Mac Mini + Mac Pro + M28U (Iteration C, 2023) (toc)
OWC TB4 Dock
USB-C ⇔ USB-A (for KVM switch)
USB-C ⇔ USB-C (10 Gbit/sec)
Everything on dock
None on Mini
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:
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)
Better believe it
Functionally, this setup is almost identical to the previous one. The aesthetics are where it's at.
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?
Now that is ambidextrous design. Think different!
Mac Mini + Mac Pro + M28U (Iteration A, 2022) (toc)
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:
Mac Pro is plugged into M28U via HDMI and its KVM switch via USB-A/B (two black cables originating lower on the Mac Pro's rear)
Mac Mini is plugged into M28U via TB4/DP1.4 adapter (blueish cable on the Mini) and KVM via USB-C/USB-C cable (white, thick)
Mac Mini is plugged into Silicon Power "rugged" HDD via USB-A (black cable)
Mac Mini is plugged into stereo speakers via built-in aux cable (thin black cable trailing from right-ear speaker)
Apple Keyboard is plugged into M28U KVM via its built-in USB-A cable (not pictured)
Apple Mighty Mouse is plugged into Apple Keyboard via its built-in USB-A cable (not pictured)
Magic Trackpad is wireless-only (for now)
Mac Pro, Mac Mini, and stereo speakers are plugged into surge protector / power brick (black, sitting on the Mac Pro)
M28U is plugged directly into wall outlet for some reason
(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.