With his column “Save money on hardware with these 10 tips,” TechRepublic’s Bill Detwiler ignited quite a furor among TechRepublic members. Readers zeroed in on Bill’s assertion that, “…while CAD designers may need the latest technology, clerical personnel do not.”

In reading the discussion threads, two things struck me. First, I was amazed at how many people were offended by Bill’s use of the term “clerical personnel.” Second, I was happy to see members agree that IT ought to provide the best machines we can afford for the users who need them.

This week, I’m going to seize upon something else Bill wrote: “Unless the user can show a legitimate business reason for having a piece of equipment, don’t buy it.” I believe there’s a “legitimate business reason” for certain users to have two monitors. If your work involves software development, computer-aided design and drafting, technical writing, or tons of clerical/administrative support, having two monitors available may help you work much more productively. And configuring that second monitor doesn’t have to break the IT budget, thanks to the folks at Matrox.
Subscribe to Jeff Davis’ Help Desk TechMail now, and you’ll get a bonus of Jeff’s picks for the best Web sites for IT support professionals—exclusively for TechMail subscribers.
Twice your viewing pleasure
In “Multiplying your desktops for greater productivity,” I told you about a shareware app (XDESK) that manages multiple desktops. I’m up to four customized, “virtual” desktops on my one monitor, and I’m spoiled rotten. I figure that there’s only one thing that could make me feel more productive, and that’s another monitor!

One of my colleagues, Systems Administrator Eric Pullen, has been using two monitors since joining the company, and I assumed he probably harvested the second monitor and an extra video card from one of the machines in the “Closet of the Crashed PCs.” It turns out that he did recycle an old monitor that had been discarded as too small. But Eric’s manager signed the purchase order for a Matrox G400 video card because, Eric said, “I work better with two monitors.”

Eric has his system configured so that he has a single taskbar spanning both monitors. In addition, he has one monitor at a higher resolution than the other. If he needs to take a closer look at an object on his primary monitor, he just drags it over to the second monitor. Figure A shows what the desktop’s Display Properties dialog box looks like with the Matrox card installed.

Figure A
The Matrox card lets you set different screen resolutions for each monitor.

Eric got hooked on two monitors when he worked for a firm where almost everyone used computer-aided design and drawing applications. According to Eric, “We all found it was much easier to work with your plans on one monitor and your drawings on the other.”

The price is nice
The cool thing about the Matrox card is that it lets you connect two monitors, but it only takes up one PCI slot. The nice thing about it is the list price—under $150 for most of the Matrox video cards. (Matrox sells cards for almost any combination of television and video screen that you can imagine.) For more information, visit the Matrox Web page. Eric prefers the Matrox cards, but if you need multiple-monitor support for Macintosh, he recommends checking out the GeForce2 MX, from Nvidia.

That’s all for this week, folks. I have to write my request for my own G400 and a second monitor!
To comment on this column or to share your favorite productivity tips, please post a note below or follow this link to write to Jeff.