If you are using a laptop as your default workstation, you are not only using it for a grossly unsuitable application, but you are also endangering your health and overall wellbeing. Laptops are primarily designed for computing in quick, short bursts while on the move. And that’s why they prioritise portability over performance and ergonomics.
Most laptop users discover this the hard way and eventually consider switching to proper desktop computers at the doctor’s advice. Unfortunately, the perpetual chip shortages have made acquiring a new desktop PC a prohibitively expensive affair.
Does that mean you are stuck with the difficult choice between breaking the bank for a new desktop computer and just suffering through the literal pain and agony of using a laptop for work? Thankfully, there’s a third option.
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It is possible to reap the ergonomic benefits of a desktop PC, with just a few additional strategic purchases. These accessories are available relatively easily and cheaply, and will make your computing experience pain free.
Let’s take a look at how you can go about converting your laptop into a pseudo-desktop setup in seven easy steps.
1. First, Let’s Fix the Ergonomics
Let’s make one thing clear—it is not possible to modify your laptop to deliver the performance of a desktop computer. However, we can achieve ergonomic parity with a desktop PC by making good use of existing household furniture and opting for a few inexpensive upgrades.
In other words, let’s break down what’s needed to make laptop computing significantly more comfortable.
Step 1: Move To A Proper Desk
Using your laptop on the bed, sofa, or a bean bag on a long-term basis are a guaranteed means to acquire all sorts of orthopaedic ailments of the neck, shoulders, and the back. While a coffee table is a definite upgrade, since it moves the laptop away from your lap and onto a stable work surface, it still lacks the shape and size necessary to accommodate all the upgrades and accessories needed for the desktop conversion.
There’s a reason why the word desk is included in the term desktop computer. Moving your laptop to one is the elementary step towards converting it into a desktop setup. Make sure the desk you choose is rectangular, and at least three feet wide and two feet deep. Larger is better, but desks that are smaller than that are inadequate for this purpose.
Be sure to avoid the ones that feature slide-out compartments for the keyboard and mouse. These are an ergonomic nightmare, and you should ideally place the keyboard and mouse on the desk and not underneath it. Steer clear of desk designs that don’t allow you to rest your legs comfortably underneath. Intricate designs that obstruct the footwell are guaranteed to cause discomfort over time.
Step 2: Upgrade To An Office Chair
Working from home entails sitting for at least eight hours. Budgeting for a decent office chair is critical to avoiding posture-related discomfort. Poorly designed chairs fail to provide adequate lumbar support, which results in slouching and back ailments. That also means avoiding gaming chairs, because these are notorious for causing neck and back discomfort.
The illustration above represents the ideal posture one must assume while working for extended periods. That’s why, in addition to back support, a well-designed chair should offer ample height adjustment. This allows you to sit at a height where your wrists are level with your elbows, while your feet rest flat on the ground.
In many instances, even a height-adjustable office chair cannot satisfy both of those requirements. That can, however, be remedied with a decent footrest.
2. You’ll Need A Separate Monitor
The 13 or 14-inch display attached to your laptop is woefully small for long term usage. At the bare minimum, you need at least a 22-inch desktop monitor for a comfortable experience. Ideally, you are better off with 24 or 27-inch monitors. We have listed a few good affordable monitors in our separate article.
Your display should be an arm’s length away, with the top of the monitor level with your eyes. None of which are possible in a laptop where the screen is attached to the keyboard.
Most desktop monitors come with ample height adjustment to achieve that, but a separate monitor arm will allow you to raise, lower, tilt, pivot, and rotate your display in any orientation. Some aftermarket monitor arms also support multiple displays, which improve productivity.
Most modern computer monitors have ample brightness, so that isn’t a problem. However, make sure that you don’t have a bright window located directly behind the monitor, or otherwise have any bright light sources competing with the screen. The resulting glare will cause headaches and eye strain. Either dim the lights or use lamp shades and window blinds to soften the harsh light.
3. Add External Keyboard And Mouse
Using an external monitor with your laptop involves operating it with the lid closed. That also makes it impossible to use the attached keyboard and trackpad. That’s a great excuse to upgrade to a proper mouse and a standalone keyboard.
Step 1: How To Choose A Mouse
Most modern mice use state-of-the-art optical sensors that can track reliably on all kinds of surfaces at high DPI (dots per linear inch) settings. You want a mouse that can support at least 1800 DPI because higher DPIs allow the mouse pointer to cover larger on-screen distances for relatively smaller real-world hand movements.
This is especially true when using a high resolution 4K displays and also helps mitigate computing hazards, such as carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) and repetitive strain injury (RSI). In fact, trackballs are specifically designed to reduce hand movements and are an ideal option for those suffering from these occupational ailments.
Modern wireless mice work just as well as their wired counterparts while reducing desktop clutter, but you still have to worry about battery life. Either way, be sure to buy a decent mousepad or a large desk mat. It’s easier to move the mouse around on a low-friction surface.
Step 2: Buying The Right Keyboard
If you thought buying a mouse was confusing, you don’t want to go down the custom keyboard rabbit hole. If you really insist on knowing the nitty-gritties associated with expensive keyboards, this primer will get you up to speed. However, those seeking a reliable and cost-effective replacement for their laptop keyboard might want to stick around for our no-nonsense recommendations.
Unless you are extremely short on cash, you should ideally opt for a mechanical keyboard. Unlike cheap membrane keyboards, these use spring-loaded mechanical switches that are significantly easier to type on. This reduces the force required to make individual key presses and go a long way towards reducing finger fatigue and the risk of contracting RSI.
Fortunately, brands such as Zebronics and Redragon offer fairly competent mechanical keyboards for as low as ₹2,000 in full-size and tenkeyless form factors. If you haven’t referred to the aforementioned keyboard primer, a tenkeyless keyboard does away with the numpad to save desk space.
Wireless mechanical keyboards are needlessly expensive and not recommended due to their inherent unreliability. Wireless functionality also doesn’t add much value to a keyboard, since you don’t necessarily need to fling a keyboard around like a mouse. Just use the money elsewhere if it’s burning a hole in your pocket.
4. Make The Laptop Disappear
In case you haven’t noticed, with the laptop display, keyboard, and trackpad out of the equation, you usually won’t interact with your laptop unless you’re switching the power button on and off. It would be wise to save precious desk space by moving the laptop out of the way.
There are two primary ways of going about this task.
The simpler, more convenient, method involves purchasing a vertical laptop stand. Don’t confuse them with the regular laptop stands designed to prop up the laptop display, these allow the laptop to be propped up vertically with the lid closed. The idea is to move the laptop to an inconspicuous corner of the desk in order to free up some real estate for the keyboard and mouse.
Those who insist on using every single square inch of desk space might want to consider a slide-out laptop tray that can be mounted under the desk. This conveniently gives access to the power button as well as USB/HDMI ports on your laptop without taking up any desk space. Besides, having the laptop located under the desk is also great for keeping the mess of cables out of sight.
5. You Probably Need External Speakers
Most laptops speakers are designed to work with the lid open and the user seated in front. This evidently isn’t the case with our setup. You might need to purchase external speakers if you care for the quality and loudness of the sound setup. There’s no upper limit when it comes to audio, but a simple pair of stereo speakers will work wonders to improve sound quality.
Throw in a 2.1 speaker setup, replete with a subwoofer, to add some infrasonic depth to action movies. At the other end of the spectrum, even the cheapest Bluetooth speakers will be a definite improvement over the stock laptop speakers. Either way, upgrading to any external speakers is highly recommended.
6. Hooking Up All The Components
We have separated the display, keyboard, and mouse from the laptop and set it away under the desk. The next step involves hooking all these external components to the laptop. If you own an Apple laptop, you will need a dedicated dock to connect everything to it. Fortunately, regular Windows laptops have enough HDMI, audio, and USB ports to connect everything we need, in addition to an onboard SD card reader.
You will still have at least one USB port free to connect an external storage or a printer, but you can also purchase a USB hub to add more connectivity. Modern Windows laptops also feature USB Type-C or Thunderbolt ports that can handle video output as well as support laptop docks supporting higher bandwidth connectivity. This is especially true for newer thin-and-light laptops that aren’t thick enough to accommodate full-sized HDMI or Ethernet ports.
7. Tie It All Up With Cable Management
Under-the-desk cable raceways are simple and inexpensive means to keep the cable clutter out of sight. These come in various shapes and sizes and are large enough to accommodate even laptop chargers, in addition to hiding away all the cables required to keep your workspace running.
Although optional, this step goes a long way towards freeing up desk space by pre-emptively eliminating the tangled mess of cables. And this is all you need to do to transform your laptop into an ergonomically sound desktop-like setup.
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