Is your computer slowing you down?
Then it may be costing you money.
For the past decade, I’ve been working exclusively from a laptop. It was the only option, since I was traveling so much. At home, however, where I spend most of my time these days, that setup makes very little sense.
I have to scroll, zoom, and keep managing windows because the screen is too damn small. I make too many typing errors because the keyboard is average at best. And I frequently get annoyed, because my laptop isn’t fast enough to handle everything I throw at it simultaneously.
In short: I could use a new machine.
So I had this idea:
Why won’t I build myself the best computer for working from home? The reasoning was simple and promising: every small increase in productivity will directly result in higher income. Every 1% bump in work output will be worth a fortune over the long run. This alone justifies the cost.
It would be foolish not to do so then.
So I set out on a quest, and learned more than I ever wanted to learn about keyboard switches, the human eye lens, and VRM phases.
Well, here’s the result.
Best Productivity Machine
My computer uses are simple: I write and edit big text files. I research with a million open browser tabs. I work on my businesses and websites. However, even if you’re a heavier user (programmer, video editor, graphic designer, etc), this guide will still lead you down the right direction.
To build this computer, you’ll have to buy each component separately:
And then assemble it all. If you don’t know how to do it, pay a PC shop to do it. By the end, you’ll have yourself a killer productivity machine.
No more time wasting. Let’s begin.
For productivity purposes, the monitor is the most important (and overlooked!) component. This is why we’ll have a good talk about it before anything else. Take a look at Pfeiffer’s research:
Larger screen real estate will increase productivity, even in every-day tasks. As the paper says, “We instinctively feel more at ease with more screen space, just as we prefer to have a larger work table rather than a small one that forces us to move things around constantly.”
The Pfeiffer’s research tested tasks like editing text, formatting spreadsheets, manipulating images, and work involving two individual programs simultaneously. Here are its major findings:
- Computer displays can contribute significantly to productivity, efficiency, and overall throughput. High-resolution displays can result in measurable productivity gains.
- Productivity gains were present not only in digital imaging or design applications, but also in office apps like Word and Excel, as well as in the general personal productivity of the computing environment.
- With a larger display area you are likely to develop new productivity strategies that make best use of that display, in ways that you can’t easily imagine when working on a smaller display.
- Those small productivity gains, on frequently repeated operations, can result in a significant return on investment (ROI) over time.
When I work from my laptop, I lose a lot of time through my interactions with it. Constantly having to move and shuffle windows, zoom in and out, etc – a large display (both size & resolution) eliminates all that hassle.
With a big, high-resolution monitor, you’ll be faster simply because you can see more information. If you write, you will see more of the text. If you edit an image on Photoshop, you will see more of the image. If you work on multiple documents or applications, you will be able to view them all side by side. This provides a much smoother workflow.
Screen real estate is measured in resolution (pixels). But you need the right size to make use of that resolution. For example, I used to have a 27″ iMac with a massive 5K (5120 x 2880) resolution. But because on 5K the text looks tiny on 27″, Mac OS scales the resolution to 2560×1440. In such a case, I’m no better off than simply using a 2560×1440 monitor.
So you need the right resolution and size.
Pixels per inch (PPI) will give you an indication of how big the text and other elements would be on a monitor. The lower the PPI, the larger it would be and the farther away you’d have to sit. The higher the PPI, the smaller (and sharper) things would look. At the normal desk distance, 90-110 PPI is a good range for readable text. For example, both a 21.5″ FHD and a 43″ 4K give you 103 PPI. Text would appear identical on both.
You can check the PPI of each resolution / screen size here.
Anyway, I considered different setups, even vertical ones. This is an idea I got from developers. Monitor aspect ratios are built to fit the format of movies or games, but vertical space is a lot more important for text-based work. It allows for many more lines on the screen, it feels more natural to scroll, and because of the height, it’s more ergonomic for the neck:
Alternatively, of course, you can just use one big monitor with a massive resolution (4K), and split your screen to achieve the same effect. 4K gives you even more vertical pixels than a ‘flipped’ FHD (2160 vs 1920).
Back to the setups I considered.
You would get into the 90-110 PPI range with any of these configurations:
To make life easier, here are the specifications for each:
#1: 42.5″ TV – 3840×2160 (8.3m pixels at 103PPI) – 94x53cm
#2: Dual 24″ – 1200×1920 (4.6m pixels at 94.5PPI) – 72x55cm
#3: Triple 21.5″ – 1080×1920 (6.2m pixels at 102.5PPI) – 88x49cm
#4: 31.5″ – 2560×1440 (3.7m pixels at 93.25PPI) – 70x39cm
#5: Dual 23.5″ – 1080×1920 (4.15m pixels at 93.75PPI) – 60x52cm
#6: Dual 21.5″ – 1080×1920 (4.15m pixels at 102.5PPI) – 59x49cm
#7: 34″ or 35″ – 3440×1440 (4.95m px at 106.5-109.5PPI) – 80-85×33-39cm
As you can see, pixels per dollar, a 42.5″ 4K TV makes the most sense. Split the screen into four equal parts and you essentially get four FHD (1920×1080) monitors combined – without the ugly physical bezels.
TVs these days are close siblings of PC monitors. The panels themselves are similar. It’s just that TVs come with a bunch of image processing stuff and “Smart” features, which you can cancel (to increase the response time of the TV so it is comfortable to use as a PC monitor).
For a TV to function well as a PC monitor, you need these:
- 4K at 60hz refresh rate. This is normal today. Anything less (like 30hz) will result in simple tasks (like moving the mouse cursor) to feel slow and sluggish. It’s really bad, I tested it.
- Low input lag. Most TVs today have an acceptable input lag, especially if you put them on “Game Mode”. This cancels all image processing effects, to increase response time in games.
- 4:4:4 chroma. Movies from Blu-ray and 4K Blu-ray are encoded in 4:2:0 and upscaled to 4:2:2, then sent to the TV, and the TV maps it into however it’s programmed to do. This saves on disc space, and provides nearly equivalent fidelity at 4:4:4. The drawback to 4:2:0 encoding (which almost all videos use – including YouTube) is lower clarity on high-frequency textures – like colored text, which would look blurry because text is small and often just 1-2 pixels wide. PC outputs 4:4:4 natively. It does not use chroma subsampling as it is a source, so it doesn’t need the compression. For your TV to function well as a PC monitor, it has to support 4:4:4.
Luckily for you, most TVs today come with low input lag, [email protected], and chroma 4:4:4 support. If you’re unsure, check Rting’s reviews (they also review TVs as PC monitors). You can trust their recommendations.
What type of panel should you aim for?
Generally you’ll be looking at IPS or VA. IPS gives wider viewing angles, but the problem is light leakage resulting in low contrast ratio (brightest white vs darkest black). The best IPS panels today produce ~1500:1 contrast ratio. MacBook’s next gen IPS can do 1800:1. That’s very high for an IPS. However, it’s abysmal compared to VA panels. VA-panel PC monitors generally produce ~3000:1, while VA-panel TVs produce between 4000:1 to 7000:1. Some people will prefer VA for reading because of the stronger contrast delivering an ‘inkier’ and deeper look to text. The drawback to VA? Very narrow viewing angles, so you have to be in the sweet spot position for everything to look good.
If you want to splurge, OLED has the best viewing angles (wider than IPS) and also the darkest blacks. It is an emissive display, which means it has infinite:1 contrast ratio. This gives the image depth. Professional movie studio content is often color graded on OLEDs. Hisense’s LMCL will change everything. Its ~125000:1 contrast ratio is practically as good as OLED, but it can get much brighter. LMCL is not out yet except for professionals, $45K for a 32″ screen and it blows away everything on the market. Complete game changer. You can almost use these outdoors. If you need something of that caliber, perhaps you should wait for LMCL. If not, and you do a lot of coloring work, get a VA or OLED.
Now, here’s something you didn’t expect.
Instead of buying a 42.5″ 4K TV, which would be perfect from a normal desk distance (103 PPI), I chose to go with a gigantic 70″ 4K TV. It gives 63 PPI, which means text is cartoonishly large and way too pixelated..
.. from a normal desk distance. What do I mean?
Having such a low PPI means text is really big up-close. But once you step back and get some distance, or move the monitor instead, text becomes as readable and sharp as it would be on a 43″ at a desk distance.
So why spend the extra money on the larger TV?
To prevent fatigue. As soon as your eyes focus on objects at greater than 1-1.5 meters, the lens is at configuration for infinity focus, which means the ciliary muscles (which contract the lens for near focus) are completely at rest. It’s when the eyes attempt to keep things in focus under the strains of up-close work, where we get fatigued and tired.
As far as I can tell, tp4tissue from geekhack.org is the first to discuss the combination of factors like eye vergence and focal distance. Big screens were not affordable not too long ago, but now we have TVs ;)
You’ve never heard about it because of office setups. The primary use of day-long computing is done at work, and offices wouldn’t be able to space efficiently if everyone needed 1.5 meters clear distance to screen.
But better configurations can be achieved.
If you’re a professional who’s doing a lot of coloring work, for instance, the top option today (absent big curved panels, which reduce contrast drift, stochastic eye movement, and focus changes) is the 77″ OLEDs. You can’t use them in a bright office though, as their safe brightness is low (an OLED issue that LMCL is coming to solve), unless you’re ok with burn-ins from static screen elements. Another good option is large VA TVs, but careful of dynamic backlights (like Samsung tends to have), which would mean serious Photoshop or video color grading is out of the question. Generally speaking, Sony and Panasonic respect color the most.
As for me, I bought an LG 70″ IPS. It allows me to work from 1.5 meters away, it has what I need (low input lag, chroma 4:4:4, [email protected]). I did sacrifice color depth to get the better viewing angles, but that’s alright – I don’t do any coloring work. If you do, get a VA-panel TV instead.
All in all, I highly recommend a large 4K TV as your monitor:
As someone who types a lot for a living, a good keyboard is crucial. When I say a good keyboard, I mean a keyboard that would allow me to squeeze as many words per minute (WPM) as possible. If you can increase your WPM from, say, 70, to 140, you’re now two times more productive.
For that, I turned to the Scrivener community (Scrivener is the Photoshop of writers) and asked for their opinions. I got an enormous amount of responses, with recommendations like Das Keyboard, Filco Majestouch, Anne Pro 2, Keychron K2, Leopold, Matias, HHKB, Realforce, Azio, Keyboardio Atreus, and many more, including the ancient IBM Model M keyboard or the rather odd OLKB Planck keyboard:
Here are things to consider:
- Keyboards are a unique, personal component. Like a guitar, they are a device you’re likely to keep with you for as long as it lasts. Once you get used to a keyboard, you don’t want to replace it. Therefore, invest in one with a solid build quality that’ll serve you for years.
- Aim for clicky, mechanical switches. Their feedback will help you feel the keyboard better and avoid time-consuming typing errors. MX Cherry, Matias, Gateron and Topre switches all have their fans. Someone told me I should also try out Outemu Blue. Try out different switch tester kits on Amazon and see which one you like best.
- Did you ever think of using DVORAK instead of QWERTY? Once learned, DVORAK should make you type faster:
I went and tried two keyboards: Matias Programmable Ergo Pro, and Matias Mini Tactile Pro. I heard raving opinions about Matias switches, which I was considering versus MX Cherry Blue (here’s how they compare). I also liked that Matias keyboards don’t have that ugly RGB lighting crap that many mechanical keyboards come with.
Both keyboards are tenkeyless (meaning, a full sized layout, only without the Numpad), which I prefer. I never use the Numpad.
After using both for a while, I can say this:
The Ergo Pro is more ergonomic – those gel support pads feel absolutely amazing to rest the palms on. It’s also programmable. Create macro keys and trigger any keyboard shortcut or string of text with just a single keystroke! This is awesome, because if there’s anything you keep typing every day (up to 60 words), you can now do it with one key press.
However, the Mini Tactile Pro uses the Matias Click switches, while the Ergo Pro uses the Matias Quiet Click switches. They are identical in peak force (60±5 gf) and travel distance (3.5mm), but the Quiet is sound-dampened. I find the feedback of the louder switches way nicer.
All in all, the Mini Tactile Pro is without a doubt the nicest and most addictive keyboard I’ve ever typed on. If I don’t find myself fully utilizing the unique design and programmable keys of the Ergo Pro, I’m going to stick with the louder, clickier Mini Tactile Pro over the long-term.
And I should probably learn DVORAK soon.
Which CPU should we choose for the computer?
My uses are pretty light. You’ll often find me with 10-20 open browser tabs, maybe a spreadsheet or two or a couple large text files, all open at the same time. This is mostly RAM-intensive, not CPU-intensive. Any average desktop CPU these days can easily handle all that.
However, I went with an Intel i9-9900 because I could get it for 50% off.
The 9900 is a very fast 8 core 16 thread CPU that will blaze through all my workloads. Though an overkill, it will more than see me through many years of use and will only get better as I throw more workloads at it. At 50% off, I couldn’t go wrong so might as well enjoy the power on tap.
What are your uses? It takes a CPU a certain amount of time to render anything, including a web page. A stronger CPU can do things in less time. To illustrate, think about it this way:
An 8 core can render a page in 1 second, whereas a 4 core might take 2 seconds. To you, you blinked and it was over with. Not very noticable on such small scale. But when it comes to large scale, that’s a different story. Work on a video while compiling code at the same time and the 4 cores got swamped, while an 8 core wouldn’t blink.
So, again, what are your uses? If you compile Python code every day, then an 8 core CPU will have time gains over a 6 core CPU. But if you compile code just once a week, the few minutes saved don’t matter. It’s nothing more than work done while you are in the bathroom, or getting food.
On every-day, simple tasks (like opening web pages), I seriously doubt there’d be any noticeable difference to humans whatsoever, as you’d not be saturating the CPU. You are talking about nanosecond differences:
An old CPU might be able to deal with 1,000 instructions per 1 clock cycle, and at 4.2GHz there’s 4.2 billion cycles. A newer CPU might handle 2000 instructions per clock cycle and be at 5.0GHz or 5 billion cycles. You are into nanoseconds in time per instruction. You can’t see the difference in anything less than a second without 2 comparisons, and even then maybe not. Of course, differences between the CPUs go much farther –
There’s core count, bandwidth per core, memory speeds, memory controller speeds, Lcache, and a host of other factors. High-end CPUs usually have more cores, higher Lcache, better memory controller, etc, so it is faster and stronger all around. But do you actually need it?
Do your homework.
Should you buy AMD or Intel?
AMD is superior these days, the company has earned people’s trust in coming up with new stuff that will be better than Intel’s equivalent and work on their old motherboards. With AMD you get a more performant CPU on a more modern architecture, and you pay less.
For example, my i9-9900 has higher turbo clock speeds, but an AMD Ryzen 3700X can turbo boost multiple cores, and that’s a big advantage in productivity apps. The Ryzen also supports PCIe Gen4, which means it can leverage the much higher bandwidth of next gen GPUs (not that I need it). The Ryzen also has twice the cache of the 9900, it supports faster memories, and it runs a lot cooler and more efficient. And it’s cheaper.
There were also security issues with Intel – go read about the Kernel Virus affecting their processors – Meltdown & Spectre (also on Wikipedia). Nobody wants their sensitive data stolen from their CPU kernel.
There is, however, one big advantage to Intel. Their CPUs come with an integrated graphic card! The benefits are huge. First of all, it does the work. No need to buy a separate, pricey card. And, noise levels are extremely important to me. A separate graphic card brings additional heat, fans and noise, while an integrated graphic card does not.
Also, you can’t game on an integrated card – which will keep you more productive ;) All in all, I love integrated graphics.
In reality, for my kind of work, it’s not going to be so much what the CPU can do, but what the supporting equipment will allow the CPU to do. Low RAM, slow storage, limited peripherals ability, lack of options. All that just adds up to one thing: Extended nap times, which I want to avoid.
So, I bought the i9-9900. It’s way too powerful for what I do, but I got it for 50% off and it has an integrated GPU which I’m delighted with.
Not much else to say.
To cool the i9-9900, I picked the Noctua NH-D15 Chromax Black, an absolute monstrosity of a CPU dual-tower cooler. It is rather pricey, but I felt it was a necessary expense. Reasons I got it?
Running a hot, power-hungry CPU like the i9 with a small cooler is a bad idea. It’s not a matter of risk, but of performance loss, since the CPU will be auto-throttling half the time. A stock or average cooler simply cannot keep the i9 within the thermal envelope required to maintain its boost profiles, which is where most of its performance will come from.
Clock speed is still king, and without good boost behavior, performance will suffer for most usage. You’ll never get by with the stock cooler Intel includes in the box of the i9. It is such a pathetic joke that I didn’t even bother to keep it somewhere. Straight to the trash can.
I had to use capitals I’m afraid.
The i9-9900 is a very hot CPU at full load. Once it starts boosting, fans will start spinning. The difference between running a 92mm stock cooling fan at 2400rpm vs a 140mm fan at 1000rpm under heavy load is impossible to even describe. This, to me, is the most important factor.
If you’ve ever used a stock cooler, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. The harmonics and monotonous fan ramping on small coolers is intolerable. The annoying hum and up and down droning are enough to drive a room full of recovering alcoholics into heroine addiction. Believe me, you don’t want to listen to that when you’re trying to work.
I want my system to be dead silent.
The D15 is silent, not because of the large 140mm fans (tho that’s also true, since they will spin slower than 120mm fans to move the same amount of air), but because of the sheer size of the heatsink itself, which, even passively, will likely cool better than other coolers with a fan installed. So, compared to smaller coolers, there will be a lot fewer occasions where the fans on the D15 even need to spin up.
There’s a tradeoff when it comes to CPU cooling. A larger heatsink surface area is more efficient at dispersing heat, and it can be used with a larger, slower spinning fan. The only way to have equivalent cooling with a small heatsink is via brute force cooling from the fans. But you will exchange size for an exponential increase in noise and fan volume.
So, I bought the Noctua NH-D15 Chromax Black (looks a lot nicer than the regular design). It keeps the i9-9900 cool, ~30c most of the time (running on 750 RPM), and I can’t hear it even when it starts spinning up.
Nobody out there is making better coolers than Noctua. They’re pricey, but a good air cooler is an investment. It can be used through potentially a lifetime of CPU upgrades or platform changes.
And forget liquid coolers. Loops leak, heatsink don’t. Pumps fail, far more often and usually with far worse consequences, than fans do. And let’s not talk about the annoying gurgling noise that it makes.
Here’s how my system looks with the NH-D15 installed. No case, I simply bolted the motherboard into the top shelf of a vitrine next to my TV:
In a productivity machine, stability is key. Any downtime and you’re losing time that could otherwise be spent producing. That’s why you want to cover the basics and get a motherboard with good power delivery.
That means a good voltage regulator module (VRM).
The VRM is a converter that provides a processor the appropriate voltage, converting +5V or +12V to the much lower voltage needed by the CPU. You want a strong, stable VRM that can fuel your CPU even at full boost.
A weak VRM will heat up and thermally throttle, reducing the CPU speed. If your CPU is power-hungry (like my i9), that requires a significantly beefier VRM configuration to feed it with enough electricity.
You can find lists made by enthusiasts, carefully examining the VRM quality of each motherboard on the market. Here’s the one I used to find myself a solid Z390 (an i9-9900’s chipset) motherboard. There are links to other similar tables (for other chipsets) at the spreadsheet’s bottom.
I picked the Gigabyte AORUS Z390 Mini-ITX. Not only because it has a great VRM, but also because Mini-ITX boards are the only Z390 boards that come with an HDMI2.0 port for the integrated GPU. HDMI2.0 will allow me to run the TV at [email protected] instead of 30hz with HDMI1.4.
Of course, you don’t need a top-tier VRM if you didn’t buy a monster of a CPU. A tier-III motherboard will suffice for an i5 or an equivalent Ryzen at stock speeds, while I wouldn’t go below tier-II for anything else.
My point is, don’t cheap out on the board. The cheap ones usually mean cutting something out in order to accommodate an imposed price restriction, and you’re never (or very, very rarely) going to get the desired result combining a performance part with a budget part.
Everything in my day takes lots of RAM. A million open tabs? RAM. Massive text files? RAM. Lots of images, PHP files, heavy browser usage? RAM. 16GB isn’t going to cut it. It might be everything the average gamer needs, but for productivity uses, I’d be looking at 32-64GB.
RAM is so cheap these days, just get more than you think you need. DDR4-2666 at least. Often you will find DDR4-3200 or DDR4-3600 for just a little more. I doubt at that point RAM speeds are going to make any discernible difference, but if it’s just $10-15 extra then definitely go for it.
For my system I got a 32GB kit (16×2) from Silicon Power. I got the ones without heatsinks (RAM doesn’t need cooling). Nothing much to say about the memories – they’re great. Fast and snappy. Silicon Power consistently delivers great products at the lowest prices.
No reason to even consider conventional drives anymore. SSDs are faster, less likely to fail, and finally affordable even at large volumes. Go with the new M.2 NVMe SSDs, which are extremely fast, and are mounted straight onto the motherboard, no ugly cables needed.
I picked two drives:
- 1TB Gen3 Sabrent Rocket (Read/Write: 3400/3000 MB/s).
- 1TB Gen3 Silicon Power (Read/Write: 2200/1600 MB/s).
I installed Linux Debian on one drive, and Linux Arch on the second. I run Debian as the main environment, but am simply changing the SSD boot order in the BIOS whenever I want to run and learn Arch.
Both drives run great so far.
The Silicon Power offers great performance per dollar. If you don’t deal with large files (editing videos, data transfer, etc), then you won’t be able to tell the difference between this drive or a more expensive one.
The Sabrent Rocket costs more, but offers faster operation speeds. If you do anything that could benefit from those extra speeds (for example programs like Adobe After Effects, which like to store their cache on the SSD), then definitely buy the super-fast Sabrent. If you went for an AMD CPU, that means you can use the even faster, Gen4 Sabrent Rocket.
Power Supply (PSU)
Again, power delivery is very important for a production machine. We want to cover the basics, and there’s nothing more basic than electricity. We want to minimize the risk of hardware failure, especially at times where the weather is bad and the current becomes unstable.
I went with a Silverstone SX700-LPT, a 80 PLUS Platinum 700W PSU.
So far, it’s been amazing. As you know, I take noise levels seriously, and this PSU is dead silent. I mean, DEAD SILENT. The fan within the SX700-LPT will not spin at all unless PSU load reaches 30% (~210W).
That means the fan is deactivated most, if not all the time. The average PC uses around 200W, everything included except the graphics card. Another reason to love integrated graphics! It’s only when you add a separate GPU card that you climb into the 400-600W range.
I have a very power-hungry CPU, but even then it should rarely go above 200W (at full load!). As a result, the PSU fan never spins.
I love it.
I could get away with a fanless 450W PSU like the Silverstone NJ450-SXL, which would be as silent, but I wanted some margin for future upgrades in case I ever decide to install a top-tier graphics card.
(I don’t see that happening, to be honest)
The Silverstone SX700-LPT is also completely modular, and that was very important to me. I didn’t want all that mess of ugly cables dangling from the PSU, and a modular one allows you to connect just what you need.
Also, notice, this is an SFX-L power supply. It’s much smaller than regular ATX power supplies, although not as small as the SFX ones:
I like SFX-L the best. It’s small enough that it doesn’t take up much space, plus it gives me the flexibility to move my system into a small case in the future. But it still has a full-size 120mm fan, which means its much quieter than SFX (80-92mm fans) if it ever starts spinning.
Overall, I highly recommend the Silverstone SX700-LPT.
Related read: Is it worth investing in a high-efficiency power supply? The SX700-LPT is rated 80 PLUS Platinum. You’ll also find PSUs rated Bronze, Silver, Gold, or Titanium. Read that article to see the differences.
Operating System (OS)
I had been using Windows for about 14 years. Then Mac OS for 6 years (I still own a MacBook). On this machine, I chose to install GNU/Linux.
I’ve always found Windows way too intrusive and buggy. The constant harassment is just too overwhelming. Too much messing with security patches, viruses and malware, too many updates interrupting your work. Too many “Are you sure?” pop-up windows. Yes, I am sure.
Coming from Windows, Mac OS felt like fresh air. I found it a lot more stable, secure, and intuitive. However, I absolutely hate the enforced bundling of Apple software. For the love of God, give your users some freedom. There’s so much pre-installed junk I can’t delete: Messages, Mail, Reminders, PhotoBooth, Music, TV, Voice Memos, Stocks, Books, Home, Siri, Chess, Stickies, Image Capture, Automator, Grapher, etc.
I don’t need it, and I don’t want to see it when navigating my computer. It sips away energy and focus. It’s anti-productive. An OS that is constantly frustrating to use is dangerous. Since you work from your computer, you are going to associate your work with frustration. That’s not good, and it’s certainly not going to push you into being more productive.
So I was looking for something stable, secure, clean, intuitive, and free of the distractions that Windows or Mac OS come with..
Say hi to GNU/Linux Debian (Stable).
In GNU/Linux (or just Linux), you are free to customize everything. You can shave it off to your minimum needs, and get a truly clean, minimal OS. I love it. It’s an open-source OS that you control (since you can edit it however you want, even the underlying code), as opposed to the restrictions imposed by closed OS’s like Windows or Mac OS.
As Richard Stallman wrote, it is demoralizing to live in a house that you cannot rearrange to suit your needs. GNU/Linux changes that. You will do better work when you like the environment that you work in.
I made my Debian installation very minimal. I don’t need much – just a browser, writing software, PDF reader, etc. Unlike on Windows or Mac, there’s not a lot now to get lost in or distract me from my work. I never truly realized how much time I spent navigating on Mac or Windows until I started using this machine. The abundance of extra steps needed just to navigate the computer were truly astounding compared to this.
Now that I made the switch to an open-source, free (as in freedom!) OS like GNU/Linux Debian, I can’t see myself ever going back to a bloated OS like Mac OS or Windows. I find the simplicity just too liberating.
On one drive, I installed the Debian (Stable) distribution. I like it because it’s very stable, and stability is crucial for a production machine. On the other drive I installed Arch, which I’m toying with in order to learn it.
As for software, there’s pretty much everything you need.
For Scrivener-like writing, I downloaded Manuskript. I installed Xournal, which has the simple annotation tools I need to add dates, text, and signatures to PDFs. To quickly view or edit my images, I use Shotwell. Libre Office is replacing Microsoft or Apple office suites. GIMP or Krita can replace Photoshop. For a password manager, I’m using KeePassXC.
And there’s a million other apps.
I don’t have any games installed. I know they would attract me too often, and it would have cost me in reduced productivity. I keep this computer centered for work, and work only.
So, give GNU/Linux a try. I can’t see myself ever going back.
This guide wouldn’t be complete without talking about the space you’re working in. Having a clear, decluttered space helps you avoid decision fatigue. When you have a lot of clutter around your working space, your brain constantly reacts to that stimuli. You get tired. You get less productive.
When you have a lot of stuff lying around where you work, you’re also going to be constantly moving and shuffling things around, just like windows on a small screen, and it’s going to take you more time to find what you need.
So, make sure your working space is as clean as possible. That’ll help increase your workflow efficiency.
I also highly recommend a standing desk to put your keyboard and mouse on (and monitor, if you don’t use a wall-mounted TV like me). Such a desk will help you cycle between sitting and standing throughout your workday, which is essential for both your comfort and health.
Research has associated prolonged sitting with a higher risk of a host of problems, including heart disease and diabetes, certain cancers, and premature death. Is it the sitting itself that’s dangerous, or the overall lifestyle associated with it? Well, why take the risk? If you’re concerned about being too sedentary, consider switching to a standing desk. I love it.
However, standing all day long isn’t ideal either. That’s where a height-adjustable standing desk helps. It lets you quickly raise or lower your desk to sitting or standing height. Researchers from the University of Waterloo who studied lower-back pain in people who both sat and stood at their desks recommend a sit-to-stand ratio between 1:1 and 1:3. In other words, you should sit and stand for equal periods of time, or at the maximum – sit for 15 minutes and stand for 45 minutes each hour.
Another related article you should read: Productivity and Ergonomics: The Best Way to Organize Your Desk.
I think we covered it all. Hopefully you now have a good grasp on how to build your own best computer for working from home. What’s left?
I’ll tell you what’s left: actually being productive.
Which is the hard part ;)