Monitors for CAD21 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.
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.
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):
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: