Big Monitors Can Increase Productivity?

by DanB

Jakob Neilson has an interestng observation on how large monitors impact your productivity. Interesting reading. The article is about what screen resolutions web surfers use. Look for the “Big Monitors” heading in the middle of the article:

My persoanl experience is that larger screens, and more specifically more screen real estate, do lead to higher productivity. Years ago I was given a 21-inch monitor to work with. I liked the size but the picture would never go square for me. I had other people look and it didn’t bother them. It bothered me – a lot. So I traded the 21″ with the fellow in the next cube for his 17″ monitor. That gave me two 17″ montors to work with. We set the video up and put both 17″ monitors side by side. It took me all of ten minutes to decide that is how I wanted to work from now on.

I went on vacation and the other people in the area tried my computer while I was out. Within the month everyone in the area had two monitors on their desk. It made that much difference.

Why is it so productive. You could keep notes and research visible while working on other tasks. Not switching back and forth, loosing track of your thoughts the list goes on.

Today you really have two choices – one really large montitor or two smaller monitors. It all depends on what you want to spend. For home use keep an eye on people you know who upgrade or are buying new computers. You may be able to pick up that extra monitor for a great price.

Using multiple monitors is much easier now. New versions of Windows and Linux have built in support. Even having one small monitor and one large monitor can make a big difference in what you are doing.

  • Dave Loomis

    Back may years ago the college I was attending tried to do computing on the cheap, not a bad idea, but sometimes the steps they took . . .

    They were teaching COBOL, using Commodore-64 computers, with five computers connected to one disk drive. The program in use required us key our program using their editor, save the program, exit the text editor part of the program, load the compiler, and try to compile the program, noting the compile errors, reloading the editor . . . Since one of Commodore’s weaknesses was slow datatransfer between the computer and the drive, as it used a serial cnnection there. What I did was set one C=64 up with the editor, and the second with the compiler. Key in my program and save it on Computer 1, goto Computer 2, load it from the common disk drive into the computer and try to compile it. Save the errors from Comp 2 onto the common disk drive, reload it onto Comp 1, correct the errors, and resave it onto thecommon disk drive, and repeat until I’d killed all of theerrors.

    This could quadruple my efficiency in this program in this center.


  • David

    Larger monitors allow much greater productivity when you work with larger screen real estate programs like Photoshop or Dreamweaver. Because they are more efficient fullscreen and you often jump back and forth between programs, having more than one screen is much more efficient.
    In my setup, I actually have both 2 and large – 2 large screens, a 20 and a 21″. One is my primary screen for the usual, then when I go into project mode, I boot the second screen for the expanded space.
    The second screen is also on a KVM switch for sharing with secondary computers so that I can also run mutiple systems from the same dual screen, single keyboard and mouse.
    Additionally, the second screen has video input ports to act as a video monitor when editing video.
    So the 2 screens allow 4 working modes, depending on the job. Single screen, dual screen, dual computers, or computer and video.
    Both my screens are Dells, the best quality for the price and top of many reviews. Apples Cinema displays are the best but dramatically more expensive. Prices have come WAY down since I got my first.

  • David

    BTW – 2 screens are not as expensive as it might seem. A reasonable video card these days is often dual head, so you can choose ports. But those 2 ports usually allow you to host 2 seperate monitors concurrently. So you may find you don’t need a new card to step up.

  • Pohokano

    I have two ViewSonic VA1912wb 19-inchers that produce beautifully crisp images at 1440×900 pixels. Can anybody recommend an adjustable arm that I can hang them on, to get rid of the pedestals they’re sitting on? I can find arms to accommodate single displays, but come up empty on my searches for something to hang two displays on.

  • Dixon

    Part of my job is to draft curved cabinet parts, such as cathedral style doors, in AutoCAD, then use a CAM program to generate code, which always needs to be edited in a special text editor.

    About seven years ago I got frustrated because I kept losing track of where I was in the process when switching between windows. This was back in the days of Windows 98. I thought of just using two computers, and using the LAN as a link a hard drive on one PC, but I found that we didn’t have another PC available at the time. I did find a new graphics card, still in the box, and a spare 19″ Trinitron monitor, in our store room. I decided to give dual monitors a go, because I had read that this could be done in Win98.

    I installed the card, hooked up the second monitor, and to my surprise Windows 98 automatically set it up for me within a minute or two. This turned out to be an amazing boost to my productivity, and I’ll never go back. Now, at the office, I use a Dell d810 notebook with a second large high-res monitor connected as extended desktop. At home, I still use the two original Trinitron 19″ CRTs, as they are nearly as good as any LCD I’ve tried, and they just keep on ticking.

    I’ve even added a small 15″ LCD to my home array, for the specific purpose of using as a magnifier for detail work in CAD. The magnifying function in the NVidia driver works fine for this. Seems like I can do the work of three people with this setup.

  • John McQuillan

    The sheer size of two 19 inch CRTs makes me shudder ! Why not just use a screen changer & switch from one to the other as required. After all, two screens can’t be viewed simultaneously anyway.

  • Mike Baynes

    Hi Dan,
    i have been using dual monitors for at last 10 years using a dual head video card. I do free email tech support on many groups. So I have one screen checking email open all day long and the ability tpo prescreem the mail.
    The dual monitors alow me to have the email I’m replying to one while researching the answers on the web or have the search engine open and the results in another.
    I also used dual monitors on the kids computers with the second monitor in my den so I could see what they were doing without my looking over their shoulder.
    Since I have been on Freecycle I find I can obtain monitors and often video cards for free.

    My main computer has a 27″ LCD with a 19″ LCD second monitoer
    My Laptop has a 17″widescreen dispay and a 17″lcd second dispaly.
    My game computer has dual 19CRT monitors.

  • DanB

    Dave Loomis – your post reminded me that my first computer was an Osborne O1. I wrote several long manuals on it with its 4″ diagonal screen. What a pain.

  • DanB

    David thank you for sharing. Your experience shows how the dual or larger monitor makes you more productive. You simply carry your thoughts better and save time switching among apps.

    Dreamweaver was one of the apps that turned me around. Having the editor layed out on one screen and the actual website on the other made for quick work. I work of a live web server on my local machine. So once I hit save in Dreamweaver I can refresh and see the changes live. Then when all is well I transfer to the web.

    Thanks for sharing.

  • DanB

    Dixon sounds like the monitors really help you.

  • DanB

    John Q – see the other posts for examples of how it helps. Until you try it you don’t realize how much of your thinking and time is spent swapping between things. And you can view two screens easily. Think of shifting your eyes to the left or right for a second and coming back versus hitting a keyboard combo or mouse before making the comparison. Also switching prevents you from comparing items side by side.

    Give it a try you might like it. I would rather have two 17 inch monitors than one 19 inch.

  • Dixon

    John McQuillan,

    You miss the point. Switching screens is not any different, in my case, than switching windows. The fact is, I can and do look at the monitors at the same time; I do this because I must compare two drawings. Hard to do with screen switching. I don’t know anyone that runs CAD other than full screen–that would be very detrimental to the eyes and to productivity.

    Smaller monitors would be fine for other applications, but not for detailed architectural or mechanical drafting. I Draft in AutoCAD, full screen, and toolpath CNC equipment with a CAM program, which looks just like AutoCAD–and has the same drawing up in both for comparison so that I can instantly observe tool path conflicts with the actual geometries created in CAD. Both apps are run in full screen mode for the best visibility.

    Some of my work is very detailed, and requires constant zooming in and out of a detail of the part. I solved this by yet a third small LCD monitor that serves as a magnifier. Most of the Trinitron CRT’s bulk is behind the screens, and I have a large workstation that actually hides all all the rear parts of the monitor.

    If you recall, Trinitrons had a very small bezel compared other CRTs, so they fit closely side by side. I hate the thought that when these monitors finally die, I’ll have to buy two very expensive high-resolution LCDs to replace them, but I will replace them with two 19 inchers in any case.

  • CarlA

    I found out the benefits of dual screen 5 or 6 years ago. I had been trying to do this for a few years before that, but didn’t have the spare cards/monitors available to experiment with.

    When my work PC was replaced, a dual monitor ‘y’ cable came with it. I originally used an old SUN monitor, but had to give it back. Then I got a new 19″ LCD and kept the old 19″ crt. Dang, that made it easier to work. (Btw, I was a network analyst at a university.)

    I have since left that job and don’t use computers for work in the new job. But, I have dual monitors on my home system and still love it; don’t need it, but have it anyway. It comes in handy for cut/paste operations and if I need two browser windows instead of multiple tabs on one browser. At the moment, I have two LCD’s; a 17 and a 19. Life is good.

  • JMichael

    I’ve been using dual monitors for a while, but recently I switched to two identical Acer 19-inch wide screens. Having the same monitors makes it so much nicer. I’ve used various configurations over the years, from a dual-computer Amiga with sidecar and two monitors, to KVM switched machines, and using a fast Athlon 64 with dual monitors is by far the most productive I’ve been. One problem I’ve run into, is that most computer desks with hutches just won’t accomodate two 19-inch widescreens without modification. Sometimes you just have to sacrifice. Get out the circular saw!

  • David

    I’ve seen Viewsonic display dual and quad setups at conventions so they probabaly sell them. Just checked TigerDirect and they have a couple of models in Canada, probabaly more in the US.
    A quick Google search of “dual monitor display arm” comes up with dozens of suppliers, including this one:

    How about a 6 up?

  • LeftBlank

    I do a lot of copywriting at work and much of it is based on previous white papers, webpages, manuals, etc. I borrowed a second monitor from our IT group a few months ago when I had a tight deadline to meet. It was a 15″, but it was enough to sell me on the idea of using dual screens.

    My boss noticed the increase in my productivity and bought another 19″ LCD to match my primary 19″ LCD. I loved it so much, I gave my daughter my 17″ LCD at home and bought a pair of 19″ LCD monitors for home. Between work and home, I have two pairs of Dell 1907 LCD monitors. I’ll never go back to singles again.

    It looks like one large monitor with a bar down the middle and I run both screens at the maximum resolution.

    If I can give one tip to everyone, spend the $40 and buy UltraMon:

    A co-worker turned me on to UltraMon and it really takes dual screens to the next level. Besides changing wallpapers separately, it adds a button to the top of windows that allows you to toss a program back and forth between the monitors. It also adds the second taskbar to your secondary monitor and applications minimize to the taskbar where they reside. Those that use dual screens in Windows know that only the primary monitor has the taskbar. It also allows you to mirror your primary monitor when we do presentations so I can stare at one monitor and turn the other around for the group to see.

    Thanks, Dan!


  • DanB

    LeftBlank – I don\’t recall what graphics card I used at the time – I think Matrox. The driver made my screen on big screen. To move a window from one monitor to another all I had to do was drag it across. Only had one task bar that extended across the both monitors.

    Thanks for sharing your experience.

    ~ Dan

  • Larry H

    I’ve had 2 screens for about 3 years now. When I got interested in creating and studying maps for Unreal Tournament 2004 I found it VERY useful! The mapping screen can be kept uncluttered on one side and the texture/static mesh/actor/etc can be opened fully on the other. I can widen either to cover both screens if need be. I also use it for transfering and searching files. Another great use is Ebay on one screen and a network search engine on anotherto check and compare things.
    I have my main connected to both, with one of them going thru a 4 way KVM for my server and for repairing computers. Last June my video board (a Radeon X800) had to go to the manufacture for repairs and I had to use the on-board video…it felt like I had lost a part of me! I was limited as to what I could do for 6 weeks!!
    These days most if not all video boards are dual output, so if you have one or need to replace one, find a temp from someone or one you have sitting around and try it for a month or two, you’ll love it!


  • Yehuda Zimmerman


    As a technical writer whose main machine is a laptop, I have been enjoying using 2 monitors for a number of years. It enables me to see my source documents on one screen while doing my writing on the second screen.

    My productivity is up, up, up!


  • James Clemenger

    I’m not really adding much to the good coveralge here already, except to add an example. I develop Excel applications in VBA for our organization, and as anyone who has ever struggled to pin down a bug from a vague error message knows, it can be frustrating. With two monitors I can step through the code on one side and watch what happens to the userform/dialog/spreadsheet on the other, so I can see just where things go awry! It has made a big difference for me.


  • David R

    Reddit recently had a post about two screens:

    I’ve just got a laptop so I’ll definitely hook it up to my old 17″ CRT to see what happens. Thanks for all the interesting posts on this topic.

  • Gareth Hargreaves

    I use a second monitor for development in Macromedia director and recording using Samplitude studio and I couldn’t live without it now. I literally can’t work on a single monitor because I feel so impaired, and I’m partially blind in 1 eye.

    I think the GUI of tools like Macromedia director are designed for multiple monitors especially if you are working on projects that are intended for full screen playback.

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