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Three Solutions to Desktop Clutter
    • What you can do with what you have (option #1) 
    • Getting a bigger screen (option #2) 
    • Dual Monitors: Two Screens Are Better Than One (option #3) 
©1999 by Eddie Ciletti
Two programs more than any others that I use — Soundscape's Audio Workstation and Adobe’s Photoshop — require more than the typical amount of "virtual" desktop real estate. The mixer or tools alone fill the screen, leaving little room for the audio waveforms or the picture, respectively. 

For years, a larger-than-17-inch monitor was out of reach. But technology has a way of turning yesterday’s most desirable into today’s most affordable. All online computer hardware dealers want you on their mailing list and sometimes it can really pay off. I recently picked up a 21-inch Compaq monitor from Insight for $700 (plus shipping). 

THE DEPTH OF SHALLOW
 

The price of larger monitors has dropped to make room for more space efficient models. Viewsonic’s GS771 on the left is designed for users who need a 17-inch display with a footprint similar to a 14-inch monitor. Using 100-degree deflection, the tube in the GS771 is 3-inches shorter than the more common 90-degree deflection type yielding more space on your real desktop. 

All vacuum tube monitors will face serious competition as soon as the first 17-inch flat display becomes "affordable." Street price for a 15-inch, LCD display currently is just under $1000. No bargain, yet!

If you are going blind on a tired "pocket sized" monitor, the time is right to upgrade. The price for a Sony 17-inch with .25mm dot pitch has been $700 ~ $900 for years. Now prices have just about dropped in half, $450~$600 for comparable models. But wait, there's more. Just getting a larger screen won't solve the problem... 

PIXELS: Larger than dust, Smaller than those little green humanoids

The "smallest" desktop, in pixels, is 640 pixels wide and 480 pixels high. Attaching a larger monitor just makes everything bigger. This might be good for those with poor eyesight. Figure-1a shows how selecting a 640 x 480 display will fill a standard 15-inch (14-inch viewable) monitor. This tweak can be found by clicking the DISPLAY icon in the Windows Control Panel. Figure-1b shows how much more space is available if 1152 x 864 is selected (for a 21-inch monitor). 
 


Figure-1a: 

Figure-1b:
EET’S EEN DE TAIL!
Put more on the desktop and the monitor must work harder.  This starts with hardware — the "dot pitch" of the tube can be from .22mm to .30 mm — smaller being better.  Squeezing more pixels on the screen can also push the circuitry that drives the tube beyond its limit —  it takes a savvy design engineer and higher quality components to deliver higher-frequency Horizontal and Vertical scan rates.  (Push the envelope too far and you get dim fuzz instead of bright razor-sharp edges.)  Look for a monitor that can do at least one level beyond your target. Most can do 1280x1024. A typical setting is 1024x768. 

Figure-2: Bits and color depth

THANKS FOR THE WHAT?

The other obstacle to squeezing more on the screen is bit depth — the dynamic range from bright to dark — that is the "third-dimension" of resolution required to accurately display at "photographic quality."  You can set this parameter from the DISPLAY icon. Figure-2 shows some of the options, the total range depends on the amount of V-RAM, the memory located on the video card. When buying a new computer, choose at least 8Meg of V-RAM. If you are recycling an old card, one or two megs is ok for the basic desktop.

NEW AND USED

My newest fave for online computer purchases is www.aberdeeninc.com, great because you can customize till the cows come home without frustrating any sales people. It's one very thorough PC computer shopping site. I tend to go for as much gusto as wallet permits.  Package deals look great until you realize what's missing — enough spare slots or room for more V-RAM.  Worst case, get "the deal" and recycle the hardware you pull. 

Quite often computers aren't sold with enough horsepower. Granted, you don't need much to run a word processor or a sequencer, but add audio or graphics and the overhead goes way up. Soundscape tipped me off to Windows 98’s ability to support dual monitors. Good as Aberdeen is, they said I’d need an $800 dual-monitor card. I wanted to believe Soundscape was right. I had my heart set on recycling an old card and monitor. 

MY SETUP

The computer I chose included a Pentium II processor with an STB monitor card loaded with 16MB ram.  PII "momma" boards have a connector reserved for the monitor card. It looks "PCI" but is in fact called the AGP slot. After installing Win98, I shut down, added a 1MB Trident PCI card (and monitor). I was warned that the PCI card would take over as the main desktop and it did. This may not seem like the optimum choice at first, but be patient. Remember that the good monitor and AGP card should stick together. 

AFTER installing the 2nd video card, check out the System folder in the Control Panel. WIN98 will see the PCI card first but may have difficulty correctly identifying the AGP card. You may even have to "remove" the original from the system folder. It’s still a bit Plug and Pray. When WIN98 attempts to identify the new hardware, "help it along" by pointing it to the correct driver (STB provided a CD). 

REBOOT

Whenever monkey-ing with operating parameters, always reboot to make sure things stick. Most of the time you will be prompted to do so. I am always surprised when things work; you can only laugh when it doesn’t. Computers are not smart enough to do everything, they can only be programmed-smart. 

If Windows does find the card during the next reboot you should see basic DOS-style text on the #2 display indicating as much. Once the Win98 desktop is through with its gyrations and advertisements (take those out of the Start Menu), open the Control Panel, click DISPLAY, then SETTINGS and you should see two monitor icons labeled #1 and #2 indicating that you can optimize each monitor for resolution and bit depth. 

GOTCHA

The #1 monitor settings you tweaked the first time round may (need to) be altered when the #2 monitor becomes available. The first time, I set #1 for 800x600 with 256 colors. As soon as the #2 monitor was enabled in the SETTINGS window the #1 monitor went into NO-COLOR, High-contrast, B&W mode! (at least I could drag windows over to #2 to see what to change.) 

I tweaked monitor #1 from 8-bit to 16-bit color mode and voila, two screens! Some settings or video card combos may create memory address conflicts. This may explain why choosing another setting for monitor card one cured the B&W problem. 

DRAG KING

I chose to make the lo-res card (and older monitor) do desktop duty as monitor #1. Icons require no graphic wizardry. All the programs that require graphics power can be dragged onto the hi-res desktop, monitor #2. Adobe Premiere would not let me drag a "maximized" window onto #2 before de-maximizing. (What do you call the option between max and min?) Each program may require a slightly different approach. 

It’s a good idea to keep all your icons on monitor #1. If Monitor #2 fails to boot, for any glitchy reason, all of the icons will automatically migrate to #1 and stay there even if the next reboot is glitch free. 

THE TEMPS: NOT YOUR IMAGINATION

What you may notice is the difference in color temperatures between the two monitors, mine being a Sony 1604 and a Mag1795. Unless the two monitors are identical — including age — it will be difficult to get the color temperature any more than "close." Color temperature is set at the monitor. Default is 9300 Kelvin, which is very blue-white. TV monitors are set to a warmer 6500 Kelvin, warmer by using less blue. 

I also ended up with a "minor" error message during the boot process (either system.ini or registry can't find pcilink.vxd ). I searched and searched for this file and couldn't find it OR the file that was looking for it. (I don't understand registry-speak). 

I didn’t like the constant error message, so I reinstalled the operating system. If you haven’t yet done so, be sure to make a Win98 startup floppy. Boot from the floppy and install a new, clean operating system from the Win98 CD-ROM. Reinstallation is the easiest way to clean-up boot-error messages. 

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