by Leon Rosenshein


I've been dealing with multi-monitor issues for 30+ years now. Back when I was working on flight simulators in the aerospace industry we needed multiple monitors because aircraft had multiple monitors and a HUD, and we needed to drive them all from a single computer. For that, we cheated. We had analog monitors, and by simply ORing into the framebuffer with separate red (left multi-function display), green (right multi-function display), and blue (HUD) images we could drive three monochrome displays. And that doesn't count the multiple computers driving multiple projectors for the outside world displayed on the dome.

After that, in the gaming world it was a little different. We supported, and folks used, multiple graphics cards in a single computer to drive multiple monitors. Here, the primary reason was coverage. If you had more screens you could have a wider field of view without having to distort/compress the image.

And through all of that I would regularly have a monitor dedicated to the visual display and another one for writing code, and that one would usually have 3 or 4 windows open. One or two windows with code, one for compiling/linking, and another for random things.

These days I don't do visual simulation, but I'm still running multi-mon. Why, you ask? Because screen space. Not pixels, square inches of screen. My phone has more pixels than the 25 in CRT I used 30 years ago, but it can't show me as much readable text. And that's important, because for the vast majority of what I do, text is the way I get my information.

One of the first things I did when we moved to WfH was grab my monitors from the office, because all that screen space makes me more effective. it's more effective because it gives me not just the things I'm looking at, but the context around it. One of my monitors is in portrait mode and I can see 100+ lines of my terminal. Another monitor has VSCode and it's windows, zoom in one corner, and some grafana dashboard in another. I can be referring to one file, typing in another, and see what's going on with the rest of the team.. And I've still got the screen on my Mac for distractions (mail, web searches, calendar, reactor idle, etc)

My current setup is a 21 inch monitor in portrait mode on the left, a 23 inch monitor in landscape on the right, and centered below them my Mac. The monitors are logically arranged so the mouse flows freely between them where they touch so it's easy to select the things I want. And the best part? Because most of the windows I want to look at are already on a screen somewhere I don't have to go searching for them. The info I want is right there. And that reduces context switch time and cognitive load, which, as I say, is always a good thing.

So what's your setup, and why?