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12/15/2008
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Trick Out Your PC With Multiple Monitors

A video card, the right utilities, and an extra display or two can dramatically enhance the way you work, use multimedia apps, play games, or simply surf the Internet. Here's how to tweak your rig.




USB-connected display adapters let you add extra monitors to a system that doesn't easily allow it.
(click for image gallery)
By now, the advantages of having a multicore processor are practically a catechism: You can do more by doing things in parallel. The same logic applies to having more than one monitor, too. The more you can see at once, the more you can do at once.

It sounds like mere anecdotal evidence, but a study conducted for NEC by the University of Utah bore out what people have been saying: More monitors, or even bigger single ones, accelerate productivity. In this article, we'll explore some of the common usage scenarios for multiple monitors, and recommend some utilities and additional hardware to further improve the experience.

Who Benefits?

Multimonitor setups aren't for everyone. For those who only focus on one thing at a time, multiple monitors are going to seem like a waste of money and effort -- and for such people, they very well may be. A person who only has one or two programs open at once and doesn't do a lot of switching between windows will see another monitor as being about as useful as a second navel.

So who's likely to benefit from having multiple monitors? Anyone who deals with things that don't comfortably confine themselves to one display at a time, and where the gimmick of multiple desktops doesn't cut it as a substitute. For example:

  • Multitaskers: The broadest and most all-inclusive category, this encompasses everyone who's accustomed to doing (or forced to do) more than one thing at once. E-mail/scheduling in one window and everything else in another is one typical way this manifests.

  • Programmers: Some programmers are known to run up to four monitors at once -- their integrated development environment in one window, the program itself in another, references or documentation in a third, and one more for day-to-day work.

  • Designers: Anyone who does graphic design -- whether it's for the Web, print, or any other destination -- typically benefits from having multiple displays. The work in question can be concentrated on the main display, with auxiliary displays again used for final rendering, in-place mockups (e.g., a full-screen Web page layout), or everyday applications like e-mail or Web browsers.

  • Multimedia creators: Video editing and digital-audio workstation gurus have been using multiple displays for ages. It's typical to have an entire display dedicated to nothing but full-screen video playback -- preferably a widescreen high-definition plasma monitor if you can get it!

  • Financial workers: This one's almost a no-brainer. Day traders or people who work in finance can never get enough screen acreage. Virtual desktops don't cut it either: The time it takes to switch from one virtual desktop to the other is an eon compared with the millisecond it takes to simply look from one screen to the next.

The exact increases in productivity from multiple monitors will vary depending on what you're doing and in what form, but as the old cliché goes, seeing -- and using -- is believing.

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