Admit it: You've lusted after the giant 30-inch desktop monitors you've seen in stores. Imagine what you could do with all that screen real estate, and all those pixels! But hold on a minute--those giant displays aren't necessarily all they're cracked up to be.
First, they're expensive. You'll spend about $1300 to $2500 for a single 30-inch monitor. (For instance, the NEC MultiSync LCD3090WQXi pictured here sells for more than $2000.)
Sure, they're high resolution (typically 2560 by 1600 pixels), which gives you plenty of detail. But they're also so wide that the distance from your eyes to the screen varies. If you're sitting 24 inches from the center of the screen, then you're 28 inches or more from the corners. That may not seem like much; but after working in front of the monitor all day, you may develop eye fatigue from constantly having to adjust your focus closer or farther as you look around the screen. The ideal shape for a large screen would be a curve, keeping your eyes at a consistent distance from the display as you work.
The other problem with a gigantic screen is that it's a single, vast, unstructured area. That may be okay if you're editing huge, high-resolution images, but most folks who depend on PCs work with lots of information. That means that you probably use a Web browser, a word processor, a spreadsheet, and e-mail, all at the same time. Use all of those applications at once on a giant monitor, and you run the risk of having a cluttered desktop where you have to drag and adjust windows constantly.
Now here's an alternative to consider: Instead of one big screen, use four smaller ones. You can get four 19-inch wide-screen monitors for significantly less than $800 total. Add $300 for an extra graphics board and a desktop monitor stand, and the cost is still lower than that of one 30-inch display. In this case, however, you end up with the equivalent of a 38-inch-diagonal monitor, an area of 2880 by 1800 pixels--over 25 percent more pixels than a 30-inch monitor offers.
This setup may not be as slick as a curved display, but you can angle the panels to make them more ergonomic to view. And by dividing the display into four sections, you can park different applications on different panels. Just as you might keep your phone on the left side of your desk and your pencil cup on the right, you can organize your work in multiple applications if you position your e-mail on the upper-left screen, your word processor on the lower right, and so forth. And you can easily drag and drop information from one program to another, while keeping all of your windows in view.
What You Need
Assuming you already have a monitor for your system, you need three more. In general, I recommend buying four monitors of the same make and model, which helps eliminate annoying differences in color balance or brightness. At the very least, they should all be of the same size and resolution. To give yourself the most flexibility in making connections, choose displays that accept both DVI and VGA (though you likely can get cables or adapters that will allow you to work out any combination of interfaces).
You'll also need a stand for the monitors. You can find models that string out four panels in a single line (which fans of flight-simulator games tend to love because of the wide, panoramic view). I prefer a two-by-two matrix; with such an arrangement, I don't have to turn my head as much to see any part of the combined display. For my setup, I chose the Ergotron DS100, which lets you easily angle the monitors for better ergonomics.
One key point: Ensure that your monitors match the mounting holes for the stand. Most stands use the VESA standard mount patterns, but you can't just assume that a given mount-and-monitor combination will pair correctly, so be sure to read the specs of displays and stands carefully before you buy anything.
Most graphics boards these days come with two DVI display connectors. If that's what you have in your system, you'll need to buy just one more dual-headed card to support four monitors in all. If your system has only one display connector, you'll have to pull out that board and install two dual-head boards. Make sure that you have sufficient expansion slots available in your PC, and that you buy a board or boards that match that type of slot. (If you don't have available slots, or you don't want to bother opening your computer's case, you still can have a multiple-monitor installation; see page 4.)