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The Zen of Multiple Monitors

Productivity and Plurality
MultipleMonitorsHave you ever felt constrained by the limitations of a single display on your computer? Do you routinely find yourself switching back and forth between multiple applications? Maybe you’re working on a spreadsheet and an email at the same time and you are using data from the spreadsheet to emphasize a point in your email. So you bring your spreadsheet to the front, find the relevant data, copy it, then bring your email forward again, then paste it, then go back to your spreadsheet and yada, yada, yada. There is a capability built into your computer to support multiple monitors. So instead of having your spreadsheet and email on the same monitor, you can have two monitors and put your spreadsheet on one and your email on the other. Now you can see both of them at the same time.  This capability has been built into Windows since at least Windows 98… if not Windows 95.

Multi-Magic on a Laptop
Most laptop computers have a built-in capability to handle a second monitor in extended desktop mode. There is most likely an external VGA connector on the exterior of your laptop. Just try plugging a monitor into that port. If the second monitor shows the exact same thing as your primary display then it is in Dual-View mode which, you guessed it, shows the same thing on both displays. An easy shortcut that works on most laptops to toggle the various display modes is to press Fn+F8. This key combination will usually toggle through the various supported display modes. If that doesn’t work for you you may need to go to Control Panel->Display Settings.

Multi-Magic on a Desktop
It is typically very easy to add a second monitor to a desktop computer. The easiest way is to purchase a video card that supports 2 displays. The video card will actually have 2 video connections on it. You simply remove the existing video card from your computer and replace it with the new one. There are some gotchas here. 1) You will need to know what type of video card your motherboard supports (AGP, PCI, PCIE ). You may also need to pay attention to what type of monitor connections you have (VGA or DVI).  If you feel intimidated by the computer jargon, you can always bring your desktop to a local computer shop to have this done.

Time is Money
The reason you should consider using more monitors is easy. More screen real estate (ie: more monitors) equals increased productivity. With the falling prices of LCD monitors, it doesn’t take long before the increased productivity more than pays for that additional LCD monitor. And why stop at just 2 monitors? You can actually have more than that. In fact, my computer setup, which I’m writing this very blog on, has 4 monitors. You see, once you go with a second monitor it’s not long before you realize that if 2 is better than 1, then naturally, 3 is better than 2. And so on. And so on.



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  1. John
    September 23rd, 2009 at 00:31 | #1

    I just installed a second monitor for a new Auction Flex customer – for basic office use, the EVGA 8400GS (PCI express)is inexpensive, easy to setup, and works great. Not a great choice for gamers, but works well for most users. VGA, DVI, and s-video jacks, and DX10 support for HDTV. Retails for as little as $50 – about the lowest price out there.
    Another consideration before choosing a video card is your computer’s power supply – many business machines, especially older ones, have power supplies that may be inadequate. Most dual monitor capable video cards specify a minimum of 350W power supplies, but many Dell, HP/Compaq and IBM business desktops max out at 300-305W. Dell Optiplex power supplies tend to be under-rated, and I haven’t encountered a problem with them. Some desktop machines (especially older ones) have proprietary power supplies, and trying to upgrade them may be difficult (and expen$ive!)
    That said, once you add a second monitor, you’ll never go back to one!

  2. Brandon
    September 23rd, 2009 at 13:14 | #2

    Great point about the power supply. I’ve never run into an issue before, but, generally speaking, the more “budget” your computer is, the greater your chance at having this issue.

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