Increasing Your Desktop Monitor Space: Ways and Whys

Few would argue that more monitor/display space helps desktop user productivity – particularly for visually-intensive tasks like hardware product design and development, and code/collaborative tasks that typically call for having ten or twenty windows and browser tabs open and visible

Even my own work activities as a writer often benefits from more display "real estate." I'm currently quite happily using a pair of 32-inch WQHD (2560 x 1440 pixel) flatscreen displays, so I can glance among my text editor and email along with several browser windows, and perhaps also a presentation or webinar and a chat sidebar without having to bring up a window that's mostly hidden behind another.

For More Display Space: Should you go bigger? Wider? Multiple?

Desktop monitors continuing to get bigger/wider, better and more affordable. And most of today's desktop and notebook computers can handle anywhere from two to four displays (or can be affordably accessorized to accommodate more). So if you're still using older, smaller monitor(s) – say, in the 19 to 24 inch range – it's worth, ahem, taking another look at your options and available budget.

To help you consider upsizing your desktop display turf, here's a look at the various options (bigger; wider; multiple), requirements/constraints (power, resolution, etc.), the pro's and con's of each, and notes about technical considerations.

Today's Displays: Bigger, Wider, Better, More Affordable

A quick browse of desktop display offerings (checking MicroCenter and Newegg) shows displays from 17" to 42-and-up, with pricing running from budget-minded to budget-busting.

Realistically, for a good 27"-34" display for general use, you should be prepared to spend between $400 and $1,500 (be ready to double or triple that if you need graphic/video/photo design and editing quality).

For example, here's a few (pricing as of January 2018):

  • ASUS MG278Q 27" WQHD HDMI Widescreen 2560 x 1440 LED Monitor ($549.99)
  • Dell Alienware AW3418DW 34.1" (3440 x 1440) IPS WQHD Curved Gaming LED Monitor ($1,199.99)
  • HP ENVY 34 Curved 34" VA WQHD 3440 x 1440 Monitor ($899.99)
  • LG UltraFine 5K 27" (5120x2880) Display ($1,299.95)
  • Samsung U32H850 32" 4K UHD Quantum Dot Monitor (3840 x2160) ($699.00)

For more suggestions, here's PCMag.com's The Best Computer Monitors of 2018, showing ten displays ranging from 15.6" to 37", from $199.99 to $1,299.99.

Lots of lovely choices, to say the least!

Important Stuff to Know/Do Before Monitor Shopping

As with any purchase, start by doing your homework and research:

Measure Twice, Buy Once

Find a tape measure and measure your available space, so you know how big you can go without bonking up against things. (Remember that monitor sizes measure the diagonal, and those numbers don't factor in the bezel or other side or edge stuff, so be sure to get the product height and width.)

Learn the Terms 

Make sure you understand what current (popular) monitor aspect ratios (shapes, formats) and resolutions. (Note: smartphones, tablets, displays intended as TVs, etc., which may have slightly different numbers and terminology.)

The main ones to focus on are aspect ratio (format, shape), and resolution (how many pixels high and wide).

Aspect Ratio ("format"): While you can still get "classic format" displays (4:3, like older TVs and CRTs, and some early flatscreens), most of what you'll see offered is either Widescreen (16:9 aspect ratio) or Ultrawidescreen (UW) (21:9).

Resolution: Refers to the number of pixels. Display specs refer to the "native resolution," meaning that's what's there, physically, in the hardware. The bigger the numbers, the more detail and crispness you can see. (But depending on display size, higher numbers may lead you to increasing font and icon size in the settings.)

For Widescreen format:

  • HD (Hi-Def) resolution is 1920 x 1080 pixels
  • WQHD (Widescreen Quad HD) is 2560 x 1440 pixels
  • Ultra High Definition (UHD) is 3840 x 2160 pixels – four times that of HD. (Note: "4K" is primarily movie oriented, with the slightly different resolution of 4096 x 2160 pixels. And there's 5K (5120 x 2880 pixels.) "UHD" sometimes means "5K or higher."

For Ultrawidescreen format, which offers an interesting and tempting alternative to putting multiple displays side-by-side, resolution for UWQHD (aka Ultrawide QHD) is 3440 x 1440.

Widescreen vs Ultra Widescreen: https://content.hwigroup.net/images/articles/600px_openingsbeeld.jpg

Here's an image showing HD vs Full HD vs Ultra HD 4K:
https://promotions.newegg.com/monitor/17-5750/images/ud58-ips.jpg

Flat? Or Curved? 

Another newish option is screens that are slightly curved – popular with gamers and some others – rather than flat.

 

HowToGeek suggests, "Unless you really understand why you’d want a curved display for your computer, don’t get one."

What Will You Be Looking At? 

Try to assess what your goals and intended uses will be:

  • Viewing hardware design
  • How many open, visible windows to messaging/chat sessions (Slack, etc.), email, code editor, video conferencing, document collaboration, etc. would you like
  • Seeing large portions of code, spreadsheets, data, all at once.

(If possible, see/ask what your colleagues/peers are using, and what they recommend.)

Go Bigger ?Wider? Multi? 

Based on what you plan to use your greater display turf for, you should try to decide:

  • Do you want one, larger display, or several separate displays?
  • If "several," do you want two or three, or even four in a two-by-two?
  • Do you care whether they're the same height? Same resolution? Do you care how wide or skinny the "bezel" (edging) is? These matter more if you plan to let windows "span" across multiple monitors, or even just be moving windows among monitors.

Your intended use should influence "how wide versus tall." Keeping in mind that you may not want to be constantly jerking your head left and right like you're watching a close-up ping-pong match.

Got Enough Graphics Processing Power For Your New Display(s)? 

Check your system specs to determine what your computer (and KVM switch or docking station, if any) will support:

  • How many concurrent displays
  • Resolution
  • What port type(s): DVI (Digital Video Interface) (including DVI-D vs DVI-I; single vs. dual-link), HDMI) (High-Definition Multimedia Interface), DisplayPort – and perhaps also the near-obsolete analog VGA)

If your computer doesn't have enough adequate ports, or doesn't support the resolution you want, you may be able to compensate by adding/upgrading your graphics card (assuming there's enough room in the case), or an external graphics card. You may be able to do this for $100-$200 (or replacing the motherboard, although that might also require new CPU and RAM).

Note: higher-end (and much pricier) graphic cards may require upgrading your power supply, possibly also your cooling (and perhaps a bigger case), be sure to do your homework before purchasing. If your current system isn't otherwise up to snuff, depending on the age of your desktop, it may make more sense (if the budget's available) to buy a new machine rather than just get a graphics card.

In terms of type-of-port matching, you may be able to (and want to) use cable adapters to connect your monitor(s) to your computer. (Again, do your homework, it's not just the port type, it's also the version in terms of what specs it supports.)

And check everything else in the video connection. If you use a KVM switch to connect to multiple computers, or a docking station, you also need to confirm whether they will support your intended resolutions. If not, you have to either run in less-than-native (which isn't optimal), or buy new switches/stations.

Once you're all done, sit back, and enjoy the improved ease of working, and the productivity.

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