device setups (cd)

Table of Contents



Mac Mini + Mac Pro + M28U (Iteration C, 2023) (toc)

New peripherals:
  • OWC TB4 Dock
New cables:
  • USB-C ⇔ USB-A (for KVM switch)
Free cables:
  • USB-C ⇔ USB-C (10 Gbit/sec)
Free ports:
  • Everything on dock
  • None on Mini
Shot of the user-facing (front) view of the setup. Distinctly new is a USB dock/hub, which provides additional ports than what is available on a computer through one connecting cable, and offers easier user access. It's sitting neatly on the left-hand side of the desk, roughly parallel with wired keyboard and plugged-in trackpad; these are the only wires which actually take up space in the entire setup, with everything else in shadow behind the monitor, almost flush with the wall. Close-up shot of the setup at an angle. An iPod Touch is plugged into a charging wire connecting to the rear of the USB dock; on the front the only connection is the host port which plugs into the Mac Mini, but there is also an SD card slot, a normal USB-A port, and an aux audio port. The wires behind the monitor are a little clearer here, and look like a bit of a brain in the shadows, with most cables curving down and snaking behind the desk. Close-up shot of the cables connected to the Mac in particular. From bottom to top: USB-A with a U-turn threading behind the Mac Mini and plugging into an external backup drive; USB-A with a thick, braided, zebra-colored wire curving extra length beneath the desk and snaking up to the monitor; symbol-marked Thunderbolt 4 USB-C coming forward and connecting to the USB dock; Silkland-branded USB-C also wrapping under the desk and eventually reaching the monitor; yellow ethernet cable going off into the distance, eventually reaching the Mac Pro; and power cable for the Mac Mini. A tiny aux jack is also plugged in near the bottom. The only free port is HDMI, which is lower-capability on the Mac Mini M1 model, so isn't ideal for a primary monitor.

The obvious addition here is OWC's Thunderbolt 4 Dock, which makes swappable peripheral access (including data/charge connections for phones) a lot easier. I considered getting a hub specially shaped for the Mac Mini, but decided on this one for its better performance (they're full-phat Thunderbolt 4 ports!). I'm glad to share it fits the setup well, too: the Mac Mini with its cable hell remain cleanly tucked away, and the dock takes up a thin rectangle of space on the left of my desk, providing easy port access without getting in the way. (Thunderbolt dock roster link forthcoming.)

This is the third major iteration of the Mini/Pro/M28U setup, but the progress shines best in comparison with another in-between step, shortly after acquiring the Thunderbolt 4 dock:

View from above of cable management for a somewhat more chaotic setup than what's pictured earlier, with a flashlight brightening up the wiring some. Many ports on the Thunderbolt dock are used, including aux, ethernet, and all three USB-C ports; there are a few free slots on the Mac Mini. Several cables trace between various devices, and the Thunderbolt dock serves more as an extension to key connections than to give easy access to external ports. Excuse the crude description, but it's kind of like the 'brains' of the setup are smushed across the entire left-hand desk surface!

In that in-between setup, a number of connections which really belong to the computer are moved over to the dock. One of these is out of necessity: the dock uses one USB-C Thunderbolt 4 connection to meet its data rates, and the M28U's DisplayPort is connected via the other internal USB-C slot on the Mini. The KVM switch requires an additional connection port (while I believe it's possible to simultaneously transfer video and input data over one USB-C cable, the actual DP cable ending doesn't have provide the appropriate interface for that) — the only remaining USB-C ports are now on the dock, so it goes there.

(The other connections are foolish, i.e. ethernet and audio/aux: these are both just fine to stay on the Mini's built-in slots and were temporarily moved. Ethernet for quicker testing, aux because this dock didn't want to connect to normal wired earbuds!)

The new setup moves the obvious connections back where they belong and tidies the rest with the introduction of a USB-A to USB-C cable. This is a 3.1 Gen 2 wire, 10 Gbit/sec — probably overkill for its use, but matching the rate that came with the M28U, a USB-C/USB-C for KVM connection. In photos, it's the thick, zig-zag braided cable; it's plugged into the spare USB-A port on the Mac Mini. Between all these changes, the only connection between the Thunderbolt dock and the Mini is the host port; all wires attached to the dock are purely for external and swappable connections.

Meanwhile, the wires coming out the M28U stay the same: wired keyboard and optionally wired trackpad (for charging and to hook it up to the KVM switch). But that's it! Everything else is hidden away, virtually flush with the wall. The cable connecting the Mac Mini and the Silicon Power "rugged" HDD is even hidden, underneath the back of the Mac Mini. The only wires occupying 3D space between the Mini and the rest of the desk are explicitly for device connections, and those take as little space as I found possible. It's clear and clean!

The ethernet cable is also new, and connects the Mac Mini to the Mac Pro. The Mac Pro has a wifi card installed, but I think ethernet provides a faster connection. I need to perform benchmarks, but my plan is to disconnect the Mac Pro entirely from wifi and have all devices connect to it through the Mac Mini: either via the Mini's faster wifi, or a fully wired connection using the USB 3.1 Gen 2 (3.2 Gen 2x2) Type C/C cable — freed from KVM switch duties, now at home on dock — via Thunderbolt bridge. But all that remains theoretical, for the moment. (Come on, now, the modern USB naming scheme isn't so bad!)

Thus cable management remains as isolated as it ought to be. What is enclosed in the computer's connective domain is kept as physically flush as possible, and only those wires strictly required for external connections cohabitate in 3D space.

Let's throw a party! 🎊

Mac Mini + Mac Pro + M28U (Iteration B, 2023) (toc)

New devices?
Much cleaner?
Better believe it

Shot of the user-visible (front-facing) end of the setup, with very few cables visible - only the ones connecting to keyboard/mouse and trackpad, and an iPhone charging off the front port of the Mac Mini. It's distinctly neater looking, and the Mac Mini itself isn't visible in the shot at all.

Functionally, this setup is almost identical to the previous one. The aesthetics are where it's at.

Shot of cable management behind the monitor and speakers, with the Mac Mini standing on the desk, almost flush against the wall; there are a number of wires threading from each device, but almost all find their way behind the desk, leaving very little visible tangle. Shot of cable management from the opposite side at a lower angle, showing myriad wires plugged into the monitor's underside. The gap between the dresser and the wall is made clear by a close-up: it's only about one centimeter, much thinner than the depth of the standing Mac Mini. Shot of the Mac Pro and the white power bar sitting on top of it; four devices are plugged in, each cable wrapping behind the Mac Mini, exposing only the cable ends above. A plastic flower bouqet is tucked into the front handle of the Mac Mini, lightly obscuring the power bar and lending a little color to the layout. Close-up shot of the bottom corner of the dresser; it's had a round bezel roughly carved out, making room for the dresser to slide up almost flush to the wall, slotting in above a wider floor deco.
Where's the Mac Mini?

The Mac Mini is now standing up, hidden behind the M28U monitor. That means the only cables exposed on the front of the setup are the ones which directly connect to input peripherals (and phones). Everything else is neatly behind the monitor — and, for the most part, behind the desk itself too!

The Mac Mini is a fairly sturdy aluminum brick, and it's not prone to toppling of its own accord. But accidents happen, so I really wanted to make sure it wasn't going to slip behind the desk and fall. The most obvious fix was moving the desk itself further back, making the gap as thin as possible and making it way less likely for the Mini to slip.

That necessitated carefully lining up the cables so that there aren't any criss-crossing behind the desk — two cables make thicker than one, and we preferably don't want to put any additional pressure on the cables themselves, either. So squishing is off the table!

We also had to tip the whole dresser over and cut/sand a rounded bezel on the corners — the floor has this decorative sticky-outy bit, and the surface of the dresser wouldn't get near as close to the back as it needed to if it had to stop there!

The surge protector / power brick was swapped out for a white one, which matches the overall color palette better, but more importantly has a totally different outlet plug. Not pictured here, but it's practically flat to the wall — necessary to make access the outlet without forcing the dresser out and leaving a large gap.

Before these adjustments there was about 4-5 cm open space behind the shelf. A standing Mac Mini would've been a disaster waiting to happen! With these changes, it's barely 1 cm: less than half a chance the Mini could possibly fit, even flush against the wall.

In the event the dresser gets pulled out and the Mini is left standing because people are catastrophically forgetful (me) — there's a solid chance the wiring would just end up catching the Mini anyway. It's quite packed behind there, so the computer probably wouldn't even make it to the ground, or else would at least have its fall slowed if it were wide enough to pass the cables.

Incidentally, it's reworks like this which make you realize the concessions made on any occasion it would cost more to make technology ambidextrous. My stereo speakers have an aux cable coming out the right-ear speaker; it's abundantly convenient to connect to your desktop — if your desktop is on the right. And why would that be the case? Simple: that's where it's more convenient for right-handed people to have access to front-panel ports.

I am a lefty, so the Mac Pro (with power bar seated atop) tucks itself at dresser starboard, and the Mac Mini is situated such that its ports are accessible at left. But one question looms: which direction doth the Apple logo face?

Mac Mini sat on its own left side so rear ports and cables go towards the room's left; the Apple logo is neither up nor down, with its bottom towards the room's right.

Now that is ambidextrous design. Think different!

Mac Mini + Mac Pro + M28U (Iteration A, 2022) (toc)

Other devices:
  • Silicon Power 1 TB HDD

Shot of cable management behind the monitor, speakers, and flat Mac Mini, all sitting on the dresser pulled very far out from the wall. There are a lot of overlapping cables, some going to wall outlets, some ending up behind the further Mac Pro, some looping back above the desk. It's a bit of an oppressive arrangement, overwhelming to the inexperienced observer.

This setup has the connective minimalism I wanted, but the cable management and ergonomics were pretty bad. Sorry the only reference photo I've got is from the rear, right before I reworked it! Here's what's going on:

(Pictured, there's a white USB-A cable plugged into the Mac Mini — I think I had the keyboard temporarily plugged into the Mini while not immediately using KVM switch. Also the loose USB-C end of a white Lightning charging cable, for use when KVM is unplugged. Really feeling that lack of ports on the Mini right about now.)

Aside from somewhat awkward cable organization (the photo is from before detangling them!), the major issue here is how crowded my desk is! Some of that is just because I suck at keeping it clean, but a good part is because... um... the Mac Mini... is only so mini. I'll come back to that in the next iteration.

Port availability is disastrous in this setup because the monitor is hogging both of the Thunderbolt ports on the Mini. One of those is justified (video output on the Mac Mini M1 is HDMI 2.0, so you have to use one of the TB4 ports if you're looking to get the full capabilities from any high-resolution and -refresh-rate display), and the other isn't (you do not need 40 gigabits per second to poll input from a keyboard, a mouse, and maybe a trackpad). I'm pretty sure a simple USB-A to USB-C connector would work just fine to plug the Mini into M28U's KVM, but I didn't have such a cable to try it out at the time.