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Displays Hardware

Multiple Monitors Increase Productivity 539

eggoeater writes "An systematic study conducted by NEC-Mitsubishi, ATI Technologies and the University of Utah has concluded that the use of multiple monitors in the workplace increases productivity. The study is discussed on Tom's Hardware, EE Times, and there's a detailed press release on NEC-Mitsubishi. For those of us who use multi-monitors, this is not shocking. But maybe now that it's official, IT managers will view it as a good investment and not just for gamers."
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Multiple Monitors Increase Productivity

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  • by Sodakar ( 205398 ) on Thursday October 09, 2003 @10:04AM (#7171569)
    It's a shame that the study didn't include replacing a standard 4x3 aspect-ratio display with a wide-screen display. In my personal experience, I've found that the extra width is what really helps -- not so much the ability to have two desktops visible at once. Two 17" displays are better than one 17" display, but one 24" widescreen display is even better still. (no break in the middle, consistent color correction across the entire width, great for wide photo-editing, long code that wraps, and of course, ultra-long syslogs)

    Of course, two standard displays are far more economical than one widescreen display... :(

    Though the results of the study are undoubtedly true, I find it amusing that this study is put on by a display company, graphics company, and a university that most likely got freebies or kickbacks.

    News at 7: "Dell Computer, Intel, and UCLA have found that multiple processors can increase productivity."
  • by Kombat ( 93720 ) <kombat@kombat.org> on Thursday October 09, 2003 @10:18AM (#7171759) Homepage
    Two 17" displays are better than one 17" display, but one 24" widescreen display is even better still.

    I disagree. I use 2 17" monitors at work, and I would vastly prefer this to a single, wide monitor. The reason is simple. Sure, if I had one, 24" wide monitor, I could fit quite a bit of stuff on the screen (almost as much as my pair of 17's). However, I'd have to manually manipulate the window sizes in order to make the most of that space.

    With 2 monitors, each monitor is its own desktop. If I have an app on one screen and I maximize it, it instantly and automatically fills that entire, single monitor, leaving the other monitor untouched. I can then do the same thing to another app in the other window with another app, and with two easy clicks, I now have both my apps each making maximum use of my viewing space, without having to carefully drag window borders around manually.

    This may sound like a small thing, but the few seconds you waste clicking on window borders and resizing quickly becomes an irritating and unnecessary annoyance.

    But the tasks I found benefitted most from dual monitors was when I was learning something new. I could open up the API/User Guide/Tutorial/Examples in one window, while having another entire 17" monitor available to actually run the app I was learning, and follow through the tutorial without having to constantly switch virtual desktops, minimize/maximize, or ALT-TAB around.

    I can't imagine going back to a single monitor, regardless of its size.
  • I use two... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by scovetta ( 632629 ) on Thursday October 09, 2003 @10:24AM (#7171819) Homepage
    I use two monitors, and I agree, it's a big help, but I find that a larger monitor helps more. I have two 17"s at work, save resolution and everything, but the 3" beige division between desktops isn't always easy to forget about. I have a 19" at home, and it's much better for coding, since the screen holds more text (duh), but all of the toolbars, nav frames, etc take up precious space, and splitting that up between two monitors throws off the eye. I'm planning on a 21" monitor soon, I assume that'll be a big improvement as well.

    Also, for those of you who have your monitor refresh rate set at 40 hz or something, change it-- if you stare about 6" above the top of your monitor and look for the monitor in your peripheral vision, you can see the refreshing, it's weird-- that throws me off.

    Also, big comfy chairs and a raise tend to raise my productivity too ;)
  • Nice (Score:2, Insightful)

    by jayhawk88 ( 160512 ) <jayhawk88@gmail.com> on Thursday October 09, 2003 @10:25AM (#7171830)
    An systematic study conducted by NEC-Mitsubishi, ATI Technologies...

    This is almost as good as one of those "A study conducted by Microsoft and Forrester Research concludes that Windows is Holy and Linux causes lepersy" studies. NEC and ATI think you should buy another monitor and upgrade your video card. Damn, what's next? Shell Oil thinks current fuel efficiency standards are just fine? Logging company thinks spotted owls will adapt to living in underground holes?
  • by DAldredge ( 2353 ) <SlashdotEmail@GMail.Com> on Thursday October 09, 2003 @10:33AM (#7171921) Journal
    And water is wet.
  • by mwood ( 25379 ) on Thursday October 09, 2003 @10:38AM (#7171960)
    Yeah, until some PHB decides that, if 2 monitors = productivity gain, 4 monitors = 2x productivity gain, and I wind up with more monitors than I can attend to. Like the famous Western Electric study where they kept tinkering with the lights until they discovered that the productivity gain came from workers feeling more appreciated because somebody was always coming 'round to adjust the lights, and was not correlated to the experimental parameter at all.

    That said, I'm not surprised at this result. One monitor simply can't have eight or ten pages usefully viewable at the same time, which is the way I work when I'm deep in the coding and a major reason that I still prefer paper documents for serious creative work. I've often said that what I need is not an ugrade from 17" to 19" and 1024x768 to 1280x1024, but one to 4'x3' at 10240x7680. (Or VR goggles and gloves that can simulate a wall-sized display and the keyboard to drive it.... :-)
  • Re:what's the use? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by pla ( 258480 ) on Thursday October 09, 2003 @10:42AM (#7172004) Journal
    I've never "gotten" dual head. I guess two 17" monitors running at 1400x1050 are somewhat cheaper than a 21" monitor running at 2048x1536, and they both display about the same # of pixels, but doesn't the seam running down the middle of the dual-head setup really suck?

    You think about it the wrong way. Don't think in terms of "cheaper", think in terms of "on the screen but not in my way". (I'll write the rest of this from a Windows point of view, but all the ideas apply equally well to X)

    Consider what you normally use a computer for at work... Perhaps you code, or use Word/Excel, or whatever. But most likely you have some primary app open most of the time, to which you want to give as much screen real-estate as possible.

    But, having other programs open at the same time, such as Winamp, task manager, a graphing calculator, perhaps a small notepad window for jotting things down - All of those you would normally need to switch back and forth with your primary screen-sucking app. Personally, I usually have some development environment filling my primary screen, and find it very annoying to keep finding my calculator, plug in some numbers, switch back, repeat 200 times a day.

    Well, a second monitor makes all of that a non issue. I have my 21" primary monitor taken up with the dev tools, and the 15" secondary keeps what I mentioned (Winamp, taskman, graphcalc, notepad, and usually one or two other random programs) instantly accessible, without having to minimize anything or go searching on the taskbar.

    So try thinking of dual monitors in terms of dual-but-separate desktops, rather than a single large desktop (where yes, the line down the middle would drive most people nuts).

    I'd like to see this study conducted with a constant amount of $ invested in either a 2-head or 1-head rig, and see which comes out on top. I'm betting on 1-head.

    Given a choice between a 19" and a 15", or a single 21", I'd gladly take the former over the latter, hands down.

    Additionally, consider the cost from another angle - Most people working with a computer 8 hours a day will have at least a 19" monitor, frequently even a panel rather than a CRT, often connected to a high-end video card. You can easily blow a grand just on getting a decent primary display for a workstation-class machine (and far more for a high-end graphics oriented system - The CAD guys at my last employer had systems where the display hardware alone cost over ten grand).

    So, if for another $100, a tenth the price of the primary display, you can boost productivity by a significant margin, would you skimp on such a small amount?
  • Re:what's the use? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by loosifer ( 314643 ) on Thursday October 09, 2003 @10:52AM (#7172143) Homepage
    First, your eyes are pretty amazing if you using 2048x1536 on a 21"...

    Second, no one said you had to have 17" monitors; I've had two 21" monitors on my desk for the last 7 years.

    And third, have you actually tried dual monitors? If not, then you couldn't "get it". Every time I have to work with only one monitor, it feels like trying to drive with a windshield that's far too small. I also use 9 workspaces with both of my monitors, which means that i've got 18 workspaces across two monitors, and they're usually almost all full of something or other (I'm a sysadmin, so I multitask somewhat excessively).

    As to your idea of comparing the results of spending a given amount of money, it's pointless. Yeah, if you've only got $500, get one better monitor rather than 2 crappy ones. But the study isn't about the best way to spend a given amount of money -- it's about maximising the productivity of your workers. You go to any company in the world and tell them you have a method of immediately increasing the productivity of most of their office workers by 10%, and see how long it takes them to start writing a check.

    This is why the study talks about ROI -- spend the extra money on an extra monitor, and you'll make that extra money back almost immediately, and then you will continue to make money on that investment for a long time. You're looking at it from the perspective of someone who uses a computer for fun, which makes ROI meaningless, whereas companies look at it from the perspective of spending money to make money.

    "I haven't tried it, which means that it's silly and pointless." Yeah, great argument, keep up the good work.
  • by Acidic_Diarrhea ( 641390 ) on Thursday October 09, 2003 @11:03AM (#7172315) Homepage Journal
    "(as the only linux user in the company)"

    Having multiple desktops is an option that Windows users have with a minimum of hassle. In fact, the video card I bought to facilitate my two-monitor setup came with the software to allow this to happen. What I think you fail to realize that multiple desktops have their place and multiple monitors have their place. The situation you describe is all well and good but when working, I often need to work on multiple files at the same time, or at least have a file open for reference, and being able to view that file while working on another is useful. Your statement about maximizing and minimizing windows is merely a suggestion that the employees you speak of don't know how to best utilize a multiple monitor setup.

    Tell me which is quicker. I am working on file_A, which is dependent on some work in file_B. I can either:
    A) Constantly switch back and forth between virtual desktops everytime I need to check something in file_B, process that information, and then switch back to the desktop with file_A to begin work on that file again. OR
    B) Have both file_A and file_B open at the same time on different monitors where if I need to check a dependency in file_B, all that's required is a slight headturn.

    So which is faster? Multiple monitors and multiple desktops is what I use and I find they compliment each other nicely BUT if I had to choose one, I'd take multiple monitors.

  • Re:Nice (Score:3, Insightful)

    by pla ( 258480 ) on Thursday October 09, 2003 @11:04AM (#7172326) Journal
    This is almost as good as one of those "A study conducted by Microsoft and Forrester Research concludes that Windows is Holy and Linux causes lepersy" studies.

    Though I see your point, I have to disagree that the findings seem excessively biased.

    Compare the cost of a pair of 17" monitors to a single 21"... Pricewatch currently lists $69 for the former, and $299 for the latter.

    So if the hardware suppliers wanted to make more money by biasing their study, it would seem that they should have found the exact opposite results - That a single large monitor helps more than two smaller monitors. But they didn't.

    Of course, running dual-headed myself, I agree 100% with the study - I find it painful now to have to limit myself to only one desktop, with all that annoying switching between apps.
  • Re:what's the use? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Phil Gregory ( 1042 ) <phil_g+slashdot@pobox.com> on Thursday October 09, 2003 @11:17AM (#7172504) Homepage
    How is this faster than using alt-tab to bring windows to top?

    How fast can you move your eyes to glance at the next monitor over? For referring to other windows while working on one, multiple monitors are a big win. Even for switching among windows, I find it easier to flick the mouse into a two-dimensional region on screen that to search through all the apps I have open via alt-tab.

    --Phil (Newly converted to the land of dual-head.)
  • Re:what's the use? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by bluGill ( 862 ) on Thursday October 09, 2003 @11:20AM (#7172545)

    With windows the window on top is on top. Imangine (this often happens to me, so it shouldn't be too hard) you need to consult some online documentation to aid your work. With alt-tab you look at the documentation, and have to memorize it before you alt-tab back to your work to apply it. With two monitors you open the documentation on one, and your work on the other, so you can read the manual while you work. Cut-and-paste isn't very useful when you are looking up API docs. foo() takes three arguments, I've prepared each in a variable, but is it foo(argdata, flags, size), or foo(flags, &argdata, &size), or some other combonation. Having that documentation open on a different monitor also means I'm more likely to notice the fine print "foo returns a file handle that must be closed", which isn't always obvious.

    In X window managers often have the concept that the window I'm typing in doesn't have to be on top which mitigates this problem, but Windows never really got that idea. In addition most X programs are designed to not need to full screen, while Windows applications tend to assume they are the only thing you will run so they take the whole screen. A philsophy difference that really annoys anyone used to the other. (And note that this is a tendancy, there are plenty of exceptions both ways)

  • by laklare ( 204915 ) on Thursday October 09, 2003 @11:33AM (#7172705)
    Too bad this study is tainted by the fact that monitor manufacturers did it.

    Monitors are so cheap now and you can find them abandoned all over the place (Goodwill, my basement). Since all you need to set up multiple monitors on a PC is an AGP card and a PCI card (for two monitors), it's very easy. PCI video cards are old and cheap. Two PCI cards won't work I think because they both try to be the primary video card.

    My PC is set up now with three monitors because I have a dual output AGP card and a PCI card w/TV out. The PCI card I use only for output to my TV (for movies, simpsons, etc.). Now that I have a faster machine, I can work on two monitors with the third (TV) showing a full screen movie. Or, I could have the left one show the Milkdrop plugin for winamp, the middle one for "work", and the right (TV) for a movie. What was this article about...oh yeah...productivity.

    Bottom line is, I haven't done any work in my bedroom for months. I'm not sure I could with any number of monitors. Usually I have to use my laptop with a tiny screen in a secluded space with no distractions to accomplish anything. Even though I agree that multiple monitors COULD increase my productivity (if I didn't use them for distractions), they actually generate distractions mostly. If I'm doing something simple, I'm annoyed at how much desktop space i have to manage. If I'm doing something that needs space (like taking notes in one monitor from a web page in the other), all that monitor is very overwhelming. It's a lot of electromagnetism...I just want to shut them off (I recommend using black wallpaper on your desktops). Sometimes I feel inclined to put stuff on the second monitor just because I can. Then I feel inclined to look at it.

    Bottom line:
    Multimonitors is a cool thing to have. It's very useful if you're doing research, comparing documents, or if you need to know exactly when something finishes and you don't like switching tasks just to find out. Be warned, however. It is easy to block out everything outside the computer (real world) when you're at a computer. It's a lot harder to ignore what's going on on one monitor on the computer when you're staring at the other one.

    My short list of computer productivity improvements I'd be annoyed to work without:
    left hand mouse
    low keyboard
    head-height monitors
    low brightness, high contrast
    background lighting
    well-placed speakers
    foot rest
    good adjustable chair
    pad for kneeling when you're tired of sitting
    house plants
    window outside with far-away objects
    hand exerciser/stress ball
    a door (doesn't in a cubicle)
  • It' just bandwidth (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Phat_Tony ( 661117 ) on Thursday October 09, 2003 @11:43AM (#7172867)
    Of course it raises productivity, it raises the most important bandwidth limitation in the whole system: the one between the user & the machine.

    Hands using the keyboard & mouse going one way, and eyes watching the monitor going the other way, is a pretty limited interface. (Yeah, I know there are speakers and printers and such, but most of the information channel is keyboard, mouse, monitor.) Not a lot has happened on the keyboard/mouse end to raise input bandwidth since around 1984, but the output bandwith had grown a lot, from hopeless 10" VGA monitors (or TV's) to having things like 2 21" 1600 x 1200 monitors.

    Higher monitor resolution (that's total resolution, not just screen density) makes a huge difference in how fast and how well you can obtain and comprehend information from your machine.

    The GUI helps with this too- GUI's are just compression algorithms to compress information in order to pump it through the narrow bandwidth of the screen-eye-brain pipeline. It uses more machine resources in order to present things in a manner that lets your brain recognize things faster, because brains are better built for dealing with graphics than text in many ways.

    More monitor space also increaeses input by compressing it (or eliminating useless steps)- if you can see more windows at once, you spend less time using your narrow input pipeline to rearrange things, and more time inputing directly where you want.

    See Edward Tufte [edwardtufte.com], who is always upset about people tossing out bandwidth in stupid interface design. Notably, he bashes web browsers, which usually use screen space up on
    1- the OS's menu bar & other widgets
    2- the web browser's menu bar, toolbar, link bar, & other widgets
    3- the sites' title bar, ad banner, navigation bar, sidebar, etc.

    This often leaves a couple of square inches of screen space to cram in the information on the site you're actually trying to get too, mostly wasting huge portions of your bandwidth, especially on lower resolution monitors, because all the other widgets stay the same size, and it's the content space that shrinks down to the size of a pea.

"I prefer the blunted cudgels of the followers of the Serpent God." -- Sean Doran the Younger