1. Technology

Dual Monitors... with a Twist!

By May 4, 2005

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I recently splurged to upgrade my two 17" LCD monitors (different brands) to two new 20" monitors (same brand) and I am really enjoying it. Considering that the monitor is the piece of computer equipment we "interface" with the most, I think the investment is well worth it. It's especially nice having the color match between the two screens now. Oddly — though the monitors are identical brands — I did still have to do some tweaking to the color settings to get them to match.

Now, about the twist… these two monitors are capable of being rotated to a portrait orientation. Not only will this amaze your friends and colleagues, it has very practical uses as well! Many computing tasks, such as page layout, word processing, and web browsing, are better suited to the portrait orientation. With dual monitors, you can have the best of both worlds — traditional landscape orientation on one monitor, and portrait mode on the other. Although most portrait capable monitors can be rotated fairly easily, keeping one monitor in portrait orientation is very convenient — especially for design and photo editing tasks where you may need to switch between orientations frequently.

Here's an example of how I set up my desktop for writing a Photoshop tutorial.

As you can see it gives me lots of photo-editing space in the landscape orientation, room for the palettes down the side of the portrait monitor, and still allows plenty of space for my text editor so I don't have to keep scrolling up and down to review what I've already written.

Most monitors that are capable of rotating to the portrait mode will come with the software to rotate your desktop. Most video cards by ATi and nVidia also include this feature in their drivers. If you have a rotating monitor, but don't have the software to rotate the desktop, the solution is Pivot Pro software. This is what I'm using since my Matrox video card does not include this feature. This is usually the software that comes bundled with pivoting monitors.

If you already have an LCD monitor and you like the idea of a portrait screen, but your LCD stand doesn't allow rotation, you may still be able to pivot your screen. A company called Ergotron offers the Neo-Flex LCD Stand with pivot, tilt, and rotation features. This LCD stand sells for about US$50 and should fit any LCD monitor.

I know there are some who feel that the color accuracy for design work is still not up to par on the LCD monitors, but for me there is no going back to a CRT. I don't want to give up the crispness, clarity, desk space and energy savings that an LCD monitor provides — and with a good quality LCD on a DVI (digital) connection, the color issues just aren't as extreme as they were in the past. Whether you go with dual monitors or not, if you're in the market for an LCD monitor, try to find one that pivots. Most of the upper-end LCDs offer this now. And if you've already got a rotating monitor that you've never used in portrait mode, I encourage you to give it a "whirl!"

Also see:
• Advantages of Portrait and Pivoting Monitors for Desktop Publishing
• CRT vs. LCD Monitors: Which Monitor is the Best to Buy?
• Understanding LCD Monitors
• Top Picks: 19-inch LCD Monitors
• MaxiVista - Dual Monitors Without Extra Hardware
• Oscar's Free Multi-Monitor Taskbar
• Dualing Monitors

September 20, 2007 at 7:25 am
(1) Michael says:

Monitor rotation is so cool. I only realised it could be done last week. I have a CRT at home still, but at work I’ve got a rotatable LCD monitor but unfortunately not the software to rotate the screen. The ironic thing is how other people in the office have older LCD monitors that can’t physically rotate, but they’ve got the drivers to do it—as simple as right clicking :(

September 20, 2007 at 11:52 am
(2) Sue Chastain says:

Michael: Nvidia, ATI, and Matrox all allow for rotation within the drivers now. There is also iRotate, free rotation software: http://www.entechtaiwan.net/util/irotate.shtm

December 15, 2007 at 11:58 pm
(3) Donald says:

I have been doing exactly this with Pivot Pro for years. The vertical screen is great for text documents as you can see the whole page. Some software allows the gui on one monitor and the image on the other. Great stuff. Not enough monitors have pivoting bases though.

June 18, 2008 at 11:38 am
(4) victor says:

I have an HP pc connected to 2 HP flat screens. One of the monitors can physically rotate. How do I configure PivotPro (loaded already) to have 1 monitor’s display to rotate, as you have shown.

June 18, 2008 at 12:15 pm
(5) Sue Chastain says:

Victor: You may not need Pivot Pro. Matrox, nVidea, and ATI all have the rotation capabilities built into the display software these days. I would look into that first.

I can’t tell you how to configure Pivot Pro because I haven’t used it in years and no longer have it installed. I now have an ATI graphics card and the rotation is a function of their Catalyst software.

If you can’t find the answer in Pivot Pro’s documentation, you may want to post your question in the discussion forum where maybe someone else who uses Pivot Pro will see it and be able to help you. http://forums.about.com/ab-graphicssoft/

January 22, 2009 at 12:27 am
(6) Dax says:

What kind of video card do you need to run two monitors? What model 20″ dell’s do you use?

January 22, 2009 at 10:48 am
(7) Sue Chastain says:

Dax: My Dell monitors are old–2001FP. I don’t think they are sold anymore. You don’t need any special video card to run 2 monitors. You can either have 2 single-port video cards installed in your computer, or one video card with 2 ports.

February 2, 2009 at 6:39 am
(8) Multiple Monitors says:

Portrait mode is pretty awesome, especially for Day Trading! I have a SUPER PC triple LCD stand with a 24″ LCD in the middle and two smaller LCDs on the side in portrait mode, like your picture above. Using multiple monitors is such an amazing tool! Many people don’t understand, until the first time they use a multi-monitor system. It’s an instant realization that multiple screens are fun and enhance your productivity!

June 23, 2009 at 8:56 pm
(9) herojig says:

get a mac, rotation of any second monitor is supported by the leopard operating system, regardless of make or model. if you are a writer, this feature is a must have.

July 3, 2009 at 6:57 am
(10) HansPieters says:

Does someone know how you get your MS-trackball in sync? Changing the monitoor is simple enough. Changing the trackball is a real problem.

July 3, 2009 at 10:25 am
(11) Sue Chastain says:

What’s the issue with the trackball? I use a trackball (Kensington, not MS) but never had a problem.

July 3, 2009 at 3:13 pm
(12) Hans Pieters says:

Hi Sue,
After switching the trackball behave as usual, that is moving to the left will move the cursor up etc. The change in the monitor direction is not followed by the trackball.

July 3, 2009 at 3:26 pm
(13) Hans Pieters says:

have you used the
Trackball Kensington Orbit Optical

Tx again for your help.

July 3, 2009 at 8:51 pm
(14) Sue says:

I have not heard of an issue like that before. Are you sure you set your software for rotation in the correct direction? Have you updated your trackball driver?

The Kensington trackball I use is the Kensington Expert Mouse. I use the X-Mouse Button Control driver with it since the Kensington driver does not work in Vista 64-bit.

July 8, 2009 at 8:42 am
(15) Hans Pieters says:

The problem was between my ears and eyes, because I could not rotate my monitor until the neo-flex monitor stands arrived. After that the whole thing worked fine. It’s ideal for reading e-books. That was why I wanted the portrait setup. I am a happy reader now!
Sue, thanks for your help.

November 4, 2009 at 5:53 pm
(16) Jamie Dahl says:

in regards to your color management comments. Calibrate your monitors and you will have identical output. (dont calibrate just one and then use the same .icc profile). You might also find you’ve been using incorrect color all along. but if you REALLY want both monitors to match, color correct them..
thanks though nice article, was wondering if monitors could still be rotated!

March 1, 2010 at 3:09 am
(17) Rico says:

Hi Sue,
The example you posted shows two different application for each monitor.
Is it possible to display one application like Powerpoint slide for both, one in landscape and one in portrait?

March 1, 2010 at 12:10 pm
(18) Sue Chastain says:

Rico, I guess it depends on the application. If you can open multiple windows in the application, then any of the windows can be moved to one screen or the other.

March 1, 2010 at 4:59 pm
(19) Michael says:

Sue, Thank you for the article.

I am curious if you know whether all LCD monitors will work in portrait mode, given the right stand (i.e. an aftermarket stand if the built-in stand won’t do portrait).

I thought I had read somewhere that some monitors look fuzzy or have bad viewing angles when rotated into portrait mode. I have an aftermarket Ergotron stand that allows for rotation, but don’t know whether I am free to choose any monitor. Some more expensive monitors advertise pivot mode or portrait mode, but I don’t know if you’re paying for anything other than a fancier stand.

Thank you in advance for any advice you may have.

March 1, 2010 at 9:48 pm
(20) Sue Chastain says:

As long as your graphics driver supports rotation, you should be okay. Most of them do these days. Viewing angle could be an issue, but most newer monitors are pretty good for viewing angle.

December 4, 2010 at 4:30 pm
(21) Andrew says:

Hi, I have a tablet laptop and a second monitor and I want to use the tablet as an interface to the second monitor. But whenever I use duplicate mode it copies over the rotation so on my tablet it’s right side up and the one on the monitor is upside down. I understand that you can have seperate rotation for extended mode but I need it in duplicate mode so i was wondering if there was any way to do that.

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