Desk with Meters

I designed this desk to get all my computer equipment and cables up off the floor, behind cabinet doors, and leave my work surface completely clear.  A major part of this project was also incorporating the analog meters which show my computer’s status.

Desk (Day, Closed)

The desk is built mostly from modified IKEA parts (see the end for a complete parts list).  There are wall-mounted cabinets in two depths.  The lower center cabinets are cut to allow my monitors to be wall-mounted; the upper row holds my backup hard drives, video game consoles, speaker controller, UPS, printer, and other devices.  In the right-hand lower cabinet, all the cables and interlinks between all the devices come together, fastened to a grid of garden mesh to keep them neat.  In the left-hand cabinet (behind the meters) are device docks and chargers.  The top cabinets are ventilated by small fans which turn on when the temperature rises, so that I can keep the doors closed.

Desk (Open)

The work surface itself is an eight-foot-long countertop on adjustable legs, which I stiffened by adding steel angles along the back edge.  My Mac Pro is hung from the underside of the desk so that nothing is on the floor.  The work surface can be pulled away from the wall or even moved into the center of the room (but the computer has to be unplugged first).  Using a countertop gives a much more durable work surface than most laminate desks.

Desk (Night)

Below the wall cabinets are programmable LED strips behind glass panels, which show a moving stream of colored light (blurred to white in the image above).  The lights’ speed indicates the current CPU load of my computer.  There are four INREDA spotlights mounted to the cabinet above to provide additional illumination on the desk surface.

Meters (Detail)

I found the analog meters (mounted in the left cabinet door) at the MIT flea market.  An Arduino inside the cabinet is connected by USB to my computer, and drives the meters and the LED strips.  (All programming, and a good deal of handholding, was done by Mark Fickett; for more information, and to download the code, see his write ups of the meters or LED strip portions of the project.)

Panel Meters

The array of meters show the four cores of my CPU (top row), RAM usage (bottom left), and network send and receive (bottom right).  The large meter on the desk shows overall CPU load.

Meters

Parts list and notes:

Wall cabinets

  • 2 x BESTA Frame – 47.25W x 25.25H x 15.75D
  • 2 x BESTA Frame – 47.25W x 25.25H x 7.875D
  • 8 x BESTA Suspension Rail

First I hung the suspension rails on the wall.  They clip together to produce one long rail, but I tried to attach each rail at least once to a stud.  I used the biggest lag screws I could reasonably fit, because there’s a lot of weight in the cabinets, and I had no way to discover the condition of the studs inside the wall.

  • 1 x 3′-0″ 2 x 10 lumber
  • 2 x Rosewill RMS-MF2720 Monitor Mount

Then I mounted the monitors and cut the bottom cabinets: I mounted the monitors to a 2 x 10 which I fastened directly to the wall, and then cut a hole in the back of the cabinets to fit around that.  I also cut down the sides of the bottom cabinets where they come together, so that the side panel fit behind the monitors.

  • 2 x BESTA VARA Black-Brown Door (23 x 25)
  • 4 x BESTA TOMBO Glass Door (23 x 25)
  • 2 x rolls of frosted window film from Home Depot

The glass doors are clear glass (IKEA no longer makes BESTA system frosted glass doors with metal frames) so I applied frosted window film to the inside of the doors.  This requires some patience if you’ve never done it before.

  • 1 x Metal grid and mounting hardware (from Home Depot)
  • 4 x J hooks (from Home Depot)
  • 2 x Cabcool 1201-2 Fan Kit (from Amazon)

I did a few last modifications to the cabinets on the ground before I hung them.  I mounted a small section of 2″ garden mesh in the back of the right-hand cabinet to clip cables to, and I installed the cooling fans in the right two compartments of the top row, where my game consoles, backup hard drives, and power supplies would generate heat.  I also drilled 2″ diameter holes between all the compartments so that I could run cables inside.  (All this cutting works best if you do it before the cabinets are put together.)  Once they were up, I attached hooks to the bottom of the cabinets behind where the glass would go, so I could run cables there without them dangling down under the desk.  (E.g., see the cord going down to the outlet in the pictures.)

  • 2 x FRAMSTA Basic Unit 2
  • 2x FRAMSTA Glass Gray Panels (2 pack) 1

Once the cabinets were up, I attached the glass panels upside-down to the bottom of the cabinets.  This is a bit tricky but works fine once everything is together.

Desk

  • 1 x NUMERAR Countertop 96.875″
  • 4 x VIKA KAJ Adjustable Leg 4
  • 1 x 72″ x 1.5″ in. Zinc-Plated Steel Slotted Angle (from Home Depot)
  • 1 x MacCuff Pro from Sonnet

I used a countertop because it is much more durable and much bigger than any desk top IKEA sells.  I turned the counter upside-down and attached everything to it on the ground.  The steel angles are quite invisible when everything is put together, because they are turned up behind the desk.  I put felt pads on them (as you use under furniture) to stop them scratching against the glass panels.

Lights and Meters

  • 7 x Model 301 Panel Meters
  • 1 x Weston portable meter
  • 7 x Metal label holders from Amazon

I found the meters by going to the MIT Flea Market.  On a good day, there are boxes and boxes of meters there; I paid about $1.50 apiece for each of these.  After going a few times, I found enough which matched and worked.  I used the biggest hole saw I could find to cut the cabinet door, and then sanded the holes the 1/16″ bigger I needed to make the meters fit.  Then I mounted the label holders below them, and borrowed a typewriter to print the labels.

  • 1 x Arduino Mega
  • 1 x ATX power supply
  • 2 x 1m addressable LED strips
  • 1 x Coil headphone Cable (from Amazon)
  • 2 x Spade connectors
  • 1 x ATX power supply
  • Assorted small screws and bolts
  • Assorted heat shrink tubing
  • Assorted hookup wire
  • Assorted small resistors
  • Assorted Anderson Power Poles

I got most of these supplies from the excellent Sparkfun.

I opened up each meter and clipped the shunt and then attached an appropriate resistor in series with the meter, so that meter would respond to the PWM signals from the Arduino.  I installed the LED strips inside the base of the FRAMSTA panels; the ATX power supply is in one of the overhead cabinets.

The meter on my desk is very visible, and I wanted its connector to be attractive and not too modern.  I cut the end of the coiled headphone cable, separated the conductors, and soldered on the spade connectors.  After covering the work with black heat-shrink tubing, the result is quite clean, and I can pick up and move the meter as I need to when I work or clean the desk.

  • INREDA LED spotlights

After I finished, I discovered that while the LED strips provided plenty of light to see or type by, they were insufficient for tasks like drawing or soldering.  I installed four adjustable LED spotlights on the underside of the upper cabinets.

See Also

My brother Mark Fickett did all the programming for this project, and provided a lot of advice for all the electronic parts.  You can read his write-up of the project and download code from his write-ups of the meter and LED strip projects.

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