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Home Computing Power Station

Change is hard.  And, when it comes to my personal home computing setup, I find that it's way more difficult than it should be.  But, regardless of my hesitancy, it's well past due for a change of scenery on my physical desktop.

For the past several years, I've maintained roughly the same setup for my computer at home.  I've had to make a few repairs, replace a few bad parts, upgrade several components, but for the most part my system has remained visually unchanged.  It looked pretty much like the illustration I threw together here.  I have had one computer tower running Windows XP, two CRT monitors, a printer, desktop speakers, and (not illustrated here) a modem, a router, and an external hard drive.

Once upon a time my computer would have been considered beefed up and fast.  Now, it is somewhat lacking and frustratingly slow at times.  With having acquired laptops and smart phones, I find that I very rarely even get on "the" computer.  It's location, the back room, doesn't help either.  Items that have no home crawl their way back there and find temporary (a month on average) storage on either the desk or right in front of it, making a "stuff" barricade between the monitors and one's field of vision when sitting ergonomically.  Of course, I take full credit for letting it get that bad.  Mostly, it's my stuff for which I'm procrastinating at finding a real storage place.  I clean it completely off 2-3 times a year just in time to start the collection anew.

So, what's the solution?  I'm going to actually use one of the laptops that have barely been opened as the new "the" computer.  I bought a working docking station for it for $13 on ebay with free shipping.  This laptop is running Windows 7, which, thanks to my employment for the last 2.5 years forcing me to use Windows 7, I have finally decided 7 is better than XP.  The only real practical reason that I have not decided to part with the computer tower up until now is because it runs four internal and two external hard drives.  My answer to this dilemma is to build a custom hard drive enclosure that will drive the four internal drives.  I looked them up online and the cheapest I could find was right at $100 and it wasn't even compatible with some of the non-SATA drives that I own.  In true DIY spirit, and perhaps my internal geek, I decided to make my own.

I was given an old trash computer without a hard drive from a co-worker.  I salvaged the back plate which I trimmed down to just the fan mounting, a power switch, a reset switch, a case fan, dual USB female ports, and the internal hard drive mounting racks.  I built a box out of some pine to fit everything, but it turned out to be too small.  So, I am using the box from a mixer that I picked up for free off of a trash dumpster due to its non-working status.  I was given a power supply by a friend.  I bought some hard drive to USB adapters, a USB hub, and a female USB 'A' to female USB 'B' adapter. 

In the end, I wound up with the following "power station", as I call it.  It powers the four internal hard drives with the power supply (so, only one power cord) and allows them all to be accessed through the single USB 'B' port (so, only one standard USB cable).  It's all USB 2.0 compliant and my data transfer tests resulted in great transfer speeds between drives.  And, it's expandable.  I have space for 3 more hard drives with the racking I put in it.

I no longer needed my computer tower so I will be selling it on Craigslist.  All in all, it was like I was getting paid to make this space-saving upgrade.  I no longer need the desktop computer speakers since the laptop is equipped with some on board.  The two big CRT monitors are gone, replaced by the single flat screen monitor I picked up for cheap from the same friend who donated the power supply to my cause.  Since the laptop serves as a second monitor, I still have two displays from which to work.  The "power station" sits underneath the desk, out of site.  I built a shelf underneath the desktop to hold the printer so it's now out of site.

I'm excited because all the freed up space will allow the desk to be used as a workstation for physical projects now, as well.  And, the main computer of the house can be ejected from the docking station and taken wherever it is needed.  I won't be able to access the files from all the hard drives while it's away from its dock, but I can transfer whatever I need to the laptop and then take it wherever I need to go.  So, this has been a very nice and practical upgrade.

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