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My Retro Desk/Gaming Setup in 2021

A peaceful co-existence of old and new

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Thanks to my resurgent interest in retro computing, I discovered others' setups and blogs that inspired me to completely rework my home office. Of course, COVID-19 also made sure I invested in better office equipment at home. Well, better is subjective. It will never be as cool as The Byte Cellar: I simply don’t have the space (nor permission from my wife; nor the nostalgic connection with many older machines). “Post your gaming setup” is a yearly tradition at the ResetEra forums, but the Reset community is mainly a next-generation console-centered one that showcases mostly shiny TVs in living rooms.

Still, I always feel a bit inspired flicking through photos of others' setups - so why not post my own that hopefully does the same. Inevitably, IKEA made some money in the progress. I’ve looked at alternatives, but none are as ecological (the desk is made of recycled paper honeycomb) or as cheap as what IKEA offers. Searching on the net for “ikea linnmon gaming” results in more inspiration material I dutifully stole some ideas from. Right, so here goes.

An overview

The desk setup: an overview.

The room is small, so fitting in as much stuff as possible while still feeling spacious and calming was one of the main goals. The LINNMON desk is 60cm deep, so installing an old CRT screen was sadly out of the question, unless I positioned it in a corner - which was already being occupied by my WinXP horizontal case (that allows for convenient cable hiding). I really wanted a nice curving corner desk especially for that. In the end, the setup consists of three pieces of LINNMON: one 1m straight piece (to the left), one corner piece, and one 1.2m straight piece (to the right).

Another priority was cable management. I hate the sight of cable clutter - or any sort of clutter, come to think of it. It prevents my mind from entering a clear and peaceful state where I can think straight. Beneath every piece of desk, I installed cable raceways, and I paid special attention to which cable should go to where. The switch was also taped upside-down to the center piece, to keep Ethernet cables out of sight as much as possible. All three parts have one single power strip that feed all electrical devices, and keep things separated. Let’s take a closer look at what’s installed.

Zoomed In

1. Left: The 486 machine

Zoomed in on the 80486.

Next to the doorway, we have the least amount of space. I would love to get a decent CRT screen coupled with my 486 machine, but space constraints make this impossible. The 17" DELL screen does an okay job at displaying old VESA CGA/VGA resolutions, but it’s far from great. At least now everything fits nicely. As a big fan of the original Monkey Island games, I framed the cover art (printed as high quality posters), that blends perfectly with the 1990s retro theme.

In the above photo, it’s a bit hard to see, but this setup already mixes old (the obvious 486) with new (the newer LCD screen, the SD card based HDD mod, and the S2 wavetable board). I especially love the mechanical old keyboard, which was taken apart and thoroughly cleaned a couple of months ago. Things still on the wish list: a set of original Roland speakers, and of course a Roland MT-32 MIDI syntheziser or one of the more recent Sound Canvas devices.

2. Middle: The Win98/XP machines

Zoomed in on the Win98/WinXP setup.

Here, again the space saving strategy is clearly visible: there’s only one screen, the DELL UltraSharp 2007WFP I bought in 2007. The screen can handle VGA, DVI, S-Video and composite, and you can change input channels through the menu system. My WinXP machine is setup for DVI, while my Win98SE machine still relies on the good ol' analog VGA cable. I loved that Antec horizontal case back in the day because I could shove it under my drawer set, mounted and hanging on the desk backside.

Only having one physical location for both PCs does have some downsides: I had to buy an USB2 hub that allows me to quickly switch using keyboard and mouse from one PC to the next. Since the Win98 USB drivers aren’t great, this was a bit of a pain to get working. Luckily, it’s quite effortless now! The only thing that is still left to do is to make a simple analog audio mixer that allows me to use one set of speakers for both machines. Replugging cables is not much fun.

What is much fun, though, is classic 1999-style case modding: I tore apart the old AOpen classic beige PC midi tower with a whipsaw, bought a couple of 5/12V led strips, and put in a piece of plexiglass. The intention is to do the same for the 486. The reason why the towers are positioned like that is, again, space constraints, but now I can also show off the actual retro hardware! Bonus points for those who can guess which game is running (on Win98).

3. Right: The MacBook Air

The 'work' corner: a MacBook and recent screen.
  On to the work corner, where I employed a minimalistic strategy that relies on a cool DELL UltraSharp U2421E USB-C Hub Monitor and the TwelveSouth MagicBridge that marries the Apple Keyboard with the Trackpad. I bought the monitor last month and I’m extremely pleased with it: it eliminates the need of an external hub and it eliminates the need to have an untidy power cable lying around, as it also charges through USB-C. Furthermore, you can even plug in an Ethernet cable - which I did - that allows for a more stable Internet connection. Working on my M1 MacBook Air was never that satisfying. Unfortunately, the 24" DELL screen isn’t the best in terms of pixel intensity, especially compared to the native screen of the Mac. Those specialized screens were much, much more expensive.

On top of the Win98 tower, you can spot an AirPlay-enabled Pioneer XW-SMA4-K from 2009 that’s also connected to the switch. I’ve had problems with streaming music to it because of the unstable WiFi signal and the slow WiFi receiver from my previous MacBook. A Stereo Jack plug works, but introduces another cable, and removes the biggest advantage of this setup: when I want to physically move my laptop to my lap in the comfy chair (see below), the music stops. The box is mainly used to stream music while working from home - to great frustration of my wife.

I also plan to connect the last piece of retro hardware, the Nintendo GameCube, to the screen using a GCHD MK-II HDMI adapter - the video signal of the laptop goes through USB-C. The only stupid mistake I made a couple of years ago was to sell of a large portion of my GameCube collection, including the amazing wireless WaveBird controller…

The Book Wall

The other side of the wall: my mini-library.

When you turn your back to the retro crazyness, you will see a few bookcases and a cozy chair (Note the 486 keyboard in the lower right). The intention was to comfortably play on the GameCube from the chair, but 24" is a tad too small for that. I decided against buying a 27" screen, as that would be too big for the limited depth of the LINNMON setup. Thanks to COVID, the chair (yup, also IKEA) sees a lot of use when my back hurts because of that cheap IKEA office chair I still need to replace.

On the shelves, I keep a happy mix-mash of our non-fiction books, which is only a portion of what we have. I love being around books, so naturally, they had to be present. Those who look well enough will discover a few Magic: The Gathering boxes I couldn’t fit in our boardgame closet - someday, we should sell some stuff…

Wait, I sense something is missing!

Your senses would not be misleading you! My relished Game Boy (Color/Advance) and Nintendo (3)DS collection currently resides in multiple other rooms, scattered around the house. There wasn’t enough room to show off dozens of plastic cases. Future work might include mounting simple shelves against the wall below the skylight. They do not need to be very sturdy so it shouldn’t take up that much extra space.

The retro big box PC games and the Nintendo GameCube miniDVDs I still own are tucked away in the cabinet behind the reading chair. I sadly don’t own that many anymore: moving three times didn’t help in preserving these. Most of my retro PC collection nowadays consists of gog.com downloads, which is a bit of a pain to get up and running on older operating systems because of the Windows 10 installer. As for the Nintendo SNES cartridges and more recent Nintendo Switch games, they are of course kept in a drawer close to the TV, as both machines are connected to a screen in our living room.

I also have a mini SNES and mini PS1 lying around somewhere, but due to lack of HDMI ports on the TV, they don’t see much use. That was another reason why I wanted that GameCube in my retro room. There are only so many consoles (and games) you can devote your time to, and I’ve always been more of a PC and handheld gamer myself.

If there is anything you’d like more specifications of, just let me know!

I'm Wouter Groeneveld, a level 35 Brain Baker, and I love the smell of freshly baked thoughts (and bread) in the morning. I sometimes convince others to bake their brain (and bread) too.

If you found this article amusing and/or helpful, you can buy me a coffee - although I'm more of a tea fan myself. I also like to hear your feedback via Mastodon or e-mail. Thanks!

@StampedingLonghorn @256 Don't forget the cleverly hidden Roland MT-32, a majestic piece of pre-MIDI standardized era synthesizer. What else would you use to run Sierra Online games, and monkey1? I really need one for my 486… https://brainbaking.com/...

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