February 23, 2009
I recently was offered an Ergotron LX Dual Desk Mount Arm for review. It was offered to me after I wrote my last blog entry, Sit Better, See Better. I have lived with the new setup now for a few weeks, and am ready to give an opinion. The short version is that the Ergotron has freed up a good deal of space on my desk, despite my unusual setup. It might free up even more space for you. If you find yourself with a desk crowded by a large display, consider one of the Ergotron Desk Mount Arm systems. Before I go further, some background on my setup is necessary.
For the past six years I have used an old Hamilton motorized drafting table (E-Sized) for my desk. It doesn't go up and down any more (needs a fan belt -- really), but it tilts and has a pen and pencil trough that is a great substitute for a drawer. I keep it tiled at about 10 degrees, which puts the keyboard of my laptop at a perfect level for typing.
I have a 17" MacBook Pro connected to a Dell 20" LCD Display (secondary display), and a Windows computer with a 17" Fujitsu LCD. The secondary display sits behind my MacBook Pro, both centered on my desk, with the display high enough so that the bottom is level with the top of the MacBook Pro display. The Windows display sits to the left of this.
My non-computer working area consists of the space to the right of my laptop in front of a file box, and to the left in front of the Fujitsu, about 3.5 sqft total out of 15+ available sqft. Most of the back of my desk is wasted space behind the displays. Clearly I am not making efficient use of my space.
My Mac desktop is set to span from the laptop upwards to the secondary display, so that the Mac menu bar is smack in the middle of the two displays. For Windows users who aren't familiar with the Mac menubar, it is a permanent fixture across the top of the screen. If I move my mouse above the menu bar, it pops up onto the secondary display which is sitting above my laptop display. This seemed odd at first, but makes for a compact working area.
The Mac controls the Windows computer via a VNC server. To control the PC, I move my Mac mouse pointer to the left of my Mac display, which kicks in the VNC software, and the mouse on the PC jumps to life at the corresponding location on the right of PC display. Thus, the PC acts as if it were a seamless part of the Mac Desktop (see this article for the setup). This setup makes the three displays seem like one oddly-shaped large display, and two computers seem like one.
When I am working on web programming projects, I drag my browser windows and other visuals up to the secondary display, and leave my email and text editing windows on my laptop display. I use the PC for testing my code against additional web browsers. In this way, each display serves its own purpose, and they all need to remain clustered together in order for my workflow to go smoothly.
Lastly, I am an oddball in that I prefer the keyboard of the Macbook Pro to other keyboards, and I prefer to use the trackpad over a mouse. This is not a good fit for Ergotron, in that most of their solutions seem to be targeted at getting your displays up off of your desk, including your laptop, freeing the space underneath. Such an arrangement would hang my laptop above my desk, and take away my favorite keyboard. The assumption they have made is that most people with laptops will want a separate keyboard and mouse on their desktop, taking up valuable extra space. I don't fit in that pigeon hole, but most of my clients with laptops do, and all users of desktop computers fit there too.
Ok, now that you have the picture of my setup, how has the Ergotron changed my working space? For the better? I have a dual-arm model from their many offerings. One of the arms has a VESA mount, and the other has a laptop tray. One of my displays, the Dell, supports the VESA standard mount, whereas the Fujitsu does not. So I decided to see if the laptop tray would support the Fujitsu, and put the Dell on the VESA mount.
While unboxing the Ergotron, the first thing I noticed was the build-quality. These are no plastic arms, but heavy, metal, arms with very strong springs to help them hold their position. The number of parts in the box is pretty daunting, but as you pull them out, it becomes obvious how most things will fit together.
The kit I received had three separate sets of instructions. I was confused at first as to which set I should use -- I still am, actually. Two sets provided English language instructions, plus some other languages, with one set of completely non-English language instructions. The two English sets appeared to offer identical instruction, but were also obviously different documents. A clearly marked "Start Here" booklet would have been nice. I guess I am too used to Apple who goes out of their way to make things clear, even at the opening of boxes level. At any rate, I picked one set using Eeny-Meeny-Miny-Moe and forged ahead.
It was fairly easy to put the whole setup together. The main parts of the arms simply slide one on another, and on to the base. Almost no tools are required, except for the supplied allen wrenches, which are used to tighten joints and fix the heights of the arms on the base. If you are not mechanically inclined, I could see how putting these together may be frustrating, because the arms are relatively heavy. But overall I found it straightforward, if time consuming.
If I had one comment about the assembly process, it would be to plan ahead where you will mount the base. Think about how the arms will articulate, and where the displays will go. And think about it for a while. In my case, shortly after assembling the entire thing, I realized that I needed to move one display to the other side, and move the entire assembly two feet to the right. I made the mistake of simply trying to duplicate my existing setup, which I assumed was optimal. I was wrong. By using these arms, I had possibilities that I had never considered. So I had to partially disassemble, move and reassemble the whole setup. Had I thought about it in advance, I could have saved some time. Total assembly time (first time): just over an hour. Add 15 minutes to re-do it.
I was successful in using the laptop mount for the Fujitsu display. It is not optimal, and I had to use the laptop stabilizers in a way they are not intended, but it is secure. This novel setup allowed for me to move the Fujitsu over to the right, instead of to the left, and off of the side of my desk.
The end result is that the Fujistu is now suspended partially over my trashcan, and not directly above my desk. This allowed me to shift my laptop and secondary display to the right, so that they are both to the right of center, leaving almost half of my desk totally clear. That's right: almost half of my desk is totally clear of gear.
So now my working area consists of two main areas. 1x2' (2 sqft) to the right of my laptop, where I now keep my coffee warmer, misc pads of paper and a photo desk accessory. It's perfect for misc items, including mail. I now have 2.5x3.5' (8.75 sqft) of area to the left of my laptop free and clear. I moved my filebox from the right back corner to the left back corner, which consumes 1.25 sqft of space.
I know, I spent way too much time measuring this stuff. But having a huge area of your desk free and clear is great. Of course, I promptly filled it with pads and junk, but at least it all can move. And speaking of moving, the two arms have a great range of motion. I can swing either of them up and totally out of the way, and the space behind my laptop, where the secondary display stand sat, is empty. It can now hold those items I like to keep on my desk, but don't use often.
Overall the Ergotron system is versatile and strong. The arms articulate easily, but stay put when you need them to. You can tweak away at display position with little effort. They do get things up off of your desk, but the space below is just that: space below something else. The usefulness of that space will largely depend on what you want to put under there. With a little creative thought, though, moving a display or laptop off of the side of your desk, instead of over it, will greatly increase your useful square footage.
Final thought: If I were the type of person who used a separate keyboard and mouse with my laptop, these arms would give me back much more space. As I said in the beginning, it might free much more space for you. Either way, if space is at a premium on your desk, and whose isn't, these arms are for you.