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[ The PC Guide | Systems and Components Reference Guide ]


Your monitor is the component that displays the visual output from your computer as generated by the video card. It is different from most of the other components of the PC due to its passive nature; it isn't responsible for doing any real computing, but rather for showing the results of computing. In this way, the monitor is in many respects more similar to your printer than to anything else in the PC, although of course most people don't think in these terms.

Monitors are important not because of their impact on performance, but rather their impact on the usability of the PC. A poor quality monitor can hamper the use of an otherwise very good PC, because a monitor that is hard to look at can make the PC hard to use. Despite the fact that they don't have a direct impact on performance, many people spend almost as much on their monitor when buying a new PC as they do on the PC system itself.

One reason why this happens is that the monitor is one of the few parts of a PC that actually holds its value. Performance items like CPUs get outdated and lose their value rather quickly, but monitor technology evolves much more slowly. In early 1995, a 100 MHz Pentium processor cost over $700, and a decent 17" monitor was around $600 or so. Two years later, the 100 MHz Pentium could be had for $100--assuming anyone wanted to bother with it--while a decent 17" monitor still cost around $600. Eventually, monitor costs have come down, but still much more slowly than most other components. This is one big reason why quality is perhaps more important in choosing a monitor than any other part of the system.

Your monitor plays a significant role in the following important aspects of your computer system:

  • Comfort and Ergonomics: Working with your video card, your monitor determines the quality of the image you see when you use your PC. This has an important impact on how comfortable the PC is to use. Poor quality monitors lead directly to eyestrain and other problems, and can ruin the computing experience.
  • Software and Video Mode Support: Use of advanced, high-resolution or high-color-depth video modes requires support for these modes from the monitor. A video card that can drive high resolutions in true color at high refresh rates is useless without a monitor that can handle them as well.
  • Upgradability: Since most monitors are interchangeable with each other and can be used on any similar PC, they are naturals to carry over to a new machine or to use after upgrading. Since they hold their value, a frequent upgrader with a good monitor can use it for many years and through many changes of processors, memory, motherboards and other components that become dated quite quickly.

This section discusses the monitor and its characteristics in detail, including components, characteristics, resolution and color, and power and safety issues. Note that I am only concerned with regular, CRT-based monitors here, and I don't deal with LCD screens of the type typically found on laptops. (These are now becoming available for desktop PCs but are prohibitively expensive.)

Next: Monitor Construction and Operation

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