Let's say I have a certain budget to buy the displays for my development setup. With that budget I can either buy one larger monitor with a higher resolution or two smaller monitors and set them up in a dual-monitor setup. What are people's preferences and why?

I'm interested in perspectives related to a development setup as opposed to just general use.


Dual-monitor all the way.

It's much easier to manage windows.

Mark Biek

Dual monitor - two thin windows is not worth it when you can have two normal sized side-by-side.

+30  A: 

I like having two separate spaces for things. It's easier to hit Maximize on a window and have it only fill half of your workspace.

Also, with things like Ultramon, you can have another taskbar on the second monitor. It's really quite awesome.

+3  A: 

I really prefer dual monitors.
I find it to be more productive, since you can have code on one monitor, and all the other stuff on the other.

Say you're debugging some software. Wouldn't it be nice to have the code with all the breakpoints and watches on one monitor, and the actual app on the other?

And, try to get two equally sized monitors. It makes the experience so much better :)

Lars Mæhlum
+3  A: 

Dual-monitors - I have dual-monitors at work and a single monitor at home, and working with two monitors is much easier for desktop management that a single monitor. While you use just a single large monitor for everything, I tend to spend just a bit too much time for my taste resizing windows on a single monitor systems. On dual monitor system it is usually just a matter of dragging a window do the other monitor and maximizing it.


I have tried both ways and without some window managing software, its much easier to manage the windows with dual monitors.

+3  A: 

I generally like the multimonitor setup. 2 decent sized monitors will give you more workspace than a single large monitor (unless you get a really big monitor).

Multiple monitors seem to give more flexibility as well. For instance, my coworker has his second monitor plugged into two machines. Normally it's displaying as a second monitor for his main machine, but occasionally he needs to tweak something on his test server, so he just hits a button on the monitor and he's now looking at the server. He still has one monitor showing his main machine's display, so he doesn't have to keep swapping back and forth like you'd have to with a single monitor.

I'm not sure about the expenses though. Our setups were paid for by the company, so we don't really know how much they cost. :)

One thing to watch out for with multiple monitors though (at least in Windows): A lot of applications that do screen capturing (including things like magnifiers) don't handle multiple monitors properly, and can only act on the primary monitor's display.


I have a 22" widescreen monitor (Not sure if that is actually considered large anymore). But, I use my old 15" as a second screen. I tend to prefer 2 screens over one large one, mainly for organizational purposes.

I like to be able to Maximize each program. If I had one 1 monitor (no matter the size), and wanted to see 2 different things at once, it would be a terrible hassle to resize them properly or lots of alt-tabbing.

With 2 screens, you can be working on one, and have all your "less" important things on the other. Including documentation, music, etc.

Besides, your code shouldn't require you to have a big screen anyway, right?


Another vote for dual monitors from me. I have dual at work but a single wide screen at home and in my experience the dual setup is much better for organizing a dozen a windows I typically have open all day.

Brian Ensink

I'm fond of having as many monitors as possible in the "quantity versus quality" sort of way, if it really came down to it. :)

I find that a bigger monitor doesn't really buy me the real estate I need to effectively work on multiple concepts at a time. Monitors act as a logical separation between things I'm focusing on; I could have target renders on one monitor, code on another, and the application running on another and never have to switch applications.

If you really have to choose, then go multiple monitors all the way. It's a significant boost to productivity assuming that you don't have Stack Overflow sitting idle on one at all times ;)

Gabriel Isenberg

What did Jeff say?

As good as two monitors is, three monitors is even better.

I vote for 3 monitors.

I sadly right now only have 2. A 24 inch, 22 inch, and I am trying (pleading) with my wife for a 3rd. And I need to buy another video card, which means since I am buying one why not 2 NVIDA 9800's?

David Basarab
+16  A: 

On Windows: Two monitors. Many windows need to be maximized to really be effective. Two monitors means you can have two windows simultaneously maximized.

On Mac OS: One monitor. The menu bar stays with the primary monitor, so working with applications in the secondary monitor is kind of awkward. Also, most windows don't maximize to fill the whole screen. So it's better to have one big flexible space in which to arrange windows.

Patrick McElhaney

I vote for dual monitors.

A few reasons I like a dual monitor setup:

  • When you maximize a window in a monitor it only maximizes to the total size of that monitor.
  • As mentioned you can use Ultramon to get the task bar on both monitors, but personally I like having the task bar on only one.
  • Using Virtual Desktop Manager also works with dual monitors.
Jesse Dearing

I would say that 2 or more monitors is best. If you don't have a lot of money, go for 2+ 17-19 inch non-wide-screen displays. The extra width doesn't help much unless you are watching movies.

+2  A: 

One high resolution monitor is ok,24" 1920x1200 as a minimum. The down side of a single monitor is window management is harder. With two monitors you can maximize an application to both, VS.NET or Eclipse on one, your browsers & help on the other. With a single monitor you will need to resize things more, and use more overlapping windows. With a larger display you could use less overlapping windows.

I would take a 30" display 2560x1600 over two monitors. I find the gap between two displays bothersome. That and my current desk would fit a 30" display, but not my 24" and anything else. I did have my 24" and an old 19" for a while.

This assumes your single monitor is a wide screen display, even a large 4:3 would be to narrow for two windows side by side.

Darryl Braaten
+10  A: 

Ok, so I'm going to buck the trend.

I used to be a 2 monitor bigot, but I've fallen in love with large, wide screen single monitors.

My reasons are:

  • More perceived real estate

  • Easier on the eyes: the interruption in changing my eye's focus when looking from left to right makes a big difference. On dual/triple monitors the discontinuity caused by the edges of the monitors bugged the living beetle juice out of me

  • On an average office/cube desk it's almost impossible to line the monitors up properly along a horizontal line. The "angled" monitor effect is really unpleasant.

So for developing I love a single screen, although I'd recommend you give your guys a choice.

Lastly: I would want a second monitor (in addition to my big primary monitor) if there was some monitor/system status window (build status, web server stats, etc.) that I wanted always visible and maximized. That would go on the second monitor.


I'd have to 'n-agree' with the dual monitors. I switch from a 24' to 2x22' and never looked back.

+2  A: 

On Mac OS: One monitor. The menu bar stays with the primary monitor, so working with applications in the secondary monitor is kind of awkward. Also, most windows don't maximize to fill the whole screen. So it's better to have one big flexible space in which to arrange windows.

That second monitor is a phenomenal spot for a Windows VM, though.


For VMWare, Dual monitors are great.

because each OS can have its own full screen.

Mark Harrison
+4  A: 

From my personal experience:

I have a big (24") and a small (15") and I can tell you I couldn't live anymore without the dual monitor configuration. I use the big one for tasks, several of them, and about splitting tasks, I recommend you guys to give a look at WinSplit Revolution that allows me to divide my monitor in several parts with a keystroke. I use my secondary monitor, the small one for other things I am not directly needing at the time, but when I need it will be there, like logs, instant messaging and music player for example. For this, UltraMon is my tool of preference, allowing full separation of task on each monitor. I pretend to have a bigger second monitor (24" too) so I can have a bigger area to allocate Logs, IDE, Browser, Debugger and any other task on my daily development.

Fernando Barrocal

I've been using 3 monitors for a while and have to say it's nice. I have 2 19" monitors on the left and center, and one 17" on the right. The Left is usually my email (Outlook), the center is Visual Studio or SQL Server Management Studio, and the right monitor I use for Firefox and anything "Web".

This has been very helpful for me even over 2 monitors. So, you may want to take your budget and try to get 3 average priced monitors (maybe 19" or 22").

+7  A: 

If you'd asked me this a few months ago, I would have said go with dual monitors. However, my new workplace setup is a pair of 24" monitors. While it's still a dual head system, working with the 24" widescreens has given me a better feel for what going with a single really big monitor would be like. For stuff like web browsing, word processing, and the like, I'd say six of one, half a dozen of the other. It really doesn't matter. Where a big monitor really shines is when you have a single application that needs a lot of screen real estate, like an IDE. If you try to split this sort of app over two monitors, the gap always ends up in an awkward position. With one really big monitor, you can get as much real estate as you need for a single app. I think that makes a big monitor a better choice. Of course, two big monitors is even better. I think dual 24" monitors give the best bang for the buck without going to a dual graphics card setup.

Whichever way you go, there is at least one utility you absolutely have to get. Several people have mentioned the problem of managing multiple windows on a big monitor, and how it's more difficult than just maximizing to a second monitor. The solution for this is WinSplit Revolution. WinSplit makes it really easy to split a big monitor between two (or three, or four, or six) programs and makes window management a breeze. WinSplit also has some nice dual-monitor features if you're running two displays. GridMove is another option, but I've used both and I find WinSplit far easier and more intuitive. WinSplit is free.

If you go the dual monitor route, the must-have utility is UltraMon. UltraMon gives you a windows taskbar on the second monitor, and taskbar buttons only appear on the monitor where the window is located. It also has some nice features for moving windows from one monitor to the other (buttons, context menu items, and drag and drop for maximized windows). UltraMon costs $40, but I wouldn't run a dual-monitor system without it.

Chris Upchurch

I used to maximize things exclusively when I had a single smaller (17 inch LCD) monitor.

I actually stopped maximizing things once I got 2 large monitors at work. There just didn't seem to be any reason to have any single program that large, plus it ruins the vista aero transparency :-)

This was also around the same time I switched to using a mac fulltime at home though, which weans you off maximizing things as you simply can't :-)

Orion Edwards

Try four monitors: two computers (both dual head) , side by side and Synergy.

(I know about quad-head cards , but bear with me)

Synergy lets you have mouse, keyboard and clipboard integration across multiple machines, running most combinations of operating systems.

Synergy is an open source project.

The advantages over quad (or N) head are that

1) separate CPU's in separate screens. A busy development box doesn't get in the way of StackOverflow, and other important things.

2) Different operating systems ( and VM's then find their way to a spare screen)

3) you can task older hardware with a single screen, run a browser in it and use it to surf documentation while using your real machine for development.

And if you are really technically inclined you can put a linux install on an embedded processor card, run synergy and X on it and have a networked flat panel display. (You'd probably stick it in a box on the back of the flat panel screen.) If you were to use it for, say Outlook web access, then the maintenance on that mail reader is zero. Of course, then you could roll several hundred of those to desks in a company that wanted cheaper desktop admin. Oh, you'll probably want SAMBA sharing to the users REAL desktops.

Or something like that.

Tim Williscroft
+3  A: 

It really really depends on what you're doing with your computer.

When I'm working on code, I find that one large monitor is as good as dual monitors, but not necessarily better - I just need lots of real estate for the code, output window, ancillary windows, reference websites, etc. I generally don't keep email and other things open in my line of sight as they're simply a distraction. (They're open, but put away until I need them)

However, when I'm working on circuit design, graphic design, etc then having dual or triple monitors where the 'main' display is larger than the others is absolutely essential. The main drawing surface takes up the majority of my workspace, and must be on a single monitor. I then need reference materials on the side and the fact is that I'm more productive if I can look to the side for needed info (a spreadsheet with a list of issues, a client's email with notes on the design, a datasheet, etc) without disrupting my main workspace.

I know that many programmers are happier with a single 30" than dual 24" because there's nearly as much realestate, and less head movement.

I'm a resolution junky, though, and I can't stand not having several sheets worth of code in front of me when I'm programming, so a vertical resolution of 1200 or more is essential to how I work. Same thing with design - I can see an 11x17 area in full size on a 24" screen at 94dpi (good enough that 6pt text is legible - as it is in print). I can't do that with a 22" monitor, and panning is just not as productive. (Kill the scroll bar!)

So... the real answer is it depends.

Of course, if your main computer is also your gaming/tv/entertainment rig, then you really do need to take that into account.

As an aside, a 24" widescreen with two outboard 17" monitors in portrait mode gives you approximately the same DPI and vertical height on all 3 monitors, so you don't have the window shrinking/enlarging issues you have when you choose a multiple monitor setup with different size monitors. Setting the brightness and color on such a setup correctly, though, is annoying, but not as annoying as having mismatched monitors.

Keep in mind that many people don't like dual monitors because their first extended experience with them was in the wrong setup. Don't be afraid to try out a few different setups.

Adam Davis

If you've got the desktop real estate the consider 4 monitors. I'm running 4 22" lcd panels on a Windows XP box. They're arranged in a slightly curved configuration to minimize head turning. The main benefit of 4 monitors is that we are a small shop and I need to monitor some log tails while debugging.

+2  A: 

Having three 20" right now I would suggest getting either a 24" or 30" single monitor or 3 smaller monitors. If you do get two monitors make sure one of them is directly in front of you and the second is to the side. If you do the "movie" setup where the two meet directly in the middle in front of you it will quickly give you a pain in your neck.

Brian Boatright

Not a direct answer to the question, but a useful tip for quickly getting two windows to be displayed side-by-side, filling the entire screen area of a single large monitor on Windows (XP or Vista):

  1. Select both of the Taskbar buttons for the windows to be displayed side-by-side in the Windows Taskbar. (Hold the Ctrl key to select the second one.)
  2. Right-click either one of the selected Taskbar buttons, and select Tile Vertically from the context menu that appears.

You can also have the windows appear one on top of the other instead by selecting Tile Horizontally from the context menu.

Jon Schneider

MultiMon is a good alternative to ultramon, it has a free version and a payed version. I'll add my vote for dual monitors.


Put me down for dual monitors. I don't know how I got anything done with one! Usually I tend to keep code on one and graphics on the other, and when coding for different browsers, it sometimes helps to have them side by side instead of having to tab between them.

The second monitor also comes in handy when one program works better with a lot of real estate. Adobe comes to mind. I love Photoshop with 2 monitors, having all those panels and toolbars out of the way but still within reach, and Flash's Actionscript goes much better on a second window.

+1  A: 

I've been running multi-monitor for years. The current setup which I've found to be the absolute most productive is 3 monitors. One large center monitor (30") and two smaller wing monitors (20") in profile. They monitors physically screen space lines up to present one very large desktop. The center screen is where I focus the creative and development work. I can then open documentation, email, reference work on the two wing monitors.

Paul Alexander
+1  A: 

I have two monitors.

They way I've set them up has my main monitor in landscape, with the secondary in portrait. This way I can view documents one page at a time to see layout and the like without having to scroll.

+1  A: 

When considering using dual screens, it is important to choose screens with appropriate aspect ratios. Wide screens are not well suited for dual displays because the extreme width will place the outer edges beyond your field of vision.

I use dual identical 1280x1024 on an nVidia GeForce. I prefer this aspect ratio in a dual screen because it presents more screen space in your normal field of vision. Two 19s side-by-side give you 2560x1024 in a space about 32" by 14". You can easily see the entire screen surface without head movement.

I prefer the dual screen over a single screen because of the control over window sizing and placement. Another advantage with dual screens is that they can be angled so that the distance from eyeball to screen does not vary as much from center to outer edge.

The GeForce card has a control panel that give you complete control over how windows are sized and placed.

The advantages to developing on dual screens are hard to overstate. Not only will it improve your productivity, but it will also improve your development experience.


I currently use 3 displays, dual 24" @ 1920x1200 and a Mimo 7" for IM and what not (800x480) (or is it 640x480). I also use an additional four virtual sets of desktops but will be adding two additional 1920x1200 24" displays. I keep a development environment open on one, web browser(s) on another, several local and remote shells on another, mail, db front end, etc on others (in this case virtual desktops), but I still flip through often.

I heavily depends upon your workflow and if you aren't distracted, but aided by the ability to jump from app to app, screen to screen via glance. I would never go back to anything less than two 1920x1200 displays. Thankfully I'm finally with a setup that can handle 8 using basic video cards. (Octo-Mac (2xQuad Core Nehalem Xeons).



I used to prefer two but now prefer one... on widescreen monitors it is too much head moving, and often I am sitting in front of the computer for 12 hours a day.... I like running one 30" monitor at 2560x1600 resolution.


A little bit of both.. I'm using two semi-large (24") monitors. One primary for coding and one for documentation, monitoring, logging and so on. If the window manager was a bit smarter I would maybe go for one really large screen, but there is so much hassle with maximizing, ordering and laying out windows on one large screen.