Q: What should I look for in a computer monitor?
A: Personal computer systems are finally selling for less than $1,000, but beware: To get prices that low, manufacturers often cut corners on arguably the most important component of all: the monitor. It's the primary interface, so to speak, between you and your programs and documents. So if you're compelled to work with your PC for long periods of time, you'll do well to get the best screen you can afford. The alternative is not just lower productivity but considerable discomfort in the form of headaches, tired eyes and even permanently deteriorated eyesight.
Screen size and resolution are the two main attributes to consider. Generally speaking, the larger your screen, the more detail you can comfortably see and the more windows and program icons you can view at one time. Low-cost systems try to get away with 15- or even 14-inch monitors, but a unit 17 inches or larger is highly recommended. The 15-inch models currently cost around $300; 17-inch models start just below $500 and cost as much as $1,000, depending on their features. Go larger than 17 inches, and you're in the realm of specialized graphics, which most people don't need--and can't afford.
Resolution is a more complicated matter. It's determined by a combination of settings in your operating system and the monitor's physical attributes. Most PCs can generate finely detailed full-screen images, but when used with a screen smaller than 17 inches, your text and icons will probably appear too small to be comfortably viewed. Your best bet is to lower the resolution to 800 x 600 dots per inch (dpi), which is standard. Or, if you need items to appear even larger, you might try a 640 x 480 dpi setting.
Finally, there's your video card. Its total amount of memory determines how many colors you can display at once and how quickly the computer can change images. The 1MB video cards included with many low-end computers are probably fine if you're working mainly with text. For better graphics, you can upgrade to a 2MB or even 8MB video card for $150 or less.
And don't forget, properly situating your chair, keyboard and monitor is key to comfortable computer use. Happy viewing!
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