You would think that with the plummeting price of LCD screens, the need of the PC industry to sell more hardware, and an overarching desire for increasing productivity in the workplace, there would have been countless studies about the impact of multiple monitor use in the workplace. The bizarre reality is that you could probably count the number of such studies on one hand. The seminal piece of research was a cooperative effort in 2003 between (what was then) NEC-Mitsubishi, ATI Technologies, and the University of Utah. In assessing single- versus dual-monitor (18" LCDs) usage in everyday work environment applications, “participants in the study considered multi-screen configurations significantly more useful than single screens and preferred multiple monitor setups on every measure of usability. They found them 29 percent more effective for tasks, 24 percent more comfortable to use in tasks and found it 39 percent easier to move around sources of information....Overall respondents in the study were 10 percent more productive using multiple monitor set ups.”
Also in 2003, Microsoft research designed a 42" wide, 3072x768 display called Dsharp. The device utilized three DLP projectors casting onto curved Plexiglas. “The first study revealed that the users' productivity increased by 9 percent,” notes Microsoft’s press release. “Further studies showed even greater increases—at times up to 50 percent for tasks such as cutting and pasting.”
Then came an inexplicable five-year research hiatus. Finally, Fujitsu Siemens teamed up with the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering and in early 2009 released a study detailing how 67 people were divided into three groups to complete a given set of productivity tasks. Group 1 used a single 19" display. Group 2 used a 22" widescreen. Group 3 used a triple-monitor (19") array. Because of learning, Group 1 improved by 1.9 percent. Group 2 took an 8.4% jump, and Group 3 blew the doors off with a 35.5% gain.
Clearly, more desktop surface yields greater productivity, and why every monitor and graphics card company hasn’t drilled this into the public’s collective head over the last seven years or so is anyone’s guess. Fortunately, AMD has revived the message with Eyefinity. How is one Eyefinity-enabled 5000-series card at $100 going to stack up against a non-Eyefinity card pushing three or four monitors with ATI SurroundView (the ATI discrete-plus-graphics chipset hybrid approach)? Good question. We haven’t been able to run those tests yet, but our guess is that the significantly faster architecture of the 5000-series GPUs combined with their much lower idle power consumption will make for at least a few compelling reasons to prefer Eyefinity over ATI SurroundView.