Graduating from the Baby (Laptop) Monitor
January 20, 2008 9:34 AM   Subscribe

How do I best ensure wedded bliss between my laptop and an external monitor?

I have a Thinkpad T60 with a 15" screen presently set at 1400 x 1050. It has a 128 MB ATI Mobility Radeon x1400. It would appear that 1400 x 1050 is the maximum it can be set at; higher resolutions are indicated as falling within "panning mode". My laptop has a 15-point thingy for an external monitor, which my system info dubs a D-subpart monitor hookup.

I would love to get an external LCD monitor, and thereafter tap into all the wonderful advice here about how to manage that real estate. But my threshold problem is that I'm too stupid to figure out what kind of monitor to buy. What I've extracted from prior threads is that this may or may not depend on my driver (which I have updated), but there seemed to be sharply conflicting views without any results back from the OPs. I haven't even the rudimentary understanding of how to translate that advice into what I can discern about my own system.

My subquestions include: (1) what size (in the sense of inches) monitor is most likely to be compatible; (2) whether widescreen is possible; (3) whether there's a particular kind of hookup I should be looking for (e.g., whether USB hookups, which some monitors seem to support and others do not, is desirable).

I would gladly entertain other kinds of advice, such as (4) good brands (I have my eyes on Viewsonics, Syncmasters, Dell, Gateway, HP), and (5) vendors/shopping sites (I have looked at Newegg and CNET -- sadly, their "monitors for dummies" guides are pretty out of date -- and taken in that I should be attentive to return policies). But I think I need to crawl before I walk. Thanks, and apologies in advance if I have misused the lingo.
posted by Clyde Mnestra to Computers & Internet (5 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
LCDs have a maximum resolution. The maximum resolution on your T60's built-in display is 1400x1050. This does not mean that your graphics chipset is incapable of driving higher resolution external displays, it's just a physical limit of the built-in display. You should be able to connect almost any external display with a VGA (15-pin connector) input, which should be most of them (except dual-link DVI monsters like that 30" Dell / Apple Cinema Display). A widescreen display should work for you, although I've never tried it with that exact T60; I see no reason why it shouldn't work in briefly scanning the specs. If I were you, I'd aim for the highest resolution/largest size I could afford.

As for external connectors, that's really up to you. Do you typically plug/unplug several USB devices whenever you put your laptop on your desk? If so, you might benefit from one with built-in USB hub (so you only need to plug/unplug the one USB cable rather than however many other peripherals) but if not, I wouldn't consider it make-or-break for a monitor.

I personally have a Dell 2407WFP, which has worked well for me, but was a bit pricy (I justify it because I do lots of graphics work that earns me income; YMMV). I've heard good things about the smaller Dell displays too, but google "Dell panel lottery" for some info on how they changed the panels in some of them a year or two back, much to the dismay of enthusiasts who wanted a particular panel technology. I actually bought mine through CostCo to take advantage of their return policy in case of dead pixels; if you're already a member, check out their online store.
posted by Alterscape at 10:00 AM on January 20, 2008

I've got a very similar Thinkpad. The 1400x1050 is the "native" resolution of the built-in LCD.

I have an external monitor and it can be set to an independent resolution (ie., the native resolution of the external monitor). Not at work now, but iirc you can right-click on the desktop and go to graphics properties (or there's an icon in the tray) where you can click on "monitor1" or "monitor2" and independently configure them.

I usually have it set as "extended desktop" so the extra LCD monitor essentially increases screen real-estate.

Two minor squiggly little problems are that if the built-in LCD and the external LCD are different resolutions, your wallpaper might not display the same on both - and default window sizes are held over regardless of which monitor it's displayed on (ie., it's the "right" size on one monitor but if you drag it over to the other one it's too small/big).
posted by porpoise at 10:23 AM on January 20, 2008

I have a T60 also (14" screen, but with the same native resolution and the same video card). I occasionally hook it up to my SyncMaster 216BW or 226BW with them set to their native 1680x1050 resolution without any issues. If you're running Windows, Ultramon is a handy utility for managing multiple monitors, but not necessary.

And FWIW, I'm pretty pleased with the SyncMasters.
posted by Pryde at 11:47 AM on January 20, 2008

You have been properly steered here, but I'll add:
1. The Thinkpad software (hit Fn-F7) is great for managing monitors.
2. If you want a really sharp picture on an external display, you should buy a dock (here but you can find it cheaper if you look) and digitally drive the monitor with DVI. To be fair, some will claim that you probably can't tell a difference.
3. USB hookups simply integrate a hub into the monitor, making it (possibly) easier to connect and disconnect USB peripherals. I think you understand this, but the USB really has nothing to do with the monitor-- it's just a stapled feature.
4. I can't tell you exactly what you'll be able to drive, and it may depend on whether you use VGA or DVI, but under that Fn-F7 menu, if you're running the same version that I am, go to "Manage Schemes", "New", "Next", Choose DVI or VGA, choose "Extended Desktop", and look at the dropdown to see what resolution(s) are supported.
5. Just buy an effing Dell monitor. It's guaranteed to never really be a bad choice. Look on Fatwallet for sales or coupons, if you'd like.
posted by Kwantsar at 2:53 PM on January 20, 2008

These are extremely helpful and on-point -- thanks to you all (not to the exclusion of anyone else who wants to chime in). If I have any interesting data from the purchase, I will try to update this thread. Thanks again.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 9:33 AM on January 21, 2008

« Older What goods from the US should I sell in the UK?   |   Doctorin' the house Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.