February 19, 2005
In multiple monitors and productivity, I proposed three LCD panels as the standard developer desktop configuration. The only thing holding us back was price, and the minor inconvenience of obtaining a second video card to drive the third monitor.
I recently upgraded my home system to match my work configuration. I purchased two of these Rosewill R910 19" panels, and they live up to all the positive user reviews: they're dirt cheap and offer excellent image quality.
I distinctly remember paying around $1000 for a 19" CRT in 1998, and another $900 for a 21" CRT in 2000. For about the same price, I can now get three times the display area, less total power consumption, and crisper image quality in 2D applications. Now that's progress! In my opinion, price is no longer a valid reason to choose a less-productive single monitor configuration.
Sure, you could buy a larger single panel, such as this 1920x1200 Dell model, priced at a reasonable $1,200. But is that really any match for the effective 3840x1024 you'd get with three 19" Rosewill panels for $200 less? Buying large LCDs rarely makes sense because of the exponential increase in price as the size goes up. There's always a price/performance sweet spot, and right now the sweet spot is unquestionably the 19" LCD panels. Another reason to avoid extremely high resolution single displays: Windows is trapped in a bitmapped world. The pitiful, wonky "Large Fonts" mode just isn't cutting it. Until Avalon arrives, with its perfectly scalable PDF-style vector display engine, I can't recommend suffering through traditional win32 apps on a 1920x1440 display.
Now, if you are making the leap to a third panel, some things to consider:
- You'll need a PCI video card, something like this 128mb 5200fx PCI card. I recommend nVidia because of their superior driver support for multimonitor modes. Ideally you would have nVidia cards in both your AGP and PCI slots, so you only need to load one video driver. Running multiple video drivers from different manfuacturers can work, but can also be a total nightmare.
- for LCDs, use DVI interfaces whenever possible. I wouldn't even consider buying a panel that lacked a DVI interface. I have the two Rosewill displays running side by side here, one on DVI and one on analog VGA-- nearly an ideal apples-to-apples comparison. The VGA connected panel certainly isn't chopped liver, but it lacks the perfect per-pixel digital crispness I've come to expect from DVI connected panels. It's not a dealbreaker, but always choose DVI if you want the best LCD experience. In particular, try to get dual DVI ports on your primary video card, because I have yet to see a PCI video card with dual DVI ports. This is something PCI Express will fix once it becomes more mainstream.
- XP has mature support for multiple monitors, but it's not as good as it could be. I would be remiss if I didn't mention the outstanding UltraMon utility. This adds all the "missing" multiple monitor functionality-- it's essential.
I'm increasingly certain that, sometime in the next few years, two LCD panels will be a standard configuration for not just developers and power users, but a sizable percentage of mainstream Dell systems. Why? Well, the same reason that all CPUs will eventually be multi-core-- sometimes there's nowhere to go but sideways.
Posted by Jeff Atwood
Great post. I've been looking at re-working my setup at home and this is some great info.
Very good idea! I've only recently decided that the price of the Dell 2001FP display is now good enough to allow me to buy three of them. I did that and I'm now looking at a 4800x1200 total resolution... already starting to wonder how I ever did without that :-)
A quick froogle check shows $674 for the 2001FP. That's over 2x the price for 1.46x the display area of the Rosewill 19" panels -- 1,920,000 pixels/panel vs. 1,310,720 pixels/panel.
That said, I did choose a Samsung 21" 213t for my primary display. I just wouldn't go for three of them because the bang for the buck isn't there.
Three 1600x1200 panels is nice, though :) What video card(s) and interfaces are you using?
The screen resolution of 3 1280x1024 displays would be 3840x1024 and not 3840x3072 as you're only expanding the overall width and not both the width and the height. Just an FYI.
Er, yeah.. heh. ;) I'll correct that.
I wasn't saying my solution was cheaper :-) But I've found it quite uncomfortable to have multiple screens (I've been using a dual-head setup for some years) with different resolutions, because it's cumbersome to move windows from one head to the other in such a setup. The other thing is, I didn't want to step down from the 1600x1200 resolution I've been using on CRT monitors for years.
I'm now using a Matrox G550 (AGP) for two heads and an additional Hercules 4000XT PCI card for the third. I've got 32bit colour on all three heads, which wasn't possible with CRTs because the Hercules card can only do 60Hz at that resolution and colour depth. Works very nicely, but you can tell that my priority is not 3D gaming :-)
But I've found it quite uncomfortable to have multiple screens (I've been using a dual-head setup for some years) with different resolutions, because it's cumbersome to move windows from one head to the other in such a setup
True, resolution discrepancies are kind of annoying. I tend to move maximized windows, though-- UltraMon has a cool "drag maximized windows" feature which makes it easy to move maximized apps from monitor to monitor.
Good post Jeff.
I've been using dual monitors at work for as long as I can remember (and actually had 3 at my old J-O-B). Until recently I was on a 1280x1024 LCD and a CRT, and then I 'came across' a second 1280x1024 LCD. I'm loving my new setup, its so much easier on the eyes.
Anyhow, just wanted to say thanks for the pointers and link to Ultra-Mon... I'm going to give it shot.
NOTE: looks like your comment filters won't allow me to spell Ultra-Mon without the hyphen, says it's "questionable content".
Do you have any recomendations on software that will allow you to produce same color configs on multiple screens? I have three monitors, all Dell FP2005 20.1inch widescreens, I can get them for 225.00 bucks through work. And even though all three are identical, run on port 1a, 2a, and 1b on two SLI Evga 7900 GTX PCIe16 cards, each on looks diffrent. For testing I have 2 213t Samsungs that I also fired up, the samsungs (even though 3 times the cost, at least when I bought the samsungs 2 years ago they were around 1200 bucks) the samsungs really look "red" and I perfer the Cool of the Dell's, however not one of these 5 monitors looks the same, both samsungs are significantly redder than the dells, but one samsung is redder than the other, etc, etc...
I was told there is some software that uses a light meter to driver level hack the display settings (a little much for me, I can tell you that already, just guessing on costs) and that there was software that can allow your eye to adjust the individual monitors to look. But my google searchs brought me nothing in the short time I had to look tonight.
Do you have any recomendations on software that will allow you to produce same color configs on multiple screens?
No, but I can recommend some (relatively) inexpensive hardware to do color matching:
spyder2pro ($279 MSRP)
spyder2express ($79 MSRP)
I researched this a while back for work (although we never bought anything), and the spyder got good reviews. It looks fairly easy to use, too.
I've got two dell 19 inch monitors and I'm about to inherit a third along with an x300. I've got a geforce6800 on a pci motherboard which supports sli (and therefore has two video card ports). Since the two cards are different I of course cant run them in parallel, I was just wondering if I could still run the x300 in my second video card port or if sli doesnt allow that for some reason. Just trying to avoid buying a pci 5200.
Yep, two PCI Express cards in your two video card slots should work fine; they don't have to match. Let us know how it goes, Eric!
i should say,, that the 1920x1200 Dell model, priced at $1,200 is kinda no match for the he effective 3840x1024 you'd get with three 19" Rosewill panels for $200
Nice posts guys. I've been looking for this info' for a while, as I want to add a third monitor to my Geforce, fx5200, agp and was advised to buy a G6200. I've got it now, but I wasn't sure if I had to install the drivers. From what you say Jeff, it sounds as if the 5200 drivers will work both cards and all I have to do is put the 6200 in. Is that right?
I have 3 19" monitors I can only span 2 through my NVIDEA GeForce 6200 256MB have the 3rd running through a Radeon 7000 64MB PCI Graphics card. It works good to drag a window to any of the 3 monitors (1 standalone and 2 span together) but when running a full screen application in a window like Flight Sim as soon as I drag even a part of this into my standalone the whole program slows down to the point it almost freezes up completely. Is there a way to span 3 wide? Or will a 256 PCI boost the 3rd monitor for high graphics games?
Unfortunately, LCDs still can't match the picture quality of a good CRT though. I do photo and video work and I need WYSIWYG between my monitor, dye-sub printer, and video output. I can't get that from an LCD.
Is there a way to span 3 wide?
To do that you need a splitter or an all-in-one solution. fs[ix] just came out with a really good one that takes a single VGA or DVI input and puts in on all three screens: http://www.fsix.com/monitorconsole
Hope this helps.
There is no way to span full screen applications ( like video games ) on multiple monitors, unless the game was specifically designed to work that way. Some games may work in windowed mode, at a custom resolution ( I managed to play Unreal Tournament 2004 on 4000x1024 , but that's an exception ). Microsoft Flight Simulator X manages 3 monitors quite nicely, but it is one of the few applications that can.
Spanning videos is a different case entirely. You can do that by rendering with a software renderer ( which does not rely on the GPU's to do the rendering, and thus uses the Windows API, which, of course, treats the 3 monitors as a whole desktop ) . VRM9 Renderless is an example. The problem is, I have an Intel Q6600 and running an HD movie on all the 3 screens is extremely choppy. So ,we're not there yet.
I have an Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 900 graphics card. Will that support two, or even three monitors?
I just wanted to stop by and say thanks for the help. Before I purchased my 6 monitor array from http://www.multiplexpc.com a few months ago I was lost trying to understand all the multi monitor talk. But now I'm on board and absolutely love it.
Wow...I use Ultramon at work and recently bought myself a license for home. Man, it's probably one of my single favorite utilities ever for someone with more than a single monitor.
Little update: There's a solution called ATI SurroundView that allows to have three (or four) monitors connected with no problem. The hardware requirements are:
- A mainboard with SurroudView support and an integrated video card
- A Radeon graphics card in PCI-E slot.
The point of SurroundView is the possibility of using both graphics cards at once (while usually you can only use either), which basically allows you to plug 2 monitors into onboard GPU and another 2 into the card.
I have bought a cheap Gigabyte mainboard when assembling my current PC and found this solution accidentally. Just recently I had the possibility to test it and it works flawlessly! I'm really thankful for AMD/ATI for making triple-head support work out-of-the-box for me, with the only work on my side required being a simple option in BIOS.
The most economical multi-monitor workspace today consists of three LCDs 22" to 24" in size.
Once the price of 30" displays falls enough, people can replace three 24" LCDs with two 30" monitors. The resolution will be about the same, but you'll save about 20" in desk space.
I think it will look like this: http://www.kevinkane.com/2010/10/7-predictions-for-the-future-of-computers/