Sunday, August 19, 2007

Considering Buying a 19" Flat-Screen Monitor?

Hi again.

Today I will discuss and discourse on the difference between a 19" LCD monitor and a 19" 'widescreen' LCD monitor. You may already know this, but it was new to me.

I recently had a bit of trouble getting the icons and screen presentation looking just right on a client's new 19" wide-screen flat-panel monitor. The only resolution we could set it to that left square desktop icons actually looking square was so small that we couldn't read the text under the icons! There just wasn't a resolution setting roughly analogous to 800x600 that allowed for the wider screen aspect ratio.

We finally gave up, left it set as nearly right as his video driver allowed, and I came home to do some math.

Here's the problem: we're all used to having our computer screens displayed like our conventional television sets: an aspect ratio of 4:3, meaning the width is 1/3 greater than the height. Movies (at the theatre, at least) are created with an aspect ratio of 2:1 or 16:9, making them wider than they would be on a TV set. Flat-screen monitors sold primarily as multimedia screens have an aspect ratio of 16:10 --- their width is 1.6 times their height. Older video cards, meaning any card made before the 19" widescreen monitors came out, aren't likely to have a resolution setting intended to work with that aspect ratio. The result: everything on your screen is either too tall or too wide, depending on which compromise setting you choose.

This problem could be alleviated if...
1. the video card manufacturers would release new drivers to accommodate the widescreen format, or
2. the widescreen monitors came with driver disks of their own.

While either or both of these possibilities MAY have occurred in some instances, I haven't been the lucky recipient of either; every widescreen monitor I've been asked to install and set up has been without any hint of a driver CD, and Windows Update hasn't provided any help in the way of updated video drivers. (Manufacturers' sites might have helped in this area, but I just recently figured this all out --- at the time, I didn't think to check the manufacturer sites.)

Here's the results of the crude math I worked out (assuming the bezel doesn't cover any viewing area):

a 17" monitor with a 4:3 aspect ratio:
width = 13.6" height = 10.2" total viewing area = 138.72 sq. in.

a 19" monitor with a 4:3 aspect ratio:
width = 15.2" height = 11.4" total viewing area = 173.28 sq. in.

a 19" widescreen (16:10 aspect ratio):
width = 16.112" height = 10.07" total viewing area = 162.248 sq. in.

So, you can see that in moving from a 17" conventional monitor to a 19" widescreen, you lose height (1.27%), you gain width (18.5%), and you gain 17% total viewing area. If your video card can utilize the new screen dimensions properly, you're ahead of the game. Only you can decide if the gain was worth the cost of the new monitor.

But, if you move to a 19" monitor with a standard 4:3 aspect ratio, you gain 11.765% in both width AND height, and you gain 24.9% total viewing area. And your old drivers continue to work just fine --- they were written for an aspect ratio of 4:3 in the first place! Your icons and 'cells' look like you're used to from your old monitor, only bigger (if you keep your old display settings) or in greater quantity (if you increase your resolution setting).

The 4:3 monitors aren't put on sale at prices quite as low as the widescreen versions, but in my opinion, they're the better buy, and worth the difference they cost. Case in point: today, CompUSA had a 19" Envision multimedia widescreen for $139 after $80 in rebates; a comparable 4:3 monitor from Hyundai was $185, no rebates necessary (don't rush to the site --- this monitor was sold out by the time I finished typing this blog entry).

Having thought it out, I've decided I won't buy a 19" widescreen, no matter how cheap the sale price --- when I can spare the cost of a 4:3 19" flat-panel, I'll finally upgrade.

Hope I've helped. Please email questions to



Sunday, July 8, 2007

I'm Back, Did Anyone Miss Me?

Wow, I can't believe it's been seven months since I posted my first blog entry. I meant to either abandon the blog if it didn't get Google to scan my website, or post every week or two to try and get my message out.

The blog worked, just like my friend Doc (Dave Dockery) told me it would. I posted my first enty on my birthday last year, and Google was pointing people to my site the next day --- they hadn't done so in the two months the site had been up and running prior to that.

Enough reminiscing, let's talk about Windows Vista. Or, to be more precise, let's talk mean about Windows Vista. It's not completely terrible, but I don't see what all the fuss was/is about. It does a few new cute visual tricks, but it's slower than Christmas; it needs twice the resources Windows XP needed to run half as fast. If ever there was a time to reconsider trying Linux, this is it.

Here's my recommendation: if your Windows XP machine is working well, or could be after you go to my website and run all the cleanup utilities collected there, keep it. Add as much memory as the motherboard will take, maybe even buy a bigger, faster hard drive if you can find one on sale, and stick with the tried and true Windows version you already know how to use. If you absolutley have to buy a new computer, ask Compaq or HP to sell you one with Windows XP Home Edition on it. Again, buy as much RAM as you can afford.

That's the same recommendation I made in 2000 when Windows Millenium Edition came out, and again when the first version of Windows XP came out the next year: if your old hardware is working, stick with the old version of Windows till they fix the bugs in it. And even then, don't consider 'upgrading' your old hardware to the newer operating system --- buy a new computer with the operating system already installed on it. I guarantee you'll be disappointed with any computer you upgrade to a new Windows version without upgrading all the hardware at the same time.

And to the people who followed my advice that long ago, or would have if I'd been blogging then, I say this: if you STILL have that Windows 98 machine running, doing everything you need it to do, keep it. Hopefully by now you've maxed out the RAM and tweaked all the settings so it pretty much flies. Go to and download all the hardware updates, all the critical updates, and those of the suggested/recommended/optional updates that don't add .Net or foreign language. Then turn off Automatic Updates; Microsoft won't be posting anything new for Win 98, so don't waste your time going looking.

If all you're doing is surfing the Web, checking your email, and playing mp3's, a 500 mHz Win '98 machine with 256 MB of RAM will do that as fast as a 3 gHz XP machine with 2 GB of RAM; both machines described will be waiting on your DSL or cable modem to catch up --- there's no benefit in having more capability than your Internet connection can handle.

Whether you're running Win 98, ME, or XP, go to my website and download/install everything on my Download page. There are links there to AVG, Spybot Search & Destroy, Winpatrol, EasyCleaner, and all of the Steve Gibson free utilities. If you're still running Win 95 or 98, I have the last version of the ZoneAlarm firewall that supported them. And just in case there's any Win 95 users out there who don't already have it, I've posted Internet Explorer version 5.5, Service Pack 2 --- Microsoft doesn't list it any more, so I'll leave it on my site till they ask me to remove it.

Can't say when I'll post here again, but it will probably be soon. I was writing a column for the Tampa Bay Computer Society newsletter, "Bits & Bytes", but they've kinda gone dark, so my free advice emails have just been piling up --- might as well post them here as keep them a secret.

Please write for free email advice on any computer-related subject. If it's a Windows Vista question, first I'll lambast you for abandoning your principles and moving to Vista too soon, then I'll try and find an answer and get back to you with it.

Write me at

Check out my website at

See what you can do to safeguard your computer and all your sensitive data at my Download page: www.ComputerRepairShop.bix/download.html.