Two Monitors: The Value of Having Multiple Screens

It is generally accepted that having more screen ‘real estate’ improves productivity, no matter what you use your computer for. In the world of audio production, having an extra monitor (or two) is pretty much essential. Most musicians tend to use several programs at once (either via rewire or as plugins) and relying on a single screen means that you spend a lot of time tabbing between various programs, or windows within the same program. If you haven’t tried adding another monitor to your existing setup, then you should read on – it’s one of those things that, once you’ve experienced it, you’ll wonder how you ever survived without…
(from DAW)

How To Add Another Monitor

First of all, you’ll need to have another monitor. At the moment, the sweet spot for TFT monitors is the 22″ range, as illustrated in the table below – so if you want to buy one, this is probably the best place to look.

The next thing to consider is how you’ll connect your monitor. If you’re using a laptop, then there’s no problem – pretty much every laptop comes with an analogue D-Sub connector that you can plug any monitor into. Some laptops also have digital monitor outputs, such as DVI or HDMI. If you have a monitor with a similar connector, then you can use these (higher-quality) ports instead, using a suitable cable. You can also buy adaptor cables to mix and match connections – for example, a DVI to HDMI cable can be used to connect the DVI output on your laptop to the HDMI input on your monitor.

Adding An Extra Monitor Output

Two monitors - laptop with external monitor
External monitor connected via D-Sub (blue)

If you have a desktop computer, then your connection options depend on what graphics card you have. Some graphics cards offer two video outputs; if this is the case, then you might be able to connect one monitor to the analogue D-Sub output and another to the digital DVI output, for example. If you have two separate graphics cards, as in a Crossfire or SLI system, then you can connect a monitor to each.

If your graphics card doesn’t support multiple monitor outputs, then you can simply buy another graphics card. There are a couple of things to watch out for here; first of all, you’ll need to know what slots are available on your motherboard. If there’s a spare PCI-express slot, you can use that – if not, you could get away with using an old-fashioned standard PCI card. Just make sure you buy the right type of graphics card for the available slot.

Setting Up Your Desktop On Two Monitors

Once you have your hardware set up and your extra monitor connected, Windows will simply duplicate your existing desktop on the second monitor. However, what you really want is to extend your desktop onto the other monitor, so that you have some extra space to play with.

To do this, right-click on the desktop, select ‘properties’ and then ‘settings’. Here you should be able to select your new display and tick a box that extends your desktop onto monitor number two. With this setup, you could have your sequencer edit window on one screen and your mixer on the other – or different programs displaying on each screen, as best suits your workflow.

An Alternative Approach To Multiple Monitors

If you don’t feel like buying and installing another graphics card, Matrox have developed a useful device for splitting a single video output across two monitors. This is called DualHead2Go, and you can check it out on their site. It’s available in both analogue and digital versions – basically, you connect the output from your computer to their little box, which splits the signal in two. You then connect your two monitors to the box’s outputs, and it performs the desktop expansion magic for you.

Two Monitors on the DualHead2Go

This system may be a good idea if you’re using a laptop with a cheaper graphics solution, because running an external monitor does put extra pressure on the GPU. This can create extra heat, and may divert scarce resources from your programs.

If you want to push your studio even further, you can use the TripleHead2Go – which, as its name suggests, allows you to spread your desktop across three monitors.

Bear in mind, however, that this system may not exploit the full native resolution of your monitors – it supports a total desktop resolution of 3840×10241 (3 monitors running at 1280×1024 each). You can see the standard native resolutions of 19″, 22″ and 24″ monitors in the table below.

Monitor Comparison Table

Here’s a chart which measures the relative merits of various screen sizes with regard to resolution, number of pixels and value for money. The prices are based on what I could find on the Web for the UK and Ireland at the moment, and are quoted in Euro. There are two entries for 22″ because, although you can get them for 195, 240 is a more typical price, and it also illustrates how the change in price affects the relative value per pixel/inch. You can actually get a 19 inch monitor for less than 180, but this again is a typical price – and it’s interesting to see how steady the ‘pixels per euro’ column remains, apart from the cheaper 22″ (which I found on Pixmania, by the way – or you could try eBay). It’s also worth noting that because screen sizes are measured diagonally, going from 22″ to 24″ will increase pixel count by more than going from 19″ to 21″ will.

screen size price resolution total pixels pixels per euro pixels per inch price per inch
24″ € 320 1920×1200 2304000 7200 96000 13.33
22″ € 240 1650×1050 1732500 7219 78750 10.91
22″ € 195 1650×1050 1732500 8885 78750 8.86
19″ € 180 1440×900 1296000 7200 68210 9.47


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