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Why Developers Need a Multi-Monitor Setup

Introduction
Investing Money to Save Costs
A Case Study: Costs in Reality
Technical Background
Conclusion

Introduction

Back in the old DOS days you ran only one single application at the same time and a small monitor was more than enough to get the work done. I, for example, made my first programming attempts with Turbo Pascal on a computer with a 14″ monitor. Back then, I’ve never thought of getting a bigger screen or even an additional monitor.

But things have changed since then. You are now able to use multiple applications concurrently. Furthermore, applications get more and more complex, have multiple windows, dialogs and so on and require more desktop space than ever. Especially tools for software developers with dozens of little toolboxes, windows and utilities like in modern IDEs (Integrated Development Environments) and editors virtually cry for a big screen.

The good news is that the hardware evolved too, of course. Screens got bigger and more affordable and so you might expect that professional software developers don’t even need to think about their monitor setup today anymore. Unfortunately, the contrary is true.

Investing Money to Save Costs

Having a multi-monitor setup as a software developer should be taken for granted nowadays, but not so! Most developers need to mess around with a single monitor, which is at best only of medium quality and size. It seems obvious that such a setup kills productivity – obvious at least for developers. The disadvantages of a single monitor setup, or better, the advantages of multiple monitors should become apparent immediately.

Ever needed to use Visual Studio or Eclipse with a single monitor? Well, it works, but what about reading API documentation or a newsgroup posting simultaneously to solve an issue? There’s the problem. You find yourself constantly hiding, restoring and moving applications, thus wasting time and not being able to concentrate on the actual task. And the actual task is creating great software.

Typical developer setup here at Gurock Software
Typical developer setup here at Gurock Software

And as you know, creating great software applications is complex. You often need to read tons of documentation, write specifications and bug reports, coordinate your work with other members of your team, debug your software and sometimes even write some code – with most of the tasks done nearly simultaneously. That’s were a multi-monitor setup will save you time and thus money. You don’t need to switch between your browser and your favorite editor or IDE anymore. You can have them open side-by-side.

Supplying developers with a multi-monitor setup isn’t free of charge, of course. But this investment pays off in the long run. Even a very good multi-monitor setup is very affordable these days and significantly improves productivity and thus reduces costs. It’s a win-win situation for both, the company and the software developer, since the software developer’s productivity increases with the side effect of having a nice system to work with.

A Case Study: Costs in Reality

Affordability is relative. Let’s compare the prices with the usual costs for a single developer to see how much it really costs. At first, take a look at the following table for the current costs of a nice multi-monitor setup including a high-end graphic card:

Price for three Years Price per Year Price per Month
Two High Quality 19″ TFT Monitors 1200 USD 400 USD 33 USD
Dual DVI Graphic Card 180 USD 60 USD 5 USD

As you can see, you don’t need to spend much more than a single US dollar per day per developer for a high-quality multi-monitor setup when used over a period of three years. Compare this to an hourly wage rate of usually at least 20 USD, think about the productivity improvements and the case should be clear immediately. Also keep in mind that the hardware costs are steadily decreasing and this calculation example is already at the high end of the price bar.

Technical Background

From the technical perspective, configuring and using a multi-monitor setup is simple. Most computers with modern graphic cards support such setups and the software support is also sufficient – at least when using Microsoft Windows XP. Older operating systems, like Windows 2000, might not support the entire functionality depending on the graphic card and its driver.

Configuring multiple monitors in Microsoft Windows XP
Configuring multiple monitors in Microsoft Windows XP

Taking two monitors as example, you simply set the first one as your primary monitor and then extend your desktop onto the second – thus effectively doubling the size of your desktop. It is usually even possible to use a different screen resolution or refresh rate for each monitor, if needed. Furthermore, you can move applications from one monitor to the other, use an individual taskbar for each monitor or even extend an application onto both monitors.

Conclusion

After reading this article, the conclusion should be obvious. Do yourself a favor and think about purchasing a multi-monitor setup if you don’t already own one. At least keep it in mind when the next computer equipment renewal knocks on the door. If you like to tell me how wrong I am or if you have any comments or questions, you can contact me at tg@gurock.com. Thanks for reading!