Displays

Monitors for CAD

21 Mar, 2013 By: Curt Moreno

Cadalyst Labs Report: Before you make your next monitor purchase, learn how to choose options that will meet your needs and take a look at six current models that we put through their paces in Cadalyst Labs.


We don't think twice about spending a great deal of time researching and selecting the television that becomes the centerpiece of our living room, but when it comes to choosing the monitor that will be the centerpiece of our CAD workstation, the task often gets short shrift. Perhaps this is because picking the perfect monitor can seem daunting, especially when it comes to discussing aspect ratios and backlighting technologies.

But let's be honest: The monitor you select for CAD work — a component you likely rely on during the majority of your workday — deserves just as much consideration as any other component of your CAD setup. Wisely investing in a monitor can return dividends of a long service life, considerable energy savings, and a better user experience.

Determining the right option for your needs takes a bit of time and a good deal of understanding, but it needn't be difficult. In this Cadalyst Labs Report, I aim to deliver the information you need to make your next monitor upgrade a smart one, explaining the basics of today's technology and introducing you to six of the latest models on the professional market. I hope you come away feeling confident and ready to set out on your own monitor search.

Understanding the Features

Let's start with an overview of basic monitor features and what you need to look for in each category.

Size. Monitors are measured according to the portion of the display screen that is available for viewing. This measurement is traditionally taken diagonally, measured from one visible corner to the opposite visible corner.

These days, dual 19" monitors are considered the minimum for a CAD workstation, but even that setup can be limiting. Modern CAD applications have so many toolbars, palettes, and pop-ups that screen real estate is at a premium. That's why I recommend nothing less than dual 22" monitors for CAD professionals.

All monitors of the same size don't necessarily have the same available viewing area! This is due to aspect ratio.

Aspect ratio. This confusing term has a simple meaning: It is the relationship of the horizontal dimension to the vertical dimension, noted as a ratio of h:v. Today monitors are almost universally available in 16:9 or 16:10 aspect ratio. Both are described as widescreen in marketing materials, but the actual ratio should be clearly listed in the technical specifications. If you're not evaluating a monitor in person, be sure you're clear about its aspect ratio. Monitors that are the same size but different aspect ratios can be very different in appearance.

Resolution. Normally reported as width x height, a monitor's resolution represents the number of lines of pixels in each direction. So a monitor with a resolution of 1,920 x 1,080 has 1,920 lines of pixels from left to right and 1,080 lines of pixels from top to bottom. The general rule of thumb is that the greater the resolution (that is, the more lines of pixels), the better the image quality; however, to get an accurate indication of image quality, you must consider resolution in conjunction with monitor size. That determines pixel density.

Pixel density. Monitors are designed for specific viewing distances. The closer a user is to the display, the more noticeable — and annoying — each individual pixel becomes. Pixel density indicates how many physical pixels are in a given area, normally one square inch, and expressed as a pixels per inch (PPI) value. The higher the PPI, the more compact the pixels and the less noticeable they are. Modern desktop monitors are commonly in the range of 90 to 100 PPI. This is an acceptable PPI range and generally considered the "sweet spot" for both manufacturers and consumers.

Another common term used to describe the number of pixels displayed is dot pitch, a linear measurement of the distance between pixels on a display that is usually reported in millimeters. The smaller this distance, the greater the pixel density and the less noticeable each pixel will be at close distance. An acceptable dot pitch for CAD professionals is in the range of 0.22–0.31 mm; anything more would probably result in poor performance for fine CAD linework.

How many monitors do you use at your primary CAD workstation?Response time. Response time is how long it takes a pixel to transition from one color to another color as the monitor image changes, normally measured in milliseconds. Monitors with a slow response time will produce moving images that appear blurry or smeared. It wasn't too long ago that a response time of 16 ms was considered suitable, but today's monitors offer response times as short as 2 ms. While preferences and prices vary, a good rule of thumb is to stay in the range of 5–10 ms for the best viewing experience and value.

Panel type and viewing angle. Several different types of display panels are available to choose from when specifying a new workstation monitor. Twisted nematic (TN) is a common type of liquid-crystal display (LCD). TN panels are quite affordable and once dominated the market, but suffered from somewhat limited color performance and viewing angles. Newer, in-plane switching (IPS) displays are quickly becoming the norm for high-end graphic performance because they deliver greater color ranges and wider viewing angles.

Viewing angle determines the visibility of the display when viewed from the sides. The closer the viewing angle comes to 180 degrees, the more visible it is from the side. Naturally, CAD professionals spend most their time squarely facing the monitor. However, if your workspace hosts group collaborations or if the monitor is intended for training purposes, then viewing angle can be an important consideration.

 

Backlighting and brightness. Two basic types of backlighting mechanisms exist on the market today. Backlighting is the technology behind a monitor's brightness and therefore affects image quality. Older monitors will most likely use cold-cathode fluorescent lamps (CCFL). Very common and cost-effective, they however may not be as bright as monitors utilizing newer technology. Higher-end monitors will most likely have light-emitting diode (LED) backlight components and tend to be brighter, slimmer, and more energy-efficient that CCFL units. Monitor brightness is expressed as candelas per square meter (cd/m2). Brightness ratings for workstation monitors commonly fall between 250 cd/m2 and 350 cd/m2. Look for adjustability down to 50–100 cd/m2 if you prefer lower levels of brightness to reduce eye fatigue.

Ports. The growth of cable and video technologies has exploded to create a whole category of connectors to help transmit images from the graphics card to the screen. Today's monitors are manufactured with any number and combination of these connectors. Whether your system incorporates a VGA, HDMI, DisplayPort, DVI-I, or DVI-D connector, be certain that your new monitor has the appropriate port type to connect with it — or at least that your monitor purchase includes the relevant converter.

Screen finish. LCD monitors began life in the commercial market with a matte finish, and for years this was fine. Today, many manufacturers have placed the display panel behind a shiny glass sheet or laminated the display to the glass. Both methods are an attempt to increase the contrast level — that is, to make the blacks darker and the colors brighter. However, the downside of this approach is that it results in a highly reflective surface that is prone to collecting fingerprints and dust. Some monitors are available with antiglare coatings, but this often negates any contrast benefit that may have been provided by the glass sheet. The right screen finish is a matter of personal preference, but be sure to take into account the brightness of your workspace.

Warranty. Every new monitor on the market comes with a manufacturer's warranty, but terms vary from maker to maker. A three-year warranty covering parts and labor is common today, but it is not unusual to have different coverage terms for parts and for labor. Hardware failures are not uncommon, so be sure you understand your warranty and are satisfied with it before you make a purchase.

The Reviews

Now that I've outlined the basic features of the modern monitor, let's take a look at some current offerings. We invited developers of professional-grade monitors to submit their choice of LCD monitor for CAD use. We left flexibility in terms of monitor configuration, as we wanted the developers to apply their experience and knowledge to answer the question, "What is the best monitor for a CAD user?" Six of the biggest names in the display industry provided units for evaluation.

The review process for our monitor roundup involved several steps for each entry. First and foremost, I graded the image quality of each monitor. Brightness and clarity were chief factors in this category. Price and value — the relation of price to the size and quality of the unit — were the next considerations. Connectivity, in terms of the types of ports built into the monitor, was the third factor. In this category, VGA and DVI were considered most important, and DisplayPort and HDMI were bonuses. The number, location, and type of USB ports built into the monitor were also taken into account. Because the monitors offer a wide range of image controls, it was hard to compare them. Instead, I found that all these units have essentially equivalent controls for basic image adjustment, and rated them equally. Finally, I considered the warranty of each unit, with the industry standard of a three-year warranty covering parts, labor, and backlight as a baseline.

Each of the units was placed into a professional CAD environment where I worked with it for two full business days using AutoCAD, AutoCAD Civil 3D, and Autodesk Revit as well as popular browsers and applications including Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Adobe Photoshop, and Microsoft Office. I noted each unit's ease of installation, stability, and performance.

I used my observations and experiences to compile the Monitor Report Card (click to enlarge):

Monitor Report Card

In each category, I rated each unit on a scale of 1 to 6, then averaged the weighted totals. Finally, I correlated numeric values to arrive at a letter grade for each unit in our roundup.

Read reviews of the six monitors included in this roundup:

Compare the six models side by side:

 


AOC i2367fh
23" LED-backlit LCD monitor
Overall Grade: B+
Pros: High performance, innovative modern design, great value, built-in speakers.
Cons: Actual product belies advertised promise of a nearly bezel-free aesthetic, no vertical/tilt/swivel adjustment, VGA and HDMI only, no USB ports.
Price: $199
AOC | 888.662.9888

The 23" AOC i2367fh is easy to assemble and offers solid performance for a low price.
The 23" AOC i2367fh is easy to assemble and offers solid performance for a low price.

 

Immediately out of the box, the AOC i2367fh gives a very compact, minimalist impression. This was one of only two monitors in our roundup to arrive unassembled; however, assembly was effortless. Once assembled, the unit has a Spartan appearance with a stylish, brushed aluminum base and virtually nonexistent bezel — sort of.

Resolution. The AOC i2367fh features a WLED-backlit IPS display panel with a native 1,920 x 1,080 resolution and a 5-ms response time. It has a nice, clear image with a measured brightness of 250 cd/m2, delivering rich blacks and deep colors at a 16:9 aspect ratio.

I was eager to get this monitor out of the box, given its heavily promoted 2-mm bezel and packaging that pictured a screen with what appeared to be an edge-to-edge image. As nice as it was, the monitor didn't deliver the "bezel-free" look I anticipated. It is really a standard panel with a 0.4" black border running the perimeter between the image and the bezel. I was disappointed that the narrow bezel didn't translate to more screen real estate.

Ports and plugs. Power and video connection ports are located on the back of the slim display. Unfortunately, the connection options are limited. The unit features two HDMI ports, which is nice if your graphics card has HDMI out, and a single VGA connector — all of which are rear-facing. Unfortunately, it has no built-in USB ports. You will find 3.5-mm jacks for audio-in and headphones, as well as two built-in speakers located at the back of the unit, facing upward.

Design and adjustability. I liked the industrial design of the monitor stand and pedestal. However, the unit has no swivel, tilt, or vertical adjustment. It does have one feature that I have not seen in other display units: When removed from the stand, the display panel becomes a desktop-level display, leaning back on its stand connection stalk.

Warranty. AOC offers a three-year parts and labor warranty, with the WLED backlight covered for one year. The i2367fh didn't deliver the "bezel-free" appearance I expected, but it is a very respectable unit with a fine display. It is currently available in the retail channel for approximately $199, a price that makes it easy to forgive its shortcomings.

 


EIZO FlexScan EV2436W
24" LED-backlit LCD monitor
Overall Grade: A-
Pros: High performance, great design, generous vertical adjustment, flicker-free dimming, outstanding warranty.
Cons: No HDMI port, high price.
Price: $549.99
EIZO | 800.800.5202 x145

The 24" EIZO FlexScan EV2436W features antiflicker technology and a native resolution of 1,920 x 1,200.
The 24" EIZO FlexScan EV2436W features antiflicker technology and a native resolution of 1,920 x 1,200.

 

Upon being introduced to the EIZO FlexScan EV2436W, I was pleased to discover a surprisingly sturdy, stable monitor with subtle styling that I found quite attractive.

Resolution. The FlexScan EV2436W sports an LED-backlit IPS panel with a native resolution of 1,920 x 1,200 at a 16:10 aspect ratio. The LED backlight not only provides a bright image at 300 cd/m2, it incorporates EIZO's proprietary technology to remove annoying flickers from dimmed displays. For someone who suffers eye fatigue from this very issue, this is a welcome feature. Even in dimmed mode, the unit displays a nice image due to its 1,000:1 static contrast ratio and 6-ms response time.

Ports and plugs. Video connection ports are built into the back of the FlexScan EV2436W, facing downward, and include VGA, DVI-D, and DisplayPort. Additionally, two USB 2.0 ports and a USB upstream port are side-mounted on the left side of the unit, out of view. There you can also find 3.5-mm audio input and headphone output jacks.

Design and adjustability. The stand and pedestal echo the monitor's subtle industrial design. The base of the monitor is round and the stand incorporates soft curves and planed faces. The effect is appealing, and the design is very stable. Vertical adjustment is smooth and effortless and takes the display from nearly desk height up 7.67" (195 mm). Although the IPS display panel allows for 178 degrees of viewing angle, you really don't need it because the FlexScan EV2436W can swivel 344 degrees. Cables remain connected and secure thanks to an easy-to-access cable-management door on the stand.

Warranty. EIZO's warranty is another standout feature of the FlexScan EV2436W, with five-year coverage of parts, labor, and backlight. The model is currently available through EIZO's preferred reseller channel for $549.99. That's on the more expensive end of the monitor price scale, but I think the styling, performance, and warranty put this unit (which is also available with a 23" or 27" display) high on the must-have list.

Due to the price, this monitor missed a Highly Recommended grade by just a smidgen, unfortunately, as it was one of my favorite models in this roundup.

 


HP ZR2440w
24" LED-backlit LCD monitor
Overall Grade: A+
Pros: High performance, very clear and bright, seems larger than 24", variety of video and audio ports, great value.
Cons: None significant.
Price: $399
HP | 800.289.6947

Highly RecommendedHP, the world's largest manufacturer of desktop hardware, sells plenty of monitors. If the HP ZR2440w is any indication, then it's easy to see why.

Resolution. The HP ZR2440w display is a 24" IPS panel with an LED backlight and a 16:10 aspect ratio. Maybe because it was the brightest monitor of the bunch at 350 cd/m2, this panel seemed larger than 24 inches! Images are rich and deep with satisfying blacks and clear, sharp colors thanks to a 1,000:1 static contrast ratio and 6-ms response time.

Ports and plugs. On the back of the unit, you will find video connection ports for DVI-D, DisplayPort, and HDMI — but no VGA, so some users will require a converter. Located alongside the video ports are two USB ports as well as one USB upstream port. Also present are audio outputs for both analog and digital external speakers, and HP's own optional LCD speaker bar. All ports on the rear of the monitor face downward. The HP ZR2440w also comes equipped with a security lock port. Mounted flush and facing outward on the left side of the monitor are two additional USB ports as well as HP's handy pullout information card that provides product details typically requested during support calls.

HP's ZR2440w 24" IPS panel offers all the features you need in a monitor for a reasonable price.
HP's ZR2440w 24" IPS panel offers all the features you need in a monitor for a reasonable price.

Design and adjustability. The stand and pedestal for the HP ZR2440w are nice and simple. The stand provides a wide range of motion, including approximately 4" (100 mm) of vertical adjustment and a tilt range of 40 degrees. The monitor is capable of 45 degrees of swivel and a typical 90-degree rotation into portrait mode. I found adjustments smooth and effortless. The base of the monitor provides excellent stability.

This monitor was one of two that was not preassembled. I was momentarily disappointed — until I noticed its clever assembly mechanism. An ingenious hook and clip make for fast assembly and disassembly. Cable management is provided by a simple pass-through port at the base of the stand.

Warranty. Coverage for the unit is three years for parts, labor, and backlight. The HP ZR2440w is available through the retail channel, as well as HP, for approximately $399.

This is a fine-looking monitor with great performance and thoughtful features that would be welcome on any CAD desk. Highly Recommended.

 


Lenovo LT2452p
24" LED-backlit LCD monitor
Overall Grade: A-
Pros: High performance; clear and bright; slim, modern design; rapid-response warranty.
Cons: Limited vertical adjustment/swivel, no HDMI port.
Price: $433.99
Lenovo | 866.968.4465

The 24" Lenovo LT2452p sports a sturdy stand and an attractive design overall.
The 24" Lenovo LT2452p sports a sturdy stand and an attractive design overall.

 

Lenovo's entry into this monitor roundup is the 24" Lenovo LT2452p. This monitor is designed to complement Lenovo's lines of ThinkCentre and ThinkStation desktop computers. The design similarities are obvious, including the matte black bezel and unusually shaped control buttons. Lenovo's attention to detail is apparent in the design: From a prewired VGA cable to a monitor shipping cover that doubles as a huge, branded tote, you can tell that the company has considered every detail.

Resolution. The Lenovo LT2452p offers a 1,920 x 1,080 IPS display panel with a 16:10 aspect ratio and a static contrast rating of 1,000:1. With a brightness value of 300 cd/m2, the LED backlight can provide a nice, bright display in any workspace. The 6-ms response time contributes to a rich display with dark blacks and bright colors that are quick and sharp.

Ports and plugs. On the back of the unit, you'll find the expected power connection as well as several downward-facing ports, including VGA, DVI-D, and DisplayPort video connections, a standard USB port, and a USB upstream port. Three more USB ports are located along the left side. Lenovo offers security via a Kensington lock port.

Design and adjustability. The display panel sits atop a sturdy stand that provides stability, even at full vertical extension. The mounting mechanism allows for a 90-degree rotation for portrait viewing and a 90-degree swivel. The vertical adjustment gives a 4.3" (110-mm) adjustment with smooth, easy-to-use action. Cable management is provided with a simple retainer strap.

Warranty. The warranty for this monitor is a standard three years' parts and labor, plus Lenovo's Rapid Replacement Service.

Although the Lenovo LT2452p is a fairly straightforward monitor with standard features, I was won over by its industrial design and thoughtful touches. This monitor would make a fine addition to any CAD workstation.

 


NEC MultiSync P232W
23" LED-backlit LCD monitor
Overall Grade: B+
Pros: High performance, antiglare coating, clear and bright, smooth adjustment for height and swivel.
Cons: Dated design, only one side-mounted USB, expensive.
Price: $569
NEC Display Solutions | 866.632.6673

The 23" NEC MultiSync P232W is a high-performance monitor with an excellent warranty.
The 23" NEC MultiSync P232W is a high-performance monitor with an excellent warranty.

 

NEC has long been known for its high-quality, reliable monitors, and its 23" MultiSync P232W carries on that tradition.

Resolution. The MultiSync P232W has a WLED-backlit IPS display panel with a 1,920 x 1,080 native resolution and a 16:9 aspect ratio. My time with this monitor showed that its static contrast rating of 1,000:1 and 250 cd/m2 brightness rating provide a clear image. Response time for this IPS panel is 7 ms, and it offers a 178-degree viewing angle and an antiglare coating that cuts down any nasty reflections while working.

Ports and plugs. For video input, this model has VGA, DVI-D, DisplayPort, and HDMI video connections. Integrated into the body are four USB 2.0/3.0 ports (two upstream and three downstream). All USB connections but one are located along the bottom of the unit. It would have been nice to have more than one USB port located on the side of the monitor for easier access.

Design and adjustability. A mounting mechanism allows for a 35-degree vertical tilt, 90-degree rotation for portrait viewing, and a 90-degree swivel, and the unit has 5.9" (150 mm) of vertical adjustment. Adjustments are smooth and reliable — no sagging or sliding screens here. Cables are secured with a cable-management system built into the stand.

Although the P232W is a fine monitor, suitable for any CAD-oriented task I can imagine, its design isn't what you would call "modern." Instead, NEC delivers a design that is tried and true, lacking original characteristics.

Warranty. The MultiSync P232W, available from NEC for $569, is covered by a four-year parts and labor warranty, which includes the WLED backlight. Although the price is higher than that of some other 23" monitors, the build quality and warranty keep this monitor in the running.

 


ViewSonic VP2765-LED
27" LED-backlit LCD monitor
Overall Grade: A
Pros: High performance, clear and bright, impressive static contrast ratio, subtle design, very stable.
Cons: No HDMI port.
Price: $510
ViewSonic | 888.881.8781

Highly RecommendedViewSonic's VP2765-LED is one big, beautiful screen. At 27", it is the largest of the monitors in our roundup.

Resolution. This model offers advanced multidomain vertical alignment (AMVA) and a native resolution of 1,920 x 1,080 at a 16:9 aspect ratio. The rich display image is courtesy of the 300 cd/m2 brightness and an impressive 3,000:1 static contrast ratio. It has a 12-ms response time, but moving images were fluid and crisp. Antiglare coating improves visibility.

Ports and plugs. Video and power connections are on the back of the monitor and include VGA, DVI-D, and DisplayPort. There you'll find two USB 2.0 ports and a USB upstream port. All connections on the back of the unit face downward, but are easy to access. Plus, mounted flush on the left side of the monitor are two additional USB 2.0 ports.

For those who need a great deal of screen real estate, the 27" ViewSonic VP2765-LED is ideal.
For those who need a great deal of screen real estate, the 27" ViewSonic VP2765-LED is ideal.

Design and adjustability. The stand has a vertical adjustment of 5.3" (134 mm) and a 120-degree horizontal swivel, and it incorporates two plastic loops in back to manage cables. Vertical tilt is 25 degrees and the display has a full 90-degree turn from landscape to portrait mode. The AMVA has a 178-degree viewing angle and looks nice in any position.

The most obvious trait of this monitor's industrial design is its stylish three-toed pedestal. From the front, the footprint reaches clear across the 27" monitor and spans 15.3" front to back. If that sounds huge, that's because it is! This footprint gives the monitor immense stability.

Warranty. Coverage is an industry-standard three years for parts, labor, and backlight. The model is available from ViewSonic and retail partners for approximately $510, making this 27" monitor a great value. Highly Recommended.


Compare the six monitors in this roundup side by side: LED Monitor Specification Table


About the Author: Curt Moreno


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