Big Ones

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I must confess. I have a fetish. I love big monitors. The bigger, the better.

I like leaving a lot of things open when I’m working. When I’m working on an article, I’m often referring to multiple webpages, and emails, and
of course, an HTML editor.

Since I don’t get a lot of aerobic benefit from continually opening and closing windows, I’d much rather see a number of these
things at one time.

For the last few years, I’ve been using an Eizo TX-D7S 20″ monitor. It has served me long and well, and I’ll continue to use it, but it just wasn’t big
enough for me to do what I wanted.

Then again, I wasn’t exactly using a tiny monitor. High resolution monitors at a vaguely reasonable price just don’t come much bigger than that.

However, they do have brothers and sisters. 🙂

So what I did was buy two refurbished Compaq P1100 monitors.

These monitors are actually OEM Sony G500 monitors. A lot of companies sell this monitor under their brand name. The Dell P1110
is the same monitor. The IBM P260 is the same monitor. I believe HP’s big Trinitron monitor is also the same.

This was Sony’s middle-of-the-line 21″ Trinitron monitor. You can get the specifications here.

Sony introduced a new model, the G520, a couple months ago. The newer model has the same tube and slightly better specs at the high end. So
the G500 and its OEM clones are now available new for less than $700, or about $150-200 less than the new G520.

Obviously, they are big. They take up a lot of space. They weigh a lot. Of course, it would be much more convenient to have two 21″ LCDs, but since the cheapest 21″ LCDs costs almost $4,000 a piece; I’ll take big and bulky and heavy instead, thank you.

Like all Trinitrons, they are aperature grill monitors with those two faint black lines across the screen. Depending on how your brain is wired, you either will only notice
them when you look, or they will drive you completely insane. If you don’t know which camp you’re in, please go to a store and look at a Trinitron monitor (any one) before you buy one.

When I looked at monitors at PCExpo last June, I was impressed by the image quality of these monitors, and I am now. The difference between them and the Eizo (which is not exactly a cheap piece of crap) is immediately evident.

Right now, I’m running the two at 1600X1200 (85Hz), and have no problems reading even tiny text at that resolution. Had a bit tougher time with the Eizo at 1280X1024.

Trinitrons are inherently flat-screen monitors, but I’d say the Compaqs seem a little flatter than the (older) Eizo.

The Compaqs have one nice additional feature, and one not-so-nice omission. They have two RGB jacks, so you can plug two computers into one monitor. On the other hand, they don’t have BNC connections, which some of the more finicky might demand.

Right now, though, I’m not trying to run two computers with one monitor, but one computer with two monitors. You can finagle around with two video cards, but I decided to go with a Matrox G450 Dualhead card instead.

There’s basically two elements to Matrox support of Dualhead. There’s the regular driver, which supports regular Dualhead functions, and the eDualhead software, which adds a few more. You need to have IE 5.5 SP1 for the latter to work.

Let’s talk about eDualhead first. You get the feeling it could do a lot more than it does at the moment. Basically, it lets you play a few Web browsing tricks:

  1. It lets you click a link, and have the linked page come up on the second monitor;
  2. It lets you look at the top and bottom of a particular webpage in different windows, and
  3. It keeps track of where you’ve been lately, and lets you rearrange the order.

Convenient, yes, but not the Second Coming.

“Regular” Dualhead basically lets you do the following:

  1. Turn your monitor into one very large virtual monitor, with lots of room to have multiple big windows open and visible at the same time.
  2. You can watch a DVD on one screen, while doing work on another.
  3. You can clone a copy of what’s on the first monitor onto the second, then do things like zoom in on the second monitor while keeping
    the original as is on the first.

For me, at least, the first feature is the most important.

Right now, I have a virtual monitor of 3200X1200 in Windows2000. This is BIG, a foot long, and two and a half feet wide. I could fit eight 800X600 screens in this space.

It also present a few challenges.

Windows treats this as one big seamless virtual monitor, but your eyes treat this as an interruption of about three inches of plastic and space between two real screens. Takes some getting used to.

When Windows or a program decides to put something like a dialogue box or window in the center of the screen in Win2K, that’s just what it thinks it’s doing. What you see is a message split between two monitors. You could get used to it, but it is annoying.

Fortunately, a couple months ago, someone wrote a utility called Winman which moves them over. Who killed this monster? Why, Franckenstein (I am not joking, that’s really the author’s name).

Good to see the family taming ’em rather than making ’em. 🙂

While this Frankenstein creation is also a little clunky, it’s a lot better than not having it.

(All joking aside, I thank the author very much for coming up with this, and his website (mostly in German) does have a number of game utilities).

The video card has no problem moving cursors, windows, etc between the two monitors. Your brain might for a while.

You’ll be doing some marathon running with your mouse going from one edge of screen number one to the opposite edge of screen number two. Better clear out a few more inches for mouse migration.

The first time you open up programs, you will see them open up in full-screen across two monitors. You’ll need to reduce the window to a decent size so that doesn’t happen every time you open it up. There’s also options in PowerDesk (Matrox’s video utility) which let you do things like tell the computer to save just where windows should be. That way, if you like Program A on the first screen, and Program B on the second, that’s what you’ll get.

This are quibbles I’m mentioning for the benefit of the quibblesome. I am very pleased with both the monitors and how the Dualhead video card is working. Not for everyone, or even most, but if you’ve been thinking about doing this, it’s something I can heartily recommend.

Even if you’re not interested in two big monitors, if you’re interested in one, the G500 or one of its clones have dropped about $350 in price from the beginning of the year, and are pretty competitively priced right now.

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