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Discussion on: How many monitors do you use when programming?

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610yesnolovely profile image
Harvey Thompson

Okay, I'm slightly going to rant for your own good. Is that okay? I'm British/Canadian. Sorry eh...

At home for my own projects, I own a 32" 4K IPS main monitor, a secondary 28" 4K monitor and finally the laptop 4K 15" screen (though I rarely look there). They are mounted on a proper high end flexible monitor stand, and I sit on a decent ergonomic chair which was made to match my height (2.10m).

At work (contract) I have the same 32" 4K IPS main monitor (which I bought so I can take it with me and have the same model), a secondary 27" 1920x1200 monitor, my 4K laptop and another 4K 27" monitor for the game console I work on.

I've been programming for nearly 40 years and I wish somebody had told me this sooner:

If you're programming for a living and squinting at tiny fonts through a letter box on your laptop, how is that investing in your talents? The 32" 4K monitors are absolutely the best investment I've ever made (they're only $800 or so each now). So go online right now and buy yourself the biggest 4K monitor you can afford. No, buy two. And a monitor stand. And a decent chair. I give you full permission to splurge. If you think you can't afford it, you're thinking wrong. In fact now I'm thinking I should plan to upgrade the two side monitors at home and work because I'm short selling myself.

If your work won't buy you one, tell them you're buying it yourself. That will either shame them into it, or they'll let you. If they don't, seriously think about finding another job because they're not investing in you.

(NOTE: I read some people are on tight budgets/students - take the above advice and keep it close, save up, drink less beer or coffee (I know, I know, sacrifices) and aim to get decent hardware as soon as you can afford it.)

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ellisium profile image
Rich Ellis

What's your approach for font sizes etc.? You using native resolution with in-app zooming or running at half res? Asking for a “friend” with deteriorating vision...

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610yesnolovely profile image
Harvey Thompson

The Mac has decent global scaling options in settings. However I tend to leave it at native scaling and choose a decent font for Emacs (Inconsolata) and tend to have the font large enough to have about 300 columns (100 in 3 windows wide).

On Windows I find the font rendering and scaling not quite as good, so I think it's more like 270 columns (90 in 3 windows wide).

I also bind shift-mouse up and mouse down to increase and decrease font size (I think this copies Visual Studio) for showing code to others or for rare occasions when I get strain.

Other advice I'd have is to splurge on a proper full eye exam by a professional optician at least every two years and have specialized glasses just for coding - the focal length is set for the monitor distance (though they have a distance focus at the top 25%). They took a little bit of getting used to, but they really helped. They were also pretty expensive, but again this is your health and your work, so spend the dollars if you can.

I once had shoulder/neck issues, and had several trips to the physio - he was the one who advised me to get a proper monitor arm and chair - so I took his advice and havn't had any issues since.

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ellisium profile image
Rich Ellis

Same, have a standing desk and high monitor setup for that reason. Also a pair of computer glasses.

I’ve been using an ultrawide (3840 x 2120? or something like that) at home and it seems to work well, but it’s a pain to go back and forth between that and the two-monitor setup at work. I’ve been wondering if 4K produces smoother fonts and details when zoomed than 1920x1080. If so I might try replacing both setups with triple 4K at some point.

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bigj1m profile image
Jim Plourde Author

I wear eyeglasses and they have a blue light filter that is very effective with screens. The difference is huge

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strredwolf profile image
STrRedWolf

And for those grad students who can't afford drinking beer and are already down to one cup of coffee they get for free in the office?

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610yesnolovely profile image
Harvey Thompson

Yeah, drink the beer and coffee for now.

Just keep the advice in your head until you get some work or cash. Sell something you don't use. If you can save just $2 a day in a jar, you can get a 32" 4K monitor within a year.

I've found that one very decent primary monitor, with a secondary to the left or right that is occasionally used works best without strain. Once you have two, upgrade the main one every two years or so, moving the old main to secondary and sell the old secondary.

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bigj1m profile image
Jim Plourde Author

Hi fellow giant canadian. I'm 2m05 myself. Even tho I'm on student budget, I never compromised the budget for the place I spend most of my time. I bought myself an ergonomic chair with a really tall cylinder. I plan to buy arms for my two screens.

I think we could have interesting conversations sharing tips on ergonomics.

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610yesnolovely profile image
Harvey Thompson

You should definitely buy monitor arms - that and the chair will mean you don't suffer later on in life. As an added bonus it gave me back a ton of desk space I can fill with Lego Wall-E, Yoda, and other stuffies (useful for Duck Reviews and moral support).

At work I settled with putting the monitors on riser stands and on top of the game console dev-kit. Not quite as good, but the monitors are now at the right height.

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bigj1m profile image
Jim Plourde Author

I like the Lego part. Thanks for the tips also

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nssimeonov profile image
Templar++

I find the 32" way too big. I guess it depends on your desk, setup and personal preference. I am currently working on one, but I indend to change it for the 24" 4k DELL soon. It's awesome when I have to do a merge or work on multiple files at the same time, but I noticed, that many times I instinctively to move my head towards one of the edges and this makes my neck pain worse.

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denizcan profile image
Deniz Can Çığşar

I don't have health issues -yet-, however with my 27" I found that I prefer positioning the windows at center, and do not like the visual components at sides.. Using that way, 13" MacBook's screen is practically as wide as 27" monitor.. I think I am leaning towards using laptop monitor only.. I wish we had 4:3 instead of 16:9.. That's why I prefer Mac to PC laptops.. 16:10 @ 13.3 is more usable than 16:9 @ 15.6..

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nssimeonov profile image
Templar++

Deniz, did you check out the new microsoft laptops? It's aspect ratio is even better: 3/2

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denizcan profile image
Deniz Can Çığşar

Templar++, unfortunately Microsoft does not sell their laptops in our country. Samsung and LG has some nice devices and they do not sell as well.. Only Apple has all the SKU's, Dell and Lenovo has some..

All sell their products %15 more expensive as well.. Adding that %18 VAT, which makes them super expensive.. However, at least we can access those units..

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denizcan profile image
Deniz Can Çığşar

Templar++ I checked Microsoft Surface 3 15".. With resolution of 2256x1504 (px) @ 201 PPI, it has 285 x 190 (mm) display size.. It's roughly same with with 13.3 @ 16:10, but 11mm higher..

After 200PPI, I think we can ignore the resolution, and just talk about the dimensions..

MacBook Pro 16" is interessting with its 345mm x 215mm display.. Comparing to Surface Pro 3, It will give 25mm (~1") extra in vertical, and 60mm (~2.4") in horizontal.. It's better for code/documents, and if you want side by side it may do that as well..

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nssimeonov profile image
Templar++

Thank you, Deniz, I never thought to compare the laptops this way. Indeed MacBook Pro 16 is something to consider. Currently I have an old MacBook 2012 and I love it. 7 years later it still behaves like a up-to date laptop and all the issues I had were from spilling coffee on top of it and using it too much. Luckily I have a friend, who can repair it cheaply for like 30% of the price in the official repair center.

What bothers me in the new 16" MacBook is that touchbar is terrible for debugging. I like the F-keys better and this is why I still keep my old MacBook.

On a side node - may I be a bit jealous about your VAT % - ours is 2% higher :)

That aside - usually the keyboard of laptops, sold in europe is the awful Int'l keyboard with shorter left shift and L-type enter, that drives me crazy.

I was checking the top models of Lenovo as well, but they cost an arm and a leg too (I think the price for X1 was literally the same as MacBook Pro)

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denizcan profile image
Deniz Can Çığşar

Missing function keys bothers me as well.. I think I'll configure CMD + something for debugging.. Such as CMD+4 for step into etc.. We have the same layout, L type enter, short left shift.. Since Turkey established, we copy EU.. :)

Don't be jealous of our 18% VAT, we are paid a lot less for the same amount of work.. A MacBook is 6-7 month of salary for an ordinary citizen..

Lenovo's and Dell's premium devices are sometimes costier than Apple's.. However, their quality control and service is not as good as Apples.. BTW, they prefer FHD or UHD instead of 1440p @ 15.6".. WHY?? Wouldn't it be wise using only 1440p so that inventory, quality control etc all of them would be easier.. Even because of bulk purchase the price would be better..

Those are another "why"s I prefer Apple: Optimum selection of components..