Multiple monitor setups have long been an essential tool for computer power users and hardcore multitaskers, but it looks like the practice is rising significantly even as sales of traditional desktop PCs decline. The New York Times reports that while only 130 million desktop computers were sold in 2011, 179 million monitors were sold in the same period, with the 49 million unit discrepancy pointing towards a rapid expansion in multiple monitor use. Laptops aren't left out in the cold, since most include at least one monitor-out port, allowing for an almost instant dual-monitor setup.
The article points to more interest in the well-known multitasking benefits of multiple screens, though apparently a desk full of monitors is becoming something of a status symbol for the office set. Two, three and four-monitor setups are no longer the stuff of day traders, video editors and NASA mission control - NEC says that 30-40% of its corporate customers buy multiple monitors for their office employees. The rising sales are accompanied by larger individual monitors: the median size has increased to 21 inches, up from 18 inches in 2006.
As someone who's used dual and triple monitor setups at home and work for years, I can attest to their effectiveness personally. It isn't just the extra space, either - a pair of 20-inch monitors allows windowing and isolation of tasks that's cumbersome on a larger and usually much more expensive 30-inch display. And with better software handling of multiple displays in later versions of Windows and OS X, not to mention the lower prices among display vendors, it's never been easier to expand your workspace. Desktops with discrete graphics cards generally make things simple, but laptop users needn't be left with just one additional screen: companies like Matrox offer USB, DVI and DisplayPort options for expanding to anywhere from two to six additional displays.
But the biggest plus for more mainstream adoption of multi-screen systems might be the users themselves. IT administrators have been using multiple-monitor setups for decades, but now that more and more professional adults are literate in manipulating their computers, they've gained the confidence for "advanced" tasks like juggling dozens of programs and tasks across an expanded virtual display. And gamers are jumping on the bandwagon as well, with both ATI and Nvidia offering tailor-made solutions for full-screen gaming on up to six monitors at once.
As we move into the so-called post PC era, there's at least one thing that tablets and other mobile devices can't duplicate yet. Nothing beats the productivity boost from a well-implemented multiple monitor array.