Things I'd do if I ever have time

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Three heads are better than one

Published: 03/23/2009

When I moved into my own place several years ago, I decided to take my home computing experience to the next level. This had nothing to do with gaming horsepower, having a massive amount of memory, or rigging an overclocker's dream. Actually, all I wanted to do was to make my work efficiency greater - three screens instead of one. I don't need much physical computing power since most of what I do is either 1) web surfing, 2) mail, 3) systems and network administration "around the house," or 4) casually watch DVDs on the side as background noise. I was quite frankly getting sick and tired and Alt-Tabbing constantly.

My "workstation" is a modest one: an old Dell SC400 (a Pentium 4 with two Gigs of memory). Storage space isn't a big deal since I store almost all of my data on a network share that gets mapped via domain logon script every time I log into the desktop. I still run XP, I run as a restricted user (even though I'm a domain admin at home, I removed the Domain Admins group from my local Administrators group), and the only "high-power" expansion slot in my system is an AGP port. This kind of leaves me with few choices since it seems the vast majority of video cards that support more than a dual-head config requires at least a PCI-X or PCIe.

What I ended up with is an old Matrix P750. It supports three monitors (in analog mode), was pretty cheap on eBay, and serves my purpose just fine. I run three 19" monitors with a desktop resolution of 3840x1024. Definitely not a gaming rig though, and it certainly won't do anything eye-popping in 3D land. I also bought an Ergotron mount with a back bracket that holds three monitors because I don't like three monitor stands taking up desk space. While Ergotron seems to make decent stuff, it's certainly not inexpensive.

But with this setup I can now operate much, MUCH more freely. I have my corporate webmail open in one window, Thunderbird running in another, browsers (with multiple tabs each) running in several different windows, a few remote desktops here and there, a few SSH sessions here and there, a few small chat windows here and there, a few VMware consoles scattered around, a DVD playing on the side, etc.. Plus, I can now reeeaaally horizontally stretch out a Wireshark window if I wanted to with all the extra columns that I choose. There's also the benefit of tailing log files where each line is like a thousand characters without having to wrap around to the next line. When using Pro Tools, being able to see all of your tracks in that length is unbeatable. Life is good.

After this, it's really hard going back to working with the same level of workspace visibility on a laptop, or even at work where I extend my Windows desktop from the main monitor over to the laptop's LCD. There really isn't much of a substitute.

But if I ever come across some substantial cash (assuming I was completely debt-free, which may not be for a while), something like having a few of those 24" Apple LED Cinema Displays would be quite golden. That would be my happy place.

I still have to Alt-Tab a bit, but at least I can see at a glance (or through the periphery) whether there's new mail, a friend that just logged onto chat, or whatever. I'm more immersed, more jacked-in. In the meantime, my eyes are getting bad from staring at too many screens all day long.

Go back to my list of rambles.