Multiple Monitors and Productivity

I found an interesting blog post about a small, informal multiple monitor productivity study. A number of developers, with some nudging from me, have gravitated to multiple monitor setups over the last year. Based on that experience, I wholeheartedly agree with the study survey results:

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

I tried the 4 monitors setup one time at the end of the project that study was based on. You do move your head around may more than necessary, unless you have flat panels and you can put them right on top of each other. Some of my trader friends have 6 monitors, but they’re just sitting around watching feeds all day. :slight_smile:

I never got into the ultramon taskbar feature. I use Alt+Tab rather than the mouse to navigate between windows. It also doesn’t work well when you use remote desktop. But most of the rest of my coworkers at the time loved it.

Yes, having the flat panels gives a lot more flexibility in layout – and now that the 17" and 19" panels are relatively inexpensive, this is easier to justify financially.

I’d say EVERY serious developer should be using two monitors if they are not already, for the clear productivity benefits. No doubt about it. And those that feel it is justified for what they do (space, cost, working habits) should be able to move to three.

The fourth monitor, even as an ultra-thin LCD, is just hard to place, period! I think I’d want it above my primary monitor, for sort of an upside down “T” shape-- 3 across, 1 up. Given the diminishing returns between two and three, I doubt I could justify a fourth due to cost and difficulty of placement, and even then, It’d definitely be my least used display.

Remote desktop works well in multiple monitor scenarios, particularly when you make it fullscreen. It’s a little picky about placement, but once you get it on the right monitor, it’ll remember to launch fullscreen on that monitor the next time it is started.

Oh yeah, one thing I forgot to add: It’s odd that you mention more use of ALT+TAB as a benefit of multiple monitors.

I define productivity as less use of ALT+TAB, and its implied window management overhead, not more! :slight_smile: I know I use ALT+TAB a lot less now that I have more desktop space and therefore less overlapping information trapped in obscured or partially visible windows…

I’ve been running 3 monitors for a while and it is an improvement over 2. Getting the PCI card to work really is a pain though. My card was a salvage from a junk computer (i.e. not the latest / greatest) and it had to be in a specific PCI slot for it to work. I run my second machine (a mac) through BNC since one of the monitors has a BNC / D-SUB switch but I’ve also used VNC (if you VNC/Remote Desktop into a lot of machines, 2+ monitors is a must!)

Check out the Multiple Monitor Gallery here: (sort by # of monitors / descending - it starts a 11…)

A third monitor is great for all those little extras like your media player and your IM client, especially for those working from home. I would second the recommendation to get your AGP card and your PCI card from the same maker (I’ve had no setup problems with my dual-head Radeon and an older All-In-Wonder 128 Pro, though they do require two different drivers).

The first PCI slot (the one right next to the AGP slot) often has trouble with video cards, even if you’re not using an AGP card. When I’m setting up a system with two video cards, I automatically leave the first PCI slot empty. If you’re having trouble getting your PCI card to work, this is the first thing to check.

Keep in mind that some cards will only provide hardware acceleration to one screen (the one defined as “Primary” in the Windows display properties). Unless you’re a gamer, this probably won’t be an issue, but it will also affect other graphics-intensive items like Winamp visualizations.

I use ALT+TAB to focus a window, not necessarily to bring a window to the top of the z-order. So I do a lot of ALT+TAB in my dual monitor setup. Alas, I spend most days in front of a laptop these days, which is why I opted for the 1920 x 1200 display.

The MultiMon utility is kind of expensive. You can get the additional taskbar for a 2nd or 3rd monitor with this free utility.

And regarding a 4th monitor. My fourth is above the primary monitor in an upside-down T-shape as mentioned above. I use this product.

The 4th is the least used, but great for IM apps as mentioned above.

I have been using at least 3 4 monitors since summer of '99 when Win98 2nd edition added multiple monitor support. I have wasted a lot of time telling people to try a 2nd monitor. Most haven’t, but I have switched to telling them to plan for at least 3. And that means a small bezel is very important.

Nifty links, Ken. My co-workers already think I am insane with three monitors, but I will definitely keep that vertical mount in mind-- that 2nd PCI card has an unused VGA port just waiting for something to plug into it…

If you’re interested in studies of multiple monitor use, you might be interested in the following study done by Jonathan Grudin ( at Microsoft Research:

Check out the sweeeeeet setup at Drool. No affiliation…also, sadly, no spare $4k for the setup.

I just bought an xfx FX5200 PCI and a xfx 6600Gt AGP and placing a call to the support department at XFX was worthless.

Some guy named Frank (who clearly doesn’t like his job) tells me that after speaking with the nvidia engineers, nvidia software doesn’t support more than two monitors, period.

I am basically being told that 3 monitor configurations are not allowed. This sounds like total nonsense to me, but I have nowhere else to turn.

Am I simply out of luck or just out of support for an XFX product?

I’m not trying to play games (too much), so I don’t care so much about that, but does your three monitor setup work for windows by itself?

I was wondering about bagging it and buying a Matrox 450mms quad on ebay.

Any help out there? Thanks in advance.

Bill, 3 monitors definitely works; windows supports up to 10 monitors out of the box. A few suggestions:

  1. Install the latest video drivers from

  2. Read through the forums and FAQ at:

Which is an excellent multiple monitor resource!

Hello, I have the GeForce 6800 AGP card and am looking for a compatible Nvidia PCI card to make a 3 monitor setup. I can’t find a PCI version with the 6800 chipset. Do you think I can use a 4000 or 5500 or will that cause problems? Any suggestion on what PCI card I should get?


I have a SLI setup with 2x6600gt’s can i do 3 monitor with sli? i am needing some serous space for dev heh, 2 wasn’t enough :frowning:

It is my understanding that nVidia SLI mode and “more than 2 monitors” modes are mutually exclusive. But when SLI is disabled, you can use up to 4 monitors.

I want to be able to have a 6 monitor setup, I was thinking of purchasing the Command center from what video cards would I need?

You may need some 4-output video cards. These are somewhat rare…

Matrox QID

Appian Xentera GT

You’re looking at $600+ for these cards, though. I’d go with the Appian because it’s based on a known ATI chipset. Matrox tech is just too old by now.

The other, cheaper alternative is to get a mobo that has two PCI express slots (eg a nForce 4 SLI), and add a standard PCI video card. That would be 2 + 2 + 2 = 6 video ports.

Another triple monitor user here. Wonderful. While I would like to see some taller monitors I don’t think a 4th up on top would be all that useful. I think only about half a monitor worth of additional height would be comfortable.

I have put together several multi-monitor machines and I will definitely stress the point of getting cards that will work on the same driver. In the early days it didn’t seem to matter but by now they’re all but impossible to get to play nice together. Nvidia seems to be better than ATI at this. Note, also, that PCI versions of ATI cards are hard to come by.

Another observation: The install disk often doesn’t work. Rather, install it from the device manager. Unfortunately downloaded drivers often won’t install this way, period.

Or you could use x2x: