How to Set up Multiple Workstations around The Home Running off One Laptop

I want to be able to have 2-3 workstations around the house with anywhere from 1 to 3 monitors plus a keyboard, mouse and webcam at each workstation which all connect back to my laptop. One of the workstations might be up to 30m away. Any clever ideas?

Edit/Update: So many of you have asked what is my use case for wanting such a setup. Here are a few examples:

  1. My wife and I share a home office that is outside the main house. If we both have a video call at the same time one of us needs to go elsewhere.
  2. I often have builds of software running in a virtual machine on my laptop which can take up to 2 hours to complete. After the build is finished I need to perform a few tasks and send an email. If I kick off a build at the end of the day it might finish at 7pm/8pm and I would like to quickly verify the build from within my house, perform the tasks and send the email without having to go back out to the office.
  3. I have a shed about 30m from the house/office that could be fun to work in as a change of scenery every now and then.

Most people have pointed out that I could just have a few hot desks set up to achieve this. I am prepared to do that if I can't find a better option. I really enjoy working on automation projects though and I thought it could be fun to try and achieve 3 different workspaces without having to carry my laptop around or predict where I want to work next.

Regarding having thin clients, raspberry pis and remote desktop software to achieve this I was hoping for a native solution that doesn't involve installing any additional software on my work laptop.

Ideally I want something like the following:

Work Laptop -> USB C cable from the laptop into "X-hub/switcher" -> 3 Ethernet cables to the different workstations -> "X-hub" at the remote workstations that can output video and receive webcam, mouse/keyboard USB devices.

What I am after is finding what I am calling "X-hub" which has USB input and ethernet output. The X-hub at the laptop should be switchable so it only sends the signals to one workstation at a time. If this X-hub can be switched remotely from the workstation then that would be the dream!

Comments

  • +2

    usb c capable laptop and usb c docks at each workstation. take laptop with to each workspace.

    • -1

      I'd like to have the laptop stationary. My use case would be if my laptop is at one location and I'm at the other (say in a shed 30m from my house) I would like to be able to relatively seemlessly sit down at the workstation and be connected to the laptop in the house.

      • +1

        Do some research into Samsung Dex. It allows Samsung Galaxy phones to function as a desktop.

    • -2

      This laptop wont last long.

      Watch it overheat and burn out in no time.
      And gasp for air when 3 people are connected to it (LOL)

      Laptops are not designed to run as servers my friend

      If you want to do this do buy a decent, well ventilated tower computer with heaps of RAM!

    • +1

      This looks very promising. I'll have to check if my laptop supports Thunderbolt 3.

      Edit: $1099.99 for a 30m cable :o

  • You would need a PC at each station. Then you could remote desktop to your laptop?

    • Ideally I'd like to keep the number of devices low. The best solution (if it exists) would be some sort of splitter out of my laptop into 3 USB C docks located in different areas. My laptop can only output to 3 external monitors at a time so there would need to be some way to remotely control the splitter to only activate the hub/dock I'm sitting at.

      • You are looking for a thin client PC. For the distances you want cables are not practical, and you don't want real hardware at each location either.

        Thin clients still come with their own issues and I'm not really sure if that's any software intended for home use.

  • Samsung smart monitor? https://www.samsung.com/au/monitors/flat/smart-m7-32-inch-uh...
    your network would also need to be pretty good. Preferably Wifi6 or ethernet for lower latency (though it should be noted the monitor itself doesn't have ethernet)

    edit: reviews indicate the monitors have rather poor performance. Probably better to buy a bunch of old $120-ish Optiplexes from eBay and set them up as thin clients and use remote desktop.

    • I expect that remote desktop software will be blocked by IT (work laptop).

  • Quick google got this

    Number one on the list is Thinsoft BeTwin

    • I'm looking for a hardware solution I think. The stationary laptop is a work laptop so running remote desktop software on it will most likely be blocked by IT.

  • Any wireless control you achieve like with TeamViewer or something is going to have pretty frustrating lag. Your only choices are to be hardwired in somehow - or use a smaller device for your operating system like a tablet

    • Yep I want it to be seamless. No lag if possible. You are right hardware is my preference. Hopefully a combination of cables and docks.

  • +2

    At 30m away, you're probably looking at IP (network) based KVM solutions, as 30m is well beyond the normal limitations of USB/HDMI/DVI without some sort of repeater/amplifier or an expensive cable with such things built in.
    Do you have good network connectivity at your remote site?
    Something like this could be relatively cheaply done if you already have network connectivity there, using raspberry pis. Although it will require a fair bit of work/tinkering.
    Otherwise there are commercial solutions, but they can be $$$ and not sure how well they'll support USB webcams

    Starting reference https://www.jeffgeerling.com/blog/2021/raspberry-pi-kvms-com...

  • Long-range HDMI or DP cable (e.g. over cat5) or similar, have a splitter at the laptop and set desktop to be mirrored on all displays - then only turn on the one you're using. I'm not sure how to do multiple displays at each station though - if you go with DP and daisy-chain the monitors maybe? Or what you suggested, a big splitter at the laptop and multiple cables.

    You can get long-range USB cables for the keyboard/mouse/webcam, with active repeaters. Or use something like the Belkin network USB hub. There's also "USB over IP" devices but I literally just googled it and don't really know how well they work.

  • +15

    Really seems like you are making things hard for yourself by not being prepared to move the laptop between each workstation (particularly given you want USB C docks/hubs at each workstation anyway).

    Should be a super easy setup of a USB C hub and all your peripherals at each station, and then just have to plug the laptop to a USB C cable at whichever one you go to.

    • +3

      Pretty much - OP is going about things the wrong way which is why nobody's needed to design a solution for it.

    • -4

      Yes that is the easiest solution and I'm prepared to do that - I was just interested to see if people had some clever solutions before I went down that path. The USB C over optical fibre cable that someone else linked to is perfect for what I want but obviously insanely expensive. I didn't know such a cable existed so I consider this post a success. Good to know what the options are!

    • I don't know why I am getting downvoted for saying that I am happy that I have learnt something new from this post…. And yes the easiest solution of carrying the laptop between the different workstations is easy from the solution perspective, but that is not what I am asking for. I am asking for the solution that makes it the easiest from the user perspective where I don't have to think about where I want to work from and I don't have to carry anything between the workstations.

  • +8

    I'm legitimately curious as to why you want to do this?

    • +2

      Yeah, what problem are you trying to solve? Are you expecting multiple people to use this at the same time because that won't happen
      And considering you have a work laptop that will probably be locked down that removes a lot of other options

      Easiest solution will be to move the laptop because that is what they are designed to do, that's the solution to your perceived problem

      • I've updated the post description with some more details.

    • +1

      Obviously OP's house is so big that it's not practical to walk from one end to the other end between toilet breaks.

    • +2

      I often have tasks that run on my laptop and take 1-2 hours to compile. Once the task is complete I have to perform a few actions and send a couple of emails. If I kick off one of these tasks at the end of the work day and it finishes at 7pm, rather than heading back to my home office (which is outside my house) I would like to just sit down at the closest workstation and quickly verify the build and send the emails.

      Yes I could bring the laptop inside with me at the end of the day but I would rather a solution where I didn't have to constantly take my laptop from one workstation to the other.

      • So your wanting to spend big money to save walking to the next room to use the laptop?

        Why are there different "workstations" round the house and not just an office like most people?

        • I never said I wanted to spend big money. I was hoping that USB-C docks, hubs, splitters over Ethernet may have been a common and relatively inexpensive thing by now.

          I do have a dedicated office which is outside the house but I like the idea of having one inside the house and another in the shed which I can sit down at and have multiple monitors and be productive at a moment's notice without having to pre-plan where I am going to be working from next.

      • Setup a compile server? I do heaps of compiles and it is so much more convenient, not to mention the reduced laptop fan noise

        • The compilation is taking place on a server elsewhere but I still need to use my work laptop as the portal into everything I do for work.

  • Probably the easiest and best solution is to have multiple hot desks/workstations. Just always connect to the workstation nearest to where you are. Also tie the mouse to your dogs tail. It will keep your remote work sessions active whilst you are working on the dream car project in the garage 😀

    • Multiple hot desks is the easiest in terms of setup, but not the easiest in terms of my goal of not having to carry anything around between workstations.

  • +2

    KVM over IP extenders such as this one:
    https://www.aten.com/global/en/products/kvm/kvm-extenders/ke....

    There are models with 4K video, usb, audio over Ethernet networks where one endpoint has control and the other ones deactivate. They aren’t cheap though. You’d be looking at about $800 per location then you need a cheap monitor for each spot and you’ll need a network switch

    Why? Surely it’s easier to take the laptop with you. That’s kind of the point of having a portable laptop. There are also portable gaming monitors which are also small enough to move around with the laptop. Unless you are using a really beefy workstation PC in a rack with loads of CPU or GPU power then having remote cables to access to the machine doesn’t seem to make sense.

    Ask your work IT to enable Remote Desktop and do as 99% of other people do. Then you can just use wifi. You haven’t really explained what you are trying to achieve. You say lag is a problem but I remote into PCs on the other side of the planet daily for work tasks. Why is a manageable amount of lag a problem?

    You need to consider what cables have standards for over 40m if you want it cabled : optical thunderbolt or optical HDMI, Cat 6 or fibre networking.

    • Thank you for taking the time to write such a detailed comment - I really appreciate it. In addition to the use case I posted above, another use case is that my wife and I sit next to each other in a little outdoor studio, it's great, but if she is in a meeting and I get a video call of my own come through, rather than unplugging my laptop, I was hoping I could just leave that workstation and head to another one and take my call/meeting.

      Yes it's not the end of the world to take my laptop with me, but I love automating things as much as I love a good bargain. If there was a solution where I could just stand up and walk without having to carry anything and it was a reasonable price I'd be very keen.

      Regarding lag of remote desktop software that's not my main issue with it. My issue is the time I would need to spend booting up the device at the other workstation and then connecting to my laptop. If someone is calling me while my wife is in a meeting I'd want to be able to quickly run inside, turn the monitor on, and answer the call within 30 seconds.

      Also, I'm not sure how I could use a webcam with the remote desktop solution… I haven't looked into it but I feel it might be a bit of a mess trying to have a video call.

      • Audio and video over a remote connection will probably be rubbish and that is if it is allowed and not blocked. We block it in our environment, we also don't allow RDP to workstations so your IT may not allow that. We also block devices so any Thunderbolt, KVM's, USB display adapters may not work. You may not know this until you buy equipment so you will need to be aware of this before purchasing

        With all your requirements and expectations the only reasonable realistic solution is to carry the laptop around with you, stuff just doesn't work as seamlessly as the way you expect it to right now

        • A very sensible answer and it sounds very similar to my workplace. Currently we are allowed to plug in hubs/keyboard/mice/webcams. USB storage devices are blocked. You are right that if I purchase any hardware to make this happen it may be dead in the water due to IT restrictions.

  • What exactly is on the laptop that doesn't work via the cloud… most of my docs live in Google drive, Gmail, Facebook,… maybe an expensive software suite for movie editing? Why in the world would you want three workstationsrunning your laptop? If it is for hard drive data sharing info you don't want in the cloud any NAS drive would do… or sharing drives across a network is not hard…

    • I spend most of my day working off/inside a virtual machine that is hosted on my laptop.

  • Raspberry Pis at each work spot and Remote Desktop Connect (RDC) into the laptop from each location.

  • If cost isn't your concern (doesn't sound like it if you have 3 fully equipped work stations) you could just as easily have 3 computers but have them connected via cloud storage. Most browsers are fully sync'd and you can remap your desktop to be synced via google drive. A cheap chromebook or laptop is more than powerful enough if you're just doing cloud based browsing etc. If you need to do fullscale editing or processing then you're gonna struggle

    • If all my work was in in the cloud then yes this could work, but I need to do all my work through the work laptop I have. Remote Desktopping into my work laptop is achievable but not desirable.

  • Unusual requirement. The only decent solution to this is to have a 'terminal' (i.e. computer of some sort) at each location that remotely connects to your laptop, if it really must be your laptop where you are running your programs. Or just have a PC at each location.

    I would also suggest Raspberry PI's at each location and remote desktop to the laptop, if your budget is on the lower end of the scale. Webcam (and microphone) routing should work fine over remote desktop from the PI e.g. use something like FreeRDP as the remote desktop client. Latency should be ok on your home network. And get a decent PI, like a 4B.

    If your budget is large I'd suggest just running tiny form factor or NUC Windows 10/11 PCs as each workstation (mount them to the back of the monitor to hide them if you want a neater workstation). But with these you may as well just login to them and use them as a PC rather than remote desktopping to the laptop, although you could still remote desktop if you want and webcam/mic can route easily using Microsoft Remote Desktop. But it will work nicer to run your apps natively on those PCs. And if you are using Microsoft 365 office apps and OneDrive, all your office apps and data will be sync'd between all PCs via the cloud anyway, so there shouldn't be anything you need to connect to the laptop for. Only exception may be remote access to files/website/applications at your office which are not part of MS 365 which may require a company VPN which your company only installs on the company laptop and wont let you install on your own PCs.

    And if you are worried about boot up time when you move between workstations, just leave them on or in sleep mode. They will wake up in one or two seconds.

    • Thank you for taking the time to give some advice. I really want to avoid having additional PCs or raspberry Pi's. I really want the native feel of connecting to my work laptop and not having to worry about what things are syncing via the cloud and what are local. Remote Desktop could work but I am not sure what happens if I am connected to my work laptop from a raspberry Pi (for example) and I get a Microsoft Teams video call and click answer. Will it be using my webcam/audio plugged into my laptop or ones plugged into my raspberry Pi. I think it would get quite messy.

  • Just use team viewer to connect to your laptop via a smart phone, tablet or another laptop. You can then do your few tasks and let the main laptop continue processing.

  • What about using a tablet/phone to RDP to your laptop which, I assume, would be on the same network.
    Th is phone/tablet could then be plugged in to each monitor as required. Probably have to use a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse though. Unless you have a USB-C hub or something.

    And just install MS Teams on the tablet/phone

    Hell, you could even cast your phone screen when RDP'd in to you laptop. So as long as there's a tv/device you could cast to you're sweet.

    • Having an instance of MS Teams on the phone/tablet would alleviate my main issue with the Remote Desktop solution everyone is suggesting. My preference would be this in order:

      1. Native setup (30m cables that could extend the video and USB inputs/outputs)
      2. Carrying my laptop between workstations.
      3. Remote Desktopping.
  • I know Linuxmint has "Remote Desktop".

    Can install MS Teams, Zoom, Edge etc on Linux.

  • Sounds like you just need a PC or Workstation setup that can easily be moved between different places. Have you considered buying a laptop and just carrying it with you?

    Edit: Ah beaten

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