[lug] Monitor/Card tweaking - was Re: Color tweaks

Tkil tkil at scrye.com
Wed Feb 21 23:19:33 MST 2001

i remember thinking that ESR's discussion of monitor tweaking was very
helpful to me:


the tradeoff i tend to make is for maximum horizontal resolution,
until i start losing vertical single-pixel lines.  a toy i put
together to help me test this, as well as color convergence, is at:


it just draws a grid of white lines on a black background; i resize it
to fit the screen, and then look to see that everything looks square
(tests for aspect ratio) that there aren't any blue fringes (color
convergence problems) and whether the vertical lines are the same
apparent brightness and sharpness as the horizontal lines (tests to
see if i'm pushing one of the components past its limits).

things to think about, to make sure you have good X:

1. video card.  for coding work, you want cards that have top-notch 2d
   display capabilities.  3d benchmarks (pixels or polys per second)
   don't matter at all; rather, it's the speed and quality of the DAC
   that matters when you're talking to most monitors.  i've been very
   happy with all the matrox cards i've ever had.

   having said all that, most of the current crop of 3d-accelerator
   cards have more than adequate RAMDACs for most 2d work.

2. cable / interconnect.  if your monitor supports it, the use of BNC
   connectors (preferable 5-tail) is a good thing; i can notice the
   difference.  i can also notice the negative impact of using a
   keyboard / video / mouse (KVM) switch.

3. monitor.  there are very good monitors available for not much money
   these days.  even if you can't afford super-duper top of the line
   things (say, like a sony GDM-FW900 ... drool.), there are many
   reasonably priced ones that give a good tradeoff on usability.

since the keyboard, monitor, and mouse are all things i use very much
continuously, it's worth a reasonable investment to me.

having said that, here are my tricks for getting the most out of
marginal or out-of-date hardware.

a. use a light-on-dark scheme for text whenever possible.  especially
   if you choose a color primary on black, this removes any issues
   with color convergence, and it drastically reduces any strobing
   from low refresh rates.

b. consider non-standard resolutions, if your monitor supports them.
   i run my Sony Multiscan 20se (GDM-20SE1, same exact hardware as
   apple two-page color display, and as the HP monitor i have at work)
   at 1360x1024, since that's closer to 4x3 than 1280x1024 is.  given
   the constraints of the rest of the system, this gives me a vertical
   refresh of 78.08Hz (horizontal is 82.76, pixel clock at 145MHz).
   my mode line for this is:

      Modeline "1360x1024"  145    1360 1381 1491 1752  1024 1027 1030 1060

c. don't use KVM switches for machines you're spending lots of time
   at.  for an admin console on a couple of different machines, sure;
   for your primary development box, forget it.

d. prefer sans-serif fonts.  serif fonts are easier to read *on
   paper*; i've found that switching to helvetica and lucida
   drastically improves the legibility of on-screen text.

e. arrange your colors so that they don't clash with each other.  a
   snapshot of my current color scheme (fvwm2 and xemacs) can be found


f. when balancing resolution vs. refresh rate, pay attention to the
   image quality.  usually this will start to degrade as you get
   closer to the specified limits; i've had best results by staying
   within the bottom 90 to 85% of the specs at all levels (RAMDAC,
   monitor bandwidth, monitor hsync freq range, monitor vertical
   refresh freq range.)

anyway.  my personal recommendation would be to buy a quality video
card (G200 PCI or AGP with 8MB of RAM is fine for development work,
and either one is available for less than 100 USD), buy a quality
monitor (i've had good luck even with 300 USD 19" CTX monitors from
Sam's club, and the Hitachi "elite" 19" monitors are very nice as
well.)  finally, if your monitor supports it, buy or scrounge a PC-VGA
(HD15 sub or whatever it's called) to 5x BNC cable.  they're about 60
USD new, but you might be able to find one lying around if you work
somewhere there used to be lots of unix workstations.

hope this helps,

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