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July 6, 2009

10 Million Pixels and Counting

Category: Ron Hall

At our last TYPO3 user group meeting, Jeff Segars laughed at me. In and of itself, this is not unusual. But the subject warrants a blog post.

I have actually been intending to write this post before with titles such as "A Tale of Two Monitors" or "Surprised by the Mini."

You see, I am a firm believer in using multiple machines and multiple monitors when working at my desk. I actually believe an additional monitor is more important for productivity than a faster processor.

This is what Jeff was laughing about. He added up the pixels on my monitors on my desk and they came up to 9,984,000.

To be honest, this multiple machines / monitors interest (compulsion and obsession are such negative terms) started with my previous employer. I was primarily doing graphic design for print and found that by adding an additional monitor my layout could remain uncluttered in one monitor while all of my palettes were open in the other. This eliminated the continual shifting of windows and opening and closing of palettes. And, of course, if two monitors is good then three monitors is great, correct?

As I started to work back and forth between two locations, I acquired a laptop. I kept all my data files on it and had all my applications installed to be able to work anywhere with it. But when at the office I would use it strictly for things like e-mail and serving the data files to my big desktop. This meant that for graphics work I could take advantage of the desktop's multiple monitors, big RAM and fast processors (keep in mind that some of my Photoshop files for banners could easily run into the hundreds of megabytes each).

Therefore I had everything with me at all times with the laptop but when at the office could use the big machine. Since all the data files were on the laptop I had no file synchronization issues.

Now, let me say that if you start using multiple monitors you must be able to track across them quickly. I use a Kensington trackball. Not one of the girlish, marble-sized trackballs, but the Expert Mouse with a trackball the size of a pool ball and four programmable buttons. Spin that with the bottom of your hand and you will move across 40 inches of monitors in a split second.

Anyway back to my tale.

When I began my business I bought a MacBook Pro and a 30" Apple Monitor. I wanted as much screen real estate as possible and would normally buy cheap third-party 24" monitors. However, since I could only have one monitor attached, I sprung for the mighty 30".

This worked well for the first 18 months, but as I needed to be even more efficient, I started thinking about expanding. Attached to this post is a shot of what I have now and the following is how I use the setup when doing something like front-end coding.

24" monitor on a 15" MacBook Pro which runs:

  1. all my communications (e-mail, IM, etc.) on the 15" screen (everything else is on the 24").
  2. Photoshop for slicing, measuring distances, and sampling the colors on the layouts I am coding in CSS.
  3. browser and PDF reader for any documentation I am needing to access. I can refer docs on the laptop while coding on the other machine.
  4. all my data files so I can do any task off site with just the laptop.

24" and 30" monitors on a Mac Mini (yes, I said Mini) which runs:

  1. skEdit for coding HTML
  2. multiple browser windows with front-end and back-end views of TYPO3. Hitting the show icon on the back-end refreshes the front-end in the other window.
  3. my CSS editor with its preview window

Additionally, the machines run a bunch of other things like FTP client, MAMP server setup, etc.

Since the files I edit for web are much smaller that with my former print work, I am able to get by with the Mac Mini. I was pleasantly surprised when I learned that by adding the Mini DisplayPort adaptor to drive the 30" that I could add an additional 24" on its normal display port. The 24" monitors are among the least expensive I found and I bumped the RAM on the MIni to 4 gigs.

Setting up multiple monitors on a desktop is not as expensive as you might think. Surprisingly, you can buy a Mac Mini and outfit it with 4 gigs of RAM and two 24" monitors for less than $1,500 U.S.

Anyway, that is my geek confession for today. Perhaps someday I will feel the need to unburden my soul about my fetish for external keypads and macros.

Keeping a broad vision,


comment #1
Gravatar: Rik Willems Rik Willems July 6, 2009 09:15
Hi Ron,
Nice article, thanks for that! I have a 2nd monitor that I in fact only use for my explorer window. Never thought to bring all Photoshop palettes there, stupid me. Tried it right away and it is great, hehe.
Greets, Rik

comment #2
Gravatar: Peter Gallagher Peter Gallagher July 6, 2009 15:34
Ron, great article describing your setup. I too am a believer in the 'more screens the better' metality. The one thing I wanted to get away from was the multi-keyboard/mouse senario so I use a little program called synergy which lets me use the keyboard and mouse connected to one of my computers to control both. The synergy program runs on Mac, Linux and Windows. So anyone else looking to go to multiple computers and monitors I would suggest checking it out.

comment #3
Gravatar: Ron Hall Ron Hall July 6, 2009 15:58
Peter, I also have used keyboard switchers, but in this scenario I prefer independent keyboards. It really depends on a the particular physical setup and personal preference. In fact, if I ever feel I need to add a physical windows box (instead of running a virtual machine on the Mac) then I will probably use a keyboard/monitor switcher on my laptop / 24" combo.

comment #4
Gravatar: Sebastian Kurfürst Sebastian Kurfürst July 6, 2009 20:22
Hey Ron! Really nice and fun blog post! (And yes - I want a post about your programmable keypads :-D ) Hope to see you again at T3CON09!

comment #5
Gravatar: Gregory Remington Gregory Remington July 7, 2009 08:57
I know where my next 1,500.00 is going! Thanks :-)

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