NEC commissioned the University of Utah to conduct studies on the productivity gains of wide screen displays and dual displays over traditional single screen displays. 96 test subjects were randomly given tasks such as text editing and spreadsheet editing. This study reaffirms what I’ve already suspected for years. Using a larger monitor or adding an additional screen can increase your productivity.

To summarize:

  • Increasing screen size increases productivity, up to a point.
  • When working with multiple windows, 17″ screens or smaller are much less productive than larger screens.
  • Widescreen monitors can be just as productive or more than dual monitors.
  • User preference is not a good predictor of their performance.
  • Novice users get significant performance gains when using a widescreen or multiple monitors over advanced or power users.

Some statistics of note:

  • Subjects given text related tasks using a 24″ widescreen saw over a 50% increase in productivity over a single 18″ screen.
  • Subjects using a 20″ dual monitor configuration saw a 44% increase in productivity.

I’ve been using a multi display setup at work for years. I truly believe it helps increase productivity by making things more easily accessible. This is especially true with developers who use 1 screen to code and another to see the results. In fact, at work I have a 3 display setup where my furthermost screen is running the Accenture RSS Screensaver (which I wrote), my secondary screen has my IM and other widgets and dashboard stuff, and my primary screen has my work. Unless you are displaying background information of low activity and importance however, I think the optimum number of screens is 2. You definitely get diminishing returns after that. I’ve tested using a 5 display system similar to the one in the matrix called the Octopus and found that I really only used 2 or 3 of the displays, with the other 2 pretty much ignored.

My workstationAt home I have a 15″ macbook pro. After reading the benefits of this study, however, I’ve decided to order a 22″ widescreen to use as a dual monitor setup for my laptop. Considering that monitor prices have been dropping considerably over the years, this course of action was a no brainers. One can easily find a 22″ LCD flatscreen for around $300. That would pay for itself in a day or so if you consider your time savings.

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