Separating work and personal life with 2 MacBooks and 3 displays [Setups]

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That desktop wallpaper is distracting, to say the least.
That desktop wallpaper is distracting, to say the least.
Photo: ImCoolInMyHead@Reddit.com

A problem users face with home computer setups is how to separate work from personal use. Today’s setup brings work and personal laptops to the mix — both M1 Max MacBook Pros, coincidentally — along with three displays, including a massive OLED smart TV.

And as is often the case on social media, solid advice sounded loud and clear above the noise.

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User with 2 M1 Max MacBook Pro laptops and 3 displays seeks to separate home and work lives

Redditor ImCoolInMyHead (“Cool”) showcased the striking multi-use setup in a post entitled, “Need some help with this two computer setup.”

They run two M1 Max MacBook Pro laptops with a big ol’ 48-inch LG C3 Series 4K OLED smart TV with formidable gaming chops. And on either side of it sit two 27-inch Dell UltraSharp 4K displays in portrait mode. That creates quite a striking phalanx of screens.

How to use screens with laptops separately

But Cool has yet to arrive at the best connectivity for his rig to help keep his personal and work lives apart. So he asked for help.

Here’s how Cool introduced his problem:

I’m looking for a way to use this screen setup between both computers. I also have 2 separate sets of hard drives that go to each computer. I’d love to have the least amount of cables going to each laptop, preferably just 1 to each but my hunch is 1 Thunderbolt port can’t drive 3 displays and drives.

I’m thinking of a KVM switch (don’t know which one) and a Thunderbolt dock for each computer? Which would leave me with a HDMI cable and a Thunderbolt cable to each computer, I think. Is this the best solution? Anyone have specific gear recommendations?

Here’s brief answer from a commenter:

One dock for each Mac and one switch per display and one switch for USB for mouse and keyboard … Matrix switches exist but I don’t know if one would fit this setup.

‘Ultimate’ solution: Thunderbolt 4 dock and KVM switch

And here’s a credible longer answer from another commenter:

Yes, you are correct. For each M1 Max laptop (MBP), it can have 3 external displays connected via the Thunderbolt 4 port on it.

The ultimate setup is to put a TB4 docking station between each M1 Max MBP and the 3 monitor sharing KVM switch. So, you need two TB4 dock and one 3-monitor sharing KVM switch.

Let each TB4 dock provides multi video outputs and USB 3.x connection to the KVM switch accordingly. And the TB4 also can provide power (Power Delivery) to each M1 Max MBP. It perfect “single cable” solution for the M1 Max laptop.

All the shared monitors, keyboard, mouse and other USB devices (such USB webcam or USB audio DAC) can be connected to the share console of the KVM switch.

The similar connection drawing will be similar to this one or this for the Mac side connections on it.

But what about the storage in that scenario?

Cool appreciated the response, but asked about his storage array of might fit in:

Are you sure one Thunderbolt port can handle 3 displays? I ask because I have two RAIDs daisy chained together that work fine. They both have 1 DisplayPort and with my old setup I tried plugging both my monitors into the RAIDs but only one worked so I ended up having to run one through the raid and one directly to the computer.

All the KVM switches I’ve seen are HDMI or DisplayPort only. I think I’d want to go for HDMI only (?) but I’d need HDMI-to-USB-C adapters to plug into the Thunderbolt dock. Am I thinking of this correctly?

KVM for 3 monitors

Another commenter responded this way:

Thunderbolt docks usually have HDMI/DP video out options as well, at least good ones do, so that shouldn’t be an issue although since you have 3 screens you might need to adapt one of the Thunderbolt to HDMI/DP to hook them all up.

Finding a KVM that can handle 3 monitors, especially a high refresh rate 4k one, is tough, though. I’d suggest looking at levelonetechs KVM, they have KVM options up to 4PCs/4 displays although the price can be a bit eye-watering.

Are those displays … stable?

With a touch of snark, another commenter noticed the trio of displays may not be super-stable on the small desktop.

“The only thing that’s stopping me from a third monitor is that it would hang off the left side of my desk … looks like that didn’t stop you. Ha, be careful,” they advised.

“Haha, this is just temporary!” Cool replied. ” I’m getting a larger desk (72-inch +) and some arms for them.”

Let’s hope so.

Don’t overlook the cool keyboard

We see no end of Logitech input devices while looking at setups online. But we don’t often see Cool’s keyboard. It’s a Logitech Craft Advanced Wireless Keyboard ($200, but now on sale at Amazon at the link below).

The membrane keyboard features a control knob, though Logi calls it a “creative input dial.” Here’s the description:

The Crown is a tactile aluminium dial that adapts to the app you’re using — giving you instant control of the tool you need. Touch the Crown to access context-specific functions, tap to change function and turn to change the selected function’s value. Requires Logitech Options on Mac OS X and Windows.

What’s up with that desktop wallpaper?

The photograph above makes the desktop wallpaper pop so much that a commenter said, “I just had a seizure looking at this.”

“Yeah, the XDR wallpaper is a bit much, haha,” Cool replied, “I need a multi monitor wallpaper but haven’t looked into it a ton and haven’t seen them for 2 verticals and a horizontal.”

Shop these items now:

Computer:

Displays:

Input devices:

Audio:

If you would like to see your setup featured on Cult of Mac, send some high-res pictures to info+setups@cultofmac.com. Please provide a detailed list of your equipment. Tell us what you like or dislike about your setup, and fill us in on any special touches, challenges and plans for new additions.

KVM Switch for 2 computers and 3 Monitors
$119.99

USB 3.0 HDMI + 2 DisplayPort 4K@60Hz Triple Monitor KVM Switch for 2 Computers Share 3 Monitors with 3 USB 3.0 Ports and Audio Microphone, Keyboard Mouse Switcher.

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02/21/2024 01:01 am GMT

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