Saturday, October 24, 2009

Why you need more than one monitor

I know what you're thinking!  Why in the world would I need more than one computer monitor?

Years ago, before I set up my first dual-dual monitor system, I thought the same thing.  Multiple monitors are for day traders and IT managers, right?  Wrong!  Nearly everyone can benefit from multiple monitors . . . especially professors.

Just think what you could do with extra monitor area:
  • Have PowerPoint editor screen open and visible AND your folder of images AND your lecture outline at the same time
  • Display PowerPoint editor AND the actual slideshow at the same time
  • Display your classroom management system (CMS) AND your Excel spreadsheet at the same time
  • See your email inbox AND your current work at the same time
  • Drag images from a folder or editor right into PowerPoint
  • Drag text from your word processor and images from the web right into your test-creation software (or CMS) . . . or at least see them all at one time
  • Make few mistakes, thus increasing accuracy in everything you do
There are just a few of the options that you'll have if you expand your monitor real estate. The primary value in this approach is that you can see everything at once, without having to switch back and forth between windows that are open but not visible. Not only will this make your life easier, research shows  that it will increase your productivity!

In my campus office, I have two wide-screen monitors.  My computer, as with most "off the shelf" faculty systems already had a graphics card with two monitor jacks built in.  All it took was one extra monitor . . . which are comparatively cheap.  Just plug it in and change one setting in the "display" settings of the computer . . . and off I went faster than ever.

One warning, though . . . if your IT folks are like mine, you'll get that "WHAT are you asking for?!" response that these folks learned from their mothers when they asked for a super-turbo gaming PC at age two.  As if we are asking for a new campus building powered by cold fusion.  This sort of set up is becoming increasingly common in business because it increases productivity at a really cheap price.  But in education, it's still rather unheard of.  But somebody has to be the first in their department to do it!  So persist.

At my home office, I now have moved up to three monitors Just like Bill Gates.  That is really sweet because I can have even more windows open at once and have to do even less window-switching than with a 2-monitor setup.  All it took was buying a rather inexpensive second graphics card for my PC.  Because both my cards have 2 monitor jacks, I could easily go to four monitors.  But I'm not sure my field of vision could handle that!

For my home office, I also got one of those multi-monitor pedestals.  That's probably the most expensive part of my setup . . . especially considering that I bought refurbished monitors online for next to nothing.

You can even do this with a notebook or laptop!

Want to know more? . . . here are some resources:
Dual monitors: the only way to go

Step-by-step: A three-screen workstation for $230

Articles from 
In this month's PC World magazine, Michael Scalisi suggests some tools that may help you:
  • HP USB Graphics Adapter helps you add extra monitors (beyond 2) without installing a card

  • UltraMon software helps manage your desktop displayed on multiple monitors

  • WinSplit Revolution freeware offers shortcuts to quickly send apps from one monitor to another without dragging it
Have I mentioned that using more than one monitor increases productivity?

Please share with us your multiple-monitor setup . . . or your stories about using multiple monitors!


Jess said...

Does it not hurt your eyes? The glare from one monitor normally starts hurting my eyes by the end of the day, so I can only imagine what the glare from three would do to them.

And it may be that I'm not overly keen on change but I don't know that I could get on with constantly looking from side to side, however lazy that might sound. It's probably quicker than switching between tabs but I don't know if I could get on with it.

Though if your desk is up against the wall like mine is, I suppose a multi screen support system would free up the majority of space on my desk, which is always handy.

Kevin Patton said...

Hi Jessica. It probably does sound like a bit much. Maybe you have to try it to realize how much nicer a multiple-monitor system is to work with. I find that 2 or three monitors really does not have you looking back and forth a lot. One reason is, it's just not that much distance. Another reason is that you really focus one area at a time. Probably that would affect you only if you really are comparing different windows a lot. The only eye problems I've encountered with any monitor have to do with my changing vision and have been corrected with updated lenses . . . so I can't personally address the glare problems.

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