The Next Level – How To Build A Battlestation On A Budget

Okay I’m going to start this article off stating that I am using the term “budget” pretty loosely. At the end of the day you are purchasing a bunch of modern electronics, and each component fetches a non-trivial price-tag. Starting from scratch you are likely to spend in the neighborhood of $2000 putting this battlestation together.

However, the good news is you don’t have to go from 0 to 6 monitors in a day. This setup is very modular so you can build your way up over time as your budget allows. The reason I define this as a “budget” build, is that most people I talk to assume that fancy graphics cards are needed to have an excessive amount of screen real-estate, and I was able to prove that that is simply not the case.

Also, I want to fully disclose that I have zero affiliation with the products I am about to recommend. I am simply a nerd that got really excited when he plugged a bunch of monitors into his work laptop, and they all turned on. Thirdly, I am not saying this is the only way to build a budget battlestation, this is just the way that worked for me.

Lastly, if the idea of turning your home office into mission control doesn’t really excite you, then you should probably just set this article to read-only.

However, for the rest of us, what I am about to show you may change your life forever.


How We Got To Now

If you are only interested in how to set up your own battlestation, you can skip to the next section. I just figured some of you, especially the non-technie types, might be curious what led to a person actually pulling the trigger on creating a setup like this.

Before I figured out this multi-monitor methodology, I was under the assumption that becoming a 1337 hax0r with more than 2 screens would require a bunch of fancy graphics cards. Figuring this would fetch a price tag that I would not be amenable to paying, I made peace with that fact that my office would only have 2 extra monitors. Furthermore, I have been working a job that has me on the road a lot, which has resulted in me becoming a laptop enthusiast of sorts. Given that I already didn’t feel like paying desktop prices for a sweet rig, I figured getting a likely more expensive laptop that could fulfill my dream was out of the question.

Fortunately, my enthusiasm for cool looking monitor setups resulted in me purchasing most of the equipment I needed anyways. When I first moved to Austin to start a new job, I didn’t bring any furniture with me. At the time I was free of the shackles of nearby family and a significant other, so I decided one of my first pieces of furniture would be a desk that was… future proofed.

And by desk, I mean I bought a computer training table that barely fit in my bedroom.

With my new found desk space, the first order of business was to buy a pair of monitors to maximize my screen real estate. I ended up finding a monitor with good reviews that was on sale at the time, so I bought 2 of them. The icing on the cake was that they were VESA mount compatible, just in case I decided I needed some of my desk space back at one point.

This setup lasted me a while. I worked and played to my heart’s content, using my nearly 18 square foot of desk space to the fullest. It wasn’t until I had moved to a different apartment with my then girlfriend, that my workstation received its next upgrade.

Undoubtedly jealous of my sweet setup, my girlfriend asked if she could have her own monitors. I figured what the heck my desk has room to spare, so I picked up another pair of my current monitors. I took some measurements to see if my desk would be able to house the 4 screens, and while it was technically doable, it was clear that things would be a bit tight. So I went ahead and picked up a couple of 2-monitor VESA mounts to make our lives a little easier.

We enjoyed this setup for a bit over a year before serendipity struck.

As you might have guessed at this point, I am an IT professional. I spend a disproportionate amount of my time working with code, referencing how to write code, and documenting changes to code. As any IT professional will tell you, anything that helps keep you “in the zone” when you are working though a challenging problem is a god-send. This is why so many developers are adamant about having extra monitors so they can reference code libraries and websites like Stack Overflow at a glance.

As my role at my company grew, so too did my responsibilities. My daily tasks expanded beyond primarily writing code, and started to include activities such as cloud server management, agile task management, and a non-stop agenda of on-line working sessions. My paltry 3 screen setup started to buckle under the demands of of my screen intensive workload. In response, I threw my preconceived notions of what it would take to expand beyond 2 additional monitors aside, and looked for a way to make it work.

After some research I decided to take a gamble on a USB to 2 HDMI adapter. The reviews were good enough, and I figured if it didn’t work I could just send it back for a refund. So I put the order in, and 2 days later I unpacked the adapter and plugged it in.

And it worked…

The next few days could only be described as pure multi-monitor bliss. I was able to code locally, code in a VM, manage emails, keep reference material on-hand, and view screen-shares without touching my windows taskbar. It should have been enough, but curiosity got the better of me. I couldn’t help but wonder if I lightning might strike twice. So 2 days later another adapter arrived at my house. To test it I brought a couple of TVs into my office, and plugged everything into adapter #2.

And it worked again!

To make things even better, my annual bonus was coming up, so I used that as justification when I explained to my now fiancee that I just bought 2 more monitors and a 3rd VESA mount.

Which brings us to today. I am able to access all of my applications, chat clients, screen shares, and emails with tilt of the chin. I’m not sure if I’m actually more productive, but I certainly FEEL more productive. Most importantly, when I walk into my office, seeing 6 identical monitors staring down my computer chair just makes me feel like an alpha-nerd. So I relish in it, and now I want to help you relish in it.


The Build

Believe it or not setting this up is all relatively straight forward. Really the only somewhat specialized tool you might need is a thinner long-neck screwdriver to remove the stands from your monitors. Other than that everything else should come pre-packaged with the tools needed for assembly.

Also it is worth noting that you have a fair amount of freedom in the types components you use for this build. However, for those of you that are more risk averse, feel free to use the components from my setup below.

My Battlestation’s Fittings
What You NeedWhat I UsedWhat It Cost
6 monitors(1080P)My Monitors$750
2 USB to Dual HDMI AdaptersStar Tech Adapter$130
6 HDMI/VGA/USB-C cablesAmazon Basics$50
3 VESA MountsVESA Mount$120
1 Desk(VESA Mount friendly)BALT desk(base)(box 2)$600

Once the items are purchased, The construction process isn’t particularly challenging, just time consuming. It is really just a matter of following the instructions provided with each component.

The secret sauce to making this all work is the Star Tech USB to dual HDMI adapter. While it is entirely possible that other adapters can achieve the same results, I have tested Star Tech’s product on 3 different laptops of varying ages and price points($500 to $2000), and all 3 of them were able to support 6 additional monitors with no issues. So again, feel free to try whatever products you want, I just wanted to provide you with a proven way to get it done.

And really that is all it takes! You don’t need an expensive rig with multiple fancy graphics cards. Just a couple of USB 3.0 ports and pair of the right adapters will get the job done.

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