Clients and readers commonly ask, “Why does my 17” laptop screen display more information than my 22” desktop monitor?” What happens is that they buy a high-end notebook with a 1900 x 1200 screen, then realize that the display looks different on their physically-larger but lower-resolution desktop screens. I tell them that having a big monitor doesn’t equate to having a lot of screen real estate. The reason is simple but requires an understanding of how screen resolution works.

Resolution isn’t a function of physical screen size. The most common resolution for a 20” or 22” desktop panel is 1600 x 1050, while 17” laptops usually run either in the 1400 x 1000 range (both 1440 x 990 and 1400 x 1050 are common) or, at the high end, 1900 x 1200.

The most cost-effective way to get a 1900 x 1200 desktop display is to buy a low-end 24” LCD panel. These panels are available in the $400-$500 range and deliver a very usable desktop display for most business users. When you research them, you’ll see that many user comments relate to non-business-focused activities. These less expensive panels do lack things found in pricier panels such as HDMI connectors, built-in USB hubs, and built-in speakers, but the price delta between these price-conscious panels and the next step up is, on average, about 40 percent.

The panels might have a much smaller field of view without color changes, but this is only a problem if your plan for the panel includes using it to show information to multiple viewers simultaneously. If you’re sitting at your desk, your field of view changes very little, and you will be unlikely to notice this as a disadvantage.

Adjustability is also one of the major complaints against the lower end 24” panels, but some vendors do include fully adjustable stands that let the user set the viewing angle appropriately. I use a pair of high-end 20” 1600 x 1050 panels on one desktop, which have all of the bells and whistles of the expensive panels and have been in use constantly for almost three years. More recently, I’ve equipped my new Windows Vista desktop with a pair of Samsung 245BW 24” 1900 x 1200 panels. These are the value-priced entry in the 24” Samsung line, but they do have fully adjustable stands and after three weeks of use I’ve found few weaknesses in the panels, all of which are outweighed by the significant increase in screen real estate.