The Tools: Hardware.

27th September 2023
9 min read

If you haven't already gathered, I work in a home office. When I started Virtimachi, NSW was firmly stuck in lockdown, so it made sense for me just to start there. The plan was to eventually outgrow the home office and into something with a sign out the front and trendy furniture in the foyer. Now that I've decided to just be myself, it makes even more sense to keep the home office and I probably wont pursue an office at all now.

Following on from my The Tools: Software article, here is a list of the hardware I use to run my design consulting. It's worth a reminder too than none of these things make you a designer. You can be a great designer without a 4070Ti, without a mechanical keyboard, and without an MSLA printer. Sure, they can make life easier or better, but none of them are necessary.

Computing Power

The Workhorse

This is a pretty new addition to Studio Lincoln, only a few months old. After several years flogging the below laptop, I felt I really needed to invest in a better workstation. If for no other reason than to get renderings done much much faster. This was a custom build, trying to balance reliability with performance for the applications I use. Specifically, I opted for a CPU with high single-thread performance for Solidworks, and then a beefy GPU for Keyshot. I also deliberately went for a full blacked-out build, rather than some RGB spectacle. Key specs below for anyone interested:

  • Corsair 5000D Case
  • Ryzen 9 7950X3D CPU (air cooled)
  • Asus ProArt RTX 4070 Ti
  • Asus ProArt X670E Motherboard
  • 128GB 6400MHz DDR5

Honourable Mention: Metabox P955 (2019)

Prior to the upgrade to a full workstation, I was running a "workstation" laptop for several years. I had opted for a Metabox (Clevo) laptop at the time as they appeared to be excellent value. This one was/is fitted with a Quadro GPU and a 4K screen. While indeed they were excellent value, I wouldn't recommend one. I don't think the hardware is well optimised, and I never got the performance out of it I expected. I also had a lot of weird graphics artifacts that cropped up from time to time in Solidworks and Excel (of all things) that were eventually rectified with bios updates.

I would even go one further and not recommend a workstation laptop at all unless you absolutely cannot get by without one. I went with the laptop at the time as I was commuting and had no dedicated office space. I also wasn't doing any heavy rendering then. The desktop has far better watts per dollar, and can be upgraded as you go.

I'm not currently using the laptop presently, but my son does use it to play Minecraft. I do intend to give it a refresh, replace the battery, and use it to pose write at the beach occasionally.

Input Devices

Glorious GMMK TKL Keyboard

I spend a lot of time at my keyboard. Especially now I'm writing a lot more. I bought the GMMK when I didn't really know how deep the mechanical keyboard rabbit hole went, but have mostly confined the mods (and cost) to this board. For anyone interested, I run lubed Gateron Pro Red switches, foam/tape/bandaid mods, stock lubed stabilisers, and Akko ASA WoB keycaps. You might also spot my own Virtimachi artisan keycap 😝. The typing experience is excellent. I don't think I could ever go back to a membrane board.

Logitech G502X Wired Mouse

I wouldn't say my hands are large, but after using a Logitech G9x for a very long time, I appreciated a mouse with some additional width. I spent quite a lot of time looking at options and fortunately the G502X launched almost at the same time. The G502X comes in wired, wireless, and a wireless with RGBs. The wired one just means I don't need to ever worry about charging it. I have most of the additional buttons set up to do things in Solidworks (shortcut bar etc).

Logitech G Pro Superlight Mouse

This one is a bit of an extravagance. I don't use it at all for design work, only for FPS games. The G502X is pretty hefty, and the Superlight is startlingly light in comparison. I've also upgraded it with Corepad Skatez PTFE feet.

Custom 7x4ish Macropad

Ok, this is perhaps where I get a bit divergent.

In a previous job I did a lot of CAD modelling. And when you're doing CAD work at any kind of speed, it stops making sense pretty quickly to be using the mouse and keypad with your right hand while your left just atrophies. As with the G9x, I used to use a Logitech G13 set up as a keypad to enter digits with my left hand. I also had it set up for a few macros that made life easier and faster in Solidworks, for both modelling and creating design drawings. When it eventually died, I set about trying to custom build my own. Because why not.

For anyone interested, this keypad is built using a Teensy LC running QMK. The case is 3D printed (FDM), as are the keycaps (SLA). The legends are wax-filled, and I'm pretty stoked how they turned out. The switches are leftover Gateron Reds. It's worth noting that the very right column of the keypad is set up in QMK as F-keys F13 through to F17 (did you know F-keys went up to F24?). I then use AutoHotKey to convert the F-key into a macro through software. This makes it easy to change without flashing a new firmware.

Recently a good friend of mine gifted me another (now rare) G13, so occasionally I get that out to use too.

Custom 2x2 Macropad

Ok, this was really another 'because why not'. I had an extra Teensy LC, so made an extra keypad that I use to perform a few important tasks, like opening Spotify and play/pause. Per my other keypad, I have the buttons set up as F-Keys F18-F24 (two layers), and use AutoHotKey to interpret those into other macros.

Razer Kiyo X Webcam

At the time I bought this, in the middle of lockdown, webcams were running for extortion levels of money. I did want to opt for a HD webcam. Being able to present myself in HD I felt left a better impression on those with good [network] connections. And given our beloved NBN is starting to give us decent bandwidth, I figured it would be worth the investment. The Razer Kiyo X was a well-reviewed webcam that didn't cost hundreds of dollars. Worth noting though that I have not installed Razer's awful support software, which I'm sure would give me a few more settings to play with.

RØDE NT-USB Microphone

For the same reason I bought the HD webcam, I bought the mic, albeit at a later date. Having a dedicated microphone provides a better experience to those on the other end of the call. While I don't need it currently for anything other than video calls, it's nice to know it will serve me well if I ever wanted to record some audio or video. I don't mount it on a boom arm, but it does tuck in nicely under my monitors. To be honest, I really only bought the RØDE because ex-colleague and stalwart of the industry Lisa Gyecsek used to work there. But this one reviewed well, and was plug and play with my PC.

Output Devices

Asus TUF VG27AQ 27" (x2) Monitors

I really just picked what was the right size and resolution, and decently priced. These monitors are 2K, rather than 4K. After having a 4K screen on my laptop, while it is nice to look at, I felt anything more than 2K didn't really stack up in the cost/benefit analysis. I preferred to spend the extra on the increased refresh rate. If I was to go again, I'd probably opt for a super-wide single monitor, but to buy one currently that offers the same real estate as these two is still very expensive.

Sennheiser PXC550 Headphones

I actually picked these up with Frequent Flier points many years ago, so I didn't pay retail. They've served me well for a long time, and I've had to replace the earcups a couple of times. They mostly live permanently attached to my PC now. They can run wired and wireless, but I usually run them wired and the battery stays mostly flat. They're a great sounding pair of headphones, but the touch controls on the side are pretty rubbish.

Creality Ender 5 FDM Printer

I don't need to say much about 3D printers. They're awesome. I bought the Ender 5 several years ago and it's been an absolute workhorse since. I do hear mixed reviews about the Enders, some have no troubles while others have constant issues. Mine has worked flawlessly. I've replaced the bed with a glass bed, and swapped out worn nozzles, but otherwise I haven't done anything to it. I've considered upgrading it to the Bambu X1, but the idea of being locked into their proprietary parts and software doesn't appeal to me. I'll just keep hammering away with the Ender 5 until it gives out.

Elegoo Mars 3 MSLA Printer

An MSLA printer is an excellent compliment to the FDM printer, especially as an Industrial Designer. Being able to print finely detailed parts that can represent injection moulded components is a valuable addition to the development process. The 4K screen delivers super crisp prints, and the build volume is just big enough. Likewise I haven't done anything to this other than replace the FEP sheets a few times. The only problem I have with the Mars 3 is being locked into using the Chitubox software. It's pretty bad, though does get the job done. They do push their Pro version, but you don't need it and based on my experience with the lite version, I wouldn't pony up for it.

Canon Pixma TS3400

It's a printer. It prints shipping labels mostly.


Corsair MM350 XL Desk Mat

Despite being just an oversized mouse mat, I did do quite an unnecessary amount of research on which ones were the best. It's been pretty great, easy to clean, and hasn't 'buffed' under where the mouse glides. Even after a couple of years of use.

Future Tweaks

As mentioned above, maybe I might upgrade to a super-wide monitor one day. But that said, it won't make me a better designer. I'm not even sure it would improve my workflow, so we'll see. I will also replace the Ender 5 at some point, but presently it's running like a dream, so I won't fix what ain't broke.

I do have one caveat that I haven't yet mentioned. I have a Huion Kamvas Pro13 tucked away that I haven't really learnt to use yet. I love the idea of it more than the desire to improve my skills in using it. I will eventually get it out and do some practice with it. Whether I replace my pen and paper rendering with it, is probably unlikely.

That's It!

As before, I'd be keen to hear your thoughts on what I use, or what you use instead. Don't hesitate to leave a comment on my LinkedIn post.

I'm writing every week on the topics of design, medtech, and my journey in it. If you'd like to follow along, feel free to either subscribe to the newsletter or give me a follow on LinkedIn. Stay tuned for a deep dive on my analogue items next. I'm excited for that one.

Tagged: consulting · design · design studio · hardware · virtimachi