Over the years, I've faced many different kinds of hardware failure in the various computers I use. Hardware failures seem to occur at the most inopportune moments--usually right before a particular computer is needed for a project with a deadline that's only hours away. But in all the hardware failures I've had to deal with, I've never had a monitor drop dead. That is, until recently.

It's not that I haven't seen monitors die. Usually they failed because of hardware compatibility problems or died soon after deployment. But one of my 21" monitors recently failed completely unexpectedly after more than 7 years of use. Curiously enough, the monitor failed after having been turned off for a week--the longest period of inactivity it had endured in its 7 years of daily use (I rarely turn off my two primary computers).

So why am I writing about dead hardware? Because the problems I've encountered while trying to replace my monitor bear mentioning. Finding a new monitor at a reasonable price hasn't been an easy task.

The primary problem is that with high-end monitors, user subjectivity is important; that is, what does the screen image look like at the resolution at which you want to run? I run my main desktop at 1920 x 1440 x 32-bit resolution. This resolution gives me the flexibility I need when working on multiple documents and the size and color depth I require when editing digital images. What I've discovered is that no one in my local area (and Philadelphia is at least a fairly major metropolitan area) stocks 20" and 21" monitors that support high resolutions. So, buying on the Internet became the most viable option for me. I figured that if I couldn't check out the monitor, I might as well get the best price possible.

Deciding to solicit some recommendations, I posted a few questions about my monitor needs on some computer forums and Usenet. In response, I received plenty of recommendations. In fact, it seemed that dozens of possibilities existed and that each had adherents with the same high fervor. A Google search was of even less value: Even after I narrowed my search to the dozen monitors I decided to consider, I came up with tens of thousands of hits. And the various computer magazines were of little help. Few reviews were available of the current crop of high-end monitors.

Finally, help came from an unexpected source: photography Web sites. Given the nature of the photography business and hobby, digital imaging is a big deal to photographers, who provide a lot of valuable monitor data that appears to be unavailable from traditional computer resources. I still haven't made a decision about a replacement monitor: I'm planning to follow up with the four vendors that I've narrowed my choices down to. However, without the unexpected assistance I received from the digital-imaging crowd, I'd still be wading through far too much extraneous and unhelpful information on my quest for a new monitor.