A Single-Monitor Setup

Why I prefer to work with a single display

01-22-24

For as long as I have been using computers, I have almost always relied upon just a single display. Earlier this month I placed my “secondary” monitor (LG DualUp) to the right of my primary (LG Ultrafine 4K 32"), but yesterday I took it down as almost no productivity was gained by adding it. I figured I’d take the opportunity to share my rationale behind only using one screen while the topic is still fresh in my mind.

Laptop usage

Growing up I had always used the “family PCs” for my computational (and gaming) needs, but the first computer I could call my own was a laptop. For the first few years of ownership, the only peripheral which I relied upon was a wireless mouse. I spent years learning how to be productive on a 13" display, and when I eventually purchased my first pair of monitors, the 24" FHD resolution was such an upgrade that I didn’t feel the need for two. The limitations of my laptop’s display outputs also made the decision easier.

Fast-forward to the present day; I still heavily use laptops, and I’m still used to getting a lot done on a 13" display. Most writing, reading and research tasks are achieveable on my laptops, though I could not imagine using their displays for video editing or CAD software. Point being, I’m used to only relying upon a single display - be it the laptop screen or my external monitor - and I think this is why I can’t find a great use for a second display.

Window management

Various window management strategies also play a role in my decision to use a single screen. For a few years I used i3wm/sway, and the ease of switching to another desktop with $mod+z/x/c/v/b was very convenient. Even after moving on from tinkering with window managers and returning back to a traditional desktop environment, I manage to make do with a few tricks.

On macOS, I have installed Rectangle. macOS window management is abysmal when compared to Linux and even Windows, so this program helps restore the simple window-snapping functionality I have come to rely upon. I have my snapping zones configured into thirds, and with most tasks I do not require more than three windows displayed at once. If I require more, I may retain one or two windows in their third of the screen while using the open space for floating windows, and on some occasions, I manage to get by with a jumble of stacked windows.

I have not utilized virtual desktops since switching from my tiling window managers, but the simple functionality exists across all three operating systems.

Pixels

This one is simple - a single high-resolution monitor offers more pixel real-estate than many dual-monitor setups. For example, my 4K 32" display offers more pixels than three vertically-rotated 1080p displays or two vertically-rotated 1440p displays. In the same regard, my LG DualUp packs two 1440p displays into a single tall panel but offers the ability to seamlessly take advantage of the vertical height without an obtrusive center bezel.

I am aware that my reasoning may not translate well to certain workflows. A user who wants one vertical and one horizontal 1440p monitor will likely not find the Dualup useful. Additionally, I retain the usability of each pixel by not scaling my displays, but a user who seeks to achieve the same visual UI will lose out on the pixel advantage once they reach a certain scaling factor. While a 32" 4K display may have more potential real-estate than a 34" 1440p ultrawide, the additional scaling required for the 4K to match the ultrawide may render the ultrawide the better choice.

Ergonomics

Ergonomics play a role in my single-screen selection. I am moderately annoyed at having to turn my neck to read content to the side of me. With my current setup, I need only to scan my eyes across the display; all content is within my direct line of sight. I may slightly move my head around 10°, but do not significantly turn my head. If I needed a second monitor, I would actually prefer it vertically stacked and angled to where I could simply nod my head down. I do have a cheapo 15" portable 1080p display which I can use in this fasion if absolutely necessary.

~~~

In sum, I’m satisfied with my single-monitor setup. If I ever work in a professional field which requires multiple displays, I may change my mind, but until then I’ll enjoy the simplicity.

-medwa


Tagged: ergonomics productivity