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How many different applications do you use with a 2, 3, 4, 5 or more monitor setup? What's the most sophisticated multi-monitor setup you've seen?

To be more specific, I would like to know exactly how you use your multi-monitor setup and how can I make better use of my own.

How does someone take full advantage of a multi-monitor setup? And does having more monitors help your productivity?

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this question is so ambiguous and vague. Can you make it more clear what it is you are asking, and what you want to accomplish? –  Jeff Atwood Jul 20 '09 at 9:45

24 Answers 24

up vote 33 down vote accepted
+75

The coolest multi-monitor setup I've seen, not in person, is Stefan Didak's office setup. Stefan is a computer animator, and has the SWEETEST home office:

http://www.stefandidak.com/office/

12 monitor setup

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actually, he is a software developer –  nmuntz Jul 26 '09 at 13:52
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OMFG ... that's frikking awesome :-) –  Bruce McLeod Jul 28 '09 at 1:48
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Well, he used to develop software for computer animation, so the answer somewhat counts. You see, he creates animations vicariously through the users of his code :) –  tsilb May 27 '10 at 0:51

I've ever only had the fortune of working with 2 monitors at work and the setup is less than impressive (2 computers on desk as well as the 2 monitors; using Synergy).

The most impressive I've seen has actually come from a Digg post

enter image description here

I would say it's an incredible experience, especially with the right audio setup.

The Digg link if anyone's interested

http://digg.com/odd_stuff/The_coolest_monitor_setups_ever_Pictures

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I 'only' have two monitors. One is my notebook display, the other is a 17" monitor rotated to portrait. I use this for web browsing, documents and code.

Laptop next to portrait display

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pic of my home office setup

My 6-monitor setup is explained here and here. I find having a TV hooked up is great for video and images.

Be sure to check out RealTimeSoft's multi-monitor gallery.

Yes! Having more monitors does inexorably improve productivity, up to the point where they become an encumberance. Therefore my setup works well in two rows of three screens, but it works poorly in one row of six screens. In 1x6 config I end up only making good use of 4 of them, so a 2x3 config is optimal.

Currently I am preparing an experiment of 1x6 in Portrait mode, which will be near the same width as 1x3 to 1x4 in landscape mode. Will blog results. Google and you will find me; failing that check my profile.

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alt text

I use four monitors in my own personal setup. The top two monitors have TV tuners so I can watch cable or my own CCTV system that is internal to my setup. I can watch two seperate full screen or PIP video sources on the top two screens or I can just switch them back to desktop space for the computer when I need to have quite a bit of stuff open and visible all at once. I routinely keep 20 windows open that relate to tasks in various states of action or research. It is handy to be able to keep your email application visible at all times as well as your messenger software. It is also handy to be able to drag a window from one monitor to another when you need something out of the way (or in my case it is usually someone looking over my shoulder) I also have a projector that shoots an image on the wall to one side (Just out of view to the right) that I keep my heads up display running on. So all said I have a maximum total of 5 screens of information visible at all times (6 if you count my laptop)

From a productivity standpoint you cannot beat this setup. It is pretty handy when having a Video Teleconference with a few people too, You can see all their faces and you do not have to make those tough choices as to whose mug you want to be looking at.

The top two monitors are Samsungs with the TV tuners and multiple video inputs all supported natively. So long gone are the days where I have to choose between the computer and the television programs I care to watch. Now I can do all of the above.

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I have 4 monitors set up to support about 12 windows. I am a currency trader, so I need at least 2 of the monitors always dedicated to FX prices and graphs. The other two screens I use to toggle between the other apps I use.

alt text

Some other people I work with use 6 or 8 screen set ups. The only problem is once you go over 4 screens, you generally need another computer. This means having more than one keyboard and mouse. It can be fairly confusing to remember which mouse is for which screens. Above picture is a very clean looking 8 screen set up.

I think the key to need more than 2 screens is using a screen to keep constant information/data on. Each graph or data feed usually needs a dedicated screen.

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Use synergy synergy2.sourceforge.net Made exactly for people like you –  prestomation Jul 27 '09 at 16:55
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If you use MaxiVista instead of Synergy, you can extend your actual desktop to the networked machine, visible to Windows and everything. make sure you're running Gigabit. Also look into Matrox's and ATI's lines of quad-output cards. –  tsilb Jul 28 '09 at 1:47
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The current version of Synergy is called Synergy-Plus code.google.com/p/synergy-plus –  dlux Jul 28 '09 at 1:51

I am a software tester by trade and I write a lot of automated tests. Because of that I typically have Visual Studio open in one screen and the web browser that is doing it's stuff in the other screen.

Now I just need a third screen for superuser.com, and one for stackoverflow and one for serverfault ....

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3 monitor setup, regularly have 10+ windows open.

I run my taskbar vertically along one edge of the screen to make more program names visible.

(I'm a software developer)

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only have 3 and I have around 25 open applications, since Explorer X2 to uTorrent, passing Developing tools and Managing tools and all browsers (Safari, FF, Opera, Chrome and IE)...

but remember you can only add 2 screens per Graphic Card, so a part of having to buy the screens you need a nice graphic card per each 2 screens :)

but, try this blog post about crazy Screen setup so you can be amazed about monitors setup :)

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I use a multiple monitor setup for multiple computers along with extended desktop space for my main computer. So I have lots of apps open, but also multiple computers running various os's and purposes.

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One tip: Some monitors can be rotated 90º. Buy one, spin it around, and now you can read those A4 documents the way they were mean to be read.

(Dell seems to be the best place to get monitors like that in this part of the world)

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One tip: Get a good desktop window management program (I like Ultramon) and a good virtual desktop program (I like Dexpot) to go with the multi-monitor setup. That way you can keep your work separated into logical or task related groups for easier mental switching. More importantly, you need a hassle free way of being able to manipulate windows into various monitors or desktops, and these programs provide hotkeys to do this.

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I figured I'd post mine, even though it's not as impressive as the others haha. I use Synergy+ to share my keyboard and mouse. Took me a while to hunt down those Dell monitors, but it was so worth it. From left to right, we have:

  • Ubuntu 9.04 Linux
  • Windows Vista
  • Mac OS X

alt text

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Two physical monitors and six virtual screens via OS X spaces. There is generally only one or two windows on each.

I have dedicates spaces for the major applications I keep open so I always know where the stuff I want is.

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2 Monitors. When i'm doing a lot of things, i'll have a firefox window open, various explorer windows, misc editing apps, and possibly other things open. I always keep my chat windows on my second monitor so i can chat with people while keeping other stuff up on the main screen. :)

As for improving your use of a multi-montior setup, econdary monitors are good for:

  • Putting chat windows and such on (so that your brain doesnt have quite as hard a time switching between tasks)
  • Placing toolbars for some programs on (GIMP, photoshop, visual studio, etc.)
  • Placing rarely used icons on (Something in general that helps with icons is Fences)
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I use two monitors. I generally have about as many windows open as I did with one, but this allows me to increase my productivity. I am a Software Engineering major and I use my 3:4 monitor to look at the code I am writing and my 16:9 monitor to look at the documentation I'm using. This improves productivity because it keeps me from having to alt-tab between windows. It also helps if I need to communicate with teammates as I can have the IM or IRC windows open over the documentation or code, whichever we're not discussing at that moment. While I'm playing games, I use the extra monitor to display heat statistics and monitor my computer's health.

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How does someone take full advantage of a multi-monitor setup? And does having more monitors help your productivity?

A monitor can only display so much usable information at one time. If you need to access more information than the screen can hold you need to spend some of your time finding the information among the windows which you have open and bringing it to the foreground. If you increase the number, of resolution of your monitors you can have more information which is a glance away. Looking for something that is in front of you is much more intuitive than finding an application.

This means that when you need to switch (or keep information) between contexts it is many times quicker to do.

If you need to track data in real time, for example stock tickers or reactor core temperatures it is important that this information is accessible at all times. If you only have one monitor this may mean that you have almost no space left for other applications.

To increase productivity with multiple monitors firstly keep dedicated real estate for anything which should contain constantly updating information. If this is a separate monitor all the better. That way you will always know where to look for this information. Secondly keep windows which you are using at concurrently in the foreground as much as possible. It can help to keep logical tasks on different screens.

There comes a point of diminishing returns, where the amount of screen real estate can mean that windows become hard to find. Or everything that you need is already at hand and you won’t make use of the extra monitors.

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I keep two widescreen monitors, one of which is sideways. A sideways widescreen can give you a nice amount of vertical sapce. I find the extra vertical space useful for email (preview pane set to bottom) and browsers (and sometimes code), while the other acts as a general window for my IDE, my VM's, remote desktop, notepad and other basic apps.

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I use 2 monitors for programming. They're an absolute necessity for game development, since having the IDE pop up for debugging over the top of your game window can invalidate the screen buffer, leading to all sorts of headaches.

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I nowadays use two monitors. When I'm working at home, one screen will contain a remote desktop connection to a machine at work while the other is my normal desktop. That way, I can work on two systems with one keyboard/mouse. (And about 50 miles between both systems.)

For software development, I use my left monitor (main) to display the IDE because it has a nice 1920x1200 resolution. It allows me to read long lines of code and also to have plenty of toolkits available in the same screen. The applications I compile will be sent to the right screen at 1600x1200, thus I can see the screen and the code at the same time.

When rendering images, I use my left screen to display the Poser application, simply because it allows me the biggest working space. Occasionally, I will make the screen even bigger to the maximum 3520x1200 resolution to work on very wide images.

And when I only need a single screen, my right screen is also connected to an external DVD player so I can watch a movie while doing other stuff.

Then again, I also like to do a few things with Adobe Lightroom, an application for photo manipulations which happens to support 64-bits dual-screen systems. Very, very interesting setup!

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In the online poker-pro community, 3-4 monitor setups are very common. They use them to play many tables of poker at the same time.

My setup used to be 4 monitors, now it is just 3 (girlfriend felt she needed a monitor more than I needed no. 4). ;)

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To figure out how best to use multiple monitors, figure out what you're doing with your applications, and where you're wasting time.

The whole point behind multiple monitors is, after all, to save time and make you more efficient. If all you do is type into a word processor all day, a 2nd monitor isn't going to help much. If you need to monitor output from 8 different programs simultaneously, then 4 or 8 monitors might make you much more productive.

So, what kind of things are a waste of time? I've identified two big ones for me:

  • Context switches: going from one program to another.
  • Locating and clicking on something

Figure out what programs you use, what the penalty is for a context switch, and how often you do it or how much more effective you could be with more pixels, and that will help you decide the "best" setup for you.

Get into the habit of setting up applications and layouts in the same place - this allows you to develop "muscle memory" for common. Even starting up applications (on windows) in the same order every time can help shave a few seconds off each context switch - no hunting for which task bar item you need to click if they're always in the same order. On a GUI that support multiple desktops, same thing - group applications the same way each time and you're get a little bit more efficient.

There are a couple of things to watch out for, however. Having more programs visible is not always better. Having email and IM onscreen and visible all the time can be distracting, and take away concentration from whatever task you're working on, so if you're looking at a 3rd or 4th screen just to have those available consider possibility that you may end up less productive. Also, having a lot of pixels means a lot of mousing - if you can't use keyboard shortcuts, you'll rely on the mouse a lot more, and that can lead to RSI problems.

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at work: (as developer)

2x 21inch monitors. Debugger or Application at left monitor. Emacs and/or Firefox at right monitor.

at home 2x 20inch monitors. Game (mmo usually running in windowed mode) at right. Firefox/Spotify/Winamp at right monitor.

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At work, I have 3 currently. 1 monitor just isn't enough for software development. Need 1 for code and 1 for reference. A 3rd for "other random stuff" is nice, but not necessary.

At home, just 1 per machine. The types of things I run there are much harder on resources and/or have the "fullscreen" type problems. So, still 3 monitors on the desk, but they go back to separate machines. Wish that wasn't the case as the keyboard/mouse situation is a bit ugly (but better than the click/wait switch times on DVI/USB KVMs. Back in the day with PS/2 & VGA KVMs that switch instantly it was an option, but not anymore).

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