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Monitor Upgrades and Productivity - Is Bigger Better?

written by: •edited by: Rebecca Scudder•updated: 6/8/2009

This article looks into the pros and cons of upgrading to a larger monitor. Doing so has the potential to increase user productivity, but the overall effectiveness depends on the computer's display settings and how the person makes use of their new display.

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    To upgrade or not...

    We recently had a discussion in my office about whether or not a larger monitor will allow someone to work more effectively. Several of us chimed in with varying opinions about the pros and cons of upgrading to a larger monitor, but the general consensus was that the new monitor’s effectiveness can only be measured in how the person uses it. Will an increase in monitor size also increase someone’s productivity? Perhaps.

    I love my widescreen monitor at home because the extra wide space is perfect not only for gaming, but also for doing photo editing and web development. The added space not available in a standard width screen allows me to utilize more menus and toolbars without them getting in the way of the content I am creating. Personally, I found working with a widescreen monitor did most definitely increase my productivity when using my PC at home.

    At my work, it is a different story. I work in an IT department that supports several hundred people, and we have several users who managed to get their boss to buy them a larger monitor because they claimed their eyes required it. The problem is that even though they have this new and bigger monitor, they still set the screen resolution to the same size they had before. I know of two people whose icons are the size of Post-It Notes. It’s ridiculous. In these cases, the bigger monitor does nothing for their productivity because they are still using the same amount of workspace as before.

    The following bit of advice usually falls on deaf ears, but I’ll go ahead and share, anyway – Getting a bigger monitor does not always make the screen easier on the eyes. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think that the bigger screen must equal bigger icons and text and everything else, but this is often not the case. In order to get the sharpest image out of your new display, you will need to have it set to the monitor’s native resolution. The bigger and better the monitor, the higher the resolution. You might have more screen space, but those icons will still be mighty small. Furthermore, using the monitor at a setting less than the native resolution can result in a blurry display that is especially noticeable with text.

    If you are having trouble reading the text on the screen, a bigger monitor may not be what you need. Instead, you should first go into your Display settings and change the DPI, or Dots Per Inch. This will make your text larger without changing the native resolution, so everything will still be sharp and clear. You can also adjust the icon sizes and a few other settings that may suit your needs better than spending the money on a new monitor.

    If all you do is check email and compose a few Word documents, or mainly just surf the web, you won’t get much added productivity from having a bigger monitor. Sure, it would be nice, but it might be a hard sell to your boss. If you do things like photo editing or work in giant Excel spreadsheets, then you definitely would see a benefit in upgrading your monitor.

    One last thing – If you do go with a large widescreen monitor, such as a 22 or 24-inch model, make sure your video card can support the higher resolution display. Some older computers may not even be able to output to a widescreen format, so all your images would be stretched wide and look funny. Those older machines may also not support a high resolution output, and that would keep you from getting the most out of your new monitor by preventing you from using the native resolution of the display.