Monday, December 21, 2009

24" Dell Monitor for less than $200

Ever since seeing one on a co-worker's desk 3 years ago, I've been wanting to get a 24" Dell flat panel monitor to attach to my work laptop.  I work from a home office so I spend a lot of hours in front of the computer, most of which are when the laptop is docked and I'm viewing the display on a monitor.

Previously, I had a 20" NEC MultiSync 2070NX.  That monitor wasn't widescreen and it wasn't quite as large as I wanted.  I've been watching the price on 24" Dells for the past few years and this year for the first time that I can recall prices are falling below $200.  One thing I've never been able to understand is the price spread on their monitors- $189 to $549 on their 24" models as I'm writing this.  I see that the more expensive models provide height adjustment and offer USB connections- but are there other differences in term of display quality?  I honestly don't know, but the price difference is so much it really doesn't matter to me for the everyday computing I do.

The model I got was the Dell S2409W 24-inch Widescreen.  With a corporate discount I was able to get it for $179 with free shipping.  Such a low price- very easy to justify in my mind.  It arrived this morning and I opened it up and hooked it up.  Using the VGA connection that I used with my previous monitor, I wasn't super-impressed with the quality of the display right out of the box.  Given the sheer size of the monitor, especially its width, I found myself needing to turn my head to see various parts of the display.  Furthermore, when I viewed the upper and lower corners of the display, the letters seemed a little distorted.  Kind of a strange phenomenon- the display was so big that inevitably much of it is viewed at an angle!

It occurred to me that perhaps it was time to switch to a digital DVI connector instead of using the old-school analog VGA connector.  Although my previous monitor supported a digital display, it didn't come with a DVI cable.  And since the image quality was pretty good I never bothered getting a DVI cable.  Since the image of the new Dell with the VGA cable was so-so I decided to try hooking up the DVI cable to see if that improved things.

I wanted to be able to toggle back and forth between the 2 connectors to see if there was a difference, but it turns out that it's non-trivial to do so.  You have to disable the VGA connection through the display settings in Windows, and in order for that option to be visible you have to physically disconnect the VGA cable.  For a while there, I didn't think my laptop supported DVI because there's no DVI output on the laptop itself- only on the docking station.  Anyway, after a little thrashing around I was able to get the display set up via DVI and the image quality improved- especially in terms of how crisp the letters in the corners of the display as viewed on a slight angle appeared.

It doesn't bother me that the height isn't adjustable.  I just tilted the angle up a bit and if it bothers me I'll do the old "stack some books under it".  It also doesn't bother me that there's no USB inputs.  I never used them on the old display anyway.

Brilliance: 7/10
I'd give the monitor a "7" on a scale of 1-10 in terms of image "brilliance".  It's a good clean picture, but not as amazing as some of the displays you see at the Apple Store.

Functionality: 7/10
Setting up the monitor was pretty easy, and the controls are easy to navigate.  Once you get a monitor set up all you ever need to do is hit "on/off" and that button works well.  The unit seems pretty solid overall. 

Style: 7/10
It's not like an Apple Cinema display or anything, but I think it's a nice clean, professional black flat panel that looks nice on a desk.

Value: 9/10
And a "9" in terms of value- this is a ton of display for less than $200.

Update (1/21/2010): I've struggled mightily calibrating this monitor.  The colors either look washed out or unnaturally/unevenly saturated.  I've never had to goof around with monitor settings so much.  We also got an iMac around the same time as this monitor and whenever I look at the iMac it just looks right without any fiddling.

Here's a link to the monitor in the Dell store.

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