Thirty Inches a Year

Next week is the one-year anniversary (if you will) of my purchase of a Dell 3007WFP-HC monitor. I snagged a refurbished model for about 60% of the going retail price.

While I’m overall happy with the purchase, and do not regret it, the pragmatics of such a large monitor have turned out to be not quite as rosy as I had initially expected.

The good:

  • With Chrome’s minimal UI, I can fit two vertically-maximized PDFs on the screen at once, or three if I squeeze them down to “merely” life-size. (The screen is about 25% taller and 3 times wider than a sheet of 8.5 x 11” paper). Making it easier to read research papers was one of my reasons for getting the screen, and this aspect has worked out nicely.
  • Eclipse and Visual Studio will eat as much screen space as you can give them. Having a 30” monitor means getting two pages of code side-by-side instead of just one. A portrait-mode 24” monitor at 1200 x 1920 can show one page with 100 vertical lines of code; 2560 x 1600 shows two pages with 80 vertical lines of code.
  • Two displays are easier to drive from one graphics card than three.  This means that a thirty inch monitor plus one is easier to set up than three smaller displays.

The bad:

  • Managing four million pixels turns out to be much more difficult than managing two million pixels. Because I have so much space, I tend to be less disciplined about keeping fewer windows open. I have about 150 Chrome tabs spread across 15 top level windows, plus six PuTTY sessions and six Explorer windows. I sometimes feel like I need a machete to hack my way through the jungle I created. There are apps that try to help keep windows aligned and orderly, but I haven’t managed to use them successfully.
  • It’s hard to find wallpaper for 30” displays!
  • The sweet spot for monitor prices on a pixels-per-dollar scale is (still) at 24” monitors. For less than the price of a heavily discounted refurbished 30” monitor, you can get two 24” monitors, and put one or both in portrait mode. For the price of a new 30” display, you can get a smaller monitor or two and a desktop or laptop to go along with it…

Would I recommend a 30” monitor to fellow programmers? I’m not sure. Two 24” monitors, or a 27” and a 24”, might make more sense. It depends on your personal opportunity cost for the extra premium over a nice 24” monitor. That extra money could be a few extra cores and double the RAM, or a dedicated box for running tests, or a nice suit and wool pea coat.

All in all, the upgrade from 20” to 24” made a much bigger difference than the upgrade from 24” to 30”. Make of that what you will.

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One thought on “Thirty Inches a Year

  1. I have four 20″ monitors at work — two for my Linux box, two for my Windows box. They’re linked with Synergy (http://synergy2.sourceforge.net/) so I only have to use one keyboard and mouse. Having that much screen real estate seems like it would be a good idea, but I end up only taking full advantage of three of them. I’d get whiplash if I tried.

    One of the biggest adjustments was accepting that people just don’t make 6400x1200px wallpapers. Stitching your own superwide panoramas together can be fun. It’s sort of the geek equivalent of stitching a quilt together.

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