Saturday, March 31, 2007

Optimising Your Desktop Using Dual Monitors And Enhancements

After finally abandoned my ageing 17" CRT monitor I went out and treated myself to a relatively inexpensive 19" TFT as a replacement. The resolution wasn't great (1280 x 1024) but the refresh rate was fast (5 ms) and the quality excellent so I was happy. Soon after, a friend of mine offered me his 20" TFT for less than the price of my new one. A bigger monitor with a better screen resolution (1600 x 1200) seemed extravagant so soon after my first purchase but I'd always wanted to have a dual monitor setup and the price tag made the offer hard to refuse. My mid-range PC has a graphics card with both VGA and DVi outputs so there were no further hardware changes required and the space needed in my home office (aka games room) wasn't a problem because TFT's occupy so little space. I was good to go (and so off I went).

The larger monitor was the obvious choice to use as the primary screen, not only because of the extra size but also the higher resolution. A screenshot follows:

So that I could easily access my regularly used programs directly from the desktop I installed Stardock ObjectDock which can be seen on the left, top and right edges of the screenshot. I'm not into icons cluttering up my screen but the ObjectDock icons are unobtrusive and I could still use the standard Start or Quicklaunch menus to access everything else.

The 19" TFT is wall-mounted and sits to the left of the primary monitor and looks like this:

This desktop has Desktop Sidebar installed on the left - very useful for monitoring RSS feeds, PC statistics, email checking, a calendar, monitoring bittorrent downloads and instant messenger contacts, etc - and the Virtual Dimension multi-desktop application sits towards the bottom right corner (under my configuration this allows me to swap between 4 sets of virtual desktops on both monitors but you can have pretty much as many as you want). For visual continuity across the theme I used Stardock WindowBlinds running the black Longhorn 5203 skin in tandem with the MyVista skin available for Desktop Sidebar.

Not only is this dual monitor setup way cooler to look at, it means that I can have several programs visible on-screen simultaneously. For example, I can be writing a text document in one while having a webpage open for reference in the other, or I can watch the TV on one while checking my email on the other. Factor in the virtual desktops and I can have both of those combinations (or more) running at the same time and flick between them.

All of this was a breeze to get up and running and the applications used were either free or reasonably priced. Stability has never been a problem, although I'd recommend a fresh install of your graphics card drivers initially just to be safe.

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