Single vs Multi Monitor

Multiple MonitorsYeah, that is just a little bit ridiculous. I don’t have anything near that (nor do I think I would ever want anything like that), but I have been testing out a dual-monitor setup for the past few weeks to see if I like having the extra space or if a single, larger monitor really works best for me.

So far the results are inconclusive, but I do have some thoughts on the whole matter.

If you don’t like messy, stream-of-consciousness posts you might as well navigate to some other place … it is going to get messy from this point forward.

  • So far my favorite setup tends to be a single large monitor (between 23″ and 24″) hooked up to a 13″ laptop. Mainly it is a 13″ MacBook Pro. Having an obviously-primary monitor allows me to put it front-and-center and then I keep minor stuff on the secondary monitor (laptop screen). Minimum amount of head-turning, but it seems to fit best for me at the moment.
  • The distance from the screens seems to be a major factor with how well I work with them. It is pretty easy for two 23″ to 24″ panels to get too close and feel like the panels are going to eat your soul. So that might be hyperbole, but for me I need to be able to get the two monitors far enough away that I don’t feel crowded by them. It also has the benefit of leaving me more workspace directly in front of me for other things.
  • Get a decent mouse and keyboard. This isn’t monitor-setup specific, but it still needs to be said. I like Apple’s wireless accessories, but if you are not using a Mac I almost always reach for Logitech first. I still have my original Logitech optical mouse from 1999 (or something) and it still works. That’s pretty darn good. The main things is to find something that is comfortable and has decent keys (for keyboards).
  • Full-screen apps in OS X are really nice (and Mavericks is going to make it even better). It help eliminate some of the claustrophobic feeling that a laptop screen can bring. Not a complete replacement, but try out full screen apps as often as you can to see which ones will work for you.
  • When using large monitors, just don’t full-screen anything. I can’t. There is so much wasted space that it bugs me and I need to be using windows where I can see the ends of them. Kind of the opposite of working on a laptop. I think that is part of the reason single-window, single-app workflows on mobile devices are so popular and work so well. The limitations of the screen size almost necessitate single-window, single-app workflows.
  • I have not been able to try out things with 27″ monitors, and if I did I’d need to spend for the higher resolutions. I’ve used a 27″ iMac in the past and ran into the problem I have with multi-monitor setups … mainly that you need to be able to get it far enough away from your eyes or else you feel like it is going to come and eat you. Whole. One gulp. Gone. I don’t have the same issue with a single 24″ + 13″ laptop as I do even with just a single 27″ monitor. There must be some physiological switch flipped in my brain. Bad brain.
  • Linux multi-monitor setups can be very finicky. I think that OS X Mavericks has about the easiest time getting things to a working condition and being useful. That’s part of the benefit of owning the entire platform.

It really just comes down to what works for you. You need to experiment and I am going to continue to do so. Here are the OSes I have been trying out so far along with the hardware(ish):

  • OS X 10.8 on Mac mini and 13″ MacBook Pro
  • OS X 10.9 Developer Preview on Mac mini and 13″ MacBook Pro
  • openSUSE 12.3 on desktop
  • SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 11 SP3 on desktop
  • Windows 7 on desktop and 12″ HP convertible tablet
  • Windows 8 on desktop

A lot of different possible setups and I am going to spend some more time in GNOME 3 with openSUSE and also probably load Ubuntu 13.04 on the desktop at some point.

So give them a go and see what works for you. Right now I’m still on the fence, but a 23″ monitor plus the 13″ MacBook Pro has seemed to be the most natural for me so far.

4 thoughts on “Single vs Multi Monitor”

  1. I really enjoy my single 28inch monitor. Granted everything is run windowed unless I’m watching a movie and a it is pushed to the back of my desk so I can write on the first part and I have a wireless keyboard/mouse combo that is sitting on a roll out underside keyboard carriage. This setup works well for me as I feel there is enough real estate for what I need, and I don’t feel like my soul is in jeopardy.

    At work I utilize two 22inch widescreen monitors on an ergotron sit & stand, so they are slightly angled so my head doesn’t really turn so much as my eyes flick back and forth. Granted, I still generally keep a primary screen for apps and a secondary screen for data, email, etc.

    1. Ideally I’d like to try one of those Korean 27″ monitors to see how they pan out. For now I’ll run dual-23″ monitors at home and work and just try to keep my distance so that I don’t feel too crowded.

      However, maybe I’m just strange. Also a distinct possibility.

  2. I’ve got a single Dell Ultrasharp 24″ and a 22″ generic. I run the 24″ regular orientation and the 22″ flipped so it’s tall and really just use it as a reference monitor.

    For quite a while I used my 13″ MBP in clamshell mode. I found that I was getting distracted by ‘stuff’ like Twitter. Really that was a problem with me not saying ‘no’ to crap and not a problem with the tools at hand.

    1. I’ve kinda wanted to test out a vertical monitor setup at some point. It sounds like it would be really useful in some cases.

      I’ve had to cut down on the “stuff” that I have on the secondary monitor. Usually it is a Terminal window, email, and whatever music player I have on so that I can quickly see what is playing. Other than that, I need to keep the windows to a minimum as to keep my mind focused on what I am doing.

      Another winkle in all of this is how the OS handles multiple monitors as well. I’m playing around with different Linux distros right now and every one adds a little bit of a different twist on window management. That’s why I bring OS X 10.9 up … I think they’ve gotten the closest so far.

      One thing I have seen that I like is the ease of filling only half of a screen with a single window. Windows 7 does this, I think Windows 8 does as well, and openSUSE does it too. It is really handy.

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