playing video games, and slightly faster video editing render times. If you don’t play video games, super high-end components offer poor value.
As a result, even though working from home for many years, I’ve mostly stuck with laptop-based settings. There were a few reasons:
- Most mid-range gaming hardware provides incredible power for non-game computing (multitasking, video editing, content creation).
- Many mid-range gaming laptops offer excellent power for less money than a full-blowing desktop PC build.
- Combined with external monitors, a laptop can deliver a comparable viewing experience as a desktop build.
Why switch from laptop to desktop PC
There are a few reasons to consider making the switch from a laptop to a desktop-based home workstation. Here is a summary:
Better, customizable computing performance
Compared to a laptop, a desktop with full-sized parts are more powerful. Laptops usually come with mobile versions of CPUs and GPUs. Those prioritize low power consumption, rather than high performance.
As well, with laptops, you’re forced with stock specs for everything except storage and RAM. In contrast, with a custom PC, every part is customizable. That means you can customize your build exactly for your needs.
Customizable build example
As an example, here are the specs of my current build (with Amazon links). Buying from local shops (instead of Amazon), this build cost $2045:
- CPU: Ryzen 7 5800x (Amazon)
- GPU: ASUS GeForce RTX 2060 Overclocked 6G (Amazon)
- CPU cooler: Thermaltake TH360 ARGB AIO (Amazon)
- RAM: XPG SPectrix RGB DDR4 3200 MHz 16 GB x 2 (Amazon)
- PSU: ASUS ROG Strix 750W Gold (Amazon)
- Motherboard: ASUS Prime X570-P (Amazon)
- Case: Lian Li Dynamic XL black (Amazon)
- Storage: ADATA 1TB M2 SSD; Seagate 7200 RPM SATA drive 2 TB
- Price: $2045
The above build supports mid-range gaming, solid video editing, and robust computing performance. In this case, future-proofing was the primary factor. As a result, it includes the latest Ryzen 7 5800X (way more power than I need).
It also has double the necessary RAM, excessive storage, a semi-pro motherboard, and a pricey AIO. It also includes the ultra-popular Lian Li Dynamic XL case, which offers superb aesthetics and massive interior build space.
If the price was the driving factor, I could have gotten similar performance from a $1000 build. It would lack flash and extendability but would handle my computing needs with plenty of power to spare. The key point is that it’s your choice. In terms of performance or aesthetics, your dream rig can be whatever you want it to be.
Improved multi-monitor options
One of the limits of laptop-centered workstations is limited monitor extendability. Most sub-$1000 laptops only come with a single HDMI port. Typical mid-range gaming laptops ($1000 to $1500) usually offer two. High-end models with a Thunderbolt port can handle three.
However, even if your laptop allows for three external monitor connections, desk space is another issue. For example, on a 140 cm wide desk (55 inches), there’s only room for the laptop and two monitors.
Finally, even mid-tier GPUs like my RTX 2060 allow connections with up to four monitors. As you result, you get plenty of options to tailor your workspace to your liking.
A mid-tier PC with the potential to connect with four monitors gives you plenty of aesthetic options. With an extra-large desk, you can integrate your PC as a showpiece.
Using a mid-sized desk, you can set the PC off of the desk. Add desk-mounted monitor stands, a wireless mouse, and a wireless keyboard for the ultimate minimalist workspace.
Post-build results (first 2 weeks)
Those investing in a custom PC typically intend to use it for gaming, or for work. In my case as a content creator, my main objective was a spacious triple-monitor setup. With that, I intended to beef up my multitasking skills and overall efficiency.
My secondary priority was that it had the ability to play modern triple-A games with decent performance. My third was nice aesthetics to enhance my workspace.
Interestingly, after two months, my quality of gaming and workplace aesthetics both improved big-time. However, my work efficiency and dedication took a significant hit. Details below:
Shaking off an upgrade addiction
One reason PC-building has become so popular is that it’s a lot of fun. The whole process of parts research, build planning, parts sourcing and actual building is a thrill.
It’s also one of the rare times in life where having money made me feel like a king. I strutted all over town like royalty, repeatedly breaking budget limits because “a few hundred extra doesn’t matter at this point”.
The entire process felt like ambrosia to my soul. When it ended and my finished build turned on, I felt a void. Over the first two weeks, I spent several ‘work’ hours watching Youtube PC build and parts reviews. There was a strong itch to upgrade certain things from the start. I didn’t need anything better, but was itching to upgrade anyway. I missed the rush of the buying process, resulting in my lizard brain trying to justify more sniffs.
I resisted, then found many online confessions from other PC addicts who didn’t resist. Post-build withdrawal symptoms are common. In r/pcmasterace, there are plenty of threads with build addict confessions. Examples:
- More addicted to hardware than using my PC (source)
- Blew past my budget and now I’m addicted (source)
- How I became addicted to Noctua fans (source)
Post-build, the smart way to shake this urge is to plunge into using your machine as it was intended. If you’re a gamer, that would mean plunging into games to take your mind off of the build. In my case, the goal was to use my PC to optimize my work.
Curiously, instead of soaring into the heavens, my productivity began to sputter.
For the first two weeks after setting up my build, I found it hard to focus. I was mesmerized by my PC, and also by my spacious new desk layout. I a lot of time pacing around the workstation to look at it from all angles. Days passed by in a dreamy haze of preening, fussing, and making things look just right.
My peak productivity win during this time was to gauge my PC’s ability to Play Cyberpunk. I didn’t get very far in the game, but did manage to learn that my PC is a badass. Compared to playing Cyberpunk, I spent around 400% more time fiddling with my PC’s RGB fans.
In terms of pure pleasure, it was one of the best two weeks of my life. In terms of getting actual work done, there wasn’t much.
Post-build results (after 2 weeks)
After a 2-week daydream of bliss with my new gear, it was time to move on. That’s when I deployed advice listed earlier in this article:
The smart way to shake the addiction is to plunge into using your machine as it was intended.
The purpose of my upgrade was to further my work over at ChairsFX.com. There, I do full-blown creative work. That involves research, thinking, updating old articles, and planning new ones. I also do plenty of hands-on technical work involving Photoshop, video editing, social marketing, and full-on feature article writing.
After my 2-week dream-state, my production evolved in unexpected new ways.
New skills integrated
My core PC build cost $2045. On top of that, I added a 3-pack of Secretlab gaming chairs (necessary research for ChairsFX). To document all the new stuff, I also invested in a Panasonic Lumix G9 kit. I’m no photography ace, so learning how to use this camera has been a massive learning curve.
Since the topic of my photography was the workstation, I also got a crash-course in developing my workstation aesthetics. Every day saw new tweaks for around a month. After that, regular changes leveled off.
Before this project, feature article writing was my biggest energy drain. It takes a lot of thought, focus, and clear ideas. Now I can add furniture photography to the list. You need to set the subjects, clear the background areas, address lighting, and learn complex camera settings simultaneously.
As a result of this energy drain, my creative output in other areas slowed down. On the flipside, with an influx of custom, on-demand photos, my output became deeper and a lot more complex.
Consistent attention to workstation aesthetics
Making aesthetics a priority in your workspace is addictive. In regular life, it’s common to have limited control in most situations. In contrast, workstation aesthetics gives you complete control over the space where you spend most of your time.
If you have no idea where to start, we suggest looking up the fundamentals of feng shui, applied to a home office. That employs ancient energy optimization techniques with interior design realities.
I’m still in the early days of working with my new rig. Thus far, the entire experience has been scintillating. The high cost of initial investment stings, but the improved power, aesthetics, and control over my workstation makes it feel worth it.
This article is a work in progress. Expect updates a few months down the line. For now, some takeaways:
- The process of upgrading to a desktop PC is delightful.
- Expect disorientation and low production as you adjust to your new rig.
- Your new journey into workstation aesthetics has the potential to be consistently rewarding.
The biggest takeaway is for gamers battling with post-build withdrawal. If gaming on your new rig fails to capture your attention, showing off your new PC definitely will.
Consider the possibility of getting a fat, chunky, video-capable camera. As you adjust to your new rig, it will give you a new skill to learn that will also help to share your build joy with the world.
Along the way, find your own trails and stories to tell. This article begins the start of our custom PC build adventure here at WorkstationFX. Feel free to use it as a template to begin your own workstation documentation.