Thursday, February 5, 2009

How the Other Bear Lives

I've been meaning to post more about my gaming setup for a while now. Yesterday's post by Karthis about his desk, pushed me over the edge. Before I get started, I want to note that I'm about to break a golden rule of blogging. This is going to be a long one...

As many of my readers/friends know, I have some rather debilitating physical problems. I used to have a rather traditional computer desk. It was not ergonomic. It was not particularly comfortable. Sitting at my computer should be a haven from the stress and strain of my life, instead it was adding to it. So last year, I went on a mission to design a personal space that was extremely comfortable but afforable.

If you've ever priced ergonomic chairs & specialty desks, you know that they can end up costing more than computers. I couldn't afford that. Still, it was clear that I needed a really good chair. I finally found this one at Office Max. It's not "cheap" but it was also much more afforable than your traditional ergonomic chair. It has adjustable everything. Unfortunately, I can't link the chair to you. It's no longer available. The next model up is the Space Air Grid Executive Chair for $200 more than I paid. Still, I can't emphasize enough the importance of a good chair.

My keyboard tray cost more than the whole desk. This isn't because the tray was particularly expensive. It's because the desk is a yard-sale find. I got it for $30 & the guy even tossed it in his truck and drove it over for me. The side-table is a combination of an old printer stand & an old piano bench. The legs broke, so I slapped on some 1x1's from the scrap pile in the garage. So, instead of spending hundreds of dollars on a fancy desk, I spent less than a hundred on a DIY. Is it pretty? No. BUT, it's extremely functional.

For months, I researched keyboard setup that would - in conjunction with the fancy chair - minimize strain on my hands & arms. The solution was a Logitech Trackman Wheel Mouse and an Ideazon Merc Keyboard.

The trackball took some adjustment, but was the right choice to maximize my comfort. Trackballs are not for everyone. If you prefer to click your spells with the mouse, you will hate using a trackball. You should look for a comfortable gaming mouse. If, however, you are a keybinder, an ergonomic trackball can make a huge difference in your comfort. In some situations, you may find you can respond FASTER than a standard mouse user. You will spend weeks, even months, adjusting to the trackball. Stay with it!

I could write an entirely separate post about the Merc keyboard. It was - after the chair - the hardest part of the research. There is no such thing as an ergonomic gaming keyboard. I could have gone with an ergonomic keyboard, but they aren't great for games like WoW because they further increase the distance between the keys. I considered a number of pure gaming keyboards, but those would keep my hands in the same uncomfortable typing position. Then I came across a variety of gaming pads like the Wolf Claw. I considered a combination of a side-pad & an ergonomic keyboard. I actually did a lot of field testing by going to a number of retail stores and trying the keyboards.

I finally settled on the Merc because it was affordable (less than $40), comfortable and fit on my keyboard tray. I still type in the standard QWERTY keyboard position, but with arm & handrests. The gaming pad space allows me to move my hand from the standard position & is extremely functional. The tray allows me to adjust the angle of my keyboard & slide it right up to the armrests of my chair. There are times when I will just sit at my desk, with my arms on the keyboard pad & watch a movie. It's just that comfortable.

I customized the Merc keypad in conjuction with Bartender4. The keybinding options are limitless & completely legal under the game's EUA as long as you don't do any keyboard keystroke macros. To get used to the unique keypad setup, I actually adjusted my bars on screen with bartender to mimic the shape of the keypad. The adjustment period was a matter of days. After months, it's just awesome. All my toons use the same basic layout now.

Finally, it's obvious that I'm using two boxes. I'm not a "dual-box" player. When I upgraded my system last year, I simply kept the old one. There's nothing wrong with it. It's just not as fast as the newer Quad Cores. The old system is, however, plenty fast to run Hulu or Pandora while I'm soloing. I can look up quest information, check email, or catch up on Google messenger. I use the Logitech Cordless Desktop MX3000 for the second box. I highly recommend it if you are ever in the market for a wireless setup. It's inexpensive & has been extremely reliable for over 2 years. Wireless is not great for gaming, but it's awesome in other situations.

Why not use a KVM switch to free up more space? Using two allows me to do a lot of stuff simultaneously. This comes from my days in IT & playing a hunter for 3 years. Autoshot...type email...loot mob...check weather...laugh at stupid sammich. Besides, there's still plenty of deskspace for paperwork, & gadgets. I use the sideboard from the old piano bench for snacks & drinks.

Anyway, that's my world. I'm here most of my time. If you have any questions about my setup, the keyboards I've researched or stuff on my desk, just let me know.

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1 comment:

Mardigilian said...

Kurt got me hooked on track-balls back in college and the trackman is definitely the king of track-balls. I only have one problem with them. The guys at Logitech seem to have discontinued the 5-button version. It's not quite as ergonomic looking as the current version--there's a bit more plastic under your thumb that might limit forward extension, but I can still move up and down the height of my extra-tiny resolution screen in one motion. The button section is a little more Volvoish (that's a word right?). Index and ring fingers sit nicely on the left and right buttons. I'm not all that enthralled with the wheel (I think partly because I've been on a trackman so long I find it more natural just to slide over to the scroll bar and drag or click), but it works nicely with the middle-finger. What really sold me on this model were buttons 4 and 5. These are tucked just the left and right of buttons 1 & 2 (3 being the wheel-click). They're much smaller than the main buttons (think the black keys on a piano). For WoW, button 4 is my bind for fishing--it's an easy reach and occasionally if I'm moving my hand back to the mouse after throwing a spell from the number pad I'll hit it by mistake, but no harm done. Button 5 is a secondary bind for my assist focus macro and an easy reach for my pinky. But like I said, these were the buttons that sold me on it--well before I ever started playing WoW--the factory default for them is browser back (4) and browser forward (5). The height of sloth--all your internet browsing and only your thumb and forefinger have to displace more than a millimeter.