52 Tools: Pixels

This post is about monitor technolgy as it relates to developer and consultant productivity. It's part of a blog series called 52 Tools where I post weekly about a tool that makes my life easier.

At Hubstream, I straddle the line between being a coder and being a consultant. I typically have 10-20 windows open doing various things like email, my development environment, remote desktop sessions, debug views, OneNote, event viewers, our company's SharePoint site, StackOverflow, and the like.

Having enough screen real estate gives me quicker access to tools and remote sessions that help me be more responsive, and I think that makes be a better consultant.

A good window into my computing world can make a huge difference in my ability to manage different work streams. I can follow many different sets of problems at the same time.

For the other half of my work life, I'm not really sure my ability to open massive amounts of software on my computer helps me be a better developer. But on a single screen, being able to see more code certainly does.

I've been passionate about monitors since my first home brewed computer after I left the Army in 2003. It was a ViewSonic P220f.

Its native resolution was 1600x1200, and this was ideal. I also had another ViewSonic monitor at 1280x1024, and I kept this resolution as I transitioned into dual monitor LCDs around 2006.

For some reason (movies I suppose), mainstream computing trasitioned to widescreen monitors, so I ended up as a victim of this trend, working on Full HD (1920x1080) and smaller (1600x900, 1366x7680, 1280x720). The pixel density has been fine, but the screen ratio left something lacking.

Another trend has been to use TN panels, which are actually pretty bad. I was inspired to check out IPS panels by Jeff Atwood's rant and pride in his 3-IPS panel setup, and now I can't possibly use anything else. Especially with a large screen, I notice discoloration around the edges and dislike that it's not the same consistent color when I come in the room versus when I sit down at the computer.

The other day I purchased a Asus ProArt PA248Q, which puts me back in my sweet spot of resolutions. At 1200 vertical pixels (it has a resolution of 1920x1200), I gain room at the bottom for the taskbar and the output window in Visual Studio, and effectively can see another 10-15 lines of code on my screen.

More isn't always better. I also have a Dell XPS 15 that has a crazy 3200x1800 resolution so the text is immensely clear. However, Remote Desktop and Hyper-V Virtual Machine connections don't know how to scale appropriately to this size. So I end up running it at 2048x1152 (2560x1440 is strangely missing as someone else noticed).

I also have an older FHD IPS screen, which is pretty nice as well Asus VS239. I had previously been using a dual monitor arm (a generic brand from Micro Center), but the stand on the PA248Q is really nice so I am now using the arm for the widescreen monitor and letting the new one use the stand.

My latest setup

There's also a balance to be had between refresh rates and fill rates, but that doesn't control much of the discussion with regards to consultant or developer productivity (unless your work involves 3D modeling or something like that).

One final note, about lighting. I've added bias lighting (thanks again Jeff Atwood) and nighttime color temperature adjustment (using F.lux, hat tip to Scott Hanselman). Unscientifically, I think it makes me more alert and reduces eystrain. I use "bright white" bulbs (3000K) in three lamps in the office, and 18" Commercial Electric under cabinet lights behind the top of each monitor.

In the end, pixels matter and a developer's needs (like many other choices in hardware) are different that what's cheap and readily available. So I chose a high end monitor to get more vertical space, and a cheaper second monitor for overflow.