Upgrading My Desktop in 2009

In 2006, I bought a new Windows desktop. It enjoyed a year off when we lived abroad and I exclusively used my laptop, but I’ve been using it heavily over the past ten months. It’s beginning to feel seriously creeky.

In 2009, I’d like to buy an Apple desktop. I’ll still need Windows occasionally, but I’ll just use Apple’s Boot Camp to run it in parallel when necessary.

I almost certainly don’t need a Mac Pro, which would cost more than I’d like to spend anyway. So that leaves me with the iMac.

But here’s the thing: I’d like to get a second monitor. And it’s going to trouble my sense of symmetry tremendously if those monitors aren’t exactly the same. Obviously they won’t be the same, because one will be an iMac and one will be a plain old monitor.

We’ve talked about dual-monitors before–I’ve still never worked with that set up. Have you used two monitors side-by-side when they’re not exactly the same model? Did it make your OCD go zing?

This is such a Foamy Latte problem. I’ll explain what I mean by that in an upcoming post.


  1. You could get a Mac Mini + DualHead2Go … though, personally, I’m much happier with one big monitor than two smaller ones. If you’re used to a single monitor you may find the same.

  2. I work with dual monitors quite a bit. I have a home office with dual monitors, and an office in oak bay with the same thing. In both circumstances, the monitors are the exact same dimensions and size. When you have different sizes, the mouse can get caught in “dead corners” (made that up, not a real term AFAIK) where one screen side is bigger than the one you’re trying to move to. It’s bad for workflow, I don’t recommend it.

    Mac Mini is underpowered.

    Mac Pro is overpriced, out of my range too. Keep us up to date on what you choose, I’d be interested in your findings.

  3. I use two monitors at work – the monitor on my 15″ Macbook Pro, and a 19″ external LCD (positioned directly above). I don’t have any “dead corner” problems.

    Why do you specifically want/need a desktop?

  4. Some may consider this excessive, but you could do what a colleague of mine does – go for 3 monitors. He’s got his large central monitor, then has one on either side of it.

    He’s actually purchased and configured them so they are all the same height (the side monitors are set turned to be tall and narrow so it lines up) – though if you don’t go that far, at least identical flanking monitors would address the symmetry thing.

  5. I should say, I also have the same setup as Chris, though with a windows laptop, and don’t have any “dead corners” either.

  6. I have used two matched monitors, one big monitor, and one supremely unorthodox setup: iBook 12″ attached to 37″ 1080p TV as second monitor. I think in that case I configured the monitors so that the TV was “above” the iBook monitor, which worked fairly well in that setup (with the 12″ monitor in my lap, and the TV a few feet away, effectively above the sightline of the laptop screen).

    I’m no use to you on this front, though, as I have almost no OCDness.

  7. I’ve had both matched and unmatched dual monitors, and it didn’t make much difference either way.

    What I’ve discovered though, after years of having dual monitors, is that I primarily work on just one monitor anyways. My current setup is to use my 17″ Macbook Pro’s display as my main display, and a 19″ Dell turned sideways that’s dedicated to incoming email (I also use an external keyboard and mouse). Dual monitors are great if you need to pay attention to multiple things simultaneously; if you’re trying to focus on a single task, however, they’re not much use and can even serve as a distraction (Oooh, email came in, must go see).

    I think what’s more important is the size of the monitor you do have. Had I to do things over again, instead of having two monitors, I’d spend the money for a single 24″ or 30″ screen (the new macbooks should be able to drive a 30″ screen handily while still hitting budget). You get the same basic benefit without having to run two separate monitors, cables, etc, and dealing with the visual separation of the two screens.

  8. Also, I’d highly recommend using Sun’s Virtualbox and creating a virtual Windows machine. I find it to be extremely performant on my early-2008 macbook. The bonus is that VirtualBox is a free download from Sun, and lets you run Windows concurrently – which is extremely useful since most of my Windows use is often for a very quick check of a site in IE, and I don’t really want to wait for two full reboots to get into it and back to my regular work.

  9. At work, I have a 24″ iMac with an old 20″ Apple LCD. I use the smaller monitor for the apps I have on all the time, IM, Twitter, calendars, iTunes, etc. and keep my web browser and whatever I’m focused on. It works great for me. The difference doesn’t bother me at all. The dead corner thing only happened a couple of times when I first hooked it up.

    I imagine Apple will make a DisplayPort to Mini-DVI adapter soon. Then you can go for this bad boy:

  10. I’ve had mismatched monitors on my desktop machines for years. At one point I had three (all tiny by today’s standards), and all combinations worked just fine. The iMac won’t easily support more than one external display, so that’s all I’d recommend.

    I don’t know about you, but when I’m working I rarely pay attention to what the monitor looks like around the edges. If you get, say, a 24″ iMac, get another 23″ or 24″ screen with a similar resolution so you don’t have dead space top or bottom when you drag windows around, if that might bother you. The key thing is that the dots-per-inch be similar, so windows and stuff don’t change size radically as you drag them from one to the other.

    I recommend having your main display in the middle and your second one off to the side, rather than two in a V in front of you. But maybe that’s just me.

  11. @Avi I wonder if I’ll be the same way, having never used two monitors. I’ll just make sure I can take the second one back, I guess.

    @Chris Games, mostly.

    @Darren Interesting, thanks for the advice.

    @Jen I like that idea a lot. It would definitely address the OCD thing. Though Derek suggests that the iMac could only drive one other monitor, so maybe that wouldn’t work.

    @Duncan Man, comparing that monitor (at

    @Derek All good advice. Indeed, I can’t imagine having a gap between the monitors right in front of me. For the past year I’ve had my desktop monitor in front of my and my laptop off to the left. Not ideal, but I expect I’d probably go with main + supplementary instead of side-by-side.

  12. I would also go with a Mac Book or MBP and get one or two external monitors. I think this would be a good set up as you get the size of the monitors at home but also have the portability of the MB or MBP, for traveling as well as going out and enjoying the view around your new house once built. They just released a new MBP but would probably be the same price as a Mac Pro (not sure I have not checked). I do agree that for the most part the Mac Pro is out of my price range.

  13. I’ve used 2 17” monitors for years. They are 2 years apart and two different brands. To make them look the same I use the Huey from Pantone. It’s an invaluable tool if you’re doing any type of print and photo design btw.

    My reason for the dual monitor setup was originally video editing but it has turned out to be a massive advantage for design, image editing and web design as well. In Photoshop, Illustrator, Flash etc I stack all my tools and boxes on the left screen and leave the right screen free to contain just the image or project. When I design websites I place a browser stack in the left monitor and Expression Web in the right one so I can design and preview in multiple browsers without having to switch back and forth.

    Occationally when I’m writing I put my research or project files on one monitor and Word on the other one. It all depends. Regardless, dual monitors make a world of difference if you are able to divide your attention in the right way.

    I won’t get into the millions of reasons why you shouldn’t waste your money on a Mac.

  14. @Morten I used Windows PCs for the first 15 years of my computing life, and there’s really one essential reason I switched to Apple: they just work.

    In my experience, the software (both the OS and apps) fails at a much lower rate, and the hardware tends to last longer. I rarely, if ever, have to jury-rig anything, edit a registry, mess around with upgrades or any of the other sundry Windows tasks I’ve regularly wasted time on over the years.

    Plus, when I want to buy a new one, I just choose one of two or three models and I’m done. That commodification is a nice bonus. I don’t have to parse the relative merits of seventeen video cards. I once enjoyed that buying process. Now I see it as a waste of time.

    These days, I want my computers to turn on, work flawlessly and interoperate with the absolute minimum of fuss. Between work and home, I’ve probably owned 20 Windows PCs and four or five Apple machines. The latter have been, by a significant margin, closer to that goal.

    And that time savings is absolutely worth Apple Tax.

    (Mind you, I won’t pay it mindlessly. The display that Duncan links to above costs twice what every 24″ display at FutureShop costs. That’s ridiculous.)

  15. It drives me crazy to work with one laptop monitor and one real monitor. That (and lack of a real docking solution, which would also solve the first problem) has kept me from using my Mac. I really gave it a try, for months, but I just couldn’t handle it. I went back to my Dell Laptop, which performs flawlessly with the docking station and two great– MATCHING– monitors. And I’m not a generally OCDish person!

    It really irks me that Apple has never dealt with this problem, and it’s tied to the one thing I don’t like about Apple… they sometimes sacrifice a bit too much functionality in favor of beautiful form.

  16. I simply cannot use side-by-side monitors unless they are the same model. My OCD goes off the charts! I currently use three identical Dell 19″ monitors, and it bugs me that the color on one of them is slightly different than the other two (because it’s on a different graphics card).

  17. At work I use dual monitors that are the same but at home I use different ones. It doesn’t bother me too much. You can adjust them so they look the same.

    For me, not at an issue. But I’m sure others would really dislike it.

  18. I’m just starting into second monitor land. I have a 15″ MBP that’s actually much more reliable than our 20″ iMAC. FutureShop had an amazing sale on monitors over the boxing day weekend where I picked up the samsung 24″ for $280. I am having the dead corner problem, but it’s not where I expect. It’s going from the smaller screen to the bigger screen! I have them setup side by side, but that doesn’t work to well as it means my keyboard/mouse can’t go in the middle of the monitors.

    I absolutely *LOVE* having the bigger monitor and I’ll take the sacrifice. I still need to figure out the keybooard/mouse setup.

  19. Just one more data point here. I’ve used dual monitors for about 10 years, and only in the last year have a had identical monitors at work. At home, I’m still mismatched with a 24in widescreen teamed with a 20in at 4:3 aspect ratio. This works well because the vertical resolution is the same for both. But I’ve also used combos right down to a 20 in LCD with a 19″ crt and the variation never bothered me at all once I was actually working.

    Definitely second the approach of a “tools” monitor off to one side with the “primary” monitor in the middle.

    When I started working here a little over a year ago, nobody had ever used duals and laughed at me when I set mine up. Just today, I set up 2 more users, bringing the total to 11 users. Most admit it’s now painful working at home where they lose the second display, now that they’ve become used to the benefits of duals.

    One other option you might not be aware of: Samsung makes a very nice 19in monitor that is driven off a USB connection running a virtual video card. This creates the capability to run a pair of matching duals off a laptop. (There are Mac drivers) LG also makes a 20in widescreen that’s USB-driven.

    I’ve got a pair of the Samsungs running for my CEO off a powerful little 11in laptop and she loves it. Ultra portability when on the road, lots of efficient screen real estate in the office.

    There’s been talk for awhile about a 22in widescreen version of the Samsung, but I find a pair of 19 or 20in normal aspect ration monitors makes the perfect combo of usability and space.

    Note – original drivers didn’t support 3d, but new drivers were being developed – not sure where that’s at, as we’re just using them for business use. You’d obviously want to confirm 3d performance if a major purpose would be gaming.


  20. I’m a big fan of using two monitors – and when I have a choice, I’ll get matched pairs.

    However at work presently I’m stuck with an unmatched pair – a 22″ and 19″ LCD.

    The thing that drives me up the wall far more than the physical size mismatch is the differences in colour temperatures. No matter how much I’ve played with settings on both monitors, I can’t get colours to match on both displays without the assistance of a display calibration device (“Spyder”).

    The other thing that’s slightly annoying is the difference in pixel density (dpi). It’s not hugely obvious, but when you’re dragging a window between two monitors and the window “grows” 20% while it’s happening it’s obvious.

  21. Even though I use my system for a lot of Final Cut Pro work, I find I gravitate to the “one monitor” solution most of the time anyway. I have a 24 inch monitor in front of my face, and the 17 inch Macbook Pro is off to the side. Most off the time the Macbook Pro monitor ends up being a garbage dump for random documents, web pages, etc…or a TV when I run BBC World Service off of Livestation. If nothing else, it makes video editing on the road easier, since I’m already used to editing with only one screen.

  22. I have a 24″ iMac and I have a 15″ HP flat screen attached to it. The main issue that I have is that when I open a picture it pops up on the 15″ monitor instead of the main (24″) screen. I find myself continually dragging the picture from the 15″ to the 24″ which is driving me nuts. I just want the picture to default open on the main screen. Any ideas?

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