Stop shortchanging your eyes. When it's time to buy a new computer or time to replace that old monitor, shop for a big one. And when I say 'big,' I mean BIG.
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983
Why you need a BIG monitor
By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 1998, Al Fasoldt
The guy down the hall from me was asking what I thought of his planned PC purchase. Fast CPU? Check. Lots of memory? Check. Big drive? Check. Monitor? "I'm getting a big one," he said. "A 17-incher."
There was a time when a 17-inch monitor was considered "big," but that's not true any longer. Small monitors are 14-inch and 15-inch models. (We're talking here about the diagonal measurement of the picture tube, which is always larger than the viewable diagonal measurement. I don't like measurements that are exaggerated any more than you do, but let's leave the issue alone for now.)
The next step up from a 15-inch monitor is a 17-inch monitor. It's not big; it's medium. Before long, 17-inch screens will be considered not-quite-medium in size -- that's just the way progress and expectations work, after all -- and 19-inch monitors will be the norm for "medium."
And that means a big monitor is ... well, big, and the size that comes to mind is 21 inches. I'll fudge a little and broaden that size category to cover monitors from 19 inches to 23 inches. Some 19-inch monitors don't belong in this group because their viewable screens are more like large 17-inchers, and others are about the same size as some 20-inch monitors.
Why such a big monitor?
The argument used to be simple. If you wanted to see more windows on the screen, you got a bigger monitor. That was when nobody would have dreamed of writing software that required anything more than standard VGA resolution -- 640 pixels across by 480 lines deep. With a large monitor running at a higher resolution, such as 1,024 pixels by 768 lines, you could get many standard-size windows on the screen at once. They'd overlap, but that's OK.
Now, however, the situation is complicated by the fact that many programs use windows designed to look best at resolutions higher than VGA's standard. Many Web pages are created with a resolution of 800 by 600 in mind, for example. Likewise, anyone using a modern word processor for anything more than simple notes and letters probably needs to enlarge the main window to a size that exceeds VGA's 640 by 480. If you have a 17-inch monitor, 1,024 by 768 is the maximum resolution you can comfortably view, so a couple of windows taking up 800 by 600 leave you little room for much else. (And many 17-inch monitors probably are already running at 800 by 600, so just one window that size fills the entire screen.)
Larger monitors support higher resolutions, all other things being equal. So if you choose a monitor in the 19-to-23-inch category, you can also raise the resolution to 1,280 by 1,024. Without overlapping, a screen at that resolution can display four windows of normal 640 by 480 size. And, of course, the increasingly common 800 by 600 windows will fit easily with minimal overlapping.
Larger monitors are easier on your eyes, too. Many computer users spend more time staring at their computer monitors than they do in front of TV screens -- and they do this while reading the contents of the monitor's display, an activity that can produce a lot more eyestrain in an hour than watching TV all day can do.
But you didn't need to be told that, right? You consider your eyes important, right? A few hundred bucks extra for that scanner is not as important as a few hundred for that larger monitor, right? Right?
Take a look at the newest big-screen monitors. Imagine yourself back in front of that smaller one. I think you'll see what I mean.