Upgrade Report [GeekTech: Double Your Fun With a Second Monitor - 04/19/2005]



April 19th, 2005

GeekTech: Double Your Fun With a Second Monitor

Sr. Assoc. Ed. Tom Mainelli

I love to upgrade PCs. Add a little RAM, put in an extra hard drive,
or install a new graphics card and you can breathe new life into an
aging system. But if there's anything I've learned over the years,
it's not to expect any one new component to dramatically change my
computing experience.

Okay, so it turns out I was wrong.

I recently added a second LCD monitor to my desktop and the impact was
immediate and dramatic. I would have to say that this second display
has changed the way I compute more profoundly than any single upgrade
since, oh, maybe Microsoft Windows 95.

And no, I am not kidding.

The dual-monitor setup has changed the way I do a large percentage of
my job. Not only does it make doing many tasks more pleasant, but it
also lets me do them more efficiently. I can't think of a single
desktop hardware upgrade that could pay for itself faster than adding
a second monitor.

Feel free to show that last line to the boss if it helps.

Get More Done

The editors here at PC World wear lots of hats. For example, you'd
think that creating this fine piece of GeekTech literature each month
would be enough to earn me a steady paycheck. But no, I'm also tasked
with writing and editing magazine articles, producing product reviews
and charts, and scheduling elements of our Web site's home page. I
even make the coffee.

True, having two monitors hasn't increased my java brewing speed, but
it has helped in all of the other areas I mentioned. For example, when
programming elements of the home page using a single monitor I had to
constantly click between two open browser windows. With two monitors I
can have them both open at once. That sounds like a minor improvement,
but it most assuredly is not.

Another good example is how it impacts my work with spreadsheets. Here
at PC World many of the editors spend a fair amount of time wrangling
ridiculously large and scary spreadsheets. Before hooking up my second
monitor I occasionally had to print out parts of these gigantic
spreadsheets in order to compare them with results in another
spreadsheet. Now that I have a second monitor, I can see everything at

And, of course, there's the whole aspect of working in multiple
programs at the same time. For example, with my dual-monitor setup I
can now maintain 14 riveting instant-messaging chats on one screen
while browsing through Rhapsody's latest audio additions and playing
Bejeweled 2 on the other. But you might just want to tell the boss
that it lets you work in several office apps at once.

Easy Setup, Relative Affordability

Beyond the stellar productivity rewards and the obvious geek cred,
there's yet another cool thing about a dual-monitor setup: It's easy
to put together.

Here's what you need: a dual-head graphics card and two monitors.

Did you get all that?

I was lucky: When the clever IT folks here at PC World replaced my
desktop computer a little while back, they included ATI's capable
Radeon 9800 Pro graphics card in my new Dell. The 9800 Pro just
happens to include dual-head capabilities (one digital video
interface, and one analog). Many of today's midrange to high-end
graphics cards include dual-monitor support.

If you're not lucky enough to already have a dual-monitor graphics
card, you can easily pick up a good card for less than $200. My
current midrange favorites use NVidia's GeForce 6600GT chip (PCI
Express or AGP flavors). You can the latest prices on these boards
with the PC World Product Finder:

Whichever card you buy, be sure its outputs match the inputs for your
two monitors.

Speaking of monitors, if you're reading this I'll assume you have at
least one--so you're halfway there. Obviously, if you have a second
monitor {perhaps boxed up in the garage) just hooking that one up is
the cheapest way to go dual. Be warned, however: Sliding a burnt-out
14-inch CRT alongside your current 19-inch LCD may not yield the sort
of productivity improvement you seek. Plus, chances are you're going
to have to make room for the bulky relic by moving something less
useful off your desk, like the phone.

How About Two LCDs?

Fortunately, since the price of LCD monitors has come down, many of us
can afford to consider buying one--maybe even two. I recently stopped
by Dell.com to check the price of the company's 19-inch UltraSharp
1905FP, a PC World Best Buy:

It was on sale for just $375. (Mind you, that was when I checked it
out in Dell.com's "small business" section, which anyone can access;
the "consumer" section price for the same monitor was $499. In
general, I've found you're more likely to find a deal in the "small
business" section.) A 19-inch LCD for less than $400--is this a great
time to buy or what?

Take a look at our recent Top 10 19-Inch LCD Monitors for more models:

The list prices on those monitors range from $460 to $840, but you can
find better prices with our Product Finder. Just click the "check
latest prices" links on the chart, or go to this URL and browse the
list of all LCD monitors:

Before you grab your credit card, I should note that there's yet
another display option out there to consider. Dell recently began
selling a huge 24-inch UltraSharp 2405FPW for a groundbreaking price
of just $1199. Go to our Product Finder for pricing and specs:

That's a cool $400 less than the lowest-priced 24-inch LCD in our last
gigantic-screen roundup--and one heck of a lot of real estate. Missed
that review? You can find it here:

So is it better to buy one giant-sized monitor or two merely large

The answer, of course, depends upon what you plan to do. If you're
going to watch movies, play games, or edit poster-sized family photos,
then a 24-inch display is the way to go. For my money (or at least
about $800 of it), I'd rather have two 19-inch beauties lined up side
by side. But it's safe to say that either way you're going to be a
happy camper.

At least, you'll be happy until the next time you're forced to compute
on a single-monitor system. These days when I work on my notebook,
usually on the train, I find myself chafing at the single-screen
limitation. I guess that means I need a notebook with a much larger

Or maybe I just need to stop working on the train.

Have a question or comment? Write to Tom Mainelli:
geektech at pcworld.com

Read Tom Mainelli's regularly published "GeekTech" columns:

"For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them."
-- Aristotle


I have a Radeon 9800 pro that supports 2 monitors. I hooked 2 up and
didnt get what i expected. It displays the same thing on both screens.
But i would like to combine both teh screens in to one large one (like
my mouse can go from one monitor to the other). Is this possible on an
Radoen 9800? Thanx.

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