Scott Hanselman

Get those pixels working for you

December 3, '09 Comments [57] Posted in Reviews | Tools
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Lots of MonitorsI just can't say enough about multiple monitors. I've had two monitors since 2003 and three since later that same year and have been hooked ever since.

If you're working on a computer I'm convinced you need to fill your field of vision with the work at hand. Working on something important on a 15" monitor is like viewing an eclipse through a pinhole projector. I prefer to stare directly at the sun*!

I was over at Brad Wilson's house yesterday and he mentioned he was going to buy a new 27" computer and needed to get rid of his Dell 30" (3007WFP-HC). Since I freaking LOVE Dell Monitors, I jumped at the chance (after calling my wife and asking her permission) to give myself a Christmas Gift and promptly drove away with a new 30" monitor for $700.

That's insane, you say! That's too much for a monitor! I say, nay nay. Even if it lasts only a year - and it will likely last much longer - that's $2 a day for pure joy and a nice tax deduction.

This brings my collection of Dell Monitors to 4 and my collection of screens to 5. Here's the lay of the land today. I even threw the 7" iMo Mimo Pivot in there for fun.

Screen Resolution

So that's 7130 wide, and roughly 1600 tall in most places. The machine is still running the same two (now obsolete) $75 video cards as when we built the "Coding Horror Ultimate Developer Rig" a few years back.

I'm running just TWO NVidia GeForce 8600 GTS with 256megs each. They are VERY modest cards, in my opinion, but the work nicely and I still have a WEI of 6.4 for Graphics even on this two year old machine.Performance Information and Tools

All you need to run multiple monitors is, ahem, multiple monitors, and a video card (or two) that has more than one connector. I have two cards that each have two DVI connectors. You can use two cards that each have one connector but you'll soon run out of slots on your PC.

If you don't have an extra monitor, maybe you have an extra laptop? You can use your laptop as an extra monitor with MaxiVista.

Get those pixels working for you! Go get another monitor!

 * I'm kidding. Seriously, what's wrong with you? ;)

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Thursday, 03 December 2009 21:30:37 UTC
Nice. Is there a way to get Windows to show different background images on each monitor instead of repeating the same one over and over?
Thursday, 03 December 2009 21:48:16 UTC
I totally agree. A few years ago, I went for the big Dell 30" WS and have two Dell 27" WS on each side. The 30" is for what I'm doing "now", the others are for tools--unit test windows in Visual Studio, web browsers, notepad++, etc. I'm looking forward to the pull-off features in VS2010 to use up more of the monitor goodness.

I have two cards, each with two DVI's--one card dedicated to the 30" (also used for gaming), and the other to the smaller side monitors.

I'm curious, you mention that you have 5 monitors.. and 4 DVIs. Does the tiny Hulu-esque monitor y-split off another?
Thursday, 03 December 2009 22:13:44 UTC
Once you start talking about more monitors and more pixels people are going to eventually ask how many of those are "enough". Before anyone starts asking, let me answer; you can NEVER have ENOUGH. I should know. :-)
Thursday, 03 December 2009 22:14:29 UTC
Hell I moved to Argentina last week and still took three LCD monitors in duffel bags down there. It's a bit of a cut-back from normal, but I'm doing all right. I'm going to pick up one of those Mimo's once I get back to the states. I run Windows as the desktop OS but I can't live without Virtual Desktops when I have 2 or fewer monitors. Virtua-Win gets my vote for windows Virtual Desktop software.
Thursday, 03 December 2009 22:16:28 UTC
I had dual NVidia NVS 280 cards in my work machine (an HP Z800) driving 3x HP LP2475w 24" monitors and was having lots of problems with performance. Switched to a single HD 5770 card, which has 3 outputs (warning: one is display port, 2 are DVI so make sure you have at least one monitor w/ display port) and its great. I was even playing games at a decent framerate at the combined 5760x1200.
Thursday, 03 December 2009 22:23:41 UTC
Filthy dirty pixel pr0n. I'm quite jealous! I have two 24" monitors and I told my wife the other day "sweetie it's just not enough space and I need..." and let the sentence fade away. My wife is awesome, she rocks, and she keeps my feet on the ground.

"At some point you need to see the sun light"

I was convinced at that point that I was being a dork, but then you pull your "Scott and Brad make 7" monitor post and I'm back on my need for more pixels. Hanselman - my wife will be calling you.
Thursday, 03 December 2009 22:24:47 UTC
Your wife seriously OK'd a 4th monitor (5th screen) for $700? Can we get a post on techniques to improve the WAF?
Thursday, 03 December 2009 22:26:52 UTC
There were a bunch of good Cyber Monday monitor deals - not sure how much of that is still available.

lazytom - check out DisplayFusion for applying different backgrounds to each monitor. The free version will give you that. The pay version does a bunch more (multiple taskbars, etc).
Thursday, 03 December 2009 22:26:53 UTC
Don't you have to be self-employed to be able to tax deduct hardware purchases?
Thursday, 03 December 2009 23:15:43 UTC
You can never be too rich, too thin, or have too many displays.
James Foster
Thursday, 03 December 2009 23:59:15 UTC
...and then you come up against the docked notebook limitation. Specifically, DELL E6500 video card only supports two monitors (confirmed by Dell tech support). I have two Dell 22" flatscreens fired up, but my notebook's monitor sits in darkness. Have seen a couple of options to get it working (eg: usb adaptor). Anyone have a good solution to support both external monitors and the notebook's as a third display?? (Running Win 7, btw)
Friday, 04 December 2009 00:05:28 UTC
So... how do you deal with the heat that those LCDs kick off? I've got 3x 20" LCDs and think every once in a while about getting a 4th. In fact, I had 4 for a while, but the amount of radiation/heat they were projecting at my face was over the top.

Oh... and to answer the first comment, UltraMon or SyncFusion are both must have apps if you're running multiple displays - and they both let you set up different wall papers for each monitor.
Friday, 04 December 2009 00:06:32 UTC
Wow. You just spent $700 on a used monitor but you don't own an SSD. That hard drive score is just sad ;-)
Friday, 04 December 2009 00:38:32 UTC
Judging by the number of screens, I think you should buy a surface machine to replace your desk :P
Friday, 04 December 2009 01:17:46 UTC
Chris, I had the same thought - $700 for a monitor and no SSD is soooo 2008!
Friday, 04 December 2009 02:32:01 UTC
I've been working off two monitors (15" laptop, and 19" additional monitor) since some time now. It has definitely improved my productivity because I can code and view on different screens. But 5 screens!... Human field of vision is just 6 degrees wide.
Friday, 04 December 2009 06:25:48 UTC
Friday, 04 December 2009 06:28:05 UTC
i have more doubt in network based to communicate from one application server to another server in console application.i want coding.
Friday, 04 December 2009 06:31:28 UTC
Hey Scott!

Got any plans on an updated version of the Build the Ultimate Developer PC entry? :)
Friday, 04 December 2009 06:34:47 UTC
drlongnecker - The tiny monitor is USB but it's a real monitor and shows up in Windows as one. It's 800x480.

cyril - Actually human direct field of vision is 60 degrees wide, not 6 degrees.

I'm considering updating the Ultimate Developer PC, but I need to get the OK from the wife.

Chris and others - I'm adding an SSD this week I think. ;P

LazyTom - Yes, UltraMon will change your background on a monitor by monitor basis.
Friday, 04 December 2009 07:20:59 UTC
Sweet setup. Do you find that a bit distracting though? I've been digging my dual 24's and have been hesitant to add a 3rd and 4th because I know my evil counter-productivity apps (email / skype) will call one of those screens home.

What's your typical "in the zone, mind like water" setup as far as apps running on those screens?
Friday, 04 December 2009 08:35:19 UTC
Nice setup... I just can't bring myself to spend money on anything these days so my computer is struggling with a 19" 4:3!!!

Quick statement: I hope you circulate that desktop background, unless you have a preference for Hanselman.Son.dll beta 1 over Hanselman.Son.dll beta 2 :)

Also, the 6 degree field of vision is what your eyes can focus on, though your unfocused field is large (obviously). I don't know if its 6 degrees, I heard a 2 pence coin held at arms length is what you bring into sharp focus.

In the voice of Father Jack ... more ... monitors!
Friday, 04 December 2009 09:44:49 UTC
Very cool, you have 5 monitors?

I only have 2 monitors :)
Friday, 04 December 2009 11:50:02 UTC
This would make my life so much easier. I need to request a pay rise.
Friday, 04 December 2009 12:00:11 UTC
Nice, this is what I wish to have.
At the moment I use two 19" screens, one for VS and one for Outlook + the Scrum TaskBoard. What I miss is a third monitor for all my ALT tools like NUnit console, MSBuild console and so on ...
Do you have a spare one? LOL :-)
Friday, 04 December 2009 13:03:32 UTC
You should move the left screen somewhere else, coz it is hiding the 'real' window.
A 'real' window can be seen as an extra screen for inspiration.
Friday, 04 December 2009 13:39:57 UTC
What a multi-mon slut you are Scott, I'm so jealous! What windows do you typically put on that little USB monitor?

At home I've got two main large monitors (24" and 20") and a third one which is a small touch screen (10") which is angled slightly backwards. It's really handy having a touch screen in the mix, so you can quickly tap buttons in apps like media player or calculator.
Daniel Smith
Friday, 04 December 2009 15:04:15 UTC
Another great piece of hardware for multi-moitors is the Matrox DualHead2Go or the TripleHead2Go. I've used the DualHead with my laptop and run 3 displays. It works great with my mac or my windows laptop.
Friday, 04 December 2009 15:19:32 UTC
Are there any downsides to using these "splitter" devices (such as DualHead2Go) rather than multiple video adapters?
Mark R.
Friday, 04 December 2009 15:32:37 UTC
Love to use my secondary display with my network attached tv tuners (Hava, HDHomerun). Especially during morning coffee time.
Friday, 04 December 2009 15:52:25 UTC
5 Monitors?
what a waste of electricity and resources.
Doing your bit to save the planet.
Friday, 04 December 2009 16:08:23 UTC
I am currently still saving for my 3rd since I am thinking about getting a large screen for the center and then have one on each side. Nice setup of monitors though.
Friday, 04 December 2009 17:11:39 UTC
Mike - Five LCDs use less energy than two CRTs, and I think my hybrid cars and vegtable garden make up any carbon offsets, Professor Positive. ;P Go read my posts on replacing all the lights in my house and the energy savings. Or the post on WHS wattage.
Friday, 04 December 2009 17:18:59 UTC
Hey Scott! You can't beat wikipedia :)

"sufficient resolution to read text typically spans about 6 degrees of arc.."

6 Degrees wide, Yeah!
Friday, 04 December 2009 17:21:10 UTC
Fair enough. I stand corrected.
You may well do more than your average joe....
but 5? that's not excessive?
Friday, 04 December 2009 17:29:06 UTC
Mike - agreed, the fifth is only 7" and half serious. I'd say more than three, assuming I'm not a day trader is excessive. My setup IS excessive, but it got the conversation started, and hopefully it'll get devs thinking about pixels and their productivity. That's the ultimate goal.

Cyril - I'm not talking about the size of the spot on the retina. Depending on how you measure, field of view in humans is very wide. Again, wikipedia:

"For example, binocular vision, which is important for depth perception, only covers 140 degrees of the field of vision in humans"
Friday, 04 December 2009 17:54:49 UTC

I actually went from 2 monitors back to one, the initial reason being I was twisting too much in my seat during the day and making a existing back problem worse. Since then though I have also found I can stay on task better; I don't have email on one side, IM, etc. to glance at every few seconds. Of course, if I were more disciplined I could have closed these apps and only had those open that related to the task at hand. That being said, I still get the biggest monitor I can afford; I like the desk space to play with.

By the way, thanks for posting your Orodev key note, despite the sound quality I enjoyed it very much, and am working on applying what you said to my email/twitter/IM/news feeds...
Friday, 04 December 2009 18:55:14 UTC
Starring at the sun like George Costanza?

Friday, 04 December 2009 23:14:43 UTC
Just got one of the new Matrox Triple head displayport cards. It can handle 3 x 30" monitors at full resolution, and it has pretty low power consumption which is great for a new build. I'm running 24" Dell U2410's which I highly recommend.

I really like 24" 1920x1200 monitors and wouldn't want anything larger. There are studies saying that going from 18" to 24" increases productivity, but going from 24" to 30" actually hurts productivity. Likewise going from 1 to 2 monitors is a drastic improvement, 2-3 is a marginal improvement. Past that is bragging rights.

I could see having a 30" if I made my living doing Photography post production, otherwise it also fits in the bragging rights category :) There are times where it would be helpful, but those times would be more than offset by the time you loose normally.
Saturday, 05 December 2009 01:50:53 UTC
Darn, and I only have two 19".
Saturday, 05 December 2009 12:28:23 UTC
Just so you know, MaxiVista runs in software mode. If you develop or run WPF apps, you might want to find another alternative.
Saturday, 05 December 2009 15:21:22 UTC
At my last job, I had a 3x2 grid of 6 19" monitors. After working with this setup for fully 3 years, everything else feels cramped.

I just received a promotion and now I'm relegated to a laptop and a 23" monitor. I *do* feel like I'm looking at an eclipse through a pin hole.
Sunday, 06 December 2009 06:26:44 UTC
I definitely have to agree with you there. I only have 2 Dell 24", but I have on vertical and it helps immensely to have more pixels. I am thinking about upgrading again. The more lines of code you can see, the more you can fit in your head at once.
Monday, 07 December 2009 12:53:58 UTC
I have to pile on here and say that it really is a travesty that you don't have an SSD, given your current station in life. You are a full grown man now. How can you look yourself in the mirror every morning knowing that you have not had the joy of a SSD yet? This is truly an existential crisis, and needs to be explained as such to your spouse when she asks where all of the "going out" money has gone.

But given a limited money supply, I would have to say that you really need to put the SSD cash into your laptop first. That's where you'll get the sickest gain, because laptops spin down the primary HDD *all the time*. They also have slower speeds to begin with, by far, to begin with compared to your desktop. In fact, I would go so far as to say that hard drive speed is the reason I never do development on my laptop at all.

Then again, if you do most of your development on the desktop, it's worth it to at least get an 80 gig X25-M (don't forget to make sure the firmware is up to date) as your boot/Visual Studio drive. Best investment you'll ever make in performance, by far. My computer is a 3 or 4 ? year old Core2 duo and it screams with the SSD. It'll ruin you.
Monday, 07 December 2009 13:13:46 UTC
Great article, cheers. I'm inspired now! :-)
Monday, 07 December 2009 15:10:13 UTC
Ok seriously though, let's all vote on a new hobby for Scott now.
Monday, 07 December 2009 22:21:09 UTC
So now that you've shown us all these nifty monitors connected to the ultimate developer workstation, what do you use them for?
Monday, 07 December 2009 23:17:49 UTC
LaughingDM - Oh, I use them for blogging about having a lot of monitors. ;) I use Visual Studio 2010, so two monitors are for VS and Toolboxes, one is for browsing, one for outlook and one for TweetDeck and chats.

Tim - I vote for rock climbing.

Dave - I have the SSD in my pocket. I'll install this week.

Tuesday, 08 December 2009 18:09:41 UTC
just cut to the chase.....

Wednesday, 09 December 2009 00:16:36 UTC
What SSD are you going with and are you going to blog about it?

You're monitor setup looks like to disfunctional. Can't you mount some of them on the wall or something to make things a bit more organized?
Thursday, 10 December 2009 01:05:06 UTC
I'm very much wondering if the USB VGA cards are worth anything; I don't want to play games on it, but just want to run a text editor on a third monitor.
Thursday, 10 December 2009 21:54:32 UTC
The Radeon 5XXX cards can actually handle 3 displays by themselves as well and have great 3d. There' s a limitation on the displays though, I believe at least one needs to be HDMI if you use three.
Friday, 11 December 2009 13:32:26 UTC
Scott, you have issues :D
Friday, 25 December 2009 05:00:26 UTC
You're so lucky, i begged my wife to let me get the dell 3007 and she said NO!!!!!
Saturday, 26 December 2009 23:56:23 UTC
What multi-monitor software have you gone with - DisplayFusion or UltraMon?
Thursday, 25 March 2010 05:13:58 UTC
I have a 5x1 grid of 1920x1200 24" Samsung monitors pivoted vertically, which makes a 6000x1920 11.5 megapixels workspace, running off very cheap and silent video cards: 2x Asus EAH3650 PCI-E, 1x Asus EAH4350 PCI (five DVI's all up).

Five of these monitors cost less (in Australia) than one 30" Dell which only has 4.1 megapixels. The only problem with portrait monitors is ClearType doesn't work properly. Tuning does improve it, but it's not as good as a landscape setup.

I won't use multi-monitor software because when you have enough screen space, you don't need to Alt-Tab; every application has its own area, so why waste space on a 6000px long taskbar? Pixels = productivity and Visual Studio is so much better with 1920 vertical pixels. Adding another screen is a much better investment for most people than a new quad core CPU or SSD, and they're so cheap these days!

Someone mentioned earlier about moving from a dual monitor setup back to one because "I was twisting too much in my seat during the day and making an existing back problem worse". A few years ago I was suffering from lower back pain mainly because I sat down all day. I built a makeshift stand-up workstation and have been working that way ever since. You have to wear good shoes (preferably with paediatric inserts) and it takes about a week for your feet to get used to it. I also religiously do the six stretches described in 3 Minutes to a Pain-Free Life by Dr Joseph Weisberg every day. These two simple measures have completely eliminated my back pain.
Michael Csikos
Thursday, 25 March 2010 05:18:36 UTC
(That should have been "podiatry inserts" not "paediatric inserts", darn spell checker! Scott, feel free to fix that one for me!)
Michael Csikos
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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.