Cover image for How many monitors do you use when programming?

How many monitors do you use when programming?

bigj1m profile image Jim Plourde ・1 min read

A good setup is one where everything needed is in front of you and quickly reachable. Some swear two is the minimum while others only use one.

How many monitors do you use when programming?


markdown guide


One for a browser (including chat, calendar, and reference materials).
The other two are for code, or for SSH sessions with test boxes or VMs.

I also use virtual workspaces a lot. There are times when I need to spread actual work (code, test target servers, more code) across all three screens. In those cases I'll move all the terminals down one level in the virtual workspaces and leave the browser, chat, etc. behind. Finally, my bottom tier of virtual workspaces is where I keep things like keepassx and other software that I just need going in the background.

When I travel I use a USB-powered monitor alongside my laptop. It's not as nice as a full workstation setup, but works well enough for temporary use.

I really don't care for the two-monitors-plus-laptop approach. The vastly different screen size between the laptop and the external monitors is hard on my eyes. So my laptop is usually closed, plugged into a dock that drives the three externals.


Five. Two 4k 32” 60p, two 2.7k 27” 60p and build in mbp 15”
Left monitor is a standing 2.7k which I use for multiple terminals, then a 4k where I run browsers and devtools, the 4k for vscode, then 2.7 standing for ”communications” (jira, slack, mail etc)
Built in screen is for notes, finder etc


I'm not sure how you sit and how long you look at the monitors on the side, but basically this is how I got my neck and back pain - keeping my hands on the keyboard, while twisting my neck and body to look at the leftmost (or rightmost) monitor. Just my .02c :)


Thanks for the heads up. I have had this setup a couple of years now without any trouble with my neck though. (Actually I had 6th monitor on the right two years ago, before I settled on this setup.)

I think it depends on how you organize the applications you work with. I use Moom for mac, which makes it easy to rearrange my work space and have different presets.

I had my setup for nearly 10 years without problems :) When I was in my early 30s, I could torture my body as much as I want and everything went away in a matter of minutes, after finished working... Fast forward another 12 years and some parts of my body came back to present a bill... with interest... :)

Oh snap! I will take heed and be sure to rotate with the keyboard more.
Once again, thanks for the heads up! Im about to turn 40 and I do notice I have to work out more for the body to keep up. I really cant imagine working with less screens though since it brings me into the intoxicating flow super easy, so will have to make sure to rotate chair and keyboard (aka mbp) more often. Its easier now since I only need one cable in the computer nowadays.


When Im mobile I use 3-4 screens using Packed pixels and sometimes the ipad pro as a side screen



Wow! Never seen such screens you put on your laptop screen. I might have a new need...

I think you can still grab their generation 2 (3?) at a discount on indiegogo.
Search for ”packed pixels”

That is awesome! I was thinking of attaching two ipads to my laptop using Duet Display, but each iPad costs a lot more than "packed pixels" here...

If I could only have one iPad that would be nice 😂


Looks stressful, one screen is all I need.


Each to his own. I find this setup is optimal for my workflow and it maximizes my productivity, which makes me relaxed :-)
Ive tried both fewer and more screens, but this is the sweetspot.


This setup is rad. No compromise, pure optimisation.


Okay, I'm slightly going to rant for your own good. Is that okay? I'm British/Canadian. Sorry eh...

At home for my own projects, I own a 32" 4K IPS main monitor, a secondary 28" 4K monitor and finally the laptop 4K 15" screen (though I rarely look there). They are mounted on a proper high end flexible monitor stand, and I sit on a decent ergonomic chair which was made to match my height (2.10m).

At work (contract) I have the same 32" 4K IPS main monitor (which I bought so I can take it with me and have the same model), a secondary 27" 1920x1200 monitor, my 4K laptop and another 4K 27" monitor for the game console I work on.

I've been programming for nearly 40 years and I wish somebody had told me this sooner:

If you're programming for a living and squinting at tiny fonts through a letter box on your laptop, how is that investing in your talents? The 32" 4K monitors are absolutely the best investment I've ever made (they're only $800 or so each now). So go online right now and buy yourself the biggest 4K monitor you can afford. No, buy two. And a monitor stand. And a decent chair. I give you full permission to splurge. If you think you can't afford it, you're thinking wrong. In fact now I'm thinking I should plan to upgrade the two side monitors at home and work because I'm short selling myself.

If your work won't buy you one, tell them you're buying it yourself. That will either shame them into it, or they'll let you. If they don't, seriously think about finding another job because they're not investing in you.

(NOTE: I read some people are on tight budgets/students - take the above advice and keep it close, save up, drink less beer or coffee (I know, I know, sacrifices) and aim to get decent hardware as soon as you can afford it.)


I find the 32" way too big. I guess it depends on your desk, setup and personal preference. I am currently working on one, but I indend to change it for the 24" 4k DELL soon. It's awesome when I have to do a merge or work on multiple files at the same time, but I noticed, that many times I instinctively to move my head towards one of the edges and this makes my neck pain worse.


I don't have health issues -yet-, however with my 27" I found that I prefer positioning the windows at center, and do not like the visual components at sides.. Using that way, 13" MacBook's screen is practically as wide as 27" monitor.. I think I am leaning towards using laptop monitor only.. I wish we had 4:3 instead of 16:9.. That's why I prefer Mac to PC laptops.. 16:10 @ 13.3 is more usable than 16:9 @ 15.6..

Deniz, did you check out the new microsoft laptops? It's aspect ratio is even better: 3/2

Templar++, unfortunately Microsoft does not sell their laptops in our country. Samsung and LG has some nice devices and they do not sell as well.. Only Apple has all the SKU's, Dell and Lenovo has some..

All sell their products %15 more expensive as well.. Adding that %18 VAT, which makes them super expensive.. However, at least we can access those units..

Templar++ I checked Microsoft Surface 3 15".. With resolution of 2256x1504 (px) @ 201 PPI, it has 285 x 190 (mm) display size.. It's roughly same with with 13.3 @ 16:10, but 11mm higher..

After 200PPI, I think we can ignore the resolution, and just talk about the dimensions..

MacBook Pro 16" is interessting with its 345mm x 215mm display.. Comparing to Surface Pro 3, It will give 25mm (~1") extra in vertical, and 60mm (~2.4") in horizontal.. It's better for code/documents, and if you want side by side it may do that as well..

Thank you, Deniz, I never thought to compare the laptops this way. Indeed MacBook Pro 16 is something to consider. Currently I have an old MacBook 2012 and I love it. 7 years later it still behaves like a up-to date laptop and all the issues I had were from spilling coffee on top of it and using it too much. Luckily I have a friend, who can repair it cheaply for like 30% of the price in the official repair center.

What bothers me in the new 16" MacBook is that touchbar is terrible for debugging. I like the F-keys better and this is why I still keep my old MacBook.

On a side node - may I be a bit jealous about your VAT % - ours is 2% higher :)

That aside - usually the keyboard of laptops, sold in europe is the awful Int'l keyboard with shorter left shift and L-type enter, that drives me crazy.

I was checking the top models of Lenovo as well, but they cost an arm and a leg too (I think the price for X1 was literally the same as MacBook Pro)

Missing function keys bothers me as well.. I think I'll configure CMD + something for debugging.. Such as CMD+4 for step into etc.. We have the same layout, L type enter, short left shift.. Since Turkey established, we copy EU.. :)

Don't be jealous of our 18% VAT, we are paid a lot less for the same amount of work.. A MacBook is 6-7 month of salary for an ordinary citizen..

Lenovo's and Dell's premium devices are sometimes costier than Apple's.. However, their quality control and service is not as good as Apples.. BTW, they prefer FHD or UHD instead of 1440p @ 15.6".. WHY?? Wouldn't it be wise using only 1440p so that inventory, quality control etc all of them would be easier.. Even because of bulk purchase the price would be better..

Those are another "why"s I prefer Apple: Optimum selection of components..


Hi fellow giant canadian. I'm 2m05 myself. Even tho I'm on student budget, I never compromised the budget for the place I spend most of my time. I bought myself an ergonomic chair with a really tall cylinder. I plan to buy arms for my two screens.

I think we could have interesting conversations sharing tips on ergonomics.


You should definitely buy monitor arms - that and the chair will mean you don't suffer later on in life. As an added bonus it gave me back a ton of desk space I can fill with Lego Wall-E, Yoda, and other stuffies (useful for Duck Reviews and moral support).

At work I settled with putting the monitors on riser stands and on top of the game console dev-kit. Not quite as good, but the monitors are now at the right height.

I like the Lego part. Thanks for the tips also


What's your approach for font sizes etc.? You using native resolution with in-app zooming or running at half res? Asking for a “friend” with deteriorating vision...


The Mac has decent global scaling options in settings. However I tend to leave it at native scaling and choose a decent font for Emacs (Inconsolata) and tend to have the font large enough to have about 300 columns (100 in 3 windows wide).

On Windows I find the font rendering and scaling not quite as good, so I think it's more like 270 columns (90 in 3 windows wide).

I also bind shift-mouse up and mouse down to increase and decrease font size (I think this copies Visual Studio) for showing code to others or for rare occasions when I get strain.

Other advice I'd have is to splurge on a proper full eye exam by a professional optician at least every two years and have specialized glasses just for coding - the focal length is set for the monitor distance (though they have a distance focus at the top 25%). They took a little bit of getting used to, but they really helped. They were also pretty expensive, but again this is your health and your work, so spend the dollars if you can.

I once had shoulder/neck issues, and had several trips to the physio - he was the one who advised me to get a proper monitor arm and chair - so I took his advice and havn't had any issues since.

Same, have a standing desk and high monitor setup for that reason. Also a pair of computer glasses.

I’ve been using an ultrawide (3840 x 2120? or something like that) at home and it seems to work well, but it’s a pain to go back and forth between that and the two-monitor setup at work. I’ve been wondering if 4K produces smoother fonts and details when zoomed than 1920x1080. If so I might try replacing both setups with triple 4K at some point.

I wear eyeglasses and they have a blue light filter that is very effective with screens. The difference is huge


And for those grad students who can't afford drinking beer and are already down to one cup of coffee they get for free in the office?


Yeah, drink the beer and coffee for now.

Just keep the advice in your head until you get some work or cash. Sell something you don't use. If you can save just $2 a day in a jar, you can get a 32" 4K monitor within a year.

I've found that one very decent primary monitor, with a secondary to the left or right that is occasionally used works best without strain. Once you have two, upgrade the main one every two years or so, moving the old main to secondary and sell the old secondary.


I do everything on my laptop. I run most things maximized or near-to-maximized but use hot-keys to quickly switch between applications.

Overall, I find too much screen real-estate to be more of a pain than a value. I touch-type and I use a mouse-pad so I don't have to take my hands of the home-row: why would I want to have a screen-expanse so large that I'd need to do more than move my eyes?


When I am on laptop undocked, I only have one screen and I use linux workspaces a lot so it keeps things seemless. Do you use any tool for your windows management?


<ALT><TAB> and <ALT><SHIFT><TAB> all the way, baby!

I'm pretty much a minimalist in all things.
edit: forgot that Dev's MD parser eats thing that look like HTML tags.

I wasn't sure to understand your first version of that comment. That's nice then, also what I use

May I recommend using virtual desktops then? On MacOS it works better using the trackpad, but still better, than alt-tabbing. You can arrange your programs sort of "visually" and you know "left desktop is code", "right one" are the docs. The animation sort of helps the feeling, that you are rotating your head to look at the second monitor (without actually putting extra stress on your neck)

Win+Ctrl+Arrows on window

Virtual desktops have been a thing since OLVWM (late 80s/early 90s - used to use it on the Sun workstations at my University). I also used to carry a MBP - used to use virtual desktops. To be honest, it never felt much more useful than just straight stacking of windows and TAB-navigating.


Me neither until I got a Mac and discovered how useful the trackpad is... and I got a Macbook because my ultra-great HP Elitebook 8740w had a totally inadequate heating system and fried my hard drive so I had to work on something that week and there was this MB Air nearby.

Now I'm on a desktop and rarely use them, but it felt so good "peeking the desktop on the left" on the other laptop...

I use a ZBook. It's a furnace, too. At the time I bought it, it was because I was locally running VMs. Six months after buying it, all my VMs run in the cloud.

I'm thinking of going to a less roided out system when I replace it. I mean, I don't really do anything locally that four cores and 32GiB of RAM benefit from (well, other than Firefox and Chrome's voracious RAM appetites).

MacOS'es virtual desktop switch animations actually slows and distracts me.. I wish there was an option with no animations, because that way unnecessary windows title bars etc will be removed.. But Apple knows everything right?

"Apple knows everything" would be the crux of why I refuse to buy Apple products. :p


Three: One for messaging and reference (Outlook, Slack, a Firefox window, etc). Once for main code (C# mainly). One for related code (MSSQL), other reference, and notes (Notepad++).

Everything else is minimized or not even running. Don't need it on the screen, it's gone.


This is the best set up imo. I'm back down to two unfortunately and it's already frustrating.


My dream setup is three screens. Unfortunately, student budget hahaha.


Two. One for programming on and the other for knowing I have two monitors 😂

Honestly though, two can be useful to juggling things around and always keeping some dashboards open. I'm currently working on an additional piece of hardware these days as well that has its own monitor and my laptop is often open so it adds up (Synergy FTW though)


In the last 6 months I’ve gone from 3 (24” | 24” | 13” laptop) to 1x24” after a prolonged period of neck pain causing astonishing headaches and much physiotherapy.

I’ve come full circle. It was great having multiple monitors but now I strongly believe the only place your head should be looking is straight ahead. Is it less productive? Maybe slightly when switching between code & browser or putting two documents side-by-side but I generally don’t miss it. Is it better for you? Unquestionably


Forgot to add: I think I’ll upgrade the 24” monitor to a 27” 4K but probably not anything larger or I’ll develop the same problems.

Also: using a single monitor is great for focus. You don’t need Slack/email available to glance at all the time


Nothing more important than health. I'll pay $1k if that is what I need in order to not have any pains.


I used to have 4 monitors:

  • one 30 inch for the code
  • one 24 inch for the app I'm debugging (usually a browser, as lately I was working on web apps)
  • one 24 inch for browser developer tools or for the chats and emails
  • one 22 inch for the database console and anything else like a second browser window with stackoverflow or some documentation

However lately I got neck and back pain from staying a bit "twisted" after looking for a longer period at one of the side monitors, without moving my keyboard and mouse.

Now I keep only one monitor on the side and a big one in front of me and try to avoid looking at the side one for longer time. That + a sit-stand desk and more exercise sort of helps...


I always try to center the two bezels of my screen so I alternate between the monitors without pain. And I alternate between sitting, standing or bean bags. Helps a lot


I'd say taking a rest once in a while and going for a swim helps even more.

My point is, that if you have multiple monitors - try NOT to twist yourself, while looking at a monitor on the side, and while your hands are on the keyboard, which is in front of the center one (basically don't repeat my mistake).

Yes. It's good advice and I try to implement that as best as I can.


Everything was fine - I could torture my body as much as I want..... until I got over 40... then some parts of it reminded about "the credit" and "asked for interest" :)

That's definitely why I want to do it right, right now. So I won't pay later


Always one.

When I'm in the office, I work on a 24" or 27" (not sure) monitor and the MacBook lies closed next to it, so I can appreciate the stickers. At home I only use the MacBook since I don't have a desk anyways, so there's that.

I got used to quitting apps I don't use, like any Chat/Mail-Apps, since they are just a distraction most of the time. The terminal is mostly minimized to a few lines so I can see when Webpack has finished rebuilding. So it's mostly just Code and Safari / Code and Terminal, depending on the kind of work.

In general I like to keep as few apps open as possible. The title-bar and dock hide automatically so I have a bit more space. Get used to opening apps via Spotlight-Search, and quitting them after use. Most things shouldn't be in front of me. I am not here to service the apps. Apps should service me.

The only time I would wish for another screen is when I do video-courses or learn with e-books. I'm looking forward to using the iPad as second screen for this purpose.


I use one ultrawide monitor. I’ve gone through phases of two, three, and four monitors and I ultimately found that I am not more productive, just more distracted.

Being a backend only dev means I don’t need to check my work in the browser 90% of the time so I can just go full-screen terminal with a few panes for different things.

I tend to use three macOS Spaces. Left one is Slack, Twitter, email, notes, personal browsing, etc. Middle is terminal. Right is all work-related browsing (Jira, Github, our site, Google/Stackoverflow, etc) and Postman. My idea here is I segregate all distractions into one Space that is only visible when I actively use it. If it’s a separate display, I’ll always get distracted by things in the corner of my eye.


Three. One of them ultrawide split vertically for editor/ide + terminal, the other for browser to see stuff in action that I am building + dev tools, and one for everything else - mail, IM, documentation and other stuff


I'm at two, perfect setup for me would be 3. I'm working on it.


I do mostly web and mobile development, and I use 3 monitors:

4K left for previewing different resolutions at once
5K center for coding and browser developer tools
1080p right in portrait mode for messaging, reference and other tools.

Best setup I've come up after a lot of test and improved over the years.


Usually one, but I'm almost always on Linux and making aggressive use of multiple workspaces if in the GUI, or GNU Screen if on the command-line.

At work I technically use two, but the second one is actually a completely separate computer and doesn't really get used for much other than email most of the time.


I really need a good terminal windows manager on Linux. Any recommendations?

  • Monitor: Displays browser and terminal logs
  • Computer: Displays code

I have a T470 and eventually I want to get (build in Lego) a stand for it.


i have an old dell at home and as 2015 mbp at the office. t470 is amazing.

Yes. The only downside is the screen brightness maxed out is very low, but at least it's modable.


I just use one monitor (wide screen) from my work I have the option of 2 monitors but for me is more productive to use just one I think is just personal preference.


I will soon have the chance to try a wide monitor. It looks very practical


Yes it is! I mostly work on backend stuff ( now and then will do some html/css ) and for the most part a wide monitor is just perfect for me

I'm doing backend too and I see your point. Can't wait to try


I have 4 in my current configuration. Each is a drastically different shape, size, and resolution from the other. I like variety and its good for testing.


I don't know I would have a use case for 4 monitors. I barely can justify a 3rd one, but I'm happy it works for you. How do you use them ?


so configuration wise I have 3 side by side and the 4th over top of all 3...its a 4k tv so pretty large. the TV is usually dedicated to monitoring tools... logs, alerts, etc... one screen is usually for my browser for documentation and such. The middle screen is for editors and command shells. The last screen is for live communications... slack, IRC, email, IM... so they all get used pretty much all the time.


Legitimately use 5 currently. Looking to get a 6th one.

Have 5 monitors, 27 inches each, 1440p.

Here's the breakdown:

Bottom left:
Terminal, split into 4 (or 5):
Top left is the server, including things like linting errors.
Top right is Cypress tests (I do TDD with E2E tests).
Bottom left is Jest tests (I do TDD).
Bottom right is a free terminal.
I use Storybook too, so sometimes that requires a tab.

Bottom middle:
VSCode, split into 2. Left is code, right is tests.

Bottom right:
Web browser showing what I'm working on.
Also used for Cypress tests, which I want to move to a separate screen in the future (the 6th monitor).

Top left:
Programming notes and plans about what I'm currently working on.
E.g. architecture and TODOs for the current story, as well as my personal programming notes.

Top middle:
Browser for research. E.g. documentation, stack overflow, etc.
Also used for music and the board (like Jira).
Also used for the file system (which has tabs), for if I need some random file from my computer.

Looking to get 1 more monitor for:
Cypress tests, visible at all times.

I can live without them, as I use 2 monitors at work + laptop, but it's so much more efficient for me to have everything visible at all times, particularly the tests.


When I am docked, I use two monitors: one horizontal for my IDE, the other is vertical and contains everything else mostly web browser, test outputs and terminals.

When the laptop is undocked, I only have one screen. I mostly use it when sitting outside and this happens 15% of the time.


For me, 1 is laptop when I'm on the road, 2 is my minimum, 3 my best.


I usually use two monitor setup while working - both in work or at home on my laptop. Got an external mobile monitor for that.


I'm in that boat now. Feels good, wouldn't go back to only one.


I use two monitors in company but I think three maybe more convenient.


Only one 27" monitor along with extremely fast and subconscious Alt-Tab is all that I need. No neck and back pain if you adjust your chair, keyboard and monitor properly.


Two. My main monitor is in a good location to stare at for a long time, while the other one is reference (docs, production code I am writing tests for, etc.).


Same setup. I like it a lot.


One and laptop. I think I'll get hurt by using more than two.


Well, form me it works having 2 monitors, in one i had the console and come code, an in the other y have the browse.