The Home Base

August 19, 2011 by Gabe | [mmd] |

On the recent episode of the B&B Podcast, Shawn and Ben had a lengthy discussion about the optimal home computing setup. They got pretty close to what I settled on a couple of years ago. I think this post describes my ideal setup until Thunderbolt is ubiquitous. At that point a MacBook Air could instantly connect to an array of devices through one cable and replace my desktop. I would still keep the MacMini server though.

The Setup

My primary home machine is a 2011 27" iMac. Prior to that I had the first edition MacPro that was loaded with internal drives and 8GB of RAM. I also have a 2010 MacBook (not a MacBook Pro). My post about my backup system pretty well describes the overall setup but I will add some details below.

Network

Last Fall, we renovated a room in our basement and converted it into a luxurious home office. One key design element that was central to the entire project was a Cat6 Ethernet network that would penetrate every location in the house.

I have a network closet in the new office with an SMCGS16 Ethernet switch. This has proven to be a great 16 port switch. The router is rack mounted along with my Verizon FiOS router. My entire house is routed through this switch via Cat6 and I get some pretty impressive local transfer speeds.

If you are only using WiFi, then you will never understand the speed boost you get with copper wires. It's like the difference between walking and a car. Walking is way more convenient for getting up and going but a car sure will get the trip over with faster (unless you drive on I-93 in Boston).

Another benefit of ubiquitous Ethernet is that I don't need to share my WiFi password with guests as much. They can just sit down at the couch with their laptop, reach down and grab a hidden Ethernet cable. Prior to that, I kept a separate 902.11G router running just for guests to use. It's still running but it rarely gets used now.

For WiFi access on the mobile devices, I have an Apple AirPort Extreme router and a 902.11G router that is built into my FiOS network access point. We still use WiFi for our iPads and iPhones and ocassionally a laptop at the kitchen table. We primarily connect to the network through copper wires though.

Primary Machine

27" iMac (2.93GHz Core i7) with a 30" MultiSync LCD (3090WQXi from NEC) connected through DVI.

Extensions

MacBook

  • 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo
  • Lion OS
  • 4GB RAM
  • 500GB boot drive (self installed)

Extensions

  • Dropbox
  • Keyboard Maestro
  • TextExpander
  • 1Password
  • Hazel
  • iStat 3
  • GeekTool (disabled until fixed for Lion)
  • BetterTouchTool
  • Moom
  • DefaultFolder
  • Growl
  • SpiritedAway

Mac Mini Server

  • Lion Server
  • Drobo with 4 X 2TB drives WD Green drives
  • Canon Ink Jet Printer
  • No Mouse, Keyboard or Monitor

Extensions

iOS devices

  • iPad 2
  • iPhone 4
  • iPhone 3G (stationary Pandora player)

Why So Many?

 

An Always on Mac

There are a number of benefits to running an "Always on Mac" at home. Here is a quick list of what my Mac Server is good for: Those Mail filters and folder monitoring scripts are huge. For example, I have OmniFocus Mail rules that perform several functions. If I email myself a file with a specific tag in the subject line, the file is moved to Dropbox and a new OmniFocus task is created with an embedded link to the shared Dropbox file. That way, I can easily access the file from OmniFocus on the iPad or iPhone.

I also have Dropbox folders that trigger events for files. If I put a file into a specific Dropbox folder, then it will be sent to an FTP server automatically. I also have a folder that looks for PDF files. When a new file is identified, it will open it in Preview. When I get home and login to my machine, I am greeted by a full-screen view of the PDF. Subtle.

Finally, and this is an important one for me, with NVAlt running and Syncing with Simplenote, I can have access to my notes through Simplenote and Dropbox simultaneously. I know Simplenote premium accounts already have that option, but I find my solution more reliable and predictable. This means I can edit notes on my iPad via WriteRoom or Nebulous Notes and also on the web through the Simplenote interface. The best of both worlds without having to think about it.

A Portable Mac

So why have a portable Mac like a MacBook? Well, I have a daughter that I REALLY like to be around, even if she's just watching Ponyo. A MacBook allows me to sit next to her and work, but still play and generally be present. There are other benefits that a portable machine provides:
  • Coffee shops
  • Working in class
  • "Vacations"
  • Couch work
  • Loaner for guests
I am generally pretty satisfied with the home base now. I've built it out for years and it now requires very little maintenance and provides a lot of benefits. Many of the benefits were not planned but were fortunate opportunities that came out of having a broad network and multiple machine profiles. Building it was fun, but using it is more enjoyable.

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