Given a new office, new desks, and very little limitation on per-person costs (within reason - virtual reality helmets are not likely) what is the ideal number, size, and orientation of (presumably flat-screen LCD) monitors to maximize productivity, efficiency, and accuracy in coding?

If it's relevant, assume .NET development for a web environment, employees in individual offices with large desks. The coders are currently IMing for most conversation, though all are on-site, and web browsing is a part of the job.

  • 3
    This question may be more appropriate on stackoverflow.com Apr 30, 2009 at 22:08
  • 6
    May be appropriate if IT is responsible for making purchasing decisions...?
    – Shog9
    Apr 30, 2009 at 22:38
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    Ah to be in the land of the grey. =)
    – Joseph
    Apr 30, 2009 at 22:46

13 Answers 13


There's no such thing as an "ideal monitor setup" because there's no such thing as a "canonical user" either ! (plus the setup you need depends on the tasks you have to perform)

That being said, the strategy I use at my company is simple :

Get every developer as many monitors as he asks for. Plain and simple.

(And I should mention I am running this company, so I'm basically the one paying for hardware ; that being said, I used the same strategy in my previous work position, when I was running a middle-sized .net programming team in a top-tier Investment Bank)

Three reasons to use this strategy :

  • A typical monitor costs around $300 and will probably be used for say 3 years... That's a total cost of ownership of around $.5 a day including electricity. The cost of 'ownership' of a good programmer is rather in the $500's a day.

    In other words, a monitor pays for himself as soon as he saves 1 minute a day of a programmer's time.

  • You acknowledge the fact that your programmers know better than you what they need to get their work done (which is a strong motivator for them).

    I use to tell my team-members :

    If you need something to get your work done, just buy it, or ask me to get it bought. I don't want to waste your time arguing over why you need an USB rocket launcher. You probably know better than me what you need :)

  • You acknowledge the fact that your programmers work is important enough to let them having the best tools money can buy (again, a very strong motivator)

In fact, programmers are so expensive that almost everything that can ease their job is worth buying. I'm talking about :

  • as many monitors as they need
  • a very fast computer, SSD, quadcore, you name it.
  • another computer, if it's needed
  • all the books he might want to look at

To end with, a few words about my current setup for developing a .net software (YMMV if you're either not me, not me in may '09, or not developing a .net software)

  • two verticals 22" 1920*1080 monitors, displaying a vertically-split Visual Studio
  • one landscape 22" 1920*1080 monitor for VS's toolboxes (solution explorer, toolbox, etc.) and other various tools (SQL Management Studio, namely)
  • one landscape 22" 1920*1080 monitor for firefox/IM/outlook

A good reason to add an extra-monitor is if you need some things to be constantly visible (such as supervision tools)

In my experience, I hate working with only one monitor, 2 is ok, my productivity still benefits for a third one, and extra monitors are not really needed.

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    I so wish I lived in a place where programmers were more expensive than big monitors :( May 4, 2009 at 15:07
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    +1. I'm currently developing with 2x 30" (Samsung 305T+, 2560x1600 native), just about convinced myself to get a third :-) They throw off a bit of heat, only noticeable if too close.
    – devstuff
    May 5, 2009 at 10:35
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    Need any more developers? Oh the joy to work somewhere that devs are so revered (not my current spot...) here 2x 17" is considerd the luxury on a 2.2GHz C2D. our builds take 25 mins and could REALLY benefit from more parallelization, but the IT bods already think our hardware is Blazin'! and we ARE in a country where the Devs cost >> hardware cost...
    – geocoin
    May 5, 2009 at 10:50
  • @geocoin: no, unfortunately, we cannot pay more developers, all of our money went to buying monitors for those we already have :)
    – Brann
    May 5, 2009 at 11:10
  • @Manuel Ferreria: Even if you lived in a place where hardware (such as monitors) are not as expensive as peopleware (a programmer) sadly there are still managers who won't comply with developer demands such as multiple monitor setup.
    – Spoike
    Feb 7, 2010 at 10:13

I think 24" monitors are more or less the standard these days. Get two per person if you can.

  • 1
    Mmmm. I enjoy my Dell 2408WFP, 2 such beasts are a quite excellent setup for a developer workstation.
    – Wedge
    Apr 30, 2009 at 23:30
  • +1 on the 'two per person' - my productivity has increased quite a bit with the extra monitor. May 1, 2009 at 0:47
  • I'm not sure about 2x 24" - thats a lot of panning left and right to do. I know one guy at Google that has a couple of 30" - landscape, but one over the other, so it's just a quick glance up May 4, 2009 at 11:42
  • You can put the two 24" monitors vertically next to each other. Kind of like these four: msmvps.com/cfs-filesystemfile.ashx/__key/… May 5, 2009 at 4:50
  • I was using three 24" monitors on a Debian desktop but had to cut back to two on a Mac. Three was definitely not overkill. I would like more viewable area.
    – Gareth
    May 5, 2009 at 6:53

I'd say at least give the developers two screens. It makes shifting between documentation and the IDE easier and there are several studies that some gains in productivity.

Regardless of developer pay and keeping in mind productivity gains of 30% with dual monitor setup, buying a second monitor is actually quite cheap if you start calculating about it.

If money still is an issue, having a laptop connected to one screen is an improvement over having just the laptop screen on. However if there is a size difference between the laptop screen over the attached one it may become annoying to some (I don't find it annoying but I've met some collegues who think that).

I'd also recommend desks with elevators to prevent muscle and backaches, but that's a whole other discussion topic.


I highly suggest 2 screens and they should both rotate. I have dual 19" at work and being able to rotate one of them 90 degrees is very valuable when I am looking at long sections of code.


I second the 24" suggestion. 22" is the bare minimum, but cutting costs on monitors is, I think, one of the least practical strategies; a really good monitor can easily last 5 years in practical use. My personal favorite is the Dell 2408WFP (updated 2407, which I use at home and enjoy greatly. The HC variant is event better, I think). It has an SD card slot and internal USB hub (both of which are great for developers), and features best-of-breed display quality. Where I come from it's ridiculously expensive, but in the US the price is probably much more reasonable.

As a developer, I personally I find a second monitor a cute but somewhat redundant addition -- I usually place MSN Messenger, Skype and Process Explorer etc. windows on it. At work I have a decent primary 24" and el-cheapo secondary 22" set up and it's terrific; at home I just use the 24" and don't miss the second monitor all that often.


I've used several different setups over the years:

  • One 17" CRT
  • Two 17" CRTs
  • Two 19" LCDs
  • Three 17" LCDs
  • Three 19" LCDs
  • Three 20" LCDs

Goes without saying that LCDs are much easier on the eyes than most CRTs. I found the three 20"s to be the best for me, due to the extra real estate. Those were 1600x1200, and that was quite a bit bigger than 1278x1024.

For me, three was a good number since I was working on a desktop app with a database backend. One screen for the IDE, one for the DB, and one for the app to run in works nicely.

The 24"s, with a resolution of 1920x1600 looks pretty nice too. Another nice configuration is a 30" with one or two 20"s turned sideways on each side (wingmen).

Whichever way you go, I'd recommend sticking with the same style (less distraction), and using a nice multi-monitor tool like UltraMon.


Two monitors is more important than big monitors. Although I would say 19" is the minimum. 24" is great though. Additionally there are tools to allow better tiling of windows on large screens.

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    I remember the days when you had just one 15" CRT, and you were glad of it. And it did any colour you wanted, as long as that was green. May 4, 2009 at 11:44
  • Wow. Yours was 15"? May 27, 2009 at 16:49

I prefer 3 screens, which really isn't that expensive at all these days, even if you do wind up having to get a second dual-head graphics card. Three matching widescreen monitors would probably be best, probably with one mounted portrait for document viewing.

On the money-no-object side of things you could go for a data projector (which, again, are actually very affordable these days) as a fourth screen to facilitate pair programming and ad-hoc small meetings. You could team that with an interactive whiteboard for pen-based input (Mimio and e-Beam do the cheapest IWBs), good for diagramming, mind maps and so on.

Depending on exactly what the users will be doing you might want to look at getting a colorimeter to adjust the colour on your screen(s), something like the Pantone Huey or similar. This allows you to accurately preview work before it is printed (assuming your printer is also properly calibrated and has a colour profile applied) and be confident that the colours you are seeing are correct. Handy for people designing/using web pages, very useful for people doing any kind of graphical work, and an absolute must for anyone sending work off to bulk printers.


My current setup at work:

  • 2 20" widescreens attached to my primary desktop
  • To the right of those, a 20" non-widescreen attached to my secondary desktop
  • To the left, a Dell laptop with (I think) a 15" screen

All 3 machines are controlled using one mouse and keyboard through Synergy, giving me effectively 4 monitors (I have an L-shaped desk, or this wouldn't work).

I've only had this setup for about a week, and I'm already addicted. The laptop runs Outlook and Firefox for MSDN docs and our bug-tracking system - "background info" type stuff. The second machine lets me do resource-heavy things like running a bunch of VMs without slowing down my primary development machine.

If money truly is no object, however, what I'd do is buy a bunch of monitors of different sizes, decide on a simple default setup like two 22 or 24" widescreens, then make it clear that people can alter it however they please. You'll never find one monitor configuration that is ideal for every programmer.


While I haven't tried this myself, I saw this at an interview I had. The interviewer had two 20" wide screen lcd monitors turned vertically. It seems naturally better to read code vertically than to scroll down on a horizontal screen.

It seems possible that three monitors might be the best. Two vertical and one horizontal (for testing).


I find that 3 20" monitors works the best. Doesn't completely overwhelm the desk and helps provide more visual separation than just 2 monitors.


Exclusive of cost? This, probably.

See also the same question on Stackoverflow.


Keep in mind that currently visual studio does not have multiple monitor support so a single 30+" monitor may work better than multiple smaller monitors for a visual studio developer

  • 2
    in 2008 you do get horizontal tabs, though, which works pretty well with two monitors.
    – Joseph
    Apr 30, 2009 at 22:47
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    This is somewhat misleading and really only true for the main IDE dialogs. VS 08 gives a lot of flexibility in separating and docking all of the various dialogs in the UI. For example, you can tear off solution explorer, team explorer, etc. and put them on another monitor. You can do the same with the error list, output, test results, properties, etc. dialogs, and the toolbox. And you can dock these to each other so that they become tabs on shared dialogs. Additionally, you can stretch the IDE across multiple monitors and create vertical tab groups.
    – Wedge
    Apr 30, 2009 at 23:43
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    VS2008 does support multimontor support!!! Like wedge said, u can move the 'windows' (eg. Solution manager, etc) to various areas on ANY monitor being setup. U can even export/import your window settings.
    – Pure.Krome
    Apr 30, 2009 at 23:57
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    I've been using VStudio since it came out with 4+ monitors. Currently 2 30" and 24 rotated. It works great with multiple monitors, always has
    – Chad Grant
    May 1, 2009 at 0:32
  • What VS doesn't have is the ability to display an editor in a floating window. This doesn't prevent one to extend the mdi portion of VS to multiple screens (provided they're next to each other), nor to display other windows (like toolboxes) on separate screens.
    – Brann
    May 5, 2009 at 11:40

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