Learn about the technologies behind the Internet with The TCP/IP Guide!|
NOTE: Using robot software to mass-download the site degrades the server and is prohibited. See here for more.
Find The PC Guide helpful? Please consider a donation to The PC Guide Tip Jar. Visa/MC/Paypal accepted.
|View over 750 of my fine art photos any time for free at DesktopScenes.com!|
Description: The monitor displays the output of the video card, showing you the results of calculations that the PC has made. Using either a conventional cathode ray tube (CRT) similar to that used by a television set, or a liquid crystal display (LCD) such as those used on notebook PCs, dots called pixels are set to different colors and brightness levels to display text and graphics.
Tip: For additional information
on monitors, including more discussion of many of the technical details, criteria and
features mentioned below, see the Reference Guide
section on monitors.
Role and Subsystems: The monitor is part of the video subsystem and is closely related to the video card. Despite being located outside the main system box, the monitor is still a vitally important PC component, because its quality has such a big impact on the overall usability of the PC and the comfort level of its user.
Related Components: The monitor and video card; they are partners in many ways and should be purchased to match each others' capabilities.
Key Compatibility Selection Criteria: For the most part, virtually any monitor can be used with virtually any PC; they are amongst the most interchangeable of key components. The most important selection criteria are based on the type of monitor you buy and also on physical size.
The first decision to make is whether you want a conventional CRT monitor or one of the newer LCD types. Many people find that LCD screens produce a sharper, higher-quality picture. They don't flicker the way CRTs sometimes do; they also use much less power and take much less space than CRTs. However, they are also much more expensive than traditional monitors, especially if you are looking for a larger size. Most LCDs are 15" in viewable size; in contrast, CRTs of 20" or larger viewable size are available.
If you decide to go with a CRT, virtually any video card will work with it, and you are likely to have few compatibility problems regarding the video interface. With LCDs, you must make a further choice: whether you want an analog or digital interface to the monitor. Digital LCDs theoretically have better picture quality, but require a special digital video card--regular video cards produce an analog output.
With CRTs, an important issue is physical size and weight. CRTs take a lot of space, and their depth especially can be an issue if you are using them on a smaller desk or table. Some CRT monitors with slightly less depth than regular monitors of that particular size are now available; these are sold as "short neck" units. Very large monitors (20" and up) can be very heavy, weighing 50 pounds or more. Be careful putting these on top of small desktop PC cases, or you may damage your system.
Finally, a CRT's refresh and resolution capabilities must be matched to those of the video card. If the video card puts out its data at a resolution and refresh rate higher than the monitor can handle, the monitor will either shut down, show a scrambled image or (with some cheaper units) may even be damaged. Conversely, having a CRT that supports very high resolution and refresh rates doesn't help if the video card can't take advantage of them. (You might use the extra capability the next time you upgrade your video, however. Monitors are one place where planning for the future can make sense.)
Performance and Capacity Selection Criteria: Most of the emphasis with monitors is on quality issues. The monitor has no impact on performance and so performance criteria do not exist. However, a couple of capacity issues are of relevance: size and resolution support.
Most monitors are given a size measurement which refers to the length across the diagonal of the screen. Nominal sizes for monitors range from 14" to 22" for regular sizes and even higher for very expensive "presentation" or "boardroom" models. More important than nominal size however is viewable image size, which describes the real size of the image on the screen (nominal size includes parts of the CRT that are hidden by the edges of the monitor cabinet.) Be sure to check nominal size, as there can be a difference of up to an inch in size between different models that claim the same nominal CRT size.
Of course, most people like larger monitors, and a main reason is that they let you show either more information or the same information larger. However, larger isn't always better. Some people actually find larger monitors harder on the eyes than smaller monitors are. Larger monitors also cost more than small ones, which means to get a larger monitor of the same quality as a smaller one, you must pay more--sometimes substantially more.
The maximum resolution of the monitor is also important, but only to some extent. Manufacturers typically try to make their monitors support as high a resolution as they possibly can, but sometimes the maximum resolution is only possible by sacrificing sharpness or refresh rate (see below). For example, the last time I shopped for a 17" monitor I found some units capable of running 1280x1024 resolution, while others could only handle 1024x768. The higher resolution would have been a selling point--except that the image at that resolution was so fuzzy, and the text and graphics so hard to read, that I couldn't consider using it anyway. For those monitors the official maximum resolution was 1280x1024, but for me, 1024x768 was the highest practical resolution.
Quality Selection Criteria: Monitor quality is very important, since your eyes are at stake here, especially if you use the monitor a great deal. I could easily write pages and pages about monitor quality, but don't really want to. :^) So I am going to mention some of the key areas and also the ways image quality can be measured, but I'm going to be as brief as I can. Note that the quality criteria mentioned here are primarily oriented around CRT monitors; for more information on LCD screens see the page on notebook-specific component issues.
Note: To properly assess the
quality of a monitor model, be sure to see it in person. Make sure the monitor is warmed
up, and set to the highest resolution you plan to use on a regular basis. Check both the
center of the screen and the four corners for each attribute. If a particular unit seems
very bad, ask if they have another of the same model; it might just be a bum unit.
Here are the quality issues to look for:
Important Features: Some monitors come with additional features that some find valuable:
"Magic Numbers" To Watch For: Nominal image size; always look at viewable image size instead, and don't choose size over quality. Sometimes the dot pitch is also mentioned, but that's a valid, important spec.
Performance Impact: None.
Retail, OEM and Gray Market Issues: Most monitors are sold retail-packaged. Major PC makers label monitors that have been made by others, so OEM monitors are definitely around, and so are gray market monitors. Be very careful with warranty issues on OEM or gray market units!
Importance of Manufacturer: High. There are many reputable monitor manufacturers; choose one of them. Don't buy an el-cheapo monitor from a no-name company.
Typical Component Lifetime: Most PC components can be counted on to keep working for a decade easily, but often become obsolete within a year or two. Monitors are often the exact opposite: they are one of the more failure-prone PC devices, especially CRTs. However, if the model is of good quality there's a good chance it can be moved from one system to another.
Due to these reasons--low obsolescence and high failure when buying low quality--the monitor is not a good place to try to save a few dollars.
Warranty Issues: CRTs fail most often within the first thirty days, but probably fail years after purchase more often than most other components. I would therefore consider a full warranty to be very important for monitors; at least one year, and preferably two or three.
Driver Support Issues: Not really applicable. Just be sure that you have Windows set to the right monitor model type to be sure that the video card does not try to use a refresh setting beyond what the monitor can handle.
Special Specification Considerations: Keep the following additional points in mind when shopping for monitors:
Next: Hard Disk Drives