How Effective is a Dual Monitor Setup Compared to Single Monitors?

As technology gets cheaper, and computers become more common, more and more people are adopting dual monitor setups to increase their screen area and productivity. Using two monitors instead of one can make you more efficient as you have to spend less time switching applications, and can see more information one what is essentially one screen (a continuous viewing area, at least). However, dual monitors can also lead to more distraction, as having too many programs not only running, but visible, at once makes it hard to concentrate on one task. Ultimately, the usefulness of dual monitors is based on your own ability to focus, as well as the type of work which you do. In this article, we going to examine the pros and cons of both single and dual monitor setups, and discuss which setup works best.

First off, let’s tackle the hardware problem of installing two monitors. Pretty much any modern operating system will support multiple monitors (some people use up to 4 different monitors). Higher end computers with good graphics cards may support dual monitors natively; however people with older or cheaper computers may need to check to see if their system will support dual monitors. In order to run dual monitors, you either need two video cards, or one nice one with two outputs. Most of the time, you can purchase hardware to upgrade and old system if it does not support dual monitors, without having to get a completely new computer.

Now, let’s go on to the productivity benefits of dual monitors. According to the New York Times, adding a second monitor increases general productivity 20% to 30%. This increase covers everything from gaming to working. In general, this is because users do not have to spend as much time switching applications. If you are writing an article, for instance, you can have a word processor available on one screen, while you have research notes on the other. Many office professionals choose to work in one monitor, while leaving email, music players, and other background applications open in the other monitor. This gets those superfluous applications out of the way, and allows for better concentrating on the task at hand. This works much the same way that getting a bigger desk would – stuff can be more spread out, less cluttered, and it can be easier to concentrate.

The downside of this is that it can make distraction easier. If you need to concentrate on a project, and are constantly bothered by incoming email on the monitor next to you, you may not be able to focus, and your productivity may actually decrease. For this reason, some people prefer single monitor setups. Instead of investing time and money on a second monitor, time can be spent learning how to better manage and switch between applications. One great way to deal with many different applications on a single desktop is to use a “virtual desktop” software to create multiple different virtual desktops with certain applications running on each one, and then to switch between them. For instance, you could have email, Facebook, and a game open on one, while you have PowerPoint and research notes running on a different one. You can then switch between which virtual desktop, and set of applications you want to use – one for work, and one for play. This makes it easy to work distraction free, however most people would still prefer to have these spread out across dual monitors.

The reason that most consumers go with dual monitors over one really large one is simply price – you can purchase two middle-of-the-range monitors for much less than one higher-end monitor that may be only a few inches larger than either of the two. Ultimately, the decision of whether or not to upgrade to two (or even more) monitors should be based on your personal productivity habits, but the overwhelming majority of people do find benefit with dual monitors.