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Mercedes Sprinter: Desk Computer Layout

Last updated 2017-10-06 - Send Feedback
Related: Sprinter

Photographer and cyclist and Mac expert and software engineer Lloyd Chambers is available for consulting on general Sprinter considerations at his usual consulting rates via phone, or in person in the Palo Alto, CA area. Save yourself hours and mistakes by discussing issues up-front. More about Lloyd....

Version 4, 2018-April

The 10 kilowatt battery system is in place with dual 2000W power inverters mounted under the hickory butcherblock table.

Runtime is so long (at least a week) that I just leave the iMac 5K running all day and don’t even let it sleep (I let the screen dim). I run a 1500 watt space heater for heat when I need it, but that takes ~1.8 kilowatts and even 9 kilowatts (usable) of battery power lasts only 5 hours or so—however, idle the engine and the alternator powers almost all of it. But setting aside the space heater, I can forget about battery charge completely.

I love this setup—I can do my computer work and still have room for dinner and such.

48 X 29 X 1.5 inch HICKORY EDGE GRAIN BUTCHER BLOCK COUNTERTOP as installed in Lloyd’s 2017 Mercedes Sprinter
48 X 29 X 1.5 inch HICKORY EDGE GRAIN BUTCHER BLOCK COUNTERTOP as installed in Lloyd’s 2017 Mercedes Sprinter
Pre-wiring of dual Xantrex Freedom XC 2000W inverter/chargers, BlueSea bus bars and fuse blocks

Version 3, 2017-10-04

See also Mercedes Sprinter Upfitting: Before any Upfitting, Maiden Voyage.

The 2015 MacBook Pro was used to start with (see version 2 further below). It has its conveniences, such as easy stowage and great for quickly checking email without having to unpack and set up the 30" display. But it turns out that the 2015 MacBook Pro becomes unusable when the ambient temperature hits 90°F or so—it becomes useless running at 0.8 GHz, by design. Cooling packs placed under it (from the onboard Yeti cooler) might solve the issue but that's a huge hassle and in general it is very underpowered for my work with its 16GB memory limit.

The latest rig is with a 2015 iMac 5K, as shown below, the top-end 2015/2016/2017 MacBook Pro not being up to the job, particularly in heat, but mainly due to its 16GB memory limitation.

Powered by the Lithionics 400 amp battery and Xantrex Freedom XC 2000W charger/inverter, runtime with this rig is about 20 hours. Power draw as shown typically runs 190 watts DC (about 160 watts AC).

Update, Dec 2017: upgrading to the 2017 iMac 5K increased performance substantially while also reducing power consumption of the iMac from about 62 watts to 48 watts (screen lit up, machine idle). It also cut power usage in driving the display by about 30 watts, indicating a much more effficient GPU. Runtime is now up to 24 hours, but with another battery being added (10 kW total), runtime is effectively a week’s worth of work. What really chews up power is electric heat when cold however, a driving force in getting a 2nd battery.

The iMac 5K works great, as does the excellent NEC PA302W professional wide-gamut 30" display. I cover the windows and such when working to avoid glare.

Below, this is a temporary setup. The final table will be a 48 X 29 inch hickory butcherblock tabletop 1.5 inches thick.

Before any upfitting, tempory mobile computing workstation setup
f1.8 @ 1/30 sec, ISO 32; 2017-09-11 17:41:12
iPhone 7 Plus + iPhone 7 Plus back dual camera 3.99mm f/1.8 @ 28mm (4mm)

[low-res image for bot]

Version 2, 2017-08-10, the Real Deal in the field

Below, the real deal, as actually used for many hours out in the fieldon the maiden voyage.

Stowing an iMac 5K in addition to a 30" display is an unsolved issue, so the 2015 MacBook Pro was used to start with. It has its conveniences for sure, such as easy stowage and great for quickly checking email without having to unpack and set up the 30" display. But it turns out that the 2015 MacBook Pro becomes unusable when the ambient temperature hits 90°F or so—it becomes useless running at 0.8 GHz, by design. Cooling packs placed under it (from the onboard Yeti cooler) might solve the issue.

Before any upfitting, tempory mobile computing workstation setup
f1.8 @ 1/30 sec, ISO 32; 2017-08-06 17:00:14
iPhone 7 Plus + iPhone 7 Plus back dual camera 3.99mm f/1.8 @ 28mm (4mm)

[low-res image for bot]

With doors closed and a heavy duty packing blanket across the front seats, the interior can be darkened for suitable working conditions. The front windows can be cracked from almost shut to fully open for ventilation, depending on temperature. With upfitting, T-vent windows and rear slider windows will allow cross ventilation, and a 10-speed roof fan will allow pulling air in or out.

Sprinter van: temporary mobile computing workstation setup, doors open
f1.8 @ 1/4000 sec, ISO 20; 2017-08-09 15:13:45
iPhone 7 Plus + iPhone 7 Plus back dual camera 3.99mm f/1.8 @ 28mm (4mm)

[low-res image for bot]
Sprinter van: temporary mobile computing workstation setup
f1.8 @ 1/3800 sec, ISO 20; 2017-08-09 15:15:13
iPhone 7 Plus + iPhone 7 Plus back dual camera 3.99mm f/1.8 @ 28mm (4mm)

[low-res image for bot]

Version 1, 2017-07-21, simulating the Sprinter computer workstation desk area

The schematic (further on page below) shows the space allotted for the desk area within the Sprinter van. It is just behind the driver’s seat

I set up a table with the the maximum screen sizes I might use, that is my preferred setup . Substituting a MacBook Pro is undesirable (memory limits cause performance problems, tiny screen at differing height). The 5120 watt hour battery laughs at the 200 watts or so needed for this setup, even for 20 hours of work.

My preference as to the computer is for an iMac 5K for its powerful CPU and 5K display for enjoying images. The main screen, one critical to my workflow for assessing and evaluating images and for color balancing is the NEC PA302W 30" wide gamut display at 2560 X 1600 with its eye-friendly pixel density.

Design constraints and assumptions:

  • I need a full-size keyboard (the wireless ones are really poor ergonomically) and a nice reliable wireless mouse, as shown.
  • My seating position is to be straight-on to the primary display, but a slight rotation of the chair gives me straight on to the second display, as shown. I use such a setup at home so I know this works great.
  • The mouse must not go off the edge of the table. Hence the primary display must be on the left side.
  • Corners of the table might be rounded off as the right corner being just behind the driver’s seat and 30" deep would be thigh-high whack-a-leg exiting the drivers seat. So I will round that corner off. The opposite end might also be rounded off.
  • Table edge shape is TBD to afford more flexibility in seating and view distance from the screen. I have a strictly limited range that requires about 3" range to be within operating tolerances for my close-range vision.
  • Angling the two screens as show is ergonomically excellent and allows them to fit.
  • The PA302W projects just above the top of the bed; at night it can be moved inward to be out of the way.
  • When traveling, at least the PA302W can be quickly moved left and laid on its back onto the bed/pillow for transport. The iMac can be done similarly, with some kind of padded case or support. I might just make a slip-on cse with 3mm close cell fom or similar. Straps can secure both while driving. A main concern is shock and vibration on rough roads; short trips on good pavement not so much an issue, the main concern being things flying off the table and/or into the driver's cabin—I’ll figure out safe approach.

Below,the table as shown is just a rough mockup for the width I have available (about 44 inches) and depth (about 30 inches), using a real table I already have. The actual installed table might not even have an outer-left leg, or at least it will be inset more, with the inner legs bolted to the van wall to save space and for rigid support (I’ve asked for a table that supports 250 pounds). The front will be shaped in a way that allows ideal positioning and will also round-off the corners. Prior to the upfitting process though, an initial trial run with this rectangular table is what I'll use to check out the fit and placement of things. Then I will design just the curvature I want of the front edge of the table. The chair will of course by a quality swiveling chair, like the Herman Miller Aeron.

Lloyd Chambers' simulated photography working table for Sprinter photographic adventure van — iMac setup with NEC PA302W pro display

Now shown below but essential are a fullsize keyboard and mouse. The laptop might actually be used closed and/or placed to the right, out of the way and to hold palettes only.

Lloyd Chambers' simulated photography working table for Sprinter photographic adventure van —Apple Macbook Pro alternative
Conceptual layout for diglloyd Sprinter 2500 144 wheelbase HiTop 4x4 van build
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