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Monitor buying tips

Monitor time. Looks like I’m in the market for a new monitor now. I was talking about monitors the other day with a Web developer, who observed that when you buy a good monitor, it tends to stick around forever–the CPU just changes. He’s right.

My personal monitor experience goes way back, of course. In my Commodore days, we just used a 13″ TV for a monitor for a long time, until I needed an 80-column display. In came a Commodore 1084 monitor, which was actually a relabeled Magnavox. It was the biggest piece of junk I’d ever seen at the time. It was constantly breaking, and at the time, when a 14-inch monitor cost $300, you fixed them. That monitor migrated to my Amiga 2000, and its streak didn’t improve any with age. After it broke again, I spotted a used NEC Multisync II monitor for sale on a local BBS for $100. Just a couple of years before, that monitor had sold for about $600, so I bit. I never regretted it. Best $100 I ever spent on computer equipment. This would have been in 1991 or 1992. That monitor finally died last year. It had been built in 1988, so it lasted 12 years. Nice streak.

Through the years I’ve owned some other monitors. I had a Dell monitor that ran for about a year and died. I had a Sony monitor that ran for three years and died. I replaced it with a used NEC MultiSync 3FGe. That monitor’s still going strong. I bought an Iiyama Vision Master Pro 17, which has a great picture (it’s got a Mitsubishi DiamondTron tube in it) but it’s getting flaky. It’s about three years old now. I had a pair of Pionex monitors that ran about a year before burning up. I got a used no-name monitor from work for my sister–paid $15 for it–and it ran about 6 months for her. It was never heavily used at work.

So, the rule seems to go about like this: cheap monitors run a year. Expensive monitors run three years. NECs run longer than that.

That’s not a fair sample size, but my experience at work is very similar. In five and a half years of doing this, I’ve seen one dead NEC in the workplace, and it was an ancient monochrome model. I’ve seen new Hitachis and old Hitachis. The old Hitachis are four or more years old and seem to have time left. I’ve seen about five Sonys, one dead. We ship out dead cheapies by the palletful.

I don’t think there’s much question. I want an NEC. I like the displays a Trinitron or derivative give, but NECs just seem to last longer. For the $30 price difference over a Sony, I’ll go NEC. When it comes down to longevity over an ever-so-slightly better picture, I’ll take longevity. Nothing against Hitachi, but it’s much easier to find an NEC, NEC has a broader selection, and I have more experience with them.

So the choices are NEC, NEC, and NEC. There’s the Accusync, Multisync, Multisync FE, and Multisync FP series. I went and looked at the different monitors available. The Accusync is a decent entry-level monitor, but it seems to target the budget-conscious who probably wouldn’t buy an NEC except the Accusync’s price comes within $10-$25 of a lesser monitor and gives a better picture. Chances are it isn’t built as well as the higher-end stuff. I concentrated on the Multisyncs and the FEs. The problem with looking at monitors side-by-side at a computer store is the splitter always makes the picture blurrier and more washed out. The FEs still looked pretty good, but the Multisyncs didn’t look so hot. Then I spotted a 17″ Multisync sitting on a display computer. It looked really good. I tried it at all resolutions, displaying text at various sizes. I liked it. And the 19-incher was $299. That’s an awful, awful lot of monitor for the money. (If I’m going to buy a monitor with the intent of keeping it 10 years, I’m not buying a 17-incher.) The FE950 costs 50% more, at $449 locally, but connected to a computer directly, it must be gorgeous. It looked good under conditions where lesser monitors looked like twice warmed-over coffee.

I can’t find an FP locally; it gives a slightly lower dot pitch and slightly higher maximum resolution. It’s really more monitor than I need, though if I still did serious DTP, that low dot pitch and 1920×1440 resolution sure would be nice.

Frankly the Multisync has me wondering why people bother with anything less. The price is good and the picture is good, if not excellent. Meanwhile, the FEs rival the best Trinitron displays I’ve seen, without the two fine lines, and it’s an NEC.

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