I finally completed my home office. I posted about many parts of it previously, but here are photos of the final setup:
Finally received the headache rack yesterday and did some preliminary work to mount the antennas. I am awaiting on some carriage bolts for the other two, but the Tarheel is in place. I need to see how far it cuts into my turning angle with the trailer, but it should be okay. The antenna is tuned to 80M in this case, so usually it would be a lot lower – with the top of the clear surround probably even with the top of the rack. I still have to install the 13″ light bar, CB, and scanner antennas.
I’ve been using the combo of a robust multi-monitor fixed workstation and an ultra-portable notebook for several years. My current workstation is posted on Craigslist, but consists of the following:
The text from the Craigslist post includes the specs, which are:
I also have a Dell Latitude E7440 Business Ultrabook that I use when I need something portable. The main issues with this setup moving forward are that the desktop is impractical to carry in the RV unless we rip out the dinette and replace it with my desk, and that the E7440 is insufficient to be my full-time workstation. I’ve been using triple and quad 1080P monitor workstations for the last several years, and more recently a triple arrangement with a 4K in the middle. My workflows are designed around that and dropping to a single 1080P screen isn’t going to cut it. Also, the E7440 is beginning to show its age and isn’t capable of running the numerous virtual machines I use for local development and testing.
I ran across an article on the Lenovo P70 the other day, and realizing that you can buy a 17.3″ notebook with a 4K screen, decided to start shopping around for one. I can sell my workstation (hence why it is on Craigslist) and replace it with a portable workstation, and keep my E7440 around as a backup if I ever need it, or want something more portable. The three major contenders in the 17″ mobile workstation market now seem to be Lenovo P70, HP Zbook 17 G3, and the Dell Precision 7710. Each run either the 6 gen I7 processors or new Xeon mobile CPUs, have 4K options, and have plenty of storage bays. They’re very similar, so I went with the one that I could find the best deal on. In that case, I ended up with a Dell Precision 7710 unit from the Dell Outlet for $1955. A brand new one with the same specs runs over $3200, and this looks to be in perfect condition. Since these have only been on the market a couple months, it is most likely one that someone had custom built and then returned. It contains an I7-6920HQ, 32GB RAM, a 512GB MSATA SSD, a 1TB 7.2K storage disk, ATI FirePro W5170m 2G graphics, and a 4K panel. 4K on a 17.3″ screen is a bit small, but running at 150% scaling gives me the equivalent of a 2560×1440 screen in a laptop and looks wonderful. The specs of the laptop work well for the kind of work I do, so I think this will do well. The only downside is the size, but I knew what I was getting into. Here is a photo of it with my E7440 sitting on top, for scale:
Our new RV shipped with a Bose Solo sound bar, which fits the small space rather well but leaves a lot to be desired as far as sound quality. I’m a huge fan of constant directivity speakers, and have put a lot of time and money into the 4Pi mains, 3Pi subs, and Crown amps for my living area. It’s a 2.2 setup which favors the fact that we listen to music more often than we watch TV, but fulfills both purposes nicely. A proper CD design and electronic room adjustments go a long way towards emulating surround sound. After living with this setup for several years, the Bose Solo in the RV doesn’t leave either of us satisfied.
When redoing my home office last year, I picked up a set of JBL LSR305 mains and a JBL LSR310S subwoofer. They share a lot of design ideas with the Pi speakers in my living room, but are on a much smaller scale, and have built-in class D amplification. I chose them based on hours of research online, and firmly believe that they are the best bang for the buck in speakers for smaller rooms. They blow most speakers twice their price away in my opinion, after sampling many speakers at local hifi stores. That makes them a prime candidate for the RV because it’s a small(ish) room, needs small(ish) speakers, and I don’t want to spend too much or sacrifice sound quality.
I didn’t grab a photo of the area in our RV, but this is one like it that I found on Google images:
The 48″ TV measures 42.5″ across the top, and the entire console area is 57.5″ wide. That gives me 15″/2 or 7.5″ to work with. The JBL LSR305s are 7.28″, so they’ll clear the TV on both sides. The TV is on an electronic mount that drops down into the console to expose the window, so we can’t have anything sitting on the console itself. Instead, we must either wall mount or ceiling mount them from the above console. I chose to go with ceiling mounts that will suspend the 11.75″ tall speakers 6.5″ from the overhead console, and 14″ above the base since the distance between them is 32.25″.
Moving to controls, I spent an awfully long time looking at low profile receiver and pre-amp options (need to be under 4.875″ to fit in the area the Bose sits) to power them, but could only find things in the $300+ range that weren’t exactly what I wanted. Then I realized that the TV has analog line out, that is volume controlled, and has two HDMI inputs for sources as well as the cable/antenna in. I opted to order an array of cables to connect everything together, including a wireless sub kit, that will allow me to move the sub out of the way. I finished the setup with a PS4 for gaming/ Netflix/ Hulu/ Spotify duties, a Roku Streaming Stick for HBO Now, and some cable management gear.
As I mentioned in a previous post, Internet connectivity while in the RV is somewhat difficult to come by. WiFi is often available, but usually worse than cell coverage.
I decided to address this by purchasing a Ubiquiti NanoStation M2 and a Ubiquiti airGateway. The M2 is a powerful commercial wireless radio that contains an integrated antenna and can transmit with much more power, and receive weaker signals than consumer tablets and cell phones. Because I want a clean mount and footprint, I purchased a Ubiquiti Window/Wall Mount. The mount is designed for the M2, but I was able to use 1″ long drywall screws (due to coarse threads) to mount the airGateway to it as well. I have it powered up through the included PoE injector, which is also mounted on the same. I only had a 3′ Ethernet cable, and 1′ would have worked better, but 3′ wrapped around the backside of the M2 nicely and is hidden from the front. The entire assembly looks like this:
I configured each device in bridge mode and gave them static management IP addresses. The M2 radio is in station mode, and connects to the camp (or other) WiFi. It then bridges the connectivity to the ethernet interface, which is on the WAN side of the airGateway. Since the airGateway is also in bridge mode, the WAN side is bridged to the LAN side which is in access point mode serving up a custom SSID, for example “WifiBooster”. When we connect/ authenticate to that SSID, our machines are fully bridged up to the camp WiFi and we have access to the Internet.
It’s pretty simple to jump on the M2 and change the SSID each time we roll into a new camp, and the interface is simple:
The suction mount can be replaced with a screw mount, also included, so I may consider permanently attaching it somewhere in the RV. I’m not sure yet. And with any public WiFi source, I recommend using a trusted VPN to encapsulate all of your traffic. If interested in detailed instructions about the configuration of the devices, leave a comment.
Internet connectivity is a major problem for us working out of the RV. As we work in IT, it’s difficult to work without it, and it’s not the easiest to come by on the road. Most RV parks offer WiFi service, but it’s subjective to a lot of variables such as usage, distance, and weather that make it, in our experience, difficult to rely on. I ordered a few parts to enhance WiFi reception for us, but those have not arrived yet so I’m only going to post about our 4G Internet for now.
We carry both Verizon and AT&T hotspots with us. We chose Verizon because they have the best coverage, both in our experience and what we’ve read online, and use them for our primary cellular provider. We currently have the 20GB family plan, with the a Verizon Jetpack on it for $20 extra a month. We also carry a AT&T hotspot that is an add-on to my parent’s plan. I don’t think we’ve ever used it, but I’m sure a time will come where we need to get online and AT&T is the only one with reception. It cuts into their shared data plan so we avoid it at all costs, and I think it runs something like $10/month. I need to figure out the exact number and start sending them the cash to cover it every month.
This month we blew through our 20GB cap while spending a week in Houston, so we’re going to pay about $60 in overage fees. I had been looking for a way to get unlimited VZ data for a while, but had not found a solution because they don’t offer unlimited plans anymore, and have supposedly made purchasing from a third party and assuming the liability of them much more difficult. As of the last time I checked, you could find an unlimited plan on Ebay for around $200 per month, which is way more than they cost to provide. I wasn’t quite prepared to spend that kind of money, so I held off and paid overages as necessary. This time around I went back to Ebay, and looked at some of the more obscure auctions. A lot of people were still asking around $200 per month, though several had dropped their prices down to around $150. I found one guy who seems to sell the plans in bulk and he was only asking $120 per month. I decided to take my chances and ordered the SIM ($5) and paid for the first month. The way these work is the people or companies keep the plans in their name and lease them out to you on a monthly basis. This plan happens to be through a small wireless company located on the West Coast.
Unlimited Verizon data for $120/month! I’m not sure how long it will be available but looks to be working and we’re excited to have it. It’s a small price to pay when we can lose so much money by not having it, and we will not have to worry about overages anymore. I use an inexpensive external antenna on the Jetpack, which seems to add about a bar of signal most of the time.