james mckay dot net
because there are few things that are less logical than business logic

Vertical monitors

A couple of weeks ago I was treated to two new monitors — 20 inch wide screen flat Dell offerings, each with a resolution of 1680×1050 pixels. These replaced a couple of excruciatingly old CRT behemoths that were occupying three quarters of my desk.

The new monitors can rotate on their stands, so you can have them in either a portrait or a landscape orientation. After a little bit of experimentation, I’ve plumped for having both of them upright.

My monitor setup

This arrangement really comes into its own for coding: you can see ninety lines of code on one screenful without compromising clarity. This is quite helpful when you encounter a gargantuan 1,600-line function with loops and if statements a dozen levels deep, written by someone who has never read Martin Fowler’s excellent book on Refactoring.

The only thing is that having them vertical slows down the graphics card a bit for some reason — but since I’m not playing video games or watching DVDs at work, that doesn’t really matter. It’s also a bit odd when the machine boots up because the Windows splash screen appears on its side.

Some people like to have three or more monitors, but I’m not one of them. While two monitors are definitely much better than one, I find that a monitor arrangement that is too wide can be a bit uncomfortable when you’re constantly having to move your head through an angle of about 45° to get from one end of the screen to another. With my previous setup of two 21 inch CRT monitors, my applications all tended to congregate on the left hand screen, and when I had the new monitors in landscape orientation it felt even more awkward. However, with them both upright, it’s probably the best monitor arrangement I’ve ever had, since it provides an optimum ratio of screen real estate to required head movement to make the most of it.


  • # Reply from Usayd at 21:56 on 4 May 2007

    Funny, I run a single 19″ TFT but my dad was away recently and I borrowed his very similar model – I was amazed at how much of a difference it makes. I would definitely recommend it, especially for design work and coding as you so rightly mentioned. I had it set on widescreen so I could compare two sets of code in single app. Really useful.

  • # Reply from lvleph at 01:26 on 20 May 2008

    I used a 20″ at work and flipped it sideways. Much easier to read documents that way. It also seems to bug a lot of people. Until I show them how much better it is.

  • # Reply from Javier at 01:40 on 20 May 2008

    I have to say I like the idea, and I see how it can speed things up for some people. But I find myself not worried about much of the code that is off the screen vertically as much as I am about code of the screen horizontally. For some reason I hate when my code wraps when the screen ends because it throws off my code formating. Also if I’m working on something on the lower end of a script and need to know variable names declared up top, I use the code collapse function in dreamweaver.

    My current set up is a 21″ wide screen as main monitor, and a 19″ as my right hand side monitor.

  • # Reply from Jason Tohand at 03:19 on 20 May 2008

    I have two (2) 19″ TFT LCD monitors. SInce I do a lot of web work (CSS, PHP, JS, HTML) I have the left monitor is landscape mode to preview HTML in a browser and the right one in portrait mode for code. Works quite well. Some people look funny at them until they see how I work with them.

  • # Reply from Erica at 06:58 on 20 May 2008

    I have 2 flat panels at work, and it makes a world of difference in coding. I am going to see if they rotate tomorrow, because to be honest I never checked. My home monitor does, and I didn’t like it portrait, but I only have the one.

    I think I might try Jason’s set up. 🙂

  • # Reply from FireXtol at 21:01 on 21 May 2008

    Dual monitors slow down a system considerably! It’s highly unlikely due to them being vertical.

  • # Reply from Diane at 16:18 on 22 May 2008

    That looks really smart! I don’t think I’d cope with two monitors. Paying attention to just one can be hard enough sometimes. My current one is a 19 inch but now there are much bigger ones in the shops that are starting to come down in price I’m perhaps thinking I could use a 24 inch screen.
    However I’ve got one of those desks with a monitor space in it so a new monitor means a new desk. And if I’m buying a new desk, then I may as well have a new chair!

  • # Reply from Gamut at 14:17 on 27 May 2008

    Umm.. you do realise, of course, that you’re just emulating the size and shape of one 4:3 panel? Albeit with a monster resolution. This is probably cheaper, but the break in the middle of the screen is hardly necessary.

  • # Reply from James at 16:08 on 27 May 2008

    @FireXtol: You’re right about dual monitors — more pixels == more memory usage == more GPU cycles to produce your images. However, I’d be surprised if the orientation of your monitors didn’t make any difference at all. They will usually be optimised for scanning the picture horizontally, whereas when you have them vertically oriented, you have to do an additional transformation to get your images and text displaying the right way round. It’s a bit like cutting wood — if you cut along the grain it’s easy but if you cut across the grain it’s a lot tougher.

    @Gamut: Actually, I find the break works surprisingly well. It means I can quickly maximise Visual Studio on one screen and the help file/my browser/whatever on the other without having to faff around with resizing the window.

  • # Reply from Skout at 16:02 on 30 May 2008

    I bet using it FOR gaming would be pretty weird. You’d get the FULL vert panoramic in WoW. I dunno what being able to see the entire skymap would do for you, but it’s an amusing thought.

  • # Reply from Freaksword at 21:37 on 31 May 2008

    Hmm are you using multimon as a taskbar extender?
    If so I’ve experimented with dual screen’s myself I recommend using “Ultramon” it carrie’s the windows theme across the taskbar and is essential for setting wallpaper correctly. There’s other fun tool’s on it but I forget some of it’s feature’s (I’ve moved from dual screen to 42″ whopper 😉 since)


  • # Reply from Trondler at 06:30 on 4 Jun 2008

    When I was in college I found that dual monitors do indeed work better for coding. I would usually have my code open on my laptop, while having the API for the language I was using off to the right.

    I am also currently looking into building a PC for use as a media center, while still having the ability to run IDE’s and test applications, and I am looking into several different sized monitors. I would strongly recommend dual screens to anyone in a programming profession. Also, don’t rule out buying a digital TV and using it as a monitor. Its a little more expensive, but if you want high quality gaming the resolution of an LCD TV is much better than that of a dedicated monitor.

    Oh, and if you are finding the graphics are bogged down, have you considered crossfire or SLI? I’ve never messed with it, but from what I’ve heard its about a 30% improvement over a single card. Its a bit pricey, but it might help.

  • # Reply from James at 08:56 on 4 Jun 2008

    I don’t find performance a problem, but then again I don’t use this particular computer for anything that needs it. It’s my work PC so using it for gaming is probably not a good idea.

    @Freaksword: I have heard of multimon but I don’t actually use it. I have the taskbar at the bottom of the left hand monitor (enlarged to allow two rows of task buttons) and the quick launch bar at the bottom of the right hand monitor. It works very well.

  • # Reply from Steven at 15:13 on 18 Aug 2008

    Web development, pfft, you should be using these beauties to play 1942 on Mame.

  • # Reply from Khan at 13:15 on 5 Jan 2009

    I am just wondering how do you turn the monitor vertical as i have been trying to find a way to view them vertically but i just dont know how.

  • # Reply from James at 01:15 on 8 Feb 2009

    It depends on your video card. Both nVidia (using nvRotate) and ATI (using the ATI Catalyst Control Center) have options to allow you to rotate the viewport, but cheap integrated graphics chipsets don’t.

  • # Reply from michael at 06:34 on 8 Jul 2009

    I found your blog because i was looking for a way to fix the slowness of my vertical monitor.

    Its _definitely_ slower vertical than horizontal. I too only want it for coding but find that scrolling down using the mouse wheel on a page FULL of code produces a horrible scrolling line that torments the eyes.

    The only solution i have so far is to use 2 windows of code stacked on top of each other, great for comparing code, but I would like to find a solution to the slow scrolling.

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