Have you ever wondered how many dual-monitor setup configurations exist? According to my experiments, there are 16 that are worth exploring, or 9 to be precise if we combine the left and right options. Since my monitor guide video came out I’ve been receiving a ton of questions and dilemmas from viewers, so I decided to run some tests to determine which are the optimal dual monitor scenarios.
In my observations, I am keeping things simple. The two criteria that I care about are productivity and ergonomics and to give credit where credit is due, this video was inspired by an old video of David Zhang which I’ll link below. The 2 criteria that I care about are productivity and ergonomics So, let’s not waste any time and start with the first main configuration Side-by-Side. The most popular side-by-side layout is the one that I call “Center horizontal SBS”.
This is when having the monitors dead center on the desk – essentially having the bezels right in the middle. Although this might seem logical and quite popular to be honest (because there are plenty of examples online) I find this configuration the worst (or the second-worst to be precise) in both ergonomics and productivity. The biggest pain point of this setup is not having the main display but rather two displays that are neither main nor centered. I’ve used such a setup for quite some time and I never found comfort in it.
Sure it might come in handy when video editing or doing some other dual-monitor tasks but for everything else, I would have to be working from a weird angle and lose focus trying to figure out which monitor I should consider primary. I would either feel uncomfortable looking to the left or feel equally uncomfortable looking to the right. The only comfort would be to look center and enjoy the bezels in the middle which is of course a joke! So let’s move on to the next one. The next configuration is “Left or Right Horizontal SBS”.
This setup pushes one of the displays to either the left or the right, leaving one display in the middle to be considered primary. This setup I can live with in terms of productivity, BUT it kind of looks out of balance, especially in 2 horizontal arrangements. The use case of this setup is throwing secondary tasks and apps to the display on the side while keeping the center one engaged for what matters most. In many cases, that might be some browser windows, coding apps, preview panes, emails, or simply a music player. This might look good if you have an asymmetrical desk, like an L-shaped one, but it does look odd on a standard desk in my opinion.
What’s more, such a setup takes a lot of space even if you decide to use monitor arms, which is always a recommendation for any dual setup or any setup in general. Still, Left or Right Horizontal SBS is much better than Center Horizontal SBS. What’s even better than both however is Left or Right Vertical SBS. This is exactly like the previous setup, with the only difference being the vertically oriented secondary monitor. This setup gains a lot of popularity recently and for a few good reasons. Now more than ever, we create, consume, and work with vertical content, whether that is vertical social media videos or creating apps for smartphones, or simply coding.
Having a monitor that is 9:16 rather than 16:9 at your disposal is always handy. Second, this setup takes a lot less space on the desk and oddly enough it looks more balanced than having a horizontal display being on the loose to your left or right, especially if the secondary display has 4 even bezels and no bottom branding. While testing it, I found many use cases for the vertical display as long as I kept it as a sidekick to my primary 16:9. If we do Dual vertical SBS however, which is also an option, we do something my father-in-law calls – putting too much salt in your food.
The problem of this scenario is the same problem from the first configuration where you have two main-ish displays but no central unit. Second, no matter how popular vertical content is, you are losing too much horizontal real estate which matters when it comes to software apps and UI elements. To understand my point, try using your tablet exclusively in vertical mode. Even if you add 2 more tablets, you’d still be more productive in one horizontal one. Ranking this would be to call it counterproductive and uncomfortable. Very hip though and a good Instagram show-off.
Moving to Left horizontal Laptop SBS. Now, this has many benefits. If you are a laptop user, you can simply take advantage of the already included display of your machine and leave your desk accommodating only one external monitor. This means that on demand, you can pull out your laptop and place it flanking your monitor to the left or the right and use it as a great secondary display. If it’s a decent size one, like in my case the 16” MacBook Pro, there’s no need to have two full sizes monitors. It is the ideal place to throw in some reference documents, file windows, notes, or whatever else is aiding your workflow. The same scenario can be achieved with an iPad if you are in the Mac ecosystem.
Keeping an iPad to the side of your monitor can help you tremendously, especially if you take advantage of Universal Control and SideCar. As an example, while having the much better built-in front-facing camera, the iPad might come in perfectly as your go-to-meetings device while working on your computer and the main external monitor. In that case, with the help of Universal control, you can simply jump in and out between Mac and iPadOS using one set of peripherals. Let’s keep the pace and go through the remaining layouts and the one that I call Center Top Stacked.
Think of it as having your main monitor front and center and having a secondary monitor tilted down towards your face, ON TOP of your main display. Out of all the setups, stacking setups like this one take far less space. They might look a bit overwhelming though, especially if you decide to combine an ultra wide with a 16:9 for example. Overall, the principle of having a primary and secondary display is the same, but the focus and distraction become vertical only, eliminating head rotation. If the monitors are not too big, this display layout might be consumed with little head tilt and just eyeballing for the most part which is more ergonomic than some other configurations we already covered. Looking at Center Bottom Stacked flip, where you have the secondary display below your main one, things are starting to approach my zone of workflow.
Having the secondary display below the main might be a little weird at first, especially when we talk about mounting and attaching such a setup, but in terms of comfort and productivity, it feels like having a giant non-touch tablet at the tips of your fingers. I’ve seen producers using such setups where the resolution on the bottom display can remain tiny because it’s that much closer to the eyes of the user allowing it to accommodate a lot of information, such as layers, timelines, and tools while the primary display becomes the window to the project that is being worked on – like the preview of my project for example. It is a bit questionable at this point which display can be considered primary and secondary, but you get my point. Worth exploring!
Before I tell you my favorite configurations and what I use most often, I’d like to point out that when picking and choosing the right monitor setup, you shouldn’t initially wonder about specific product models but instead find the answer for your optimal setup scenario. It’s a bit like the game of 20 questions – asking a “balanced” question that divides up the field of monitor choices and accessories into groups of similar sizes, eliminating lots of possibilities.
Now, the next configuration is the one that I use all the time and that is the Vertical Laptop Stacked configuration, where I have the laptop below my desk monitor. What makes this setup unique is the fact that this is the most compact dual monitor setup which is on demand. As you can imagine, if I don’t need a secondary display, I can just keep my laptop lid closed and have one less thing to blast light in my face. It is better than having two dedicated external monitors that always light up, whether you use the secondary display or not. In most cases, I use the big monitor as my primary display, and in the case of my line of work, I use the Liquid Retina XDR display of my MacBook pro as the reference monitor since it’s the best display that I have at my disposal. In other scenarios, I might use the MacBook as a reference display throwing in a shot list that I am working on or a script that I need to refer to.
When I don’t require a secondary monitor I just close the lid and boom, I have a clean single monitor setup. Occasionally, I might have my laptop completely tucked away and use the iPad to serve the same vertical stacked purpose as my laptop. This setup becomes even more versatile because it’s an on-demand secondary display that runs two operating systems – macOS and iPadOS get this – I can use it in both vertical and horizontal orientation below my main display. No cables, no fuss, no muss.
Whichever setup do you decide to take advantage of think of the following questions: What will you be using the secondary display for? What percentage of time will the secondary display be used for? Can the extra real estate be achieved by simply investing in a single ultra-wide monitor instead of two dedicated displays?
Source : https://youtu.be/9YV4-vW174E