Joining The Prestigious Three Monitor Club

I have something in common with Bill Gates and Larry Page:

Bill Gates: If you look at this office, there isn't much paper in it. On my desk I have three screens, synchronized to form a single desktop. I can drag items from one screen to the next. Once you have that large display area, you'll never go back, because it has a direct impact on productivity.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at:

Instead of paying for maxivista use the open source win2vnc. It does the same thing.

the jump from 2 to 3 monitors gives you 50% more display area, not 33%.

The only problem with using that device for a laptop extender is that I typically use the laptop screen as the primary display and an external monitor next to it… it’s still a very interesting solution, however.

If I’ve learned anything from Swordfish, it’s that 9 monitors is the way to go.

And that object oriented programming involves hooking together lego blocks of code.

Work provided me with multiple monitors at home…
and at this point, even if I had to pay for the 20" displays myself, it would be a no-brainer.

It’s like going from mice that are mechanical to optical… There is just no going back.

I’m using the second video card approach with a mix of Radeon and NVidia cards and it’s working fine (for 2d)… but google earth wont span the video cards cleanly.

That picture of the soldier in the field is pretty impressive. Right now I’m running on my laptop and then have a 24 inch dell connected to it although it would be awesome to have to 24 inch monitors at the same time.

I posted in the “Programmer’s Bill of Rights” entry, and I’m pleased to let you know that there have been some improvements:

  1. I got a flat 17" CRT that someone from management threw away for a 20" LCD
  2. They’ve changed the air conditioning filters, so the air doesn’t smell as much now
  3. I got an OEM Logitech optical mouse, so the old ball mouse I had got tossed into the trashcan
  4. I managed to overclock my P4 Celeron from 1.7 to 2 GHz, so the machine runs at least a bit faster now

One of these days, I’ll win the lottery, or at least find a foreign employer that will let me work from home. But I’ll still have only one monitor on my desk :wink:

The extreme mercator projection might be useful if you have all three aligned flat, but I could see it becoming incredibly distracting if the monitors are more sensibly arranged in a folded configuration. Especially for those with sensitive perephrial vision. I guess you’re back at the “needs game engine support” stage if you want true omnidirectional gaming, sadly.

That does have the potential for some awesome though, much better than my mismatched 19"+laptop combo. Even if 3 is getting so big I couldn’t see myself doing anything with it all.

There’s actually one more option. MaxiVista provides a software package that will let you expand your desktop to another PC. It works like a charm.

I’ve been doing this for a long time. Here are the tips I would add:

Dual-head video cards are common, but more than that is still quite rare. If you have a PCI Express motherboard with 2 x16 ports, good for you. Otherwise, unless you do something expensive like a 3-head video card or a TripleHead2Go (or a DoubleHead2Go on one of the ports on a 2-head video card), you will need to run one monitor on a PCI card.

This PCI-card monitor will have much lower performance than the others that are on your main 2-head video card, so you won’t want to watch movies on it, but it is still fine for email or programming. You’ll see some lag dragging a window to or from the PCI-card monitor, and fast-scrolling data slows down (like console output), but otherwise it works ok.

You’ll find that the lag of dragging between monitors goes down greatly if the two cards use the same video drivers.

Vista supports two kinds of video drivers: XP-type (XDDM) and Vista-type (WDDM). You can’t run Aero glass or do DirectX-10 stuff on XDDM drivers, so you generally want the WDDM drivers. However, Vista can only load one type of driver at the same time, and it can only load one WDDM driver at the same time. So if you want to use two video cards under Vista, they need to use the same video driver.

I’m currently using two GeForce 5200 cards (1 AGP, 1 PCI) on my computer at work. They run Aero Glass (not great, but ok), and everything works fine.

Unless you’re a chameleon, you can’t use two monitors at the same time anyway. There’s a handy program called Remote Desktops. It’s a part of Windows 2003 Administration Pack which you can download for free from It’s also included in W2K3. Basically it allows you to establish multiple RDP connections to other PCs and easily switch between them (they become nodes in the MMC tree on the left). I’ve tried dual monitor setup and went back to RDP. Same thing, less head turning and mousing. Disclaimer: my monitor is a 23" widescreen, so I have plenty of resolution if I need to code and read a doc on the side. At home, 15.4" MBP seems sufficient.

I used to use dual-monitors religiously, but I just came across VirtuaWin (basically it’s desktop switching like X11, but it works a lot better than the Windows Power Toy one)
So far I am not totally sold on this vs dual-monitors, but it’s nice to put SQL Managler on one desktop, keep the first two for instances of VS then use the other two (or however many) for other apps, multiple browsers (as I’m a web developer) etc.

I currently have dual-monitors at work and a widescreen @ home, all are using VirtuaWin, I am not sure what I like best yet.

Matrox Quad graphic cards are relatively cheap and they provide up to four monitors (the card has two VGA outputs, each one is duplicated using a special cable which is included with the card).

I personally use two computers each with 2 monitors on my desk. (along with 2 keyboards and two mice) It’s tricky doing a lot of typing on the upper keyboard, because your hands are suspended a little awkwardly, but for CPU intensive tasks - I find it works very nicely. I can burn a DVD and not have a slowdown in file transfers or play a game and not worry about alt-tabbing to search for something.

I will say that I do not use it to its full potential. My desk isn’t that large so I have resolutely held out on the programs that allow you one mouse to simply drag across the seperate machines (I find a second mouse works fine, and I don’t like picking up my mouse and placing it back down to drag). I’ve also found myself under-utilizing my leftmost monitor, although it is only a 15". And I like keeping my calendar open on my rightmost monitor, but also have two docked items - Google Sidebar and Trillian, so I don’t find myself moving windows to it too often.

Eventually I hope to invest in several 24" or 30" Widescreen LCD’s (I’m holding out because I can’t stand anything less than 1200 high). But with all the talk about how wide text should go before it’s difficult to read, I may end up with 4 1600x1200 LCD’s.

There’s not a lot mentioned here about the non-gaming benefits of three monitors, so I just wanted to say that while two monitors are better than 1, the jump to three is completely life altering (remeber the first time you used TIVO?).

I am a software engineer, and the big draw for multiple monitors (for me) started in the 80s when you had text mode and graphics mode. Multiple monitors allowed you to run your app on one screen and debug it in the IDE on the other without screen flipping - which didnt always work with all video modes (“mode x” - sigh).

Today everything in in “graphics mode” so the real gain is only real estate, but if you are using 2 monitors then you have converted your single-monitor front and center prime real estate into two sub-prime lots with a huge bezel eye soar (assumming you center the monitors in your field of view). There’s no way around it, MS Windows will take away some of the potential productivity gain because the center of your desktop will be split across two monitors.

But with three monitors, the center of your desktop will be a single full monitor. You will have a left, right, and main monitor that you will find to be very natural. Now you can have your code, help, and email visible at the same time. Or code, help, and website.

Most people that see my desk think its overkill, but I can tell you the benefit is not 50% more than 2 monitors, it’s more like 300% better. I have dual 19" LCDs at home, and tripple 17" lcds at work. Truthfully, I don’t code as much at home as I used to. I try to get my personal coding done after hours at work because its sooo tedious using just 2 monitors. I know it sounds (and is) pathetically spoiled, but I cant help how I feel.

If you are a manager - get your developers 3 instead of 2, the productivity gain will be substantial.


I have to say Maxivista is the way to go, just as having two monitors is a no brainer we all use multiple computers, with Maxivista I can extend my primary monitor or remote control the other systems. You might also look at a usb to vga adapter. Also once you go DVI you won’t go back to VGA

I have three monitors on my desk: two for my G5 and one for my linux tower. I use synergy [] to share one mouse and keyboard between two machines. Copy and paste even works well. This way I get the benefits of three screens and multiple operating systems running natively.

I agree about the focal point. It is much better to have three screens with the center screen being the focus.

I have to say Maxivista is the way to go

Just be aware that Maxivista is like Remote Desktop-- it’s sending all the screen data over ethernet. So performance is considerably lower than any other option we’ve talked about, and anything intensive (watching video, 3D, Aero Glass, etc) won’t work very well.

I’ve been a member for years and I love it.

What bothers me is the screen makers. Look at the new screens, what do you see more and more? WIDE screens! I don’t want wide, I want tall! I’m running 3x19"@1280x1024. I don’t have the space to go any wider and it’s reaching about the maximum width that’s comfortable to work with anyway. How about some 1280x1280 or even 1280x1600 monitors, though?