Not So Meticulous: My Thoughts on Dual Display Setups

Ben Brooks’ blog entry Meticulous, where he emphatically states that dual displays are “lame” for their inefficiencies had me shaking my head as I was reading it. The thesis of his article is that a single, smaller display provides more focus to the user, which in turn improves overall productivity. His blanket statement that dual displays are “pretty lame” fails to take into account those of us who actually use their machines to create visual content.

While his arguments may hold water for a writer or developer, as an artist, I can confidently say that my productivity has benefited a great deal from using a dual display set-up.

Most of my work involves working with multiple applications at a time; applications that have tool palettes scattered around my screen. A typical scenario for me involves working with references when digitally illustrating. A dual display setup lets me use the main (larger) LCD for palette blossoming applications like Photoshop, Sketchbook Pro, or Manga Studio Pro while the secondary (smaller) LCD is used for displaying reference photos or a creative brief. A dual display eliminates the need for me to shuffle back and forth between apps, thereby improving my productivity.

Having a larger screen real-estate to work with lets me see and work with a larger canvas. If I were to do my work on a small display (13″), I’d have to constantly zoom-in and out and moving around the canvas. While one can argue I’d be more “focused”, I would counter that I would be wasting a lot of time trying to “see” my canvas. Is that productivity? I think not.

In short, for the work that I do, a dual display setup is essential. I’ve been using such a configuration for over 10 years now and can’t live without it. How about you? Do you use dual displays? Have you reverted from dual displays to single displays? Share your thoughts in the comments below!


These beautiful and intelligent people wrote

  • Jason
    September 23, 2011 at 6:11 am

    Honestly, dual screens help developers too. For example when I’m developing I use my left hand screen to hold my IDE where I do my coding and the right hand screen is where I run the application being debugged so that I can click on a button and see what code triggers and how it triggers and what variables. This is a major pain in the butt when you have to this in a single screen environment. Maybe it only helps writers to have better productivity, not for developers.

    • Kevin Rubin
      September 23, 2011 at 11:25 pm

      I think you’re doing it all wrong… The IDE should be on the right hand screen, and the application on the left hand screen… *sheesh*

  • Man vs. Art
    September 23, 2011 at 7:06 am

    You make a very compelling argument. I need to hook up another screen on my work station. Thanks for the great post.

  • John Bogenschutz
    September 23, 2011 at 8:20 am

    My god, dual monitors have made my life so much easier on the computer. I don’t have to print off music anymore when I need to input it into a program. I can just bring the pdf up on my second monitor and read it off of there.

    The same goes for having to read pdf manuals while I work on a music program (these pdfs are essential to working on the program).

    For me, it saves money and paper, and that’s not bad.

  • Paul McA
    September 23, 2011 at 8:38 am

    Frankly I think that multiple monitors improves focus rather than diluting it, or at least it allows a reduction from the distraction of switching context from a document to a browser to email to a terminal.
    In many ways this is analagous to the clean desk / cluttered desk conflict. The ideal state is not universal to all people.

  • Tom Brazelton
    September 23, 2011 at 9:09 am

    I never had a dual-monitor set up until about two years ago when I did some on-site freelancing for an employer who had a desk set up with them. After that, going home and working on a paltry 15″ monitor felt like being handcuffed.

    I finally upgraded to two 24″ widescreen monitors this year and it is an embarrassment of riches. Sometimes it can feel a little bit like watching a tennis match when I’m looking from one side to the other. But overall, it’s been fantastic.

  • Emily Gillis
    September 23, 2011 at 9:15 am

    I got my first taste of dual monitors at my dayjob and now I’m trying to get the same set up at home. It’s made my art so much easier to work on with out having to alt tab all the time for say, references or to check on a description. I’ve been spoiled.

  • Adrian
    September 23, 2011 at 9:26 am

    I agree with jason completely! At work we have IPS displays and if I have to code something I flip the screen to make it vertical. Gives me a huge area to view and write code. And my other display stays horizontal (normal) for my debugging. Life is literally impossible without dual displays. Or maybe because I’ve been using it for at least ten years now…

  • Felipe Bidu
    September 23, 2011 at 10:13 am

    I’m a developer and I find dual screens waaay easier. When working with simple algorithms you can code in one screen and read references in the other, or take a look at a UML diagram, by example.

    I like to code in multiple languages (I code for hobby) so I DON’T remember details of PHP, Delphi, Pyhton, Java, JScript and so on. Sometimes I even forget some simple structures like how to import a library (which keyword use? Import? Use? Open? Require?) So it is WAY easier to have a quick reference or even an API reference in the other screen.

    Also when working with databases you can code your app in one and keep a db client open in the second screen.

    I also write every once in a while, mostly techinical stuff, blog posts and so on. And even when WRITING you can leave references in the second screen and read then just glancing. I sure will read the article you cited, I’m curious

  • Viswakarma
    September 23, 2011 at 11:05 am

    There are published studies from that show there is increased productivity with larger screen real estate, however it is obtained– dual monitors or larger screens or a combination of the two!!!

  • Yoda
    September 23, 2011 at 12:08 pm

    I have 4 screens on my desk at work, and it helps me so much! I can keep an eye on my email on one screen, while working on a spreadsheet on another, with reference materials I need to construct said spreadsheet on the other two monitors… it makes me amazingly more productive!

  • ColinFraser
    September 23, 2011 at 12:37 pm

    I use two monitors both at work and at home, and I would be lost without them. As in this post, they really shine when I am doing graphic-designy things with Photoshop and the like, but there are plenty of other times when they come in handy. Anytime I need to copy and paste from/between multiple documents/emails or keep an eye on one program/process while working in another I am glad for the extra real estate.

    One caveat is that it really bugs me if they don’t match up well. If one monitor is much larger than the other, or drastically different in something like color temperature (or dog forbid a crt), it offends my aesthetic sensibilities. If you are going to do it, you should be able to have one background run almost seamlessly from one side to the other (pictures of bridges work to nice effect)!

  • tmcelmurry
    September 23, 2011 at 12:42 pm

    We moved to dual monitors about 3 years ago at our firm after I had researched the need. Our productivity has increase 18% per user when dual monitors were introduced. Now that they have run with dual monitors for 2 years the needs has arisen as we go more and more paperless that 3 monitors are going to be required and speaking with other companies in our industry (accounting) 3 monitors is really starting to become the norm.

    I’m not familiar with how Mac works with it’s task bar in the extended monitor, but one thing that frustrated us the first year of use with our Windows systems was having to go back to our primary monitor when items were minimized. We found a great utility called Multi-mon which allows us to extend our task bar across both monitors, so now items minimized on the second monitor show on that monitors task bar and vice verse, so no more having applications stack on the primary monitor.

    I challenge Ben to go to dual monitors for at least 3 months, then step back to one monitor and see how much his productivity decreases when going back. I think he’d truly be amazed.

  • George Coghill
    September 23, 2011 at 12:46 pm

    Dual displays are in a word, awesome. For artists, being able to reference a screen of images or a client email while keeping your art full-screen is so ideal. It’s so good I’ve considered adding another video card and going for a hat-truick :)

  • ThomasH
    September 23, 2011 at 12:57 pm

    I use dual monitors everyday, and I can’t imagine not!

    I have the big 24 inch display showing World of Warcraft full screen and have a web browser showing the quest guides and other Googled hints on the laptop monitor.

    I hope this was the kind of usage you were looking for! ^L^

    – Thomas

  • seltaya
    September 23, 2011 at 1:07 pm

    Honestly, I’m going to have to weigh in for developers. I’m not sure what Brooks is, but I’m a code monkey, I have two large monitors, a 24 and a 19. Being able to look at four source files at once AND have a few docs pulled up on the side is very useful. I also tend to throw videos or music on the secondary while I do other things. I spent a few months on a development internship constrained to a 15.4 laptop, and I was certainly less productive, it took me longer to learn the source code, and working on long blocks that didn’t fit on the screen was a pain, particularly when constructing query generators.

  • Bartimaeus
    September 23, 2011 at 1:14 pm

    I use two monitors for coding in Flash. The main window goes in one monitor, the scripting window in the other. I kinda need both windows to fill the monitor, so it’d be harder to do without two monitors.

  • DominusOminus
    September 23, 2011 at 5:03 pm

    Brooks’ single monitor assertion is much the same as saying that a dial-up connection is better than a broadband connection. Monitor space available = visual bandwidth. The more monitor space a user has to work with the greater the number of choices which can be made without leaving the focused working environment.

  • kaitou
    September 23, 2011 at 6:28 pm

    I currently have two monitors at home, one 24″ and one Cintiq (alas, the 12″ and not the large 21″ or the huge 24″). Unless I’m doing artwork on the Cintiq, I just use the main one; however, I have it set up for 16 virtual screens (both monitors, actually). Even using one screen for development, it’s nice having a second screen for reference docs.

  • Dan Woods
    September 23, 2011 at 7:39 pm

    At home, while reading and writing, I use a single monitor, sometimes just a Tablet.
    At work, I use two monitors; My job requires piecing together information from multiple sources using a variety of incompatible tools.
    If the Tools were better integrated, I could manage with a single monitor, but with the poor quality proprietary software I’m forced to use, I have to spread things out.

    This might be why people using Adobe Software like Photoshop insist that they need two monitors.

    • Krishna
      September 23, 2011 at 7:44 pm

      That may be, in part, true, Dan. For example, I run Sketchbook Pro, with its minimalistic interface, just fine within one display.

  • Kevin Rubin
    September 23, 2011 at 11:24 pm

    I’m in the dual monitor developer crowd, too… At work, I have one regular one, and one really wide screen flipped on its side into vertical mode.

    I’m so much more productive with it. I use the vertical one for my IDE, and with all the height, it’s easy to have several source code files open at once, or one big one to really see a lot of code at a time.

    Then the other monitor is where I run the app I work on, run the app server and other various things, so nothing is covering up the source code while I work

    Debugging is much, much easier this way because the application never overlaps the source code, single stepping and investigation at various breakpoints just goes a lot smoother than constantly switching what window is on top all the time.

  • Xander Hunt
    September 24, 2011 at 10:16 am

    I run a QUAD monitor system at home. Yes… 4 monitors, one machine. Dual 22″ wide screen LCDs on the bottom, and dual 19″ square LCDs on the top. I use all 4 all the time. All four monitors are driven by a pair of nVidia GTX570 video cards via DVI-I. This is my gaming rig, my developers rig, my everything rig. I wish I had the place to hook in another couple of monitors when I get DEEP into my developing as even then I tend to miss having some extra screen real-estate. Sitting square on to the monitors, my nose points right where the monitors split. Very little neck strain, or head movement. I won’t even get into what my wife has. She doesn’t have more than I, but she definitely has bragging rights.

    For development on this rig, I have my IDE on one monitor, the UI for the forms I’m building within the IDE on the other. The top two monitors I use for database schema development, help files, terminals, shared folders, text files, web browsers (Which usually have no less than 20 tabs open after a good dev’n session) and other misc stuff I need to “get the job done”. Task switching is a matter of clicking on what i need to look at instantly, not browse the task bar to find the notepad/scratchpad I need.

    Going to my mother-in-laws to use her single-monitor system is … in a word… HORRID after experiencing just a dual monitor system from some years ago.

    Being “focused” doesn’t mean you work in one application. Being “focused” means you work on the task at hand and not being “distracted” by elements not related to the task at hand, such as reading blogs, checking the weather, browsing your collection of MP3s.

    Maybe in the writing industry, or a dedicated blogger, CMS (ab)user, or whatever, all you do need is one monitor. Being a developer, a gamer, and generally advanced power user, I can’t run a computer comfortably without at LEAST a dual monitor setup. Its just incomprehensible.

  • Brian
    September 24, 2011 at 6:34 pm

    I have been using a dual display setup for years. A 24′ and a 19′ and I must say my productivity is much higher than when using a single display. I am able to have Premiere open one screen and then have either the script or edit list on the other.

  • Dan Dreibelbis
    September 27, 2011 at 7:57 pm

    I currently don’t have a dual display setup, but once I figure out a new desk layout in my apartment I’d like to go that route. I compose music with Cubase, and it would be nice to have one screen for the main window , and another to have up instruments and the virtual mixer. Even with a large screen like I have, I find I have to constantly juggle through various windows one after another!

  • Aizan Abd
    March 19, 2014 at 11:10 pm

    why no one commented on this? sound arguments for double monitor set up. For my work i use my iPad as a second monitor(browsing, reference photo etc) as i can’t afford 2nd monitor. :)

    • jabba52
      April 30, 2014 at 9:29 pm

      A large second monitor costs as little as 150. Your tiny iPad cost a fortune. It’s worth it.

  • Marc Neermann
    July 28, 2014 at 10:15 pm

    I wish I had 3! One is open on the quote, one on the floor plans and a third for internet research on products.

  • Will
    May 13, 2015 at 10:56 am

    It’s a no-brainer.
    10 years dual for me.
    My first hiccup comes with the addition of the yiynova 19 (partly on your recommendation and review.)
    Problem arises with monitor mapping. Before, I had menus scattered to 2nd screen, now they have to be on the yiynova or I can’t reach them with the pen.
    Also, I get this odd hiccup at times where if I press one of the pen buttons, the Y driver maps the top half of the screen to the 2nd monitor and the cursor is no longer under the pen!
    Also, I can’t ma the pen button to the eraser any more.
    Has anyone else experienced this?

    • Krishna
      May 13, 2015 at 12:30 pm

      hi Will:

      Mac or Windows? Also, are you running the latest drivers? They were refreshed earlier this year.

  • Will
    May 16, 2015 at 10:56 am

    Windows 7, 8 gig ram, nvidia
    Latest driver from their website.
    Seems the mapping issue was a conflict with MouseImp, a mouse utility I was using. No problem that way since turning it off.
    However, I have lag issues. The cursor lags by as much as 1 inch, much more than you see in videos of guys reviewing the device.
    Any advice?

    • Krishna
      May 16, 2015 at 9:42 pm

      I’m not sure how to advise. Hopefully someone with a Yiynova and Windows7 can help. I have a Mac connected to my Yiynova.

  • vicky
    June 28, 2015 at 4:24 pm

    I sit on my bed working on my laptop and I also have my iPad to look up stuff… simple dual display using wi-fi…

    • Krishna
      June 30, 2015 at 1:51 am

      Very cool, Vicky. Simple setup but it works!