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Expanding the View with a Dell LCD Display

Back when I took a more partisan approach to operating systems, I considered Dell the latest in the line of sworn enemies of Apple. Sure, Microsoft makes the dominant operating system, but vast numbers of Windows installations end up on Dell PCs. It didn’t help that company founder Michael Dell and Steve Jobs have traded PR barbs for years, with Jobs likening Dell laptops to bland Ford Taurus automobiles and Dell commenting that his favorite Jobs creation was the movie Toy Story 2. (Interestingly, Michael Dell also commented recently that he’s open to the idea of selling upcoming Intel-based PCs running Mac OS X.)


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Since I don’t run a PC on a regular basis, I didn’t expect that I’d be looking at the Dell logo on my desktop. But that’s exactly what’s happened – not a PC (though I did buy a refurbished laptop a couple of years ago for testing), but instead a beautiful 20-inch flat-panel widescreen display, the Dell UltraSharp 2005FPW.

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Multiple Monitors, At Last — Adam has been a proponent of using multiple monitors for longer than I’ve known him (see "Double the Fun with Multiple Monitors" in TidBITS-421). And although he and others have made a good case for more screen resolution over the years, I could never quite justify the cost. Plus, I’ve used PowerBooks as my main Mac for years; the previous desktop Mac I owned was a Power Macintosh 7500. For a short period I hooked my PowerBook 5300 up to a 17-inch CRT, but only to use the monitor as the main display, with the PowerBook’s lid closed. When PowerBook displays started increasing in size, and the 17-inch CRT gave out, I saved my pennies and stuck with the laptop’s LCD.


Then, a couple of months ago, I had an opportunity to experience multiple monitor nirvana: as part of a software review for Macworld, Apple went crazy and set me up with the best hardware it could offer to test with: a dual 2.7 GHz Power Mac G5 running two 30-inch Apple Cinema Display monitors (that’s more than 8 million pixels; you can see two photos at the URLs below). The hardware had to go back to Apple within a couple of weeks, but it finally convinced me to consider buying a secondary display.

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Unfortunately, I’m not keen on spending the $3,000 required for a 30-inch Cinema Display. LCD prices have been falling pretty steadily, though, so I checked Dealmac to see what special offers were available.


Dell, being the giant of the industry, is able to command great prices on the parts it buys, which is one reason the company can offer complete computer systems for relatively little cost. Consequently, Dell frequently puts together deals to move its inventory. In this case, I found the 20.1-inch 2005FPW LCD for around $550. Considering that Apple’s original 22-inch Cinema Display cost $4,000, and its current 20-inch model costs $800, the Dell display was a great deal.

More than a Monitor — The 2005FPW has a 20.1-inch viewable screen size, supporting a maximum resolution of 1680 by 1050 pixels (1,764,000 pixels). According to the technical specifications, it sports a contrast ratio of 600:1, an image brightness of 300 cd/m2 (candela per square meter, a measure of luminosity), and a viewing angle of approximately 88 degrees vertically and horizontally. In real-world terms, that means the screen is bright, beautiful, and sharp.

That’s not all, though. The 2005FPW includes four input types: VGA, DVI-D, S-video, and composite. At first I thought that was marketing jargon that indicated you could simply attach just about any device with included adapters, but no, the monitor includes four separate ports. That enables you to connect four devices and switch between them. My PowerBook G4 connects via the DVI-D port, and for fun I hooked up my old Dell laptop via VGA. A button on the front of the monitor’s frame switches among the different inputs.

What’s more, you can also view two of the inputs in a picture-in-picture configuration or side by side, though this seems to apply only to VGA or DVI and one of the other inputs. I wasn’t able to view both my Mac desktop and the Windows screen at once. I suppose I could hook up a DVD player to the S-video or composite ports and watch a movie in the corner of my screen, but I never tried it (I deal with enough distractions; a movie would completely wreck my productivity). Due to these input options, my TidBITS colleague Glenn Fleishman bought a 2005FPW to replace his aging television and turned it into a home entertainment system by hooking it up to his TiVo via S-video and to a Mac mini via DVI.

The 2005FPW also includes four USB ports, so you can use it as a USB hub; an included cable connects to your Mac using a separate USB input, giving you the four open USB ports. Two are easily accessible on the right side of the frame, and the other two are tucked under the bottom with the other inputs, and are harder to reach.

The height is adjustable from 15.3 inches (38.9 cm) to 22.4 inches (56.9 cm), and you can swivel the screen side to side and top to bottom in a fairly limited, but functional, range of motion. More impressive, however, is its capability to rotate: yep, just like the Radius screens of old, you can rotate the entire screen 90 degrees for a portrait view instead of a landscape view. Since all of Dell’s technical specifications are geared toward Windows PCs, it’s unclear what video hardware is required to support the rotated display. On my PowerBook G4 running the latest version of Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger, a Rotate pop-up menu enables me to set the screen at a 90, 180, or 270 degree rotation.

Never Going Back — I use the 2005FPW as my main monitor, with my PowerBook set up at the right side to extend my desktop. Even with the PowerBook’s 15-inch widescreen display, my workspace felt cramped on its own. With the new setup, I keep my most-used programs on the larger Dell screen, such as email and Word, and reserve the PowerBook’s screen for iChat, extra Web pages I reference, and miscellaneous things like Activity Viewer and Terminal.

One downside is that the PowerBook’s screen is dim in comparison to the Dell; it would be nice if they both shared the same brightness, but the PowerBook, while brighter than previous models I’ve owned, is still a display designed to be portable, and therefore not equipped with the same type of lamps found in the desktop LCDs.

If you’re looking for a good deal, the 2005FPW is a great choice. As of press time, you could get the 2005FPW for around $525 directly from Dell’s Web site. (Be sure to check both the Home and the Small Business sections of the site for prices; the Small Business price is currently $560, while the Home price is $525 for the exact same model.) I’ve seen Dealmac coupon codes that reduce the price further, but Dell’s special deals are fleeting and often limited to a certain number of orders. If another great combination comes up, I may pick up another display to use with my PowerBook when I’m at home.

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