16.5 Our Picks

Here are the displays we recommend. For our latest recommendations, detailed by brand and model, visit our web site, which is listed below.

15- and 17-inch budget CRT displays

NEC AccuSync. NEC is a first-tier maker that happens to have some very aggressively priced low-end models. Image quality and build quality are a step above monitors from second- and third-tier makers that sell for only a bit less. NEC provides a three-year warranty on its low-end models, which is a good indication in itself of their quality (http://www.necmitsubishi.com).

19-inch and larger CRT displays

Hitachi or NEC. We've used hundreds of first-tier monitors over the last 15 years, and of that group we generally prefer Hitachi monitors, with NEC a close second choice. Hitachi stopped producing its own CRTs in 2002 and now buys tubes from Samsung, but Hitachi quality control remains top-notch. Hitachi monitors are extremely reliable and competitively priced, and have simply superb image quality. NEC displays are also excellent, and some people prefer them to Hitachi models. Comparable Samsung and ViewSonic monitors are excellent products, but when we have a choice we specify Hitachi or NEC. If you want a rugged, reliable CRT with top-notch image quality, we recommend you do the same (http://www.hitachidisplays.com or http://www.necmitsubishi.com).

Flat-panel display

Hitachi or Fujitsu. We consider Hitachi and Fujitsu the first tier in FPD manufacturers, with Samsung a half step behind. Whether you're looking for an entry-level or professional FPD of any size, we think a Hitachi or Fujitsu model is the best bet. Fujitsu models are excellent, but they are more difficult to find at retail than Hitachi models. If you can't find a suitable Hitachi or Fujitsu model, you are likely to be happy with one of the better Samsung models (http://www.hitachidisplays.com, http://www.fujitsu.com, or http://www.samsung.com).

In case you're wondering, neither Hitachi nor NEC/Mitsubishi has ever given us so much as a free mousepad or coffee cup. We just really like their displays.

If you work with multiple computers on your desk, buying a monitor for each is expensive and you soon run out of desktop real estate. Using a KVM switch allows you to share one keyboard, monitor, and mouse among multiple systems. For example, Robert works surrounded by nine computers. His main system has a dedicated 19-inch Hitachi monitor, but the other eight computers share two keyboards, two mice, and two monitors among them, in two groups of four. Here are the KVM switches we recommend:

Basic KVM switch

Belkin OmniCube. We've used a lot of KVM switches, both manual and electronic, and this is our favorite for home and small-business users. The Belkin OmniCube switch comes in two-port and four-port versions. Yes, you can buy a manual KVM switch for much less, but these provide very poor video quality, particularly when used with the cheap cables usually sold with them, and in some cases may actually damage the monitor. The Belkin OmniCube works well for us. Robert uses a Belkin OmniCube (with premium Belkin cables) on his desk to share his secondary monitor among four secondary computers (http://www.belkin.com).

Like any electronic KVM switch, the OmniCube may be sensitive to the mouse you use (the Belkin didn't like our Microsoft Explorer oversized "red-light" mouse), so if you have problems, be sure to try a different mouse before concluding that the unit is at fault.

Enhanced KVM switch

Belkin OmniView. The OmniCube is perfect for homes and small businesses, but if you need more features or more ports look at the Belkin OmniView series. The OmniView SE is available in two-port and four-port models, which are expandable by stacking units to 8 ports and 16 ports, respectively. The OmniView Pro is available in four-port, eight-port, and 16-port models, which are expandable by stacking units to 64 ports, 128 ports, and 256 ports, respectively. The Pro models also add on-screen display and other features that are useful to someone who manages many computers from one console. Robert uses a four-port OmniView Pro on his test bench.

Whatever type of KVM switch you buy, plan to spend a fair amount on cables as well. You'll need one cable set for each connected computer. Those $8 "3-in-1" KVM cable sets sold by many computer stores almost guarantee poor performance, which is to say distorted, flickering, blurred images. Get name-brand cables. A basic Belkin set in a 10-foot length should cost $15 or so. A premium-grade Belkin set, with better shielding, gold-plated connectors, and so on, should cost $30 or so.

For updated recommendations, detailed by brand names and model numbers, visit http://www.hardwareguys.com/picks/displays.html.