Research recently conducted by Gartner (Justifying Large PC Screens and Dual Monitors, Fiering, 26 Feb 2010) suggests increasing the screen real estate used by computer users will increase efficiency while lowering error rates. If an organization plans to proceed in this direction there are some parameters to consider to be most effective.
To understand this concept many computers today have the ability to display the contents of a screen on multiple displays. Either the image can be cloned meaning a single instance on two screens or the desktop can be extended. Extending the desktop enables multiple full windows to be opened that will independently interact with the user.
It is easy to imagine the potentials having two monitors with windows open on each. It is less necessary to switch between windowed applications, information may be referenced from an inactive window on one monitor and used in work processes in active window on another monitor. Having multiple screens also allows programs such as email and calendaring systems referenced throughout the day to remain on smaller monitors while tasks and active work are completed on a second larger monitor. The benefits for dual displays come with some caveats.
Dual monitor users require hardware and operating systems that will support dual displays. Graphic processing units must be able to phyiscally support dual displays. Typically GPUs will have multiple interfaces to universally support VGA or DVI interfaces on monitors. An organization deciding to invest in dual displays should consider single GPUs with dual displays. They should also standardize on only purchasing monitors with dual VGA and DVI inputs. Most good GPUs are not a part of the motherboard and should be PCIe interface cards. Minimum resolution on these GPUs should be greater than 1280×1024 to gain the greatest benefit. Monitor sizes should be greater than 19″ (diagonal) and sizes of 21″ and 22″ are preferred. Monitors should not exceed 24″ widescreen diagonal lengths as many cubicle offices would have a hard time supporting desk and shelving units.
The user must also be considered. Dual displays work well for visually impaired users. Special consideration must be considered for visually impaired users that cannot view resolutions below1280x1024. These obstacles may be addressed by using larger monitor(s). Power use and distribution should also be considered. If a user utilizes an UPS or battery backup the primary monitor should be the only one on the UPS to maximize battery life. Users who already have confined or limited workspace may not benefit from an additional monitor. The reduced desktop space may inhibit or decrease efficiencies.
Larger LCD displays are inexpensive and prices are decreasing rapidly in coming years. For systems with graphically intensive applications such as games and some video editing tasks a single large monitor may suffice. The options and alternatives grow as time progress.
Conclusion & Planning
You may find adding a monitor increase your efficiency when working on tasks. Before planning the purchase of additional monitor ask yourself a few questions.
1) Will my current computer support dual monitors.
a) If not can I install a dual head video card
i.) The two types are AGP or PCIe (very old machines may still use PCI)
2) Do I have the work space for another monitor
3) Can I reasonable view resolutions greater than or equal to 1280×1024?