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Know what to look for in a monitor


Choosing the right PC monitor is like choosing the right wine. There are some clear differences, and you can get lots of "you've gotta do it this way" advice, but in the end, the choice comes down to your own tastes.

But before revealing my favorites, let's take a quick detour to consider some technical specifications you'll encounter along the way:

* Multifrequency: this means the monitor can work with many different graphics adapters and computers, something you want.

* Super VGA: SVGA, as it's commonly known, means it works with today's typical programs; you'll want that. The explanation gets complicated, but in essence, SVGA writes images in finer detail than its VGA and EGA predecessors.

* Non-interlaced is better than interlaced: it means the image is "painted" electronically in one swoop across the screen, instead of in two passes. Non-interlacing helps avoid annoying flicker that can lead to headaches.

* Dot-pitch: this measures, in millimeters, how close the tiny dots that make up the image are to each other on screen, with .28mm being standard, .26mm great and .36mm not so good. Usually, the closer, the better, although sometimes I can't really see the effect of this.

These particulars having been dispensed with, my favorite Windows monitor is NEC's MultiSync 4FG (phone: (800) 388-8888). It's not cheap at $759, but it is clear, sharp and comfortable. A nice addition is toll-free technical support. It's a 15-inch, .28mm, 1,024-by-768, 70Hz model. Nothing to complain about there. Its controls are easy to get at, distributed around the sides.

Compaq's QVision 150 color monitor (phone: (800) 345-1518) is also expensive, at $793. It's my second-place finisher with 15-inch, .26mm, 1,024x768, 72Hz specs. There's an anti-static and anti-glare coating. The anti-static is important because without it, the screen static charge attracts a coat of dust.

This thing is humongous, at 45 pounds. I don't like that, but can live with it, especially with its built-in tilt and swivel stand (some other monitors make you buy this as an option) and its large up-front controls (so I don't have to reach around back). Dell's UltraScan 15FS (phone: (800) 289-3355) didn't hit my spot, although its 15-inch, .28mm, 1,024x768, 72Hz specs are identical to my first and second placers. Its $549 price is distinctly lower, in line with Dell's general strategies. Remember, though, Dell's prices are pretty firm, while those of non-mail-order companies can be discounted several hundred dollars on the street.

Packard-Bell's PB8548SVGL (phone: (800) 733-4411) is a 14-inch model. Its 1,024x768 and .28mm specs are good, but its 60Hz limit at that resolution is lower than I'd like. It boosts to 72Hz at lower resolutions. The Packard-Bell's image wasn't as clear as the NEC or Compaq, but then its price of about $400 (the company doesn't have list prices -- that's an estimated street price) is a lot less too.

I wouldn't get the Packard-Bell, though, not just for its middling image but because of its 14-inch display.

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