Jeff Atwood is often expounding the benefits of triple monitor setups for developers, and I have to say I agree with him. However, we are about to take on a good number of new developers and are hoping to kit them out with a nice development environment.

I was wondering, if given the opportunity, what you people would think of as the perfect setup - One, two, three, or perhaps even four monitors! Try not to think about what you would like to have in order to show off (or play Warcraft on!) but rather, what do you think would offer the peak performance increase for your development activities.

+2  A: 

I think three monitors is perfect: one for your IDE, one for your database management, one for your browser of choice.

Bryan Roth
Or favourite Twitter client :o)
Brett Rigby
+1  A: 

I think two monitors is definitely effective. Especially for web development. It allow you to do work on one screen, and see the results on another.

More than 2 I find to be a little be silly except for certain situations where a lot of information needs to be viewed at once, which I usually don't see happening.

Dan Herbert
+4  A: 

This can vary from person to person. We have people who use tools that really benefit from very large monitors. But, I think 2 monitors, 19" or 22"-wide is by far the sweet spot of cost/productivity. Get the 22"-wide if you can comfortably swallow it.

Anything above this standard is wasteful in my opinion (except for those edge cases). It wastes money, it wastes desk space, and it wastes electricity.

Karl Seguin
I have two 22", which I find indispensable. Code (usually gvim) on one monitor, which I try to switch daily to avoid a stiff neck, and documentation, GUI designer, etc on the other monitor for reference and previewing.
Nick Presta
+1  A: 

IMO, dual 24" monitors is enough real estate for me. One maximized view for Visual Studio, and one other monitor for documentation, specs, debugging views, or whatever. The one main downside is that I can't have anything directly in front of me, since that's where the monitors come together. But I actually don't mind it at all. It's a pretty good setup.

edit: people that say smaller monitors are fine are just jealous. Get the biggest monitors you can afford and that will fit into your space. I used to think my 24" were too big, but you really get more productivity out of seeing more info all at once. It's worth it.

Chris Farmer

1 PC with 2 Monitors and a second PC with 1 Monitor. The second PC could be used for testing, it could hold the task list or whatever.

I often find myself in the need to log in with another windows account to test stuff (a side effect of using Windows Authentication), and a second PC would be perfect for that.

Michael Stum
+47  A: 

The biggest problem with 2 monitors normally is that you've got that split down the middle which makes it slightly harder to use as normally the middle is where your eyes always go back to. That setup has always made me feel like I don't have a "main" monitor.

If you do two I would suggest one large widescreen monitor, 24"+, plus another smaller normal aspect ratio monitor that is preferably the same height as the widescreen. This way you have a "main" screen and the second smaller one can be where you put all your tools, documentation, etc. Or you could be crazy and go with the FogCreek setup of I think 1 30" widescreen plus a 22" widescreen turned sideways.

I personally prefer triple monitor setups. Each one doesn't have to be huge, but I like at least 20" and it absolutely has to do 1600x1200 minimum. And I generally prefer having three normal 4:3 screens. Widescreens typically have poor vertical resolution unless you get the pricey ones.

The main advantage I see to have the triple setup is that I always have code in the middle, full screen, all my Visual Studio sub-windows (solution, error, debug output) on my right screen and documentation (specs, MSDN, etc) up on my third screen.

Going to 4 would be cool, but brings back that issue of having no real center.

Adam Haile
i have two monitors, my keyboard sits in front of one, and other sits in front of my mouse... no problem with the center parts.personally, i'd prefer 4, 3 on bottom, and one above the middle.
Actually, your eyes never go back to the middle.. this is simply not the way human mind reads. You feel somewhat frustrated by the gap in the middle but it's only you, thinking about it (although it's hard to stop doing so). As said before, just put your keyboard and mouse in front of one of them.
Benoit Myard
Trip 20" monitors work for me.
Dmitri Nesteruk
I generally develop locally on mac but my web server is on a Windows machine. So, I remote desktop to windows machine and put it on the second (side) screen with the main dev and browser on the Macbook in front. It has really made it easy for me.But now, I really dream of 3 screens. WOW !
If I could afford 4, I'd use a three monitor setup with the 4th mounted above the middle monitor and use it for terminals or soemthing similar.

Another vote for two monitors. I have two 17" at work which is a bit small but two 19" at home which feels about right.

I also highly recommend the excellent utility UltraMon (Windows-only) for window management.

Mark Biek
+2  A: 

If you develop in an IDE as I do, it can be really nice to use one monitor for code and push all the tool/output windows onto another monitor. Then you need the 3rd for docs or keeping the software up on one screen while the debugger is up. I definitely agree that the benefits drop way off after dual monitors though, as I seldom find myself hopping between all three, normally just two at a time.

+1  A: 

I had three monitors at my previous job and was upgraded to two here, and I miss the three monitor days.

The fringe cases seem to be a little more extensive for me, as I get a call about a bug in the app, I would pull up the debug log in one monitor, the browser in the other to replicate the effect, and the third to view the responsible code. Also having a "bar" for my center view where the two monitors connect is something that still throws me off from time to time.

In addition, we adopted instant messenger at my old job which became a big help because we were able to collaborate on issues a lot better than trying to send a screen shot or type in a URL while on the phone. So my third window kept the IM window open all the time.

Definitely provide 2, but go 3 if you can afford it. I will slight that a little by saying if you can get dual widescreen monitors, it'll give the necessary real estate

+11  A: 
Jon Works
How do you rotate you monitor 90 degree? Is this a feature in the video card or the monitor?
@Yada, you flip the monitor (via a monitor arm or if you're lucky the base can do that) and then flip the image in the display settings.
+23  A: 

I personally use three (in a horizontal row). The middle one is my coding window. The right one I put all the Visual Studio windows (solution explorer, output, properties, debugger windows, etc)... that way my middle screen is full-screen code all the time (woohoo). The left screen is for extra stuff (web browser, email, etc).

In general the paradigm that I try to follow is that my middle screen is always my primary activity. So if I'm coding, it's my code. If I'm writing a doc, that's where Word lives. If I am surfing, that's where FF lives. The left and right monitors are for secondary data streams (monitoring email or viewing code meta-data).

It works for me.

Tools I use to enhance this experience:

  • Ultramon. It makes managing multiple windows easy!
  • MaxiVista. Allows me to hook monitors to other machines and extend my desktop on to those machines (or to use a single keyboard/mouse to control that other machine). Extremely awesome! I keep my email running on a second machine to that my primary box is only doing what I want it to (edit and compile code). Sweet! And recommended by Hansleman... even better!
Simon Gillbee
+1  A: 

I've never had a symmetric dual-monitor setup (where both are the same size). With one larger and one smaller monitor, I either ended up using one as the primary, and putting things aside on the secondary, or, if one of the screens supported it, turning it sideways to get more of the file displayed at once (this was a godsend in web development). Having 100+ lines visible on one monitor with tabs of the webpage viewable on the other was fantastic.

I think if you had two large (24" or larger monitors), you need to designate one as the "primary" and center it in front of you. Otherwise, you end up looking off to one side or the other all day; not the most comfortable thing.

+2  A: 

I've never had the option of multi monitors but I find that 1 monitor is fine. It's running at 1400x900 which though large is not humungous. I have sometimes thought a second monitor would be nice but really, this is just fine.

I must say that Spaces and Expose are very handy but I still don't feel that I need another monitor, I have also no doubts that this will change as soon as I get a second monitor whereupon I will think "How did I ever live with only a single monitor?".


I just added a new Dell 2408 to my dual monitor setup (was previously a Dell 2405 + a 20" HP). It's mind bendingly excellent.

Really, if the company can stretch to a pair of 24" 1920x1200 flat panel displays per dev then aim for that. It's a setup that's real sweet and it suits VS nicely too because you can have all your mini windows like solution explorer, output, unit test, errors etc open to a decent size whilst not encroaching on your editing window. Lots of real estate means less time organising and hunting down other windows. I usually have a couple of VS sessions, four or five RDP windows, SQL MS, various admin MMC and a couple of browser and several explorer windows on the go. I would be somewhat dismayed having to manage all that on a single display.

I remember going to work for a new company after having spent a couple of years with the old company where I ran a pair of big CRT's @ 1900x1200. At the new company they gave me a single 1280x1024 to work with and I cried my eyes out :-).

@Karl - as to power, my Dell 2408 display consumes more or less the same power (~57w) as the older 20" HP displays I have (~55w).

@others regarding size and which monitor to look at. I have the left hand display as my main dev screen (VS and SQL Mgt). The other display is offset to the right and I use it for secondary tasks like RDP, browsing file system etc. That said it's all down to personal preference and comfort.

@Simon - UltraMon is a godsend. I've been using it since it was first released. I run MaxiVista too when I just have to have another 3rd desktop and grab my laptop's 1920x1200 display.


I tried 3 monitors for a while, but I don't have the hardware to drive 3 attached monitors. I had the third one running through Maxivista, but apparently there are some issues with Vista and I went back to two. I would consider working with 2 the bare minimum these days.

Chris Miller
+11  A: 

I seem to be in the minority of preferring one monitor.. When ever I had two monitors, I end up shoving stuff on the second monitor that I could happily minimize/hide/not-see, and found having to look back-and-forwards between the different monitors was more annoying than alt/cmd+tabbing between windows.

Same with non-programming stuff - I much preferred having one monitor than two. The only thing I prefer using with two is Apple Shake - having the output display on one monitor (calibrated CRT), and the node-view and such on a secondary TFT.

I suppose one reason I don't like having two monitors is it "breaks" throwing the mouse to the top-right of the screen to click buttons there. I do use Synergy which allows you to define which section of the edge to allow the switch (I use 50% of the edge of the screen)

With OS X/Windows dual-screen configs, the most I can do is rearrange the virtual-monitor-layout, so the right monitor is at the very-top-right of the left monitor. That way I have to use the top-right corner to switch monitors.


I currently use three monitors (19s each side and a 24 center), and have used two in the past. Three is definitely an improvement over two, but much less than the second over the first.

If I were in your shoes, I would go with two per developer. The ROI just isn't there for three.

Dave Ward
+7  A: 

I need 4.

  1. Visual Studio
  2. Internet Explorer
  3. Sql Server Management Studio
  4. Internet Explorer with streaming Soccer on it.

Admittedly, the 4th monitor cancels out the performance gain from the other 2 additional monitors.

Darren Kopp
eww Internet Explorer???
eww Internet Explorer????
Downvote until you can justify your IE usage.
are you f***ing kidding me?
Darren Kopp
what is internet explorer?
+1 cause I'm a rebel.
Brian Ortiz
eww Soccer?!?!?!
Made me laugh :)
@Alistair, if he's serious, said streaming website uses ActiveX. If not, you have no sense of humor. I'm with the latter :P
+1  A: 

I think 2 monitors is a very decent setup for most people. A third monitor would definitely help, but I'm not so sure the increased efficiency would be noticeable for every programmer.

Maybe you could let them know that if they want another one, they can.

Also, the monitors should be big wide screen monitors (20+ inches).

+8  A: 

Where I work, my setup consists of two computers: a linux box running on a 17" monitor, and a windows laptop docked to use its screen as well as another identical 17" monitor as the linux box. On linux goes my coding (a full screen emacs session). Directly to the right is my windows monitor, where Firefox lives (for testing when doing web development, and for viewing checked-in code that is in a different file than I'm working on). Further to the right is the smaller laptop screen, where my email lives. It's a little small to see from where I'm sitting, so thankfully I only glance over at email when code is compiling or I'm waiting on something other similar thing.

The two 17" monitors work perfectly fine for me. Though I have three, the laptop screen is essentially an extra add-on to the monitor setup where actual work goes on. I think that these two 17" monitors are pushing the limit of all that I can visually fit into my mind. If I had two 24" monitors, I could probably enjoy that and love it, using most of the space. If I had three 24" monitors, I wouldn't be able to utilize all the space. It would all be filled with windows, but it wouldn't be being really used.

Note, this is coming from someone who when they're not at work uses solely a 15" laptop screen.

Edit: I use synergy to use the same mouse and keyboard on both computers. The server runs on linux, and the client runs on Windows. I absolutely love synergy (as well as being able to utilize two different operating systems at the same time) and highly recommend it.

Rudd Zwolinski
+1 for Synergy - I use that a lot when connecting my laptop to my home network.
Mark Allison

If you are developing you really need 2 monitors at a minimum. Having one alone really limits your ability to develop while simultaneously researching or previewing older code. In my experience I've had the luxury of having 2 monitors in 2 of my 3 jobs. The one job that did not was really challenging. With all that said, I believe 3 would actually be ideal with that thought coming from the center line issue that two monitors present.

+3  A: 

There is definitely such a thing as 'too big'

I currently have two 20 inch widescreens, with the 'split' in the middle, which I love.

At my previous job I had a 20 inch 4x3 screen, and a 17 inch. The 20 was 'in the middle' with the 17 off to the side. I found this made me move my neck too much, and it became excruciating after a few weeks, I had to go back to just the single 20.

I suspect if I had 2 24's or 3 monitors, I'd start getting a sore neck again too :-(

Orion Edwards

You definitely need more than 1 monitor.

I have stackoverflow and the olympics on my left one, and some code on the right so it looks like I'm working.


Orion Edwards

I use dual monitors and going to a machine that only has one makes me feel lost. I would say that at least two monitors should be a standard setup unless you have one really large one.

One of the best tools which I don't think I could live without using mupltiple monitors in Windows is Ultramon.

I do mostly web programming so it's nice to be able to see your code full screen on one monitor and then see a demo of what you are working on with the other, as well as some supporting utilities.

+2  A: 

I have tried two monitors and while it was nice, one decently sized monitor is enough for me. For me alt-tabbing between documentation and code is as efficient as switching my view from one monitor to another.

And it's a lot easier to adjust to working on a laptop's single monitor when not in the office.

Antonio Haley
+1  A: 

I've been using a setup with a Dell Latitude laptop as my main system for work for about five years now. With a docking station, you can have a second monitor when you're at your desk, and still work with the single screen when you need to get away or go to a client site. The screens aren't directly adjacent, so you end up dividing tasks between then.

The only problem with this configuration is that with some of the video chipsets/video RAM setups in the Latitudes, they can't drive both monitors at 32-bit color, so make sure you get the better video if you go with this setup.

Ben Combee

I absolutely cannot develop on one monitor anymore. It's just too tedious, switching back and forth between the browser and my IDE while I'm debugging. Two monitors are a must for me. (I haven't been able to try three monitors. Maybe I'll bring that up with my boss.)

I recently rotated my second monitor (with the IDE) 90°, to 1200x1600, and it's amazing how much that helps. As someone else mentioned, I can see about 25% more code now, and that's a huge benefit.

Adam V
+8  A: 

My employer provides the devs with a dell 17" widescreen notebook. and also lets me work from home as much as i want.

at work i have a 19" 4:3 as a secondary.

at home i use a 22" widescreen as the primary and the laptop as the secondary. enables me to sit at my normal desk where my home boxes are installed. My 22" is plugged into my home PC via DVI and i plug the laptop in via VGA.

Windows handles very well knowing what my setup is, i've set it up once and never have had to reconfigure it. I plug it in at home and it changes the primary to the 22" and at work changes it back to the laptop display automatically.

my layout of the screens changes all the time depending on what i'm working on. sometimes have ssms on the primary, vs05, excel07 or outlook07.

i use proxy on the 19" at work to fullscreen onto two different xp boxes for user testing, (and music library management) i have attached a kvm onto the 19" to manage my test boxen so i can completely remove it from my laptop and use the pc natively if the network has crapped out.

utilites i use to keep me sane on multiples


IMO 3 monitors is the ideal setup, having a center monitor as the main focus helps out a lot.

I currently have a 4 monitor setup, and to be honest I hardly ever use the fourth monitor, most of the time I don't even bother turning it on.

UltraMon is a must have application if you are going to be running 3 or more monitors.

+1  A: 

I'm not a fan of 3 or more monitors. Dual head is the perfect setup for me, and I focus on one screen at a time, I just use the second monitor to reduce clutter and avoid unnecessary clicking and window switching. I find mostly use 1 screen for mail/chat and one for coding, or one for coding and one for looking up documentation and testing. I bought a shiny new 22" monitor today, I'm yet to try out what it does to my productivity.


I'm currently using three standard 19" LCD monitors in my work development environment - one (primary) in the middle and the other two on either side.

I use the main monitor for code and composing e-mail (fullscreen) while the left I use as a place for either source documents or a remote desktop to other pc's on our network, and the right monitor for assorted notification, monitoring and/or running applications.

This setup avoids the "split in the middle" effect that you get with two monitors side by side as described in other replies to this question.


Two monitors are a must if you're developing a GUI -- one for the IDE and one for the program that you're debugging. In my 1-monitor days, I always used to curse the fact that I had to move my IDE window aside in order to debug the paint message code. With the program and the IDE on separate screens, that's no longer necessary.

My current set-up is two 17" LCDs @ 1280x1024. The left one is the primary one (as far as Windows is concerned) where the programs that I'm debugging run and where my full screen VMware sessions live when I'm running that; while the right one, turned 90 degrees is where my IDE, e-mail and browser live. (I Alt+Tab between things and quite often minimize what I'm not using but want to keep open.)

Other people where I work are perfectly happy with just one 20" wide-screen LCD. One guy has his turned 90 degrees so he can see a ton of code at once.

+1  A: 

adding to the pron.


I use 3 external monitors with a Macbook pro (256mb video) using a Matrox Digital TripleHead2Go.

Originally, when I bought it I didn't use the third screen much.

Over time, I find i use it during testing a lot. I'll keep the left screen up with email/reference material, code in the middle screen, and test on the right. I have used two screens for a long time and you have to get used to swinging your head a bit more. Normally with 2 screens you can glance left and right. with 3 it takes a bit more movement to track where you are on the screen. Overall though, It gets to the point sometimes where I can't code on the laptop by itself anymore.

When I bought the MBP i was surprised there was no docking station or solution. The Matrox was the only thing that gave me the result. I run 3 19" monitors.

Every so often (once every 2 months?) I have to shut everything down and power it up without the triplehead2go attached.

Otherwise, if I plug in the TH2G USB, then the monitor, then attach the power, then press the keyboard to wake it up, it always comes up on 3 screens with the laptop itself closed.

When i put it to sleep and unhook the TripleHead2Go, I can open my laptop like normal.

Jas Panesar
+1  A: 

The best thing that helps me is [link text][1]. It gives me quick keys to resize a screen to half, quarter, 2/3 of the screen vertically and horizontally. That way I can make use of the large screen better.

[1]:"Winsplit Revolution"

Brian Carlton

2-3 monitors with at least one of the being 24" or more...


I have been running four for two years now. Two on the side, two vertically. Symmetry vertically and horizontally. perfect setup imho :)

I use smaller widescreens on the side rotated 90 degrees to provide for vertical depth. I then have a 19" wide screen in the bottom middle, and a 19" normal above this. They are overlapped to make for a minimal border.

In practice the bottom middle monitor is used for visual studio + outlook. The upper screen is for database diagrams and browsers. The right monitor is used for status/metrics such as task manager and random explorer windows. I use the left monitor for communication and music items.


I can imagine having 3 would be ideal. 2 is definitely not good for the reasons many people have said here - the middle part would have been a thick black bezel. For me, the ideal situation would be that the middle monitor is a 24" (1920 x 1200) in potrait mode for coding, a 24" HD (1920 x 1080) in landscape mode for watching HD movies, and a 30" on the left for video editing or some photoshopping.

Hao Wooi Lim

I run a dual nVidia Quadro setup with 8 x 28" monitors. I like to have a copy of paint and notepad open at all times just in case I get bored and feel like doodling or making a note. One monitor constantly displays my desktop background just so that the pretty picture doesn't go to waste by being hidden behind my IDE. I also like having Outlook always visible because pop-ups tend to scare me so I need another way of knowing when mail has arrived. I also suffer from Alttabbaphobia which is a fear of losing sight of something never to see it again.

It truly baffles me how some people can struggle by with only 3 or 4 monitors, constantly fumbling around and trying in vain to be productive. Frankly, if you have have less than 6 monitors you should probably find a new career.


Having a 24" widescreen directly in front of me and a complementary 21" to the right works best for me. Also make sure you have a tool like UltraMon, which extends the taskbar to all monitors - the default windows taskbar just sucks.

+1  A: 

Two monitors with my own multi-monitor VS theme.

The idea of three does sound nice though to retain that central point.

+1  A: 

single 28" monitor is most productive to me. I get distracted with too many and seem to forget about them. I have used up to 8 at work, and truly, I can only focus on one at a time... so I make it big...


Vertical monitors for code are great.

I do web development, I have one vertical monitor (verticized with neo-flex monitor arm) and a 20" iMac. The iMac is a giant terminal session with vim/screen and the other monitor is my web browser.

Works for me.


I'm ever so sorry if this, rather mundane, but quite pertinent angle has been broached; and it that regard, I think one very important aspect of programming/multiple-monitor/e.g. the question asked, is the economics of it.

My programming is, sadly (though more of a gung-ho, sordid sad ;-) my only apparent fun way of sustaining myself; though a big caveat is in order regarding the reappearance of grunge, with Seattle now being Oslo, Norway, and this being within the time-frame that sees the union of me, with a semblance of ape-gone-computer-and-stayed-but-ah-whatever-i-can-still-move-a-lot-of-appendixes(appendi?), but while volume of back-hair far outnumbers volume of lost head hair. Sorry.

Money is a factor, and if you're not in the top percentile, coding the magic 99%; chances are you're developing a lot of nonsensical, self-gratifying software, in which case your work is too boring or too non-existent.

So, conclusion time...for many, buying a 24" screen is the sweet spot economically (aspartame kind of sweet, apparently. But, alas, one screen equals one massive coronary strain... Before obtaining my present setup, I found myself trying to Alt+Tab until Windows broke down in tears, shedding windows for a usable command line...ehh, well.

These days, a lot of companies (some of which you or your friends(they need to be friends, or possess motorized non-collective transportation) surly work at) are attacking the last vestige of the tobacco smoke of yore; the trusty old 17" LCD (quite possibly the only object capable of radiating greyness without being menacing) !

And with two arms, a couple of bucks, and wam-bam : vertically placed coat-of-application-arms on each side of your "real" monitor.

That way you can play guitar, watch the tab and doodle in Paint, all at the same time; and what could be more efficient?? No, seriously, if you don't know why you need something, you don't, OK?

So, I'll edit this answer to something more coherent later, for now: My ideal multiple-monitor setup for programming is a setup that is cheap, but still clever....

Morten Bergfall
FYI, you sound like a spambot.
Morten Bergfall
I thought Morten's post was actually pretty funny.
Repo Man

I only need one monitor at work. I simply don't have that much going on at my desk except coding. I have 2 at home. I have a 20" in front and a smaller monitor on the side. I like this setup because I can be surfing/working/blogging in front of me and watching TV off to the side.


I run three 1280x1024's to do web development. Code is in the middle, test browser on the right, documentation and virtual machines run in the left.

Will Peavy