Hardware

Are flat-screen monitors worth the price? An IT manager researches new hardware

IT manager Mark Gonzales is wowed by flat-screen monitors as he puts together an RFP for a desktop rollover. But he is also weighing the importance of controlling costs and securing timely tech support. What advice would you give him?


To put it in automotive terms, if we buy the monitors I want, it will be like a former Yugo owner stepping into a Ferrari. I have the authorization to research the purchase of flat-panel monitors. Many of our current “Yugo” monitors were purchased in 1996 and are heavy and take up a lot of desk space. Most flat-panel monitors have a smaller “footprint” and emit almost no magnetic fields, which can help reduce eyestrain. Flat monitors also offer lower power consumption and higher resolution capabilities.

Consideration of flat-panel monitors is part of a PC rollover at my shop, where we hope to replace as many as 20 PCs. In this article, I’ll discuss the features I’ll require in my request for proposal (RFP) for the monitors, tech support, warranty, and video cards.
IT manager Mark D. Gonzales runs a small IT department for Pueblo County emergency services in Pueblo, CO. He is working on an RFP  for a PC rollover. Here’s what he’s discussed so far:Part one: "An IT manager needs your advice on purchasing desktops"Part two: "An IT manager shops for PCs and considers RAM and CPUs"
Flat-screen monitors have advantages, even though they are still pricey. I believe the ergonomics benefits outweigh the cost, factors that I am going to pitch to my supervisor who must approve the purchase. Here are a few of my arguments for the flat screen:
  • The flat panel is much lighter, weighing in at about 23 pounds, versus the CRT monitor, which weighs over 70 pounds.
  • Flat screens emit almost no magnetic fields. This could reduce instances of red-eye syndrome.

I may be reaching a bit, but I think flat screens could lessen the likelihood of a worker’s comp claim. Most of the IT people spend eight to 12 hours a day staring at a monitor, a fact that makes a monitor just as important, if not more important, than a good ergonomic chair or desk. The monitor features I prefer include:
  • At least a 17-inch to 19-inch viewable area.
  • A minimum resolution of 1,024x768.
  • A capability to run both analog and digital signals.
  • 28-dpi resolution to ensure a clean, crisp picture.

The test drive
Several vendors will send you their monitors for testing. A few local dealers supplied me with a variety of flat-panel monitors.

I viewed a Hewlett Packard (HP), Viewsonic, NEC, and Princeton. All of these vendors offered their monitor for a one- to two-week trial.

I have tested the HP L1810 and am waiting for the other monitors to arrive before I will make a decision on which one to use. Keep in mind that we have to live with the selection for five to six years due to our budget constraints.

Tech support
While it’s fun to dream about flat screens, I know that service will be one of the most influential reasons when I select a vendor to supply our new computers. I work in a small department, and I don’t have time to waste on a vendor who doesn’t respond quickly when I need service.

I want to know:
  1. When is tech support available?
  2. Do they have a toll-free tech support number?
  3. How many tech support personnel do they have on hand at any given time?

I would also like to set up a prequalifying agreement that would provide us with warranty replacement parts without having to go through a tech support phone call. Nothing is more frustrating than when I spend time determining a hardware problem, but I can’t get a replacement part until I endure an hour-long phone call with the vendor tech support “guru.” Isn’t there a vendor that could prequalify you for being a qualified tech support person yourself? Maybe the solution would be an online test of some sort, to prove to the vendor that you are a professional IT person and that you do know how to troubleshoot.

The warranty
I will be looking for warranties that include three years on parts and labor on all hardware and lifetime technical support. I have seen several vendors who offer this type of service, so this shouldn’t be too difficult to find. I also want to keep my options open and look at possible extended warranties.

The video card
We use Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping data, so I am going to have to get a fairly decent video card. Our GIS applications help our department quickly respond to emergency situations in our community, such as floods, heavy snow, and hail. Viewing detailed maps helps us respond to these emergencies.

But working with GIS applications also presents some challenges. We are working with very small address points, which will require resolutions and refresh rates that can be handled by video cards with at least 32 MB of RAM. I am even considering video cards with 64 MB of RAM, but price will definitely drive this decision. The video card needs to be compatible with Windows NT and a flat-panel monitor if we go that way.

I’m considering a video card with an AGP bus because of the bandwidth it offers in both bits and speed. I’ve compared AGP to PCI, and here’s how they stack up against each other:
  • AGP supports 32 bit; speed = 66 MHz.
  • PCI supports both 32 bit and 64 bit; speed = 33 MHz.
Are flat screens worth the expense? Which vendor provides the best tech support? Help Mark write his RFP by posting a comment or sending an e-mail.

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