Size matters with monitor Display: Higher resolution and bigger, brighter graphics and text come from units 17 inches and larger.

November 02, 1998|By Lou Dolinar | Lou Dolinar,NEWSDAY

Ask a dozen computer users which they'd prefer, a big monitor or a fast computer, and 11 out of 12 will tell you a fast computer.

Not me. I love big monitors. The bigger, the brighter, the higher the resolution, the better. So big you have to remodel your office to fit one in (I have). So bright you have to wear sunscreen and a radiation dosimeter badge while you work. Enough resolution to read the fine print in an Arkansas lawyer's prenuptial contract.

Big monitors are cool. And they are an affordable luxury this year, with a 19-incher going for as little as $500.

I'm addicted to big monitors, because I've spent a fair amount of my career in the Macintosh universe, where 21-inch monitors are common tools for graphic artists like my wife, Linda. I've grown accustomed to working on more than one program at a time and to having lots of windows open. I've carried this preference over to PCs.

Of course, you don't have to buy a big monitor. Collapsing prices for big monitors make 14- and 15-inch models practically free this year. It's not unusual to see a full computer system, including monitor and printer, for $1,000, and if that's all you have to spend, it's a worthy investment even with a small monitor.

What's the difference between a big monitor and a little monitor? If you're new to this, it's not quite obvious.

Let's start with how computers display information. They paint little dots, called pixels, on the screen; every image or piece of type is composed of these pixels. A graphics card inside the PC determines how many pixels can be displayed at once. Typically, a card can display 640 by 480 pixels, 800 by 600 pixels, 1,024 by 768 pixels, 1,152 by 862, and 1,280 by 1,024 pixels.

Resolution in pixels does not necessarily correspond to a particular monitor size. If you display more pixels on a small screen, the components of the screen image appear smaller. Where you could display one and a half windows, now you can display two. You get more type, but in a smaller size. The downside of this is that although it's perfectly feasible to set a 15-inch monitor to 1,152 by 862 pixels, the resulting type will be virtually unreadable.

We're talking about preferences, in this case the preferences of a 48-year-old guy who wears reading glasses. Your own preferences may vary. There was a time, long past, when I routinely cranked up a 15-inch monitor to 1,024 by 768 pixels (one of the reasons I wear reading glasses), and fiddled with type sizes to make things work. Today I stick with the default type size that comes with the system. I sometimes work at 800 by 600 on a 17-inch monitor, and my 19-inch Gateway at work is usually set for 1,024 by 768. You can see why I like the big guys: I get two to three times more material on screen than I would with a little unit.

To see how meaningful size is to you, find a friend or a friendly salesman to walk you through various resolutions on a 17-inch monitor, which is the minimum size I'd recommend. Some 17-inch units are going for a little as $250 and decent consumer grade 19-inch monitors are available for around $500.

If you're not buying a monitor that's bundled with a particular model of computer, consider buying a unit via mail order. Computer and electronics stores do pretty well on PC prices, but their selection of monitors usually leaves something to be desired.

Another term you'll need to understand is "refresh rate," rated in hertz, which is basically how many times per second the screen gets repainted. If the refresh rate is too low, the screen appears blurry and working on the computer can tire the eyes. Most experts recommend a minimum refresh rate of 75 to 85 Hz for casual users. Note that the refresh rate pertains to a particular resolution; for example, 85 Hz at 1,024 by 768. Selecting a higher resolution may drop the refresh rate below an acceptable level, so check specs carefully.

A good source for mail-order information is Computer Shopper, which you'll find at most major newsstands, and PC Magazine. Top name brands: Sony, NEC, Hitachi, Optiquest, ViewSonic, Mag Innovision, Princeton Graphics, Panasonic and Mitsubishi. Computer Shopper's online site at, has archived reviews of individual units, along with links to major mail-order retailers.

As you move up in monitor size, you'll find it gets harder to find a place to put the darn thing. I can get away with perching a 15-inch monitor (usually 15 to 16 inches deep) at an angle on a standard 18-inch-wide typing extension stand, if I angle the keyboard a tad. But try the same thing with a regular 17-inch unit (18 inches or so deep), and you'll have a serious crick in the neck. You cannot put a 19-inch monitor on one of these stands, so you may have to add a serious workstation stand to your shopping list.

Enter the so-called short-neck monitor. Some manufacturers have tweaked their tube designs to reduce the depth of the monitor. In this scenario, a 17-inch monitor has the same footprint as a 15-inch, and a 19-inch monitor takes up the space of a 17-inch. Bring a ruler or ask the salesman; there are a lot of different models and some manufacturers make both short-and standard-neck monitors.

Pub Date: 11/02/98

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