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I have two Macbook Pros - both are comparable in hardware. One is a 17" and the other a 15". The 17" has a slightly swifter CPU clock speed, but beyond that the differences are completely negligible.

I tried a setup a while back where I had the 17" hooked up to an external monitor in the middle of my desk with the 15" laptop immediately to the right of it, and was using teleport to control the 15" from my 17". All development, terminal usage, etc. etc. was being done on the 17" and the 15" was primarily used for email / IM / IRC... or anything secondary to what I was working on. I have a MobileMe account so preferences were synced, but otherwise I didn't really use anything else to keep the computers in sync (I use dropbox/git but probably not optimally).

For reasons I can't put my finger on, this setup never felt quite right. A few things that irked me was

  • the 15" was way under-utlized and the 17" was overutilized
  • having 2 laptops and a 21" monitor all on one desk actually took up lots of desk space and it felt like I had too much to look at.

I reverted back to just using the 17" and the external monitor and keeping the 15" around the house (and using it very sparingly).

For those of you who are using multiple laptops (or just multiple machines for that matter), I'd like to see setups that work for you for when you have 2 or more machines that gives you optimal productivity and why. I'd like to give this one more shot but with a different approach than my previous - which was using the 15" as a machine for secondary things (communication, reading documentation, etc. etc).

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closed as primarily opinion-based by MichaelT, gnat, Kilian Foth, Bart van Ingen Schenau, ratchet freak Sep 15 '14 at 12:12

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

The question as phrased is very open and just invites people to reply with their favourite setup which isn't constructive. –  ChrisF May 28 '11 at 13:49
the solution is simple and obvious: use the 17" with an external monitor when you're at home, and without an external monitor when you're on the road, and send the 15" macbook pro to me because you clearly don't need it. –  Steven A. Lowe May 28 '11 at 14:54
@Steven - and assuming you already have a machine that isn't 2+ years old at this point, just what would you do with it? :P –  whaley May 28 '11 at 18:22
replace my 6-year-old windows xp laptop with it! I can't take my desktop on the road. or give it to my wife so i won't have any more family tech support issues –  Steven A. Lowe May 28 '11 at 21:54
I have two computers: one is for work the other one is for leisure. These two worlds I keep digitally seperated. –  Pieter B Aug 5 '12 at 0:36

9 Answers 9

up vote 9 down vote accepted

In my opinion working on two machines simultaneously is more hassle than it's worth. It makes sense only when you need two different operating systems, which is not the case here. Otherwise, it just brings additional overhead of managing both machines, synchronizing data between them, and asking questions like this.

I would suggest you to sell the older machine on eBay, and buy a second monitor instead.

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It's so much of a hassle, that whenever I have to do it, I usually just open up a remote desktop session from my primary desktop to the target. –  whatsisname Aug 5 '12 at 0:34
USB graphics adapters can be used for even more monitors on a single host. –  user1249 Aug 5 '12 at 4:27

Having two computers gives you opportunity to run two operating systems without hassle of virtualization (in my case it's Ubuntu and Win7). And even with both running same OS, you can for example run applications consuming lot of resources, without affecting more interactive stuff running on another machine.

Another advantage is ability to use multiple external monitors. Especially important in case of MBPs, which have only one DP port.

To work with two computers efficiently, you're going to need to set up Synergy. It lets you control multiple computers with single keyboard and mouse. It also takes care of copy'n'paste between multiple systems (text only though).


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I unfortunately don't have much need for using multiple OS's at this point in time. My two machines are both running OSX, but I did try this at one point with an Ubuntu install on the 15" through VMWare (virtual yes, but I could assign lots more resources to it). So I can vouch for this setup... I just didn't need Ubuntu really and I have no use for windows whatsoever. –  whaley May 28 '11 at 19:33
@whaley you don't have to use separate OS's, you just have the flexibility if desired. –  Nick T May 29 '11 at 0:37
@wheley: Synergy will work as well with two OSX boxes. –  vartec May 30 '11 at 9:43
I use teleport instead of synergy, since it is OSX specific, supports copy/paste, and allows drag/drop of files between machines. Otherwise Synergy would be a valid suggestion. –  whaley Jun 1 '11 at 16:24

I always use the computer with the biggest screen, that is closest to me.

So why not purchase a second external monitor, and wireless keyboard and mouse, and tuck the laptops away behind.

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Separation of operational concerns:

If you have three machines then use each one to focus on a particular operation:

  • code development (Medium spec)
  • graphic design (Highest spec)
  • project management (Lowest spec)
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I often use 3 computers at a time here. I am also a bit nuts. I'll note I do almost exclusively web applications. Some scenarios where this is handy:

1) Multiple network locations at once are alot easier to manage. Need to make sure the app is working inside your firewall, from the public internet and also inside another (VPN'd) firewall? What about testing your app using LAN speeds, some random consumer DSL setup and over 3g?

2) True multi-browser testing. Sometimes you really need to see how Firefox on OSX is behaving differently than on windows.

3) Alternate devices go here -- lots of times the 3rd PC is an iPad.

Finally, it is pretty handy for meetings as usually at least one of the devices isn't doing too much so I don't mind snatching it and going.

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I use my laptop and an EC2 instance. I love working on my local machine and then quickly pushing the code to a development server. I can add more servers or change their specs depending on what I am working on. More and more of my laptop work is just having the terminal open.

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I usually have a Linux box + laptop connected via a dock. But the desk setup is with Two monitors - one for the linuxbox and one for laptop. I don't use the laptop screen when I am working on this desk.

At home I got a 29" monitor again connected to a windows box and my laptop via dock - same config, but with KVM.

The linux box at work and windows at home are the work horses. They do stuff like huge builds / downloads / video file processing - any hard task that will brown out the UI goes there. Occasionally I will need them particularly, when I can just swap them on screen.

Soon I am planning on a multi-monitor setup (3 or 4) with 3 or 4 boxes in a cluster to allow my cluster testing etc. - But this is still in planning.

For you, one advice is to look around for docks, and have the laptops off the desk. This way, you can fit 2 external monitors and increase your productivity by 50%

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Representing multiple operating systems can be addressed with virtual machines.

I have a desktop and 2 laptops in my office. I use a dual-monitor setup for the desktop, and I have a laptop station with a cooling pad and second monitor (where I switch out the laptops as needed). The desktop is purely personal. I use it for testing new operating systems, trial software, testing new development environments, video games, etc. One laptop is work-issued, and it is the only computer that I use when I am representing that organization. The other laptop is basically a refined version of my desktop, on which I install only my most trusted software configurations. I do all of my development in VMs, each project getting its own virtual machine. If I start a project on the desktop and want to "upgrade" it to my laptop, I just copy the VM (and, of course, the source code is version controlled remotely).

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For this to work well you will need a lot of memory on the laptops. –  user1249 Aug 5 '12 at 10:21
True, 8 gigs each. I usually run two VMs at the most at any given time –  David Kaczynski Aug 5 '12 at 13:18


We have a lot of laptops in my house... I have three, and my gf has two. - A Macbook - A Toshiba running windows 7. - An older Windows XP Dell (for running old programs or testing IE6, usually kept in a drawer).

I like notebooks because they are portable and they run the real operating systems instead of virtualized. I do web development and publishing.

When, I travel out of town, I take the two laptops. This would make it much more difficult trying to lug around a big monitor as well.

I prefer having just one large monitor because it uses less space. I see how three screens would get annoying, but two is good. I usually run mail, IM, itunes and terminal on my mac for instance... things I don't necessarily need to look at all the time, then do most of my work on the Win7 machine.

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