Beneath The Surface

Nothing much to report on the creative front. Work has been exhausting, but it has also taken another unwelcome twist: As it gets progressively warmer, my Surface Pro 4 is collapsing slowly under the effect of near-constant video calls, and has already shut down on me once.

Wall-to-wall meetings and the lack of client-settable performance/quality settings in Teams mean that I have had to resort to turning off both outgoing and incoming video in order for CPU temperature to drop and the fans to throttle down into something bearable.

Update: In the meantime, turning off GPU acceleration seems to help considerably, although I now keep Teams closed and use a browser tab to chat throughout the day. I suspect the Intel Integrated Graphics are more hindrance than help in this regard.

I have ranted before about the cultural swing from audio-only conference calls to full-on video, but the net effect is that I can’t have Outlook, PowerPoint and Teams simultaneously open during a meeting without it overheating, and I’m having to shut it down during lunchtime to cool down, so the way I see it, there are at least three possible fixes:

  • Have less meetings and do more Real WorkTM (which is another matter altogether)
  • Buy a new AC for the office (something I’ve long resisted due to my allergies, which are now in full swing again)
  • Throw more hardware at the problem

I can’t run Teams or anything work-related on my iMac to access my corporate network without enrolling it into Intune (something I don’t want to do as a matter of principle) and the usage pattern I now have pretty much demands a Windows desktop machine, so this boils down into either:

  • Fetching my KVM host from the closet and adding a second SSD to boot Windows directly (which means I’ll have more fans, more noise and more heat in the office).
  • Get more hardware (which is a challenge because whatever I get has to be absolutely quiet, and a setup like Fabien Sanglard’s is expensive).

Now, I have been looking at the current AMD Ryzen range, and it would be nice to get a Ryzen 7 and an NVIDIA discrete GPU to run Tensorflow, but given the kind of work I do right now I don’t think I would have a decent return on investment, and I’m pretty sure a Ryzen 7 and an RTX board would max out the Streacom DB4‘s thermal budget.

I do have a 65W TDP i7 CPU on hand, though, so… Maybe switching that to a bigger case and getting a cheap NVIDIA is feasible–but that needs a lot more research than I currently have time for.

The Nuke And Pave Scenario

Anyway, there are other peculiarities to my current setup that are worth noting, like my having gotten a cheap LG 29WL500 ultrawide as a third monitor recently, which has had an interesting effect in the way I work–I’ve been using Amethyst, and despite some quirks, it’s been a good way to manage all that real estate.

So much so, that if I ever have the guts (and the budget) to buy entirely new office hardware, I’m pretty sure I’m not going to get an iMac again–the built-in Retina display is indeed a thing of wonder, but it just takes up too much space, so the top 3 billing items would likely be:

  • Mac mini: 3.2GHz i7 16GB RAM, 1TB SSD, ~€2000
  • Monitor: LG 49WL95C or Dell U4919DW 49” Ultrawide, ~€1500
  • Windows/Linux machine: AMD Ryzen 7 (or Ryzen 5 3600X) PC with NVIDIA RTX GPU, ~€1500

This is a far cry from my ideal setup of “just” an absolutely silent, (moderately) cool Raspberry Pi 4 thin client and dual 4K displays to tap into remote resources, but nothing’s perfect.