Thursday, June 9, 2011

Standing /Sitting Computer Desk - for under $500

standing sitting computer workstation
Standing / Sitting Computer Workstation

For those of us who spend most of the day sitting in front of computer screens, it is only a matter of time before the physical effects start to become evident. Personally, I found sitting in a chair resulted in neck pain and headaches. Likely I was suffering from mild Cervical Posture Syndrome (Kyphosis). Abandoning the chair for an exercise ball helped. My neck pain and headaches went away. However, I still found sitting all day fatiguing and confining.  I had heard about standing desks (somewhere?) but did not know anyone who actually used one or much about them.

Finding the right configuration

After doing a little investigating I initially decided that what I needed was a desk that I could raise up and down so I could sit or stand at whim. I soon found that adjustable desks, sold at stores that specialize in ergonomic equipment, tend to be quite expensive (starting at $1000). It also occurred to me that moving monitors, keyboards, mice and other cabled devices up and down could be problematic, especially considering the ever diminishing lengths of cables provided with computer peripherals. Another concern was the time involved in repeatedly raising and lowering the desk as well as the wear and tear on the raising mechanism.

Standing Desk Hacks

I started to look for more creative solutions and found several people had managed to solve this in different ways. One blog post I found particularly inspirational was - Wide Standing Desk. This post demonstrated how to create a standing desk by combining different components from Ikea. This inspired me look at how I could combine inexpensive office furniture to create a solution that fit into my needs and workspace.

The Treadmill Desk

Something else that intrigued me was a treadmill desk. There are lots of different solutions out there. Treadmill Desk  by Eric J. Wilhelm is particularly instructive blog post that chronicles this. Treadmill manufacturers are now starting to create models designed to be used as treadmill desks (see I am still intrigued by this but decided this was something I might want to look at more closely in future. I still need to investigate how walking would affect my ability to do computer work. I also thought it was important that I am easily able to change from standing to sitting.

My Solution

My final solution was to create a work station that has both standing and sitting desks. This eliminates the need for a mechanism that raises and lowers the desk and allows me to stand or sit without adjusting anything. My solution does however require two monitors, keyboards and mice. The additional cost of these peripherals is still much less than buying an adjustable desk.  It becomes even more affordable if you happen to have an extra set of peripherals lying around.

Assembling the Desk

The key component in my workspace is an Ikea computer workstation called Fredrik. I use this as my standing desk. I really like how this desk is designed. It comes with two narrow shelves and one main workspace shelf. All three of the shelves can be stacked in any order you choose. Put the main workspace shelf on top or in the middle for a standing desk or if you decide standing is not for you, put the main shelf on the bottom to make a sitting desk. The desk comes in two widths. I chose the smaller width (39”) so it would fit in to the limited space I have.

Of course, any standard desk can be used for the sitting desk. To keep things color coordinated and costs down I purchased Ikea Vika Amon and Vika Curry. These constitute a very basic table top and legs and they come in the same colors as the Fredrik workstation. If you want to keep things even more coordinated and do not mind spending a little more, you can get the Frederik desk. An optional add-on that I decided to include is the Ikea keyboard tray Summera.

Adding the Extra Computer Peripherals

I have a Dell desktop computer with a video card that has dual monitor outputs. This was not something I had to add on. I believe most higher-end video cards include dual monitor support. I did have to purchase an additional monitor, keyboard and mouse.


Here is a break-down of the components and associated costs:
Workspace Component
Workspace Total
Extra Computer Components

Computer monitor
Computer Total
Total Cost

The Verdict

So far I have been quite happy with the setup. I tend to stand more than I sit. It is still too early to determine if there are any significant physical effects, but I can say I like being able to stand and feel less confined.
One thing I would do differently is to make sure the monitors, keyboards and mice are identical. I am starting to get use to using two different sets of mice and keyboards but my monitors are different aspect ratios and the video card will only output a single resolution when duplicated. This means that when the video card is set to display duplicate versions on each monitor the higher resolution monitor will be displaying at lower than native resolution. To take advantage of the higher resolution monitor I need to change the monitor set-up to ‘extend display’ mode. It does only take a second to change display modes but if you are changing back and forth between standing and sitting a lot, it can get a little bothersome.


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