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rlb
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« on: Dec 30, 2006, 09:33AM »

Tech Tip #2:  Using two monitors for your desktop

I've used a dual-monitor setup for years now, and it has become such second nature to me that I find it hard to work productively without them.  For those that have considered it, I have written up a skeletal how-to below.  Feel free to post questions and I'll answer 'em as best as I can.

Why use two monitors?

The typical home user may appreciate the extra space in order to spread out documents for easy reviewing without having to tab back and forth. On a more recreational level, perhaps they will utilize one monitor for their web browser, while the second one is used to display e-mail, instant messaging, MP3 playback, DVD video, and so on.

Another benefit of dual displays in the home can be experienced in 3D games. Many games are now supporting multiple monitors in order to enhance the experience. Unreal Tournament, Quake, and Microsoft’s Flight Simulator are just a few of the series of games that support multiple monitors to allow the player to further immerse themselves in the action.

In business settings, dual displays may be even more valuable. In addition to being able to view multiple documents at once, some may just need more space to see what they are working on. Designers using AutoCAD can now drag all of their toolbars onto the second monitor and use the entire surface of the primary monitor as an uninterrupted workspace. Another example of the benefits of dual displays can be seen with day traders, who may need to be monitoring the activity of numerous stocks at once. Having one window hidden behind another may be not only be inconvenient, but costly, and multiple monitors might be an easy upgrade to justify when money is on the line.

Justification

Financially, two smaller monitors should be much easier to justify than one larger monitor. Two 17” LCD monitors, or even two 19” LCD monitors, generally cost much less than just one 20” LCD monitor. Two typical 17” models will cost about $400, while one 20” model will cost closer to $800.
Dual CTR monitors

The price difference between two new smaller monitors and one new larger monitor is remarkable, but many people might already have something like a decent quality 17" or 19" monitor on hand. The value of a dual display desktop gets even better if you only need to buy one of the monitors. Many people retire perfectly good monitors just because they want to upgrade to a larger screen. Simply adding another, similar monitor to the setup can be much more economical and provide even greater desktop real estate.

Desktop real estate is what this effort is all about. People want larger displays for generally three reasons: (1) to make the image larger and easier on their eyes, (2) to be able to fit more content on to the screen, and (3) (bad reason) just for bragging rights. Dual displays may be a good way to take care of numbers one and two.  In web development, dual-displays are invaluable; code on one screen, browser(s) on the other.  In working in Finale/Sibelius/Band-in-a-Box/etc., having the extra display is also VERY useful.

As a point of reference in the desktop real estate department, let’s take a look at the maximum resolution you can run with either a single 20” monitor or two 17” monitors. A 20” Sony LCD monitor supports a maximum resolution of 1600x1200. Any one of the 17” or 19” LCD monitors at the links above will provide a maximum resolution of 1280x1024. Place two of these monitors side-by-side in a dual desktop setup and you have an effective resolution of 2560x1024. If your physical desktop makes it more convenient to configure your Windows desktop so that one monitor is above the other, instead of side-by-side, you could then have an effective resolution of 1280x2048. As you can see, the total area in the dual display configuration is far greater than that found on just one 20” monitor.

From an aesthetic standpoint, people may like to have two of the exact same monitors on their desk. It is not necessary that the monitors in a dual display setup match in terms of size, brand, or technology (LCD or CRT). Any two monitors can work in a dual display setup as long as the connections on the monitor and the graphic adaptor match up. That said, there may be other reasons why someone would want to have similar, if not identical, monitors in their array.

The display specifications are worth considering when adding a different type of monitor in order to create a dual desktop arrangement. Factors such as contrast, brightness, resolution, refresh rate, and dot pitch are just some of the variables that can make one monitor look different than others. In general, it is not a big deal for displays to look different when they are in different locations, but when you have them side-by-side on your desk it may be more of an issue. If the image quality isn’t similar, shifting your eyes back and forth between the two monitors can become a strain as your eyes try to adjust to each. Many quality LCD displays have specifications that overlap and should be comfortable on the eyes, but a nice crisp LCD next to a slightly worn CRT is a different story.

Hardware

The software portion of the setup is easily addressed considering that the functionality is built into just about every operating system available. The hardware required for running dual displays requires a bit more consideration, but isn’t anything that even a novice computer user can’t figure out. One thing you obviously need to have is a pair of monitors. The second thing you need to have is a means for connecting these two monitors to the computer, which can be accomplished in a variety of ways. For those building a system from scratch, perhaps the easiest way to connect two monitors is via a dual-head graphics adaptor, such as this nVidia GeForce 6600 PCIe card. The connectors on this card allow for either one digital and one analog, or for two analog monitors (using the included adaptor) to be connected to the system through the use of just one PCI Express x16 slot. There are also dual-head cards available for AGP and PCI; it is simply a matter of selecting the correct card for the slots available on your motherboard.

In addition to selecting the correct motherboard interface, it is important to select the correct display connections. The card referenced in the previous paragraph provides one DVI connection for a digital display, as well as one standard 15-pin VGA connection for an analog display. Through the use of an included DVI to VGA adaptor, owners can then run the combinations of monitors mentioned above. Other cards may offer two DVI connections or two VGA connections. A VGA connection can be identified by the typical 15-pin (generally blue in color) plug that has been the staple on computers for years. DVI ConnectionA DVI connection is generally white in color, and is slightly wider than a VGA connection. Whether selecting a card for use with existing monitors, or buying the card and monitors all at one time, it is obviously critical to select components that will work together.

For those with an existing system that could benefit from dual displays, replacing the existing graphics adapter with a dual-head card is an option, but it is not the only one. Another graphics adaptor can be added to the system--which is what I usually do--and the existing card can be kept. This is nice for financial reasons, or if the performance of the existing card doesn’t warrant replacement.

The key thing to consider with this approach is to select a secondary graphics adapter that uses a slot available on your motherboard, and that offers a display connection to match your monitor. Newer systems may feature more than one PCIe x16 slots which can make this happen, but you can also add a PCI card to any system currently running PCIe, AGP, or PCI graphics. The cards used in a dual display setup do not need to match, and it is acceptable to run a high end primary card with a bargain basement secondary card, or any combination of cards in between.

Trying to set up dual displays on systems with integrated video can result with mixed results. Expansion slots are generally available for graphics cards on systems with the video adapter built into the motherboard, but using these slots on many systems like this instantly disables the onboard video. Those desiring dual displays on such systems need to investigate whether onboard graphics adapter can be part of the setup, or if two new connections need to be installed via either method described previously. But, some integrated video solutions will support dual displays, and may do so without additional hardware. For example, if the manufacturer includes the necessary connections, systems that utilize the Intel Extreme2 integrated graphics processor can run dual displays as is. There are also specialty cards, such as the ones made by Matrox that can allow up to four monitors per card (!!!), and multiple cards per system. Though not made for the gamer, these cards are great for stock traders, banks and enterprise server situations. Notebook computer owners aren’t left out of the loop on dual displays, either. Most modern notebooks feature a VGA connection that can either be used as the primary display or as part of a dual display arrangement with the notebook’s integrated display. Not all notebooks allow for this, as some will only mirror the display onto the attached monitor, so it is best to check the features and specifications before making any purchases.

Configuration

This is both the easiest and most frustrating part.  Technically, it's simple--however, be prepared to muck about with settings for a few minutes until it "slots" correctly for your uses.

Displaying your desktop on multiple monitors is natively supported by Windows XP, 2000, ME, and 98, as well as in the popular distributions of Linux.  With the proper hardware installed, enabling dual displays is quite easy. Simply navigate to the “Settings” tab of the “Display Properties” screen in Windows--right-click on your desktop and choose "Properties" to get there--and where most people are used to seeing controls for one monitor, you will now see two. The two monitors can then be enabled/disabled, resized, and reoriented to match the configuration that they physically occupy on your desk. By selecting to “Extend my Windows desktop onto this monitor”, the cursor will now be able to leave the primary monitor and can freely navigate the second display as if it was all one surface. You can move programs, icons, taskbars, and wallpapers onto the secondary monitor and start taking advantage of the increased desktop real estate. With this setup, a computer becomes much more convenient to use.

r




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« Reply #1 on: Dec 30, 2006, 10:29AM »

I've done a fair amount of work with dual monitors.  The first Matrox card I used was the best; to the OS the dual monitors looked like one big monitor so I could work dual monitor even when the underlying OS didn't support it (and many didn't back then).  With 2 19" CRT's I had a desktop of 3200x1200.  Eventually one of the CRTs was replaced with a 19" LCD with a maximum resolution of 1280x1024 and with this card both monitors had to run the same resolution so I my total resolution was down to 2560x1280.  This was pretty nice because the LCD was sharper for text while the CRT had richer colors for images.  Then we all lost our offices and we now work from laptops.  There is a bullpen of monitors we can use at work though.  When I dock I have a 17" laptop lcd at 1920x1200 and a 19" lcd monitor at 1280x1024.  Win XP supports dual monitors very well so with this setup I use the laptop display to get a lot of data on the screen at once and the larger lower res monitor works like a magnifying glass when I'm working on something.

I think that a 3 monitor setup would be even better; imagin playing a 1st person shooter game with the center monitor being the world ahaid and both side monitors extending your perhipheral vision.
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« Reply #2 on: Jan 02, 2007, 10:35AM »

I've used multiple desktops for years on Unix based systems - something that I really miss in Windows.

On Windows, I do tend to use all of my applications in 'Maximum' window size (same as on any OS, actually).  I have a dual monitor setup in work, for when I need it.  In that instance, though, 'Maximum' mode covered both monitors, rather than maximising in just one.  This I find really annoying, and hence don't use multiple monitors unless I need to (like when comparing files across multiple servers, or following some instructions on a webpage or document - I can have the document on one monitor, and the server I'm working on on the other monitor.

I'm not sure if WindowsXP allows multiple desktops, though (ie, one per monitor).  I use Windows 2000 on my work laptop.  I'm also not sure if it's a hardware (or driver) restriction.  But I never found anything about Windows 2000 having multiple desktop support (without a 3rd party addition, that is).


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« Reply #3 on: Jan 02, 2007, 12:07PM »

I'm a software developer and I just got a dual 20" setup at work. I'm doing one in landscape straight ahead and one in portrait to the right. It's pretty freakin' sweet. I'll be up and running on that rig at the exact moment that a gigabit switch materializes on my desk. Currently it is just taunting me.

Bonus: That system has audio. Current system, sadly, has not. I'll be going from 25mph to warp speed very soon!
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anotherjones
« Reply #4 on: Jan 02, 2007, 12:23PM »

I keep my palettes and email on my small 19 inch monitor, freeing up the 24 inch widescreen for notation or recording windows.

Luckily macs have been multi monitor capable since 1986, so I've been spoiled for a long time...

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« Reply #5 on: Jan 02, 2007, 06:16PM »

I used to use multiple monitors for audio editing work years ago - dual Matrox Millenium video cards (and NT4.0!). It was very cool at the time, with a big wow factor. (I remember that you could in fact link up to 4 of those cards if you needed to compensate for something Evil)

However, my issue with it is the same as T's; I didn't like the fact that when you maximised an application it filled the whole of both screens. Of course, given that the dual-matrox solution effectively looked like one big monitor to the OS, I suppose it was inevitable.

But with native support for 2 screens in the OS, is that still the case? If you maximise a window does it fill the combined desktop, or just the screen it 'starts' in?
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rlb
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« Reply #6 on: Jan 02, 2007, 06:21PM »

I've NEVER had a maximize fill both monitors; it simply fills the one it's currently (mostly) located in.

Hmmm.
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« Reply #7 on: Jan 03, 2007, 05:54PM »

Good to know.

Perhaps I'll consider the 2 monitor route when I upgrade my PC. Although I might need a bigger desk...!

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« Reply #8 on: Jan 03, 2007, 07:53PM »

Ditto here for using two monitors.

For those of you who deal with lots of text, I recommend that you try a portrait-mode display for MUCH better editing. I've been spoiled with one for coding, and wouldn't change it for the world.

That said, a big gripe of mine is the poor multi-display support in most current IDEs. Most development environments don't include the ability to maximize their child-windows to ONLY one display, so you end up with a draggy-clicky kludge to get it just right, or you invest time and effort in a desktop manager that WILL manhandle the open windows.

My two cents.
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« Reply #9 on: Jan 31, 2007, 12:05PM »

My notebook video card is set up for dual-monitor support, and I've tried it a few times... It works really well- the problem (not a big one) is that my notebook has a widescreen, and my extra monitor isn't a widescreen, it's a regular CRT, so perspective is different... I didn't think it'd bother me, but it does... plus, the way my desk was set up it was difficult to use. So, I'm waiting to get a small (15" or so) flat panel monitor I can easily put on my desk and use 2 monitors- that'll work better, I imagine. I use Cakewalk Sonar for recording projects, so I can set up one monitor with the mixer and one with the recorded tracks, or surf the web on one with Outlook on the other, or set up my audio processing software, Goldwave, on one with Sibelius on the other for when I do transcriptions. Now I just need to find a nice inexpensive 15", 17" or 19" (that'd be nice) widescreen monitor and fit it in my budget...
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« Reply #10 on: Feb 03, 2007, 06:03PM »

I have a rather unusual dual screen setup myself.  My notebook is a Dell Latitude D620 which features a 14" widescreen screen (1280x800),  I place this bellow my 17" (1280x1024) monitor,  since the widths match up it is a rather seamless way of working.  I usually put my word document, or excel spreadsheet on the top monitor and my browser window on the bottom window.  When I game i usually project the game image on the external monitor and keep a FAQ, map or my media player on the bottom screen,  my only annoyance is that I cannot access these programs without causing the full screen directx game to minimize.
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« Reply #11 on: May 25, 2007, 11:52AM »

OK, I have 2 widescreen monitors now, the 17" on my HP notebook, and directly behind and above it a 19" Acer widescreen... I've gotten so used to it now that if I have to use a system with only one monitor it is disorienting, a bit... I have IE on the upper while doing email on the lower, or sibelius on the upper with Goldwave in the lower, doing transcriptions, or watch TV in the upper while surfing on the lower, etc. How easy it is to get used to, too! Good!
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« Reply #12 on: May 25, 2007, 12:58PM »

I have dual widescreen monitors at work (DoubleSight Displays); we've been using them for about two years and now I really don't know how I got along before!  I really need to upgrade my home PC...I can think of so many applications.
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