Whoa, you might be thinking, why would anyone need 4 displays connected to one PC? The quick answer is I’m a graphic designer and can use all the screen real estate I can get to help me be more efficient and streamline my workflow of producing marketing materials. Yes, lots of designers do get by with a single display, but I’ve found that having a dual display setup (2-LCDs) has really helped me be more efficient by not having to minimize and maximize various windows or try to shrink windows to fit on one screen so I can view both windows.
I’ve had a dual display setup for a good 11 years or so for doing graphic design work. But recently, I realized that I am multi-tasking so much and even with dual displays, I was having to juggle windows among the two screens and was slowing me down. I decided it was time to upgrade my display situation and go to a quad display setup of four 22” LCD screens. This way, I could always have four application windows fully maximized all the time, allowing me to multi-task much easier by focusing my attention to the other screen.
My first thought was to purchase another video card so that I was running two video cards in my computer, each with dual display connections. But then I came across single, quad-capable individual video cards. I settled on a Jaton PX309 Quad Radeon HD 3450 512MB DDR2 PCI Express 2.0 x16 video card which has 4 DVI outputs, which had good reviews. The video card actually has two external connections, but comes with Y adapters to port those two into 4 connections and has the internal circuitry to work with four monitors. I purchased the video card for $184.99, along with a new matching LCD to go with the other ones I already owned – after all, they all gotta match. I then bought a quad LCD monitor stand to hold all the displays from Amazon.com for $82, including shipping.
The trickiest part to the whole installation was installing the stand with the displays all attached to my desktop. It was heavy and awkward to manage by myself, but I was anxious to get it set up as soon as the gear came, and got it firmly secure to my desk using the two clamps. The LCD stand is super adjustable, and you can turn, tilt and pivot each display to your heart’s content. I chose to angle the top two down a little so they are more in-line with my sight below them. The top two displays are turned upside down so that the monitor controls don’t get in the way of the top displays sitting snug with the ones below. And the Windows 7 display setup allowed me to flip the top display’s orientation to account for this.
So how do I use the four displays? I call the bottom-left screen my main screen, where I will open up many of the design applications I use. The bottom-right display I use for my Google Chrome web browser, which usually has up to 10 tabs open at once. I also have my Windows calculator open and accessible from one corner of the screen for quick access, as well as a file browser window for navigating my files while working. I also may open a design application on the bottom-right screen if I am working on files among two design programs at the same time (such as Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop). You can literally drag an object from one application over to the other display and drop it into the open document in another program with ease with this setup.
The top-right display I currently use for my Google Calendar, so if I get a phone call, I can just look to see what my schedule looks like, or see what the rest of the week is like while typing an email to a client and suggesting upcoming meeting days/time I have open. I also can update the Computer Link Magazine Tech Events calendar when I get an email about an upcoming event. It’s easy to look at one screen and type it into my calendar on the other.
Lastly, the top-left screen I typically have Quickbooks and iTunes open and jamming to tunes throughout the day while I work. I also might have Windows Notepad open for quick copy and pasting text for certain things that I do in my work. Notepad doesn’t keep formatting, which is something I prefer because I like to apply my own formatting to text and paragraphs.
Overall, this upgrade cost me about $400. I saved quite a bit because I already had 3 of the 4 matching displays. I was using two on my main design machine and had another on a secondary machine. So if you are drooling over a four display setup, you could be looking at an investment of $1,000 to match the setup I have right now. For many of you, it’s not a necessity by any stretch of the imagination to have a quad display setup. But if you do graphic design, conduct lots of online research, trade securities, or work with several computer programs at once, this is an upgrade you can make that will streamline how you work and make you much more efficient.