The Majesty of an Ultra-Wide Monitor

Posted in Hardware, Work

Recently, I decided to build a new gaming PC. The one that I have is a few years old, but I’ve kept its innards up-to-date with periodic, minor hardware upgrades. Modularity has been cool for a long time in the computing world.

The new system will be built to the Mini ITX standard. The standard is fairly new, but promises to be much smaller than the much more common ATX or even micro-ATX standards. Given computing is driving towards low power consumption and miniaturization of components, it’s a bit surprising that gaming hardware still tends to be noisy and hot and big. My challenge will be to fit all that stuff inside a much smaller chassis.

I’m also taking this opportunity to upgrade my monitor to the Dell UltraSharp U3415W. It’s an ultra-wide, 21:9 screen ratio, 3440 x 1440 resolution monitor that’s reasonably priced for its size. As I alluded to before, screens this big with a non-retina resolution are really meant for games and movies; text won’t be as sharp, and I’m not convinced that the extra width makes a huge difference in work-related productivity either.

On that last point about work, the main problem is that the 21:9 ratio is awkward for window management, especially in contrast to a 27” 16:9 monitor (4K/5K or otherwise). The 16:9 screen can function well with two windows side-by-side — both OS X and Windows are now aware and support window tiling this way — or have just one big full-screen app that maintains similar proportions to its non-fullscreened version1. Moreover, the extra width is difficult to see in full focus without swiveling your head, and at that point having two 16:9 monitors provides more flexibility, more pixels, and easier window management overall.

But for games and movies, having that extra screen on the peripheries adds a degree of immersion to moving pictures. It’s a similar effect to an IMAX screen; the cutoff from the screen to the rest of the room is much less noticeable when the eyes are focused in the center. The monitor does curve ever-so-slightly to try to reduce distortion, but the slant and sharpness of the edges matters less when the primary use case centers around the aforementioned moving imagery.

In any case, early impressions have been great, and once the new PC gets set up it’ll be fun to see how far I can push the graphics hardware to accommodate the screen.

  1. Here, I’m thinking of apps like Photoshop and its default panels layout.