How'd you like to increase your office productivity by as much as 50 percent? Add a second monitor to your computer setup. Once you do, you'll never go back to using only one monitor again.
For example, open a document or presentation on one monitor. Use the other to conduct research on the Web. Or see your e-mail arrive as you work. Photo editors really benefit from having an image open on one monitor and the tool bars in full view on the second monitor. Video editing suddenly becomes almost as easy as the television commercials promise.
WHAT YOU NEED
Adding a second monitor to your system is easy. Your computer needs a dual-output video card. Or you can add a second video card to your current machine.
A dual-output video card runs about $100, depending on the specifications. A single-output card costs slightly less. Before you buy, check your existing card. It may already support dual monitors. Many newer computers do.
Installing a video card isn't difficult, but you may not want to mess with it. An electronics store can install a card for a fee.
You could also purchase an external monitor adapter, but internal cards perform better. If you use two video cards, the cards should have the same specifications. That way, there will be no lag between the monitors.
CHOOSING A MONITOR
You can use an old monitor if you have one. The experience is better if the monitors are the same size. Even better are identical monitors.
These days, you can find bargains on flat-panel monitors. Go for a 19-inch monitor if possible. Otherwise, a 17-inch screen is good. Anything larger than 19 inches may strain your eyes if you sit close.
The monitors and computer should have matching ports. Many monitors have both VGA (analog) and DVI (digital) connections. This makes things easier.
Before buying a monitor, judge the picture quality in the store. Pay attention to the contrast ratio. This is the difference between the whitest whites and the darkest blacks. Aim for 500:1 or higher. Higher ratios yield more shadow detail.
Response time is equally important. This is the time it takes for a pixel to change color. Lower numbers are better. Accept no higher than 12ms (milliseconds). Slow response time can result in smeared movement in videos.
Screen resolution refers to the number of pixels on the display. The higher the resolution, the smaller things like text appear on the screen.
Monitors can be adjusted to different resolutions. However, flat panels usually work best on their native resolutions. The two monitors should have the same native resolution.
You may need a resolution other than native. If so, check the monitors in the store. Be sure they work for you.
You don't need a brand-name monitor. Many companies purchase panels from the same manufacturers. But pay attention to build quality. It should have a sturdy feel and solid buttons.
A good warranty is also important.
SETTING UP THE MONITOR
After you have both monitors connected to your PC, plug in both and turn them on. In Vista, right-click the desktop and select Personalize. Click Display Settings. In XP, click Start>>Control Panel. Double-click Display. Open the Settings tab.
In both Vista and XP, you'll see numbered boxes representing the monitors. Click Identify Monitors. A "1" appears on your primary monitor. The other monitor displays a "2." Click and drag the boxes to change the designations.
Select monitor 2 and check "Extend my windows desktop onto this monitor." Click apply. You can open programs and drag them between monitors.
Third-party programs improve the dual-monitor experience. Ultramon ($40) places a task bar on each monitor. Buttons help you arrange program windows on the monitors. And you can apply different wallpapers to each monitor.
Multimon does much the same for free. Add Multishow if you want different wallpapers. You'll find links to these programs at komando.com/news.