We love multiple monitor workstations, but "Ultrawide" displays, packing resolutions that rival two or three panels side-by-side, are looking better and better these days. After all, having more than one monitor doesn't automatically make you more productive. Here's how these new ultrawide monitors differ from a dual-screen setup, and when you might consider buying one.
What Are "Ultrawide" Monitors?
Ultrawide monitors are traditionally any display that's about 21:9 aspect ratio, designed to have a similar aspect ratio to traditional movie theatre screens. Depending on the size of the display you purchase, you're looking at screen resolutions of around 2560 or 3440 pixels wide by 1080 or 1440 pixels high, in display sizes from 29" to 34" diagonally. 29" models are often competitively priced, but 34" designs generally attract a premium
Either way, that's a lot of horizontal working space, sometimes more than you might get by jamming two or three displays together. Plus, a single, ultrawide monitor gives you a seamless working (and gaming) experience without bezels in between windows or documents, and without multiple connectors to your computer's video card to drive all of those displays together. Dell, LG, AoC and ASUS are amongst the more prominent producers of ultrawide displays.
Essentially, the dream is to have one display on your desk (or maybe two) with more working space than three or four smaller displays combined, all using just a couple of connectors on your video card. Ultrawide displays also allow you to run native resolutions on current-generation video cards (and for gamers, even run games on your current graphics card) without having to upgrade to cards with more power, more ports, or in some cases, two or three cards just to make everything work smoothly.
Of course, that's the promise. The reality is a little more complicated, but that doesn't mean ultrawide monitors don't live up to it in some cases.
Can Ultrawide Monitors Make You More Productive?
The question we set out to answer is whether or not ultrawide displays are better than dual-monitor setups for productivity (or just about anything else.) The first thing to remember is that the number of monitors you have doesn't matter when it comes to productivity. It's the actual real estate those monitors offer that matters, and how you use it.
If you have two or three tiny displays and you still scroll and struggle to work with the documents, spreadsheets, and web pages you need to read, they're not helping you. In that case, one, really large display that can accommodate all of that information cleanly (or rotating it so it's vertical) would be a bigger boon for you.
29" ultrawides almost universally come in 2560 x 1080 varieties. That's great, but that screen resolution isn't anything you can't get with a standard 30" 16:9 display (or better yet, a 16:10 display). Unless you're just a huge fan of the 21:9 aspect ratio at 29", it doesn't seem to make that much sense when you can spend the same (or save a little) and get one or two larger displays for the same (or more) real estate. Plus, in order to keep costs down, many of the 29" ultrawide panels we checked out ditch useful features like a tilt/swivel stand, VESA mount, or extra video inputs in order to keep things affordable.
34" is where things get interesting though. At 34", you start to have more than enough room to work, and resolutions like 3440 x 1440 give you enough space to open up three or four browser windows, documents, or applications side-by-side or tiled without text getting too small to read and menus impossible to navigate. Plus, since the 34" ultrawides are usually flagship models, they include all the ports and connectors you'd ever need, VESA-compatible mounting, auto-rotating and fully adjustable stands. Here's Linus from Linus Tech Tips explaining how this LG 34" became his daily driver. Using a 34" ultrawide is a lot like that feeling you had the first time you put two monitors on your desk and marvelled at how much room you had to work.
A note for gamers: We've talked about setting up triple-monitor gaming setups before. Ultrawides still come with the same in-game challenges that an AMD Eyefinity or NVIDIA Surround gaming setup would have, but you don't necessarily need a new or more powerful graphics card to drive an ultrawide setup. With two or three standard monitors, your graphics card (or cards) have to drive each monitor with decent refresh rates. With an ultrawide, you only have to worry about powering one (and connecting one.)
Of course, 3440 x 1440 is a lot of pixels, so low-end cards will still strain, but a decent band-for-the-buck graphics card should do, and you probably won't need two cards or multiple connectors (which also means less cable clutter!) Of course, not every game supports widescreen resolutions. Many will break (or add huge black bars on the sides), but the Widescreen Gaming Forum is a great place to dig into those issues, and they have a database of widescreen-friendly games.
The Bottom Line: Great If You Can Afford Them
At the end of the day, ultrawide monitors can be great. They may even be the future of traditional workspaces. However, the benefits of an ultrawide monitor only really appear once you get over 30", or bigger and wider than most people already work with one or two displays. The difference is pretty stark -- gamers and movie fans will love the full surround experience without bezels in the way, and productivity hawks will love being able to keep multiple applications up side by side or tiled without actually having to resize anything to make them all usable at once.
Plus, if you like having your displays angled a little on either side of your desk (like I do), those curved displays are especially nice. Every direction you glance your eyes are more centre-on than if you had a flat display that wasn't angled towards you, so everything feels a little more wrap-around and natural-looking. Of course, that brings us to the biggest drawback, at least for now: price.
Ultrawide monitors are still a significant price premium, especially for those 34" models that feel so great to use. Even so, if you have the money to get an ultrawide -- especially one of the curved models -- it can make work and play a whole new experience.
If you're on a budget, or don't like the idea of spending as much on a monitor as you would on a whole new computer, you may want to just grab a pair of 27" displays, call it a day, and keep the change in your pocket. For now, that is. After all, prices come down and competition heats up (not to mention 4K/5Knd what it might mean for ultrawide monitors). Eventually, this is likely to be an affordable approach for everyone.