Scott Hanselman

Three Monitors - I can't go back

August 16, 2007 Comment on this post [23] Posted in Musings
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I was just sitting here lavishing in the "three monitors of it all". I can truly say that the decision (well, not really a decision as Jeff absolutely insisted) to get a third monitor, specifically a Dell 20", has truly changed my work life. You can not have too much workspace until the monitors completely fill your field of vision.


(Forgive the silly theme and lack of wallpaper...the book editors require a certain Windows theme)

I can absolutely see myself getting forth monitor, and either mounting it to the far right or possibly above the center.  The amount of time I'm saving by not Alt-Tabbing during a task is significant. 

Window management was taking up a lot my time - I had no idea until I had so much desktop space how much time I was spending just resizing windows. Not moving them around as much as moving them out of the way of others.

When you've got another monitor you can dedicate it to a single task. Right now I'm working on a book, so I've got a VM on one screen, Visual Studio on another, and Explorer on a third. For me, it comes down to this - turning my head is way easier than Alt-Tab.

I never would have believed it until I tried it. I encourage you to look at 2 monitors if you have one or 3 if you have two. With 20" flat panels going for $300, now's the time.

I was using a simple Three Monitor setup in December of 2003, but it never quite took off for me for a couple of reasons:

  • The laptop was the third monitor (via MaxiVista) and either my wife or I would walk away with it. I couldn't count on the third monitor.
  • The distance between the bezels was crazy wide. In this older picture the middle monitor was 17" at 1280x1024 and the one on the right was a 17" CRT. They were both 96dpi but...
  • ...the laptop was 120 dpi (really high-res screen) and the difference was very distracting.

And remember, when you go Multiple Monitor, you need to get Ultramon.

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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August 16, 2007 10:34
I first used a three monitor desktop when I worked at Microsoft nearly 3 years ago. I had an 8 port KVM that let me source any of 8 inputs and display it on any of 4 outputs. I used this setup to run two dual desktop systems and 3 or 4 other single display systems. While actually a dual monitor configuration, for obvious reasons, the ability to easily change what I was displaying allowed me to display content on other machines and then bounce back and forth. Using a network clipboard between those hosts gave me most of the conveniences of a triple monitor configuration, but with endless flexibility. I used 3 matched CRTs and my entire desktop was taken up by the displays.

Today, I have three Dell 2007WFPs at work. Two are running on my Vista workstation and the third is attached to my Linux workstation. I use Synergy to then seam together a 5040x1050 workspace. While not quite as flexible as the Microsoft configuration (any display adapter to any display device), this actually suits me better for the multi-OS environments that I have to work with. Both displays connected to my Vista machine are running off DVI ports. The additional ports on the monitors themselves could let me easily run two dual environments, similar to my old configuration, but the result was actually a little less productive. Synergy allows me to use a single mouse and keyboard between two (or more) OS's, and share clipboard data between them. I have to deal with CRLF/CR mixed text when copying the text from file logs around, but a quick paste into Programmer's Notepad 2 and a replace later, you almost wouldn't know I wasn't using one system.

Topping that is our operations monitoring station which runs dual Dell 3007WFP monitors. In resolution, the 3007WFP is essentially two 2007WFP monitors stacked on top of each other and then rotated (for a massive widescreen display only rivaled by China in square miles). Every available pixel of the 1680x4200 desktop is used to host graphs and other monitoring details about the state of Zillow's many services. This setup has 4 times the desktop real estate of a single 20" widescreen LCD panel with a similar aspect to that of a dual widescreen configuration. Doom 3 and FarCry 64 look spectacular. :-D
August 16, 2007 11:27
I just went from a two monitor to a three monitor setup, when i bought a BenQ FP241W - which by the way is a very nice monitor - and it was just a great improvement as going from one to two monitors. See picture.

With a number of remote desktops slowly moving towards infinite, besides development tools, I dont think I will be able to go back.

I already have eyes on my girlfriends old Dell D505 laptop, that i could combine with MaxiVista to get the fourth monitor - on the other hand, Vista (friend and foe in one) is probably not going to like it, and when Vista says jump ...
August 16, 2007 11:28
Been in the land of triple monitors for a while now and it's sweet. 3 dell 2001FP's, 4800 x 1200. On the far left I have a second computer (utility server) plugged into the vga port and using synergy (as mentioned above) I have a virtual 4th monitor - mouse goes off the left edge, switch inputs, mouse is on right edge of left monitor controlling a the second computer. Synergy for multi-os & multi-monitor is very cool.
August 16, 2007 12:39
"I can absolutely see myself getting forth monitor" - wow! Didn't think anyone programmed in Forth any more (snigger, sorry couldn't resist).

I'm just jealous because I only have two the moment; although you might have convinced me to upgrade. Hanselminutes is great BTW.
August 16, 2007 16:53
I have a company laptop that I would like to setup a third monitor on. It has one VGA output, no S Video or DVI. Does anyone out there have any ideas? I would prefer a hardware solution vs. a software solution, but beggars can't be choosers. <del> I have searched the Internet and not found any solutions.</del> I just discovered that there are USB and PCMCIA video cards. Has anyone used such a solution for an additional monitor? Is it possible to daisy chain monitors, and not have to use an additional video card?
August 16, 2007 17:22
I've also been in the 3-monitor land for a while, about 2 years or so. I switched from a single 21" CRT to three 20" (4:3) Samsung 204B LCD's and an Ergotron monitor stand. I couldn't go back if I tried.

One thing I really enjoy and also couldn't live without is the nVidia nView Desktop Manager. I have two nvida cards 6800XT and FX 5200. Using their nView app I have setup three hot keys Ctrl-1 (left), Ctrl-2 (middle) and Ctrl-3 (right screen) which allows me to instantly move a window to one of the three screens. I use it all the time to move firefox or sql em to the middle screen then move it back to the side, no mouse required!
August 16, 2007 17:59

What hardware are you using to support the monitors and desktop. I saw a picture from an earlier post, but it wasn't exactly clear who the maker was. It looks like one of the modular furniture makers. I'm curious.

I'm tempted to get two Dell 24 inch monitors (1920 x 1200 each). A friend at work has one, I'm very jealous whenever I see it. It makes my puny 1600x1200 screen seem way to small!
August 16, 2007 18:11
$300? I just just got two 20" wide 1680x1050 from NewEgg for $179 each after $20 rebate.(
August 16, 2007 18:18
Scott (and others),
How do you feel about the widescreen monitors? Pros/Cons? I can see the advantages of being able to see long lines of code easily, but I think the vertical space might be more important in a development environment. This is all conjecture on my part - what have your experiences been?
Thanks, Don
August 16, 2007 18:47
I'd love a third monitor (I have two), but sometimes the politics of the work environment don't allow it. I work in an office of over 100 people, but I'm the ONLY programmer/developer. Being the only one, I can get away with certain things on my system that the others can't, like installing whatever software I deem necessary (much of it on Scott's tools list), but I have to be careful.
I got many double-takes when the second monitor went in. And the IT people went nuts when I dared to use a Matrix screensaver and everyone else asked IT how they can get it (which they can't). The screensaver lasted half a day. I shudder to think about the flak that I'd take if I put in a third monitor - why does he get three?!, why do we only get one?!, etc. Personally, I'd love it if everyone in my office had three, but I know that isn't going to happen.
August 16, 2007 19:06
That's a lot of F's on your YSlow score...... I have two 17's right now but would rather have two 20's or one 30 inch... i don't think the 30 inch is gonna happen... but a man can dream!
August 16, 2007 19:34

I moved to three monitors almost 2 years ago (when 20's were too pricey for 3) so I opted for 19" Dell. Not a plug for my desk unit, but it's one of the best professional investments I've made for my ergonomics, back, etc...

You will enjoy them - I know I do.
August 16, 2007 20:28
For those of us that are suffering with just two monitors, I think of the immortal words of Meatloaf who sang, "Two out of three ain't bad."
August 17, 2007 0:17
Three monitors!?!

Personally, I prefer 17" monitors. I like to sit fairly close to my System and find that four monitors gives me the best of both worlds. I have massive horizontal realestate, yet I can full screen an application with out having massive whitespace issues.

I know you're all excited about your new system.. but let me know when you want to talk about raw horsepower :)
August 17, 2007 1:01
I love MaxiVista. It is soo cool to use your laptop as an extra monitor. Don't forget to mention that it includes the Synergy feature!

August 17, 2007 13:21
Hey Mark,

Can you provide any more information on your desk?

Eg, where did you get it.. what monitor mount are you using.. etcetera. It's a fascinating desk arrangement! Tell us more!
August 17, 2007 19:41

Are you sure this is the right Wrox theme for Vista? I think these transparent windows can't be printed very well. My theme is different though.
August 19, 2007 6:23

Some cool three-monitor wallpapers can be found here:

August 21, 2007 19:52
I totally agree that multiple monitors are they way to go. It can, however, become somewhat always want more space. I went from 2 Dell 2007FP, to 3, then 4, then, when a friend offered a good price for the 20" monitors, I went to 3 Dell now I have a desktop of 7,680 x 1,600. I did have to replace video cards so that I now have two PCI-X cards with 2 Dual Link DVI outputs. The fourth connection, currently unused, is screaming to be put to use. :)
August 23, 2007 3:29
Hi, I have a three monitor question but its slightly different. My laptop lcd screen died. the inverter died, and the cathode is dieing, i.e. screen was turning pink before the inverter died as well. Anyway, this is a one year old laptop so it has a vga out and an s-video out. Windows XP only allows for 2 monitors, but i would like to use a tv through svideo and another monitor with my vga out. would it be possible to turn only the s-video and external monitor on and leave my laptops lcd off?

or a better solution, does anyone know of anyone who can repair compal laptops?
August 23, 2007 4:32

This is probably not the best place to ask your question, but I will take a quick "stab" at it. First, I believe Win XP will allow up to 16 monitors, I have personally had up to 8. The limitation I believe you are referring to, or thinking about, is that of your video card.

Are you able to get 2 different video streams (i.e. a movie on your TV and your desktop on the external monitor)? Often times there may be multiple connection options...but they all will show the same stream.

To answer you question of Can and How does one turn off the laptop screen. In my experience most laptop manufacturers will have a special key sequence that will cycle thru the 3 combinations of Laptop only, external only, and both. You did not mention manufacturer so I cannot help much more with specifics. I would suggest you look on the top row of the keyboard (~ thru +) looking for symbols, like a monitor, and hopefully you will find an added key, like an ALT or CTRL, but named maybe FN, or FUNC, that has the same color ink...try using those.

Good Luck.
August 23, 2007 7:44

Took me forever to find something like this when I started looking for a new desk when I knew my second son was coming (he now has Matisse inspired room you see in the photo) because I needed a very small footprint for my new workspace. It is made by a small outfit out of Vancouver, BC called Microsphere.

Problem, they’re not selling the M2 (my desk/chair) anymore… </scream>

I’m going to have to fashion my own spares if crap breaks! I roll with 3 Dell 1907FP with standard 1280 by 1024 resolution. The underside speakers from Dell on the center monitor is a nice touch. I power it through set of Nvidia Quadro cards on an older rig. It's needing a refresh - Opteron 185 with 2GB RAM, all watercooled with the VGA, Chipset and CPU pumping heat through a SwiftTech 3x120 radiator in the adjoining room. Yes, I have the water running through custom conduit into the adjacent room due to too much heat in my room. It has done wonders to equalize the heat in the house (I live in AZ, not having a hotspot in the house is critical). Coolest part I've added recently to control the heat on the system is from some crazy folks in Austria - mCubed. It's an absolute necessity in this heat to be able to ramp those fans on pre-determined curves for MPEG or other number crunching work.

That desk is the best accessory I've ever owned for my professional work - too comforable. You forget to get up and walk around.

Thanks for asking!
September 08, 2007 22:04
When you talk about saving time by not Alt-Tabbing, I assume you're using the mouse to select the app on the other monitor? If you're on the mouse a lot anyways, that sounds great. I try to stay on the keyboard when I can, but then it becomes a trade off between how long it takes to Alt-Tab and how long it takes to go for the mouse, change apps, and go back to the keyboard. I guess it depends how many apps you have to Alt-Tab through.

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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.