Ever feel constrained by limited desktop space?
Would it be nice to be able to have two, (or more), programs full screen at the same time?
It is cheaper and easier than you might think, and once you experience using an extended desktop, you will never go back.
Aside from offering more desktop space, your computer will be faster as you are no longer using "shared ram" which most computers with onboard video do, your graphics will load faster and be sharper due to the graphics processor in the card and the card's video memory.
Starting at about $30 you can get a dual output video card which can be connected to two monitors.
A $30 card will give you a noticeable boost in speed but an amazing increase can be obtained by going high end as you get more processing power and video memory (RAM).
On my top machine I have two of the latest video cards running in parallel, or SLI, (Scalable Link Interface), as it is known in techno babble, with each card having 768 megs of RAM. When I purchased them they were running at about $800 each. Prices are down to about $90 now.
A good card would be the 9500GT 1GB RAM which runs around $50 at Tiger Direct
Choosing a card can be difficult due to the multitude of makes, models, and type of slot that the card will fit.
Slot types are AGP, (Usually found on older high end computers), PCI-E, (Found on newer mid to high end computers), and PCI, (Most older computers and most newer also).
If you are uncertain what kind you should look for, PM me with your computer's make and model.
There are also a bewildering variety of video cards on the market with cryptic names, which are split up into two manufacturers.
There are actually more than 2 but the others tend to supply operation specific high end cards, which are out of the scope of this discussion.
The manufacturers are ATI which has its own set of drivers, and Nvidia based cards.
Basically the higher the number and price, the more you get for your money.
In the Nvidia line, which I favor, the 7800 is better than the 6800 and the 8800 is better than both.
Be warned though. You WILL have to open you computer to install it.
If this is a bit too scary, get one of the neighbor's kids. "Johnny" from the 5th grade picks up spare cash doing this in our neighborhood. :)
Actually it is pretty straight forward for desktop computers.
UNPLUG your computer's power cord.
Remove the left side of the case.
Read the user manual that comes with the card.
This is usually on a cd and a paper copy.
Remove the slot blank opposite the slot where you are going to install the card.
The position of this slot will vary depending on the type of video card you choose that will work in your computer.
GENTLY slide the card down into the slot, locating the "Pointy Tab" in its slot in the case.
It is usually easier to put the computer on its side to do this.
Secure the card to the case using a screw in the other end of the faceplate.
Hole for screw ->
Plug in the power plug for your card, if your card requires it.
The more high power ones do.
Plug in the various cables if you unplugged them, Plug your monitor into one of the new card's slots, plug in the power and turn the computer on.
This next step can be scary but if you read the options carefully, you will be ok.
When the computer is booting you will want to enable the BIOS menu.
Your boot screen will usually display a "Press Del key to enter setup" or similar message and press the indicated key, (Del = Delete).
This will bring you into the bios, and as each are different I cannot be specific, but you are looking for a way to turn off the onboard video option.
Once you find it, pressing F10 will bring up a screen asking if you want to make the changes.. Say yes and the computer will continue to boot.
Once the card is installed, you will want to upgrade your drivers to the latest version.
Nvidia users go to http://www.nvidia.com/content/drivers/drivers.asp and ATI to http://ati.amd.com/support/driver.html
After all this is done, go into your graphics control panel and select the resolution you wish to use.
Higher is better, and if you find the text too small, that can be adjusted individually.
If you find this all too complex, Matrox makes a plug in adaptor that lets you use multiple monitors from a single video output. http://www.matrox.com/graphics/en/corpo/products/home.php
When I first looked at LCD monitors, they were fairly expensive compared to the CRT versions they were replacing.
A 19" CRT was about $250 and a LCD was more than double that.
Prices have dropped. A 20" LCD can be had for around $125 and some even cheaper.
A good reason to switch is you get more "bang" for your buck, and your eyes will thank you.
CRT monitors tend to get "fuzzy" over time. LCDs dont, so they will last longer.
LCDs are easier on the eyes, sharper, have more contrast, and offer a much smaller "footprint".
Sizes keep going up and larger monitors are easier to use when multi tasking.
They are also "greener" than CRTs, using less power.
If you do a lot of work on spreadsheets or word documents, look for a model that allows you to swivel the screen into "Portrait" mode from the normal "Landscape" screen.
When considering a LCD look for the highest resolution and the lowest refresh rates.
If you have an improved video card, you will be able to connect the LCD monitor using the digital connection.
Depending on make/model you will also be able to connect the monitor through the unused VGA connection to a second computer.
As all my monitors are the Acer brand, I cannot comment on other makes.
When you are looking, try to find a store with active LCD monitors on display.
The shop where I got mine had a display with two Acer monitors, side by side.
One was the regular 19" model and one with the "SuperBright" coating.
The SuperBright won, hands down even though it was about 20% more expensive.
LCD monitors continue to improve with higher contrasts, faster refresh rates, improved viewing angles, better backlighting, higher screen sizes and resolutions.
Upgrade. You won't regret it.