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Dual monitors ... at home?

With the price and desktop footprint of monitors coming down so much, I am contemplating purchasing an LCD monitor to sit beside the 19" CRT I already have.  But having never experienced a multi-monitor setup before, neither at work nor at home, I'm not sure if it is worth it.  I hear and read about how they increase productivity, but I haven't seen any solid examples of how they would benefit me at home.

What am I missing that is worth spending a few hundred dollars for an extra monitor?

T. Norman
Saturday, December 13, 2003

Depends what you use your home machine for.

I don't play too many games at home, so can't take advantage of games that support two or indeed three monitors.

I had dual setup once. I was doing a lot of web development at the time, and it is nice to work on one monitor and use the other one to monitor the server, and run the web browser.

I also found them useful when I was teaching myself Oracle and Tcl with openacs . Because most of the docs were online, it was really useful being able to work/develop on one screen, and have the docs open on another.

Most of the time though, I just ended up playing a dvd on one, while I worked/internet on the other.

Saturday, December 13, 2003

>> What am I missing that is worth spending a few hundred dollars for an extra monitor?

My client has deployed dual monitors to all of their fulltime SW developers.  These guys can have an IDE debugging session going on one monitor while displaying the application under debug in the other monitor. On a single monitor setup, they would have to layer the two programs and mess with continually bringing the app they want to access up to the top.

It wasn't clear to me either until I saw it in practice. I think it's very worthwhile for a SW developer. Less so (perhaps) for other uses of computers. 

Bored Bystander
Saturday, December 13, 2003

Dual monitors is one of the hugest productivity improvements you can possibly make. First is the fact that many current apps require a tremendous amount of pixel real estate (i.e. Visual Studio), and secondly it is simply easier and more productive to have web research/MSDN on one monitor, and Visual Studio on the other, etc.

Dennis Forbes
Saturday, December 13, 2003

I use it a lot to have a website with information about what I'm doing, or a help file open on one screen, and my IDE open on the other. Since my hobby is programming, I find having this setup at home quite worthwhile. It's also nice to be able to have something you're actively working on (like, say, writing documentation or a functional spec) and something you're not actively working on, but want to take 10 seconds every minute or so to do (Internet Backgammon eats my life) on different monitors.

Basically, you can't go wrong with more screen real estate, no matter how you get it.

Tim Sullivan
Saturday, December 13, 2003

Dual monitors are a HUGE benefit for development work.  I don't know what you're using your home PC for, but if you're developing software/web pages, go for it.

I'm not doing development at home anymore, but I still love having multiple monitors.  When I'm doing things like reconciling my bank statement, I keep MS money open on one monitor, and by bank's web page open on the other monitor.

Just make sure you get a graphics card that does a good job with dual monitor support.  Matrox's cards are by far the best at dual-head stuff (it's a shame that they suck for gaming).

My setup:
- 3x 17" LCD Panels (1280x1024)
- Matrox Parhelia drives the first two panels
- Martox G450 PCI drives the third panel

Myron A. Semack
Saturday, December 13, 2003

"Matrox's cards are by far the best at dual-head stuff (it's a shame that they suck for gaming)."

ATI's and nVidias have definitely caught up to them.  I have a $35 Radeon (go NewEgg!) that does a great job with dual output.  :P

On my other home machine I have an nVidia 4400 that does nicely, and at work I have a machine with an nForce motherboard with built-in dual output that does very nicely.

John Rose
Saturday, December 13, 2003

I got a dual monitor set up at the office this year.  One 21" crt and on 18" LCD which are very close to being the same size.  I  didn't think I would like it, but now when I'm working at home with only one monitor, I realize how much difference the second monitor makes. 

I almost always have the development environment in one window, command line/explorer/web browser and debugging app in another.  Sometimes I even run the development environment on each monitor to look at multiple files at the same time.  So I'm sold on the the dual monitor setup.  BTW the ATI drivers I'm using must have the worst API I've ever seen.  Every once and awhile my configuration gets messed up and it takes an hour to get it right again.

Maybe one Apple cinema display would do the trick.

christopher baus (
Saturday, December 13, 2003

The problem I've run into with non-Matrox cards is that they only run multiple displays in "stretched" mode as opposed to an independent mode.  Matrox cards give you a choice.

In stretched mode, Windows has no idea where the edges of the displays are.  It just sees one really wide-screen monitor.  This makes window and menu placement a problem.  In stretched mode, if I right-click on the Windows desktop near the right hand edge of my screen, the context menu will be split between the displays.  One half of the menu will be on the first screen, the other half of the menu will be on the other screen.  Not too readable.

In stretched mode, the task bar will span all your displays.  If you ahve a lot of windows open, you will inveriably get a taskbar button that chopped in half.

Another gripe:  In stretched mode, if a web site has some javascript to expend the window to the full screen size, my web browser will be maximized across all three monitors.  In independent mode, it only fill one screen.  Still annoying, but less annoying.

ATI's Hydravision utility tries to compensate for this, but it's far from perfect.

With a Matrox card, each monitor shows up as an independent display.  Windows knows where the edges of the screen are, and will avoid making UI elements like menus span across 2 displays.

Last I checked, neither ATI nor Nvidia allowed me to control this.  Has that changed?

Myron A. Semack
Saturday, December 13, 2003

"Last I checked, neither ATI nor Nvidia allowed me to control this.  Has that changed?"

Quite a few years ago, when the OS started bundling the multiple display feature in (at least as long ago as Windows 2000/Me, and I think even as long ago as Windows 98).

Brad Wilson (
Saturday, December 13, 2003

The OS bundles the multiple display feature ... does it allow independent displays with one dual-head graphics card, or would you need two graphics cards (or a Matrox) to do that?

T. Norman
Saturday, December 13, 2003

NVidia does independent monitors. I use this setup at work with a Geforce4 Ti4600.

In addition, I use Ultramon to give me independent taskbars for each monitor.

Chris Altmann
Saturday, December 13, 2003

Many recent video cards (GeForce and Radeon) support dual monitors with one card.  You should search for "dual head" graphics cards.  Here's one list:

E.g., the GeForce 5700 that I just bought has two output ports -- a VGA port and a DVI (LCD) port.  You can buy an inexpensive adapter cable that converts the DVI port into a second VGA port, so you can hook up two monitors.  (I don't know if you can go the other way to get two DVI ports, but many LCDs also have VGA inputs.)

Robert Jacobson
Saturday, December 13, 2003

I have an nVidia Geforce3 Ti200. It has Twinview which supports two displays on the one card, but it is not apparent from the documentation that it handles two *independent* displays.  The only options described are "Clone", "Horizontal Span", and "Vertical Span".

T. Norman
Saturday, December 13, 2003

I'm not asking about supporting "dual monitors with one card", I'm asking about supporting dual display in INDEPENDENT mode.  There's a difference.

I know ATI did not as of last week.  It's been a long time since I've looked at an nVidia card.

Myron A. Semack
Saturday, December 13, 2003

Go back to 640 x 480 and then back to your full normal desktop size, then tell me whether or not MORE screen real estate will help you.
Saturday, December 13, 2003

Back to the OP's question, I use a dual-LCD dev system in my home office, but my personal/non-business PC is a single-display system. And every time I use it I miss the dual-monitor support.

Dual monitors are great any time you want to be using two apps simultaneously. Having them side by side is much better than alt-tabbing between them or trying to tile them on a single display (unless, perhaps, you have a *very* high-res monitor). For example, a spreadsheet with your investment research and targets next to a browser with your E-Trade account. A Quicken session next to a browser with your online banking service. Or even a text editor  next to Expedia/Orbitz/whatever so you can keep notes on different flight, hotel, etc. options when you're planning travel. Open e-mails and still see your calendar or contacts list. And on and on and on.

Oh, also, I've used Flight Simulator on a triple-head system and it is very cool -- actually passable for VFR flight, which I find nearly impossible on a single-monitor system because of the severely restricted field of view.

For development, of course, multiple monitors are a godsend. For one thing, you can actually open up a modern IDE and still have room for your code after all the various windows and panes are open. Plus you can have your requirements document, command line, Web browser, bug tracker, CVS client, WinAmp playlist, and everything else you need open simultaneously. Very, very nice.

John C.
Saturday, December 13, 2003

I have three screens in front of me right now. It is really great to be able to have, for instance, headers and code open next to each other, or documentation and code. Or just to have a random command prompt open as necessary. The third screen isn't nearly as valuable as the second, but still worthwhile.  I cannot recomend multiple screens highly enough.

Mike Swieton
Saturday, December 13, 2003

"Go back to 640 x 480 and then back to your full normal desktop size, then tell me whether or not MORE screen real estate will help you."

Sure, more screen real estate is better than less of it, and I would install a second monitor without hesitation if it were free.  The question is the extent to which it is worth paying for.  It is definitely worth paying money to go from 640x480 to 1280x1024.  But I don't know yet if it is worth hundreds of dollars to go from 1280x1024 to dual monitors.  Wherever the point is, everybody has a point at which more screen real estate is not worth paying for.

T. Norman
Saturday, December 13, 2003

A 19inch flat panel costs on average about $650, with many deals to be found. If you are making more than $50K a year, it is money well spent. just the ability to have one window open to documentation, and the other with the development environment, is worth the cost. i used to put my messaging and email in the 2nd monitor, until I bought the 3rd. :)

Saturday, December 13, 2003


which monitors do you use?

Prakash S
Saturday, December 13, 2003

Okay how about this... Get a new monitor for every thousand ALT+TAB's you perform in a day. 1280 x 1024 is great, but it's not 2 full sized windows next to each other. Not even at 800 pixels wide.
Saturday, December 13, 2003

"The problem I've run into with non-Matrox cards is that they only run multiple displays in "stretched" mode as opposed to an independent mode.  Matrox cards give you a choice."

I don't find that true of any nVidia or ATI dual-head setup I've used in years, on Win2K or XP. 

I have really good dual-head results with an el-cheapo Radeon 7000 which you can get for $35 from NewEgg.  Although you obviously wouldn't want to do 3D with it, it's great for 2D.

Additionally, and I haven't tried this with other cards, but the dual-head Radeon7000's "play nice" with eachother if you have the PCI version *and* the AGP version installed in the same system... I have both, and just for kicks I put them in one machine and ran four monitors at once just to see if it worked.  And it did.  :-)

Link:  (no, I don't work for them and this isn't an affiliate link or anything)

T. Norman, for $35, can you go wrong?  You surely have a second monitor laying around somewhere that you can borrow for a little testing to see if it's worth it for you.  I think you'd enjoy it!

John Rose
Sunday, December 14, 2003

"I'm not asking about supporting "dual monitors with one card", I'm asking about supporting dual display in INDEPENDENT mode.  There's a difference.

I know ATI did not as of last week.  It's been a long time since I've looked at an nVidia card. "

What? They've done this for about 4 years now.

For my thesis work, I used Win98SE, an ATI Radeon VE card (the low cost dual-head card from about 3 years ago) and a 17" and a 15" monitor. Both monitors ran at different resolutions (17" @ 1600x1200, 15" @ 1024x768). Both worked "independently". I could drag windows from monitor to monitor. I could expand a window to fill a single monitor (Windows recognized the edges of each monitor).

This was very useful. I could have my thesis open on the smaller monitor and my graphics program open in the larger monitor. I could create graphics and add them to my thesis without juggling windows.  I could also run Matlab full screen on the larger monitor and have the graphs appear full screen on the smaller monitor. Very handy. And for dabbling in web development, I could run Homesite one monitor and have a preview browser open on the second monitor.

Currently, I use it when updating finances. I open the money program on one monitor and a web browser showing my 401k contributions on the other. I can then more easily enter my 401k investments into my finances without juggling windows.

I recommend doing it without looking back. Grab an old monitor you've got collecting dust for your second monitor, to save money if you need to.

David Fischer
Sunday, December 14, 2003

I was also going to comment on the ATI thing -- yes they handle duel monitors just fine.  In fact, I just bought an ATI All-in-Wonder Radeon 9600 which handles two monitors out of the box.

Almost Anonymous
Sunday, December 14, 2003

ATI does two *independent* monitors out of the box?  As in two monitors having different resolutions and their own taskbar?

T. Norman
Sunday, December 14, 2003

"ATI does two *independent* monitors out of the box?  As in two monitors having different resolutions and their own taskbar?"

Even with two video cards; Windows does not put a taskbar on each monitor.  That's why products like Ultramon exists.

However, ATI supports to fully independent monitors at different resolutions, refresh rates, etc.  You can maximize windows independently to each Monitor.

Almost Anonymous
Sunday, December 14, 2003


"Which monitors do you use?"

Well, mostly I've just accumulated screens, they are not a matched set. Several years ago I bought what is now my left screen, a Sony 19" E400. Best screen I've ever used. I highly recomend it.

More recently I purchased my right screen, a low-end viewsonic 15" LCD. Only 60 hertz refresh rate on their, but it's flicker free, so no worries.

My middle screen is a used 21" that I got off of a friend. It starts wiggin out occaisionally, but it's no big deal.

They aren't all the same size, but they are close enough that 1024x768 on each is readable on all of them (and is the max res on theLCD). Having experimented, I find this to be a good setup for me, because little that I do calls for a higher resolution than 1024x768.

My video cards are (currently this changes sometimes) a ATI Radeon 9500, middle screen. It supports dual output, but under linux I don't see a way to get independent displays with xinerama. Windows works fine.

My left screen is a Matrox Mystique, 2mb ram. That's the other thing that limits my resolution :)

I have an SiS 6326 powering my LCD.

Aside from recent heat problems stemming from an already-crowded case having an ATI stuck in there, it's been working wonderfully and flawlessly.

The biggest issue that I have is that it's hard to get an environment that is useful for managing windows. When you're really working, you have many windows open, and moving them and switching can be a pain. I don't do much windows work, so I don't have an answer there, but under linux I use the ion window manager. It's really a great setup.

Mike Swieton
Sunday, December 14, 2003


Prakash S
Sunday, December 14, 2003

+1 recommendation for UltraMon. If you're using multiple monitors, you should be using it. It's great.

And, to echo the information given earlier, yes, ATi and nVidia have supported fully independent monitors for years. I've been running my dual monitors for a few years. The key is to use the OS functionality that's been built in, to enable and control the displays independently, rather than using any of the "special" functionality in the drivers themselves that does spanning (what you're explicitly trying to avoid).

Brad Wilson (
Sunday, December 14, 2003

Here's a freeware one as well.

I've been using this one for many, many months and have not had a problem with it on XP.  I'm using it on a machine with two seperate video cards. One is an el-cheapo Trident and the other is a really old ATI Rage Pro card.

Jonathan A.
Sunday, December 14, 2003

Some of you may have the potential of multiple screens without spending a cent.  If you use a laptop with a CRT, and are running Windows XP, you can probably use both at once.  Of course this means you have to locate the laptop somewhere besides directly under the monitor.

(Of course I am stuck on Win2K at the office so this does me no good at all.)

Monday, December 15, 2003

Why not? Windows 2000 supports multi-monitors natively.

Brad Wilson (
Monday, December 15, 2003

When I read about this, the gig was that win2k only supported the "independent" (non-stretched" mode if you had actual different chipsets for each display.  So, it depends on the particular card.  One chipset with two ports=stretching.  I use an Appian card and get 2 independent displays, plus one from the laptop dock.  YMMV and all that, but that's what I tracked down.

Now, if I could only get the screens not to flicker from EMI when I set them at anything over 60Hz refresh, which is annoying for its own reason...argh.


Tuesday, December 16, 2003


Some PC Mag article (Dvorak, perhaps?) wrote an article about EMI from florescent lights.

He claims that a LOT of those lights are wired wrong and emit all SORTS of EMI.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

I have multiple displays at work and at home and would highly recommend it.

Other uses not mentioned:
* editing a master document on one display and referring to source material or previous revisions on the other

* editing slides or viewing speaker notes on a laptop during a presentation (with the current live slide on the external projector display).

For my purposes multiple 17" displays work better than a single large display.

I have NVidia GeForce2 cards which do support independent displays in Win 2k (though I had to do a bit of registry fiddling with the older drivers.).

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

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