October 14, 2007

Large monitors: productivity and enjoyment

After much querying and agonizing, I finally opted a year ago to buy a 30" Dell monitor, an expenditure with which I am really happy. Today, the price has dropped by almost half to just under $1300 — still a lot, but entirely worth it. Having worked with this setup for a year, I can say that articles I'd read about large monitors increasing productivity are true — but they didn't go into much detail as to why that is, and didn't give me any pictures. This is one case in which seeing is believing.

Video card: I also needed a video card to run this monitor (and the 19" CRT parked off to the side). The nVidia card we got conveniently allows you to adjust the monitors separately in its own little onscreen panel. And, while it provides the usual range of resolutions for the more squarish width-to-height dimensions of CRTs, it also provides a wider array of width/height resolutions for widescreen monitors, which don't have the same width-to-height ratio.

That is, for widescreens, for almost every width, it provides multiple heights, which is what allows for proper display on widescreens. For example, on a widescreen set at 1280×768 pixels, the display would be slightly vertically-squished because 768 pixels in height is just too much for the height of the screen. But the nVidia video card provides multiple height resolutions for almost every width. Problem solved. Elegantly.

Now, mind you, I don't have the amazing visual capabilities of those capable of reading smaller monitors at 1280×768 (that, and I tend to sit back from the monitor), so I adjusted the resolution so that text size is still the equivalent of what it would have been at 1024×768 on a smaller monitor.

And so? Aside from the obvious "more screen real estate", what do I get out of this? The short answer is: width and height. Monitor and computer manufacturers measure monitors diagonally, but I'll say that it's 25 inches wide by almost 16 inches tall. That means I can see; yes, there's the beauty of the vastly increased width, but I found the height a surprising bonus.

Surfin' w-i-d-e

I'd originally imagined myself always surfing with two side-by-side open windows, but in practice, while I normally have the usual pile of windows and programs open (the benefit of loads of RAM), they're all at wider than normal widths. Here's me visiting my organic food website:

Large Monitor

Nice, isn't it? Width and height. For that alone, I'd buy this monitor again.

For designers and coders: side-by-side windows

For me, the ability to have side-by-side windows, or wider windows, translates into faster production and less confusion. Need to look at a screenful of code? You'll see more of it, and it's easier to get a grasp of the "layout" of the code with the increased height. As to opening documents next to each other, here's me editing a WordPress template — that's the CSS file on the left and the WordPress template in the middle (the stuff on the right is the "tree" view of the site files in Dreamweaver). No clicking back and forth between windows to see what you've named something or where it is in the layout. And you just click in either window to make it active.

Large Monitor

I don't use Dreamweaver — I'm a programmer

Okay, of course, programmers (er, "web developers") don't need one of these wide screen monitors because they just code all day, right? Well … how about this: you're coding a script to support an HTML form, so you have to flip back and forth between programs and windows to track the form fields and variables. No problem: just set up the windows side by side. Heck, I could probably get even "more" screen space if only I'd bump up the resolution … but I've got a nice, comfortable font size going, so I'm leaving it as is.

Here's me editing an HTML form in Dreamweaver and a Perl .cgi script in NoteTab Pro. And I can easily switch DW to code view while entering the corresponding variables into the .cgi script. Is this not better than clicking back and forth between windows (while the phone rings, the dog wants fed, etc.)?

Large Monitor - HTML form and Perl cgi

Pfft! I don't code or design: I'm an SEO consultant

Okay. But consider doing a site analysis — and writing it while looking right at the site. No clicking back and forth. Designing or updating? Do that while keeping your client's notes on hand in another window.

Large Monitors - SEO and site review

Imaging Programs (Photoshop)

Okay; one of my reasons for purchasing a large monitor was because I do a lot of design and image editing. On my old monitor at 1024px resolution, working in Photoshop on an 800px wide image meant that the little Photoshop panels (toolbars of sorts) would lay on top of my image file — I'd have to move them around (constantly) to see what I was doing. When I had to compare multiple images, there would be a lot of switching them one atop the other, back and forth — and it's hard to compare two items minutely when you can't see both at the same time.

Now I just stretch that window out. (Actually, I could expand it to the width of the entire screen, or even both screens, but that seems excessive.) As you can see from the screenshot below, there's a lot of unused space at 1920px wide — and it won't all get used up even if I design a 1280px wide image. I could bump up the resolution to 2560×1600 but, as I said, I like to sit further back from the monitor.

Large Monitor - Photoshop

Now, I could have purchased two smaller monitors. But note that the above image in Photoshop is about 840px wide; what happens when I'm designing for 1280px? The image might have to be stretched across two monitors, with the monitor edges in between. Of course, I could move the palettes (panels) to another monitor, but I don't want them on another monitor — I want to see everything in one window. And what about designing in Flash?

Added: sites that are better with large screens

Depending upon what you do, you may find that some sites are just better surfed with a large monitor/widescreen. Here's a stock photography site … much better than endless clicking through pages, yes?

Stock Photography site on a Widescreen Monitor


Lastly, the Dell monitor: it's a beauty. Bright, vivid enough, and it can be raised and lowered, and tilted forward and back and from side to side. Easily. It's a prize-winner, in my opinion.

Anyway, all said and done, I'm quite happy with this setup. It's another one of those "it would be real difficult to go back" things.


Thanks to Danny Sullivan (see his three monitor set up) for recommending UltraMon. You see, when you have multiple monitors, all tabs for open programs sit on the main monitor's taskbar. Drag a window to an alternate monitor and … its tab stays on the main monitor's taskbar. It doesn't take too long for that task bar to get filled up and confusing; it's a usability issue. UltraMon elegantly puts a taskbar on each monitor, and puts the open program tabs in the taskbar of the associated monitor. Done; end of confusion.

4 Comments to "Large monitors: productivity and enjoyment"

  1. Ryan Lash - Search Engine Marketing Consultant says:

    Hey Diana,

    I went with Danny's setup earlier this year plus plus (two laptops, mac+pc):
    …and have never looked back!


    PS: feel free to ping me if you are ever in downtown, I'll gladly give you the tour, city-folk-style :).

  2. Diane Vigil says:

    Boy, that's a lot of screens! Great! Nothing like being able to see everything.

    You're in downtown L.A.?

  3. Ryan Lash - Search Engine Marketing Consultant says:

    "You're in downtown L.A.?"


  4. Diane Vigil says:

    Excellent. :)

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