- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 16, 2010

How do you maximize computer-screen space and flexibility? For many of us, this may not be a major issue: You have one computer, one display, and that’s it. For others, it can get a bit more exciting.

Take me, and my “day job,” where I serve as news editor for a pair of magazines published by a nonprofit organization. I can spend a good five or six hours, at least, staring at a computer screen. And, earlier this year, I “downsized” from a 17-inch portable display to a 15-inch model, in order to make things easier when I travel.

But for the past three years at least, I’ve had an external monitor hooked up to my notebook when I’m in the office. The external display, now a 24.5-inch (diagonally measured) screen, is often useful when working with photographs, publication layouts and other items.

Recently, I got it into my head that not only is it nice to have an external monitor, but it would also be nice to have one that pivots, so I can reorient the screen display into what is called “portrait” mode. It’s easier to see an entire magazine page that way, or to work with photographs, and so forth.

I had one idea: split the video output from my MacBook Pro to drive two monitors, one of which would rotate into portrait mode. The folks at Matrox, a company that specializes in graphics solutions, sent along their “DualHead2Go” product, which lists for $233 and is available for about $5 to $7 less at several online resellers, and which will take the output from a Mac and support the external monitors. I did need to add a special video adapter to one of the DualHead2Go’s external ports, a $35 expense, but such is life, I guess.

My goal was to connect the computer, via the Matrox unit, to two monitors: an I-Inc iH252, and a Dell 1707FP. The latter can rotate into portrait mode; hook up the monitors, and all would be well.

Then, reality hit.

I got all the equipment, connectors, cables and so forth, and plugged everything in. Installed the special software, fired up the computer and - success: both monitors were active.

However, because the I-Inc monitor was using an HDMI connection, the Matrox unit treated it and the Dell 1707FP as a single display. Even though the Matrox software supposedly would move a single window to a given display, the HDMI thing seems to have thrown a monkey wrench into the plans. (I could have, I suppose, swapped out the HDMI for a VGA connection, but I wasn’t going to go cable-crazy in my shopping.) And, Matrox conceded, the rotating-the-display feature of Mac OS X wouldn’t play in this scenario.

Now, I’m not saying users should skip Matrox. They make good products, which a number of users swear by, and their solution might be right for you. However, it wasn’t right for me in this situation, and I’ll return the unit to the firm, with thanks for the trial.

I still had my problem, however. What to do? I shifted my focus (pun intended) on the I-Inc. monitor. It’s big, bright and easy to work with. All that’s missing was a way to rotate the screen display into portrait mode.

My answer: The Sanus Systems MD-115-G1, a desk mounted swing-arm system that not only moves the monitor around in all sorts of ways, but it allows for rotating the display. What’s more, it gets the monitor off the desktop, which not only frees up some space, but also improves my posture and vision.

The Sanus product can be found online for around $80, and installation was sublimely easy. Once I’d clamped the bracket to my desktop, installing four small screws in the VESA-standard mounting holes secured the monitor to the mount, and I was good to go. Pivoting has also worked quite well.

The greatest surprise has been the effect of lifting the screen to what is, essentially, eye-level for me. I’ve really noticed a change in how easy it is for me to work, and I like it.

c E-mail mkellner@ washingtontimes.com

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