The Widescreen Laptop Conspiracy

For the past six to eight weeks, I’ve been on the lookout for a new laptop. Now, I know that I have high standards, but I can’t believe that some of the things that I really want in a laptop are no longer available. About a year ago, my old Dell Inspiron 8100 was about to bite the dust. It was 6 years old, overheated frequently, one of the two batteries I had was essentially a short circuit, and did I mention it was six years old?

One of the main reasons I bought that laptop was that it went well with my 20″ LCD monitor. They both had the same resolution, and 1600×1200 resolution on a 15″ screen really isn’t that bad once you’re used to it. In fact, when you get used to it it’s very hard to go to anything else. The middle of last year, I broke down and bought a new laptop. I was a little bit concerned that the screen resolution wasn’t quite what I was used to, but it was a widescreen monitor. Apple didn’t make anything else for their 15″ MacBook Pro series, so that’s what I went with.

I’ve been using this thing for just shy of a year now, and I have to be honest: I have some pretty major gripes about this laptop, which I’ll cover in a different article. Don’t get me wrong, the raw power and the light weight of the MacBook Pro are great. But using BootCamp isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. More on that later.

So here were the criteria that I put forth for my new laptop:

  • Dual core is a must. Don’t care whether it’s Core 2 Duo or Athlon X2. Either would work fine.
  • I want 2GB of RAM. This shouldn’t be hard to do, although I would prefer a single 1GB RAM chip installed so I could buy the additional RAM at a reasonable price.
  • 15″ screen. It can be 15.0″, 15.1″, or 15.4″. I don’t really care. I don’t want 14″ because the screen is too small, and I don’t want 17″ because they’re too heavy. Neither of those would fit well into my laptop bag and I don’t care to blow another $60 on another laptop bag.
  • 1600×1200 resolution. Having been running my Macbook Pro at 1440×900 for the nine months, I can’t tell you how much I miss that extra 300 pixels at the bottom of the screen. I’m not a fan of widescreen, so I’d prefer not to have WUXGA.
  • 7200 RPM main hard drive. Doesn’t need to be large. 60GB would probably work fine. I use an external 80GB USB drive to house VMWare images and the system performs better with VMWare running on a separate drive.
  • Must be reasonably light weight. I’m somewhat willing to compromise on this. I know I won’t find anything as light as the Macbook, but the 1600×1200 resolution is more important.

I didn’t think that these requirements were too much to ask. My current search for a new laptop has run the gauntlet of every reputable notebook maker I could find. I’ve looked at Dell, HP, Alienware, Prostar, Sony, Toshiba, Gateway, etc… It turns out that finding a laptop with a screen resolution of 1600×1200 these days is close to impossible. Since I bought my last laptop back in the year 2000, the 1600×1200 screen resolution has become less common rather than more common. The ONLY laptop I’ve found that meets that criteria is a Panasonic Toughbook 51 from and it’s really not what I’m looking for. Everything else has been widescreen, which as I said before, isn’t something I particularly care for.

Part of the reason laptop manufacturers no longer make UXGA screens is that widescreen laptops are cheaper to manufacture because the screens have less screen real estate overall. It’s hard to quantify this without having two LCD’s that are nearly identical to compare, so as an example we’ll use Dell’s 20″ 2007FP monitor and compare it to the Dell 20″ 2007FPW because excepting the screen resolution, they are virtually identical. The first thing you notice is that the 2007FP retails for $449 while the 2007FPW retails for $399. Comparing the screen resolutions, we have 1600×1200 and 1680×1050. So what? That’s basically the same, right?

Actually, they’re not. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist here. Just do the math. 1600×1200=1,920,000 pixels while 1680×1050=1,764,000 pixels. That’s nearly a 9% difference in screen real estate for the “same 20 inch screen” yet the retail cost increase is roughly 12.5%. But nobody pays retail for these things, right? After all, Dell runs deals every week in an effort to top your local supermarket in the number of deals they give you. Current sale prices are $384 and $359, respectively. Voila! You’re getting a better deal by buying the 4:3 format screen as opposed to the widescreen based on raw percentages. With computer margins as thin as they are, laptop manufacturers are being squeezed to save money anywhere they can. Going back to our widescreen laptop problem, using widescreen monitors on their laptops is how they shave dollars off the cost.

If you look at LCD monitors larger than 20″ from Dell, you’ll find that all of them are widescreen and it’s not possible to get one larger than 20″ with the 4:3 format. One rumor I read from a laptop forum last fall was that there were production problems making UXGA screens, but I suspect that’s not the case. They were making 15″ monitors with 1600×1200 resolution 7 years ago so unless someone deleted a hard drive that had some important information on how to do it, they still have the technology to do it. If there were supply problems, laptop makers would get it resolved. If you go to and look for UXGA notebooks, there’s only one on the entire site.

You also might think that these are laptops, so their video cards aren’t up to par but that’s not true either. Again, laptop makers were selling UXGA screens on laptops 7 years ago so technology has only gotten better. Besides, my Macbook Pro supports an external connection to a 2560×1600 monitor!!! I never did real well at Calculus, but something tells me that’s a much larger number than 1600×1200.

So we know that it’s still technically possible to make UXGA notebooks; what bothers me is that they’ve stopped making them. What’s even more mystifying is why more developers and CAD engineers aren’t complaining. There are a few people commenting on the lack of high screen resolutions for higher end laptops on the Dell IdeaStorm website, but not enough to make a difference. In a world where mobility has become more and more important, laptop vendors are responding with 17″ laptops with WUXGA screens. Let me make one thing clear to laptop makers.

For software development purposes, or dare I say most business purposes, widescreen sucks.

Are we clear on that? Now, I realize that widescreen has a place in the world. People in the accounting department use spreadsheets for which widescreen could be useful to see more columns of their financial statements. Home users would certainly want to be able to watch movies on their laptops. But isn’t it entirely possible that having more vertical screen real estate would be just as important as horizontal real estate? Indeed it would. I like ketchup on my burgers. On my cheesecake, not so much. I love widescreen for movies. For writing code… not so much. Everything has a place, and widescreen does not have a place on my laptop.

The astute reader will point out that there are many 15″ notebooks out there that feature 1920×1200 LCD’s. To this, I will refer you to my previous point: that widescreen sucks for software development and most business purposes. Somehow, writing a design document in letterbox format doesn’t appeal to me and I don’t remember the last time I had a single line of code that was so long that I needed a widescreen monitor to see it all. The problem with widescreen is that you are sacrificing height for width, when for software development purposes, the opposite is what you need. I need to see more lines of code, not less. The only conceivable benefit of a widescreen would be to have multiple windows open, and 1920 pixels just isn’t enough to have multiple software development applications open side by side. Anyone who’s ever used Visual Studio would know this. Heck, when I’m using Viso Enterprise Architect on my desktop, I use two 20″ monitors to get me 3200×1200 and shift all of the tabbed windows onto my other monitor. Guess what? I still wish I had more vertical real estate. I’m tempted to move to 4 monitors in order to get it.

It’s an unfortunate reality that over the past few years, the push for widescreen televisions has carried over so much into laptops. It’s as if laptops are suddenly no longer used for anything else except watching movies. Let’s think about this for a minute. What percentage of time that you use your laptop are you watching movies vs. doing something where widescreen really doesn’t help? I think I’ve watched a grand total of 3 movies on my widescreen laptop in the last 9 months. To me, that in no way justifies a complete transition to widescreen laptops.

As applications move from the desktop to the web, browser based applications will become more and more prevalent. If you’re a web application developer, widescreen is a terrible waste of otherwise good screen real estate. There’s a limit to the width of the web pages that you design because you have to be sure that the majority of people will be able to see everything horizontally without scrolling right and left. The standard 4:3 format seems like a better fit for not only the developers, but for the web application users as well. What’s worse is the fact that our option to choose widescreen or standard format is being eliminated entirely. We no longer have a choice, as illustrated by the fact that there is only one high resolution laptop left on the market.

I blame Apple for part of this transition. For years, widescreen has been the only format available for their computers. They’ve morphed their company into something of a media mogul with the iPod and iTunes. With the recent release of AppleTV, they’re poised to enter the video market after dominating the audio market. Somehow, that translates into hundreds of lemming companies yanking standard format laptops from the shelves and replacing them with widescreen. Is there a good reason? I don’t think so, but lets take a closer look.

What are the real arguments for widescreen? As I mentioned before, you can fit more columns on a screen in Excel. Ooh. A whole 3 extra columns and 30 less rows. Yea, I’m not excited about that, either.

How about the fact that using a laptop on a plane is a little bit easier because the laptop isn’t as deep and fits better onto the tray table. That’s a good reason. Of course, since it’s wider, you no longer have room for soda and peanuts. What, no peanuts? Just soda I guess. I’ll hold it and type one handed because my laptop is too wide to actually set my soda down.

Yep. That sucks too, and it’s a legitimate problem for those of you who haven’t had the ‘pleasure’ of this problem.

What about watching movies? Ah yes. The proverbial golden hammer. In my eyes, that’s something of a lame excuse given that business class laptops are meant for well… business purposes and I don’t know anyone running a business that makes money from watching movies. For all you widescreen fanatics out there complaining about “artists rights”, feel free to chime in on this at any time. Artists rights have nothing to do with the screen. It has to do with the format of the medium (that being VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, HDDVD, etc). If you want to watch a movie, get a TV, a PSP, or a portable DVD player. Let the rest of us get our laptops with screen sizes and resolutions that actually help us do our jobs.

I can’t think of any particularly good reasons to have widescreen LCD’s on laptops or to make them generally unavailable on larger LCD’s that are intended as desktop monitors, so I pose this simple innocuous question. What good is widescreen on a laptop? Anyone?

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  1. Jerry Rice on March 30, 2009 at 10:00 pm

    I am attempting to buy a new laptop with Non-widescreen resoution but it seems impossible. The monitor making companies have taken the workd for a ride.

  2. Ben Valer on April 15, 2009 at 4:27 am

    I completely agree with you!! Not only Widescreen is a bad development.
    Led Backlit is often a disaster. Washed colors, no warmth, black is grey.
    I understand cutting costs is necessary, and widescreen and Led Backlit might be cheaper to produce. But I would be glad to pay a little more.


  3. Mike Swanson on April 15, 2009 at 11:24 pm

    Just found this article (searching google for “non widescreen laptop” at that!), agree wholeheartedly with it. I hate widescreen. I am a web developer and widescreen just plain SUCKS for text editing.

    I’ve had a widescreen laptop for 1.5 years now; looking for a new one, I wanted to get rid of the retarded idea of a widescreen. It seems like it’s not possible without getting old hardware.

  4. joe cowell on April 24, 2009 at 3:05 pm

    Yup, no good for web design, annoying for web surfing, only good for gaming and vids. By the time you got your ie toolbar plus a google bar, you are down to a sliding letter box – what a bad retrograde step. Now if someone can figure a way of putting the laptop on its side and turning the graphics 180 degrees that would be an ideal solution !

    Pick up the gauntlet !

  5. Greeny on April 28, 2009 at 11:31 pm

    I wanted to jump in front of a bus a few weeks ago after using a friend’s laptop for a couple days. I was thinking of upgrading. I am a college student and spend 75%+ of my time on a laptop typing up papers, lab reports, etc. The shorter height was KILLING me as I had to scroll up/down every few seconds. I will happily keep my 2003 HP and shop around for a later model, used goodscreen model.

  6. James Smith on May 6, 2009 at 11:06 am


    Just trying to replace my trusted Dell 510m 1400×1024 laptop, and they only sell widescreens.

    I watch DVDs on my huge TV, not my laptop.

    For applications and websurfing, widescreen is retarded.

    We’re crying into the wind here though, marketing has won the argument, and usability has lost.

  7. Owen on May 11, 2009 at 4:18 pm

    I wish I’d come across this before.. I’ve wasted hours looking for a ‘non widescreen’ with no joy, even Dells business range appears to come in 16:9 format which I thought was puzzling. Fortunately the laptop I ordered recently had a screen fault when it arrived and I could send it back otherwise I would have been stuck with widescreen which I didn’t like the look of at all when it arrived. After reading the above I’ve decided to give up the search and go with a desktop.

  8. Justin on May 20, 2009 at 7:01 am

    I know it’s been more than 2 years since this article was written, but the argument still stands today. On my widescreen 17″ iMac, this article has a width of 14.5cm (5.7″) and the whole screen is about 36cm wide (14″). In other words, when I’m browsing the web, about 60% of my screen is completely wasted. And for writing documents too… On this display, at 100% zoom, an A4 page doesn’t even fit on the screen when it’s portrait. So it’s not just business users and coders that are hurt by this, but anyone browsing the web or writing letters, novels, documents etc. – which accounts for an enormous proportion of the people buying laptops and includes students and teachers.

    However, for any program that has a timeline, such as video editing programs, widescreen is indeed more useful, and that’s why I have my iMac in the first place. And that’s also one of the main target uses for the MacBook Pro (I notice they usually advertise it with Final Cut Pro on the screen). But now I’m searching for a general use laptop and I despair.

  9. Hartmut on June 10, 2009 at 10:37 am

    I completely agree. I’d really like to upgrade my notebook with the same specifications you have given above but it’s impossible. Thus I won’t upgrade. You hear that, stupid companies? I’ll just continue to use my old laptop.

    This whole bla-bla of seeing two pages beneath each other! It applies to desktop screens, not to 15″. It is text lines you need! These wide screens are not wider, they are just shorter. If I watch DVD on my old 4:3 laptop I have black areas on the top and bottom of the screen. So what? Now these black areas are built in plastic and won’t go away if I start editing text. Is it that what everybody wanted?

    I also don’t understand why even expensive laptops which are meant for professionals and companies are only built with widescreen. Do they want us to stop working and watch DVD all day?

  10. Ark on June 12, 2009 at 8:23 am

    Yeah, i’m a business user too and i can’t stand the fact that a lot of the new software sacrifices vertical space with some fancy menus (Like the Ribbon menu of the office 2007 suite… bah!).

    I have a 16:10 laptop and i run my taskbar at the left side instead of the bottom of the screen. It’s that desperate, really.

  11. xorloser on June 18, 2009 at 4:28 am

    I use 2 side-by-side widescreen lcds on my desktop, but they are rotated 90 degrees so i actually have 2 screen with LOTS of vertical real estate.

    What would be good is a laptop where you could rotate the screen to be vertical, that way you could get lots more text lines onscreen and still put up with dodgy widescreen format.

  12. MentalRectangle on July 26, 2009 at 12:07 am

    I sympathize. 1400×1050 is an excellent resolution for a 14″ screen. It needs to come back. 1600×1200 is also a great desktop resolution.

    It seems like the industry is fairly intent on wiping any trace of 4:3 out of anything. They will fail though. They can’t change the past. Really old movies, and almost all tv shows are 4:3, and they will always look like crap on a widescreen display. You lose much more of a 4:3 image on a 16:9 screen than you would vice versa.

    There are two significant trump cards at the present as well.
    Digital cameras are 4:3.
    IMAX, surprisingly, is 4:3.

    I think many in the business community want to see 4:3 notebooks return, even if they’re in a limited number of modals. We’ll see if it happens. It might take a while though. And if it does, I’ll be stuck in 2007 for a long time.

  13. Tegiri Nenashi on September 1, 2009 at 11:53 pm

    I fail to understand how industry works. Why do they trumpet megapixels for digital cameras where the numbers are so big that they become irrelevant? 10MP image is much much bigger than any display can show without zoom! Yet we never see MP numbers for display. Recently, I came across against some retarded HP catalog, where they even fail to mention both display resolution and aspect ratio. Marketing drones, are you reading this?

    My current situation: I want to step up from 1200 lines vertical resolution display that I have now to 1600 but it seems that the industry is reluctant to produce high resolution monitors in greater numbers! Perhaps, this is because there is no scaling in XP and with high resolution icons look really tiny. I also suspect only few users know how to increase text font. However, all computers are shipped with vista for several years already, so the scaling is no longer an issue!

    The final note: I can tolerate 16:10 desktop, but the latest tendency switching to 16:9 monitors is absolutely not acceptable. Why don’t consumer agency take a hold of a head of display manufacturing, say, LG or Samsung, and make him read really wide and short web page?

  14. J Anderson on September 9, 2009 at 10:29 pm

    As a graphic artist and illustrator, being told to work on a wide short canvas is ridiculous.
    Adding to some of the insightful comments that MentalRectangle made about cameras and imax,
    graphics tablets are still 4:3 as well (thank god)
    Tell any artist that now they can only paint on a wide, short canvas.
    I have heard this argument that because our eyes are side by side instead of one on top of the other that we “see” in 16:9. What a crock. Really go look around outside. it’s really about a 4:3 field of vision.
    after all, we stand upright. We are not short and wide. (hopefully)\

    We WILL get the top 1/3 of our monitors back.

    16:9 was just a gimmick to get people back to the theaters in the 50’s during the TV revolution. It was dreamed up by the exact same guy that came up with “smell-o-vision” No kidding. Michael Todd. Widescreen and Smell-o-Vision creator.
    Maybe the widescreen people that just play with computers and watch movies should demand smell-o-vision with their widescreen as well.

  15. Jefferson Baker on September 10, 2009 at 1:03 am

    Your eyeballs are round.
    that means they see in a circle JUST as high as wide.
    Close one eye and try it. you see just as high as wide (maybe higher depending on how big your nose is) Now. you have two round eyballs for “stereo” depth perception – that is all.
    Not for super wide viewing. If that was the case your eyes would be more like a birds, out to to side or even on opposite sides of your head.
    Humans easily need vertical view as much as horizontal view.
    I’d rather watch a rocket launch in 4:3 than 16:9. Things do go up and down, not just side to side.
    and when you look at someone, do you “side to side” them, or “up and down” them.

    People do not see or only look at the world in this strange 16:9 side to side view. More of a circular view like the shape of your eyeballs and circular pupils that are only a couple of inches apart.
    Having two eyes set merely inches apart is purely for stereo depth, not super-wide, no vertical view.

  16. Sarah on November 11, 2009 at 4:00 am

    My laptop is literally starting to fall apart (has pieces of plastic chipped off, keys are loose, etc. accidents happen when you have tons of cords laying around). It’s five years old, I take it every where because I’m in college and I spend most of my time on it. I’ve been searching for a really long time for a new laptop but refuse to buy a widescreen. 4:3 is definitely better for all the reasons above (I don’t think they need to be repeated) and I don’t watch movies on my laptop… I do work on it. One additional factor for me that may not be important to most people but widescreen laptops are damn big! I don’t want to carry around a huge widescreen laptop all day long! That’s the point of a laptop. Something light and compact for use anyway. I walk around all day and need my laptop for every class… I see people with widescreens and I just don’t get it. A widescreen laptop wouldn’t even fit in my backpack. So hopefully they’ll bring them back some day. Companies seem to be forgetting about the “computer” people (programmers, business people, college students, etc.) and are doing everything to make cheap laptops for the everyday user. I’m definitely willing to pay more for a 4:3 screen. So please bring them back!

  17. Andy on November 23, 2009 at 6:38 pm

    I’m in the same boat as you – replacing a 5-year old laptop. I’m experiencing the same frustrations too! Widescreen displays for laptops are not for everyone. A year ago I purchased a 15.6 inch laptop for my daughter in college. The screen was 8 1/4″ high and 13″ wide (6:9) – down from 9 X 13″ I now have. Now however, a 15.6″ is barely 7″ high. Where there used to be an area in front of the keyboard to rest my plams there is barely room for a touchpad. These new models suck. The industry seems to be shoving them down our throats. Totally disgusted.

  18. Arek on November 24, 2009 at 1:55 pm

    Seeing last post from yesterday it seems that problem is still alive. But I remain hopeful, someday one marketing guy will notice that he can sell 4:3 as premium for business and IT professionals and this day we will see great come back.

    My next laptop will be 4:3 or there will be NO next laptop. I can buy used one if I really need new one.

  19. Dave Ziffer on December 2, 2009 at 3:31 pm

  20. Surojit Das on January 5, 2010 at 12:53 am

    I totally agree for non-wide screen type. Wide Screen sucks. According to me one can go for tablet PC where you can easily rotate your screen etc.

    Hows about it….

    Mail me for comments.
    Thanks and bye

  21. Mike on January 19, 2010 at 6:20 pm

    The wide screen laptops are truly terrible. I am a web developer and graphics maker and am going to buy a new notebook and when I look at all the wide screen options I just laugh at them.

    Fortunately there are still normal screens found in the PC market.

    The wide screens are very bad for web browsing and developing sites, you need to use the vertical scroll bars all the time and this is very poor.

    The next funny thing is that all the vendors and the online shops are saying the wide screen laptops are great for watching DVDs but I hate watching them on my notebook as I already can use my DVD player at home, right?

    As you have mentioned it is an economical trick and it’s great many people already know about this.

  22. Jeroen on January 25, 2010 at 6:45 am

    Thanks for this blog post. As a software developer, I totally agree with your statement that a widescreen laptop is useless for any business purposes.

    A few years ago, 15″ was phased out in favor of 15.4″. During that time, I switched jobs, which meant that I went from a 1024×768 15″ notebook to a 1280×800 15.4″ notebook. Although that was an improvement, it still doesn’t match up to my trusty Asus M6a which has a 1400×1050 screen.

    I really HATE the 15.4″ screen of my notebook. 800 pixels is waaay to little for anything other than surfing the Internet. I dislike working at home or going to clients, just because I have to use that awful screen. (And I refuse to invest my salary in an extra screen to use my company-provided laptop at home.)

    Anyway, now that my laptop is starting to age, I’m looking for a much better replacement. Quad-core processor, 4 Gig’s of ram and a 64-bit OS. And a screen with at least 1000 pixels in height. Guess what… The problem is getting worse! I noticed that 15.4″ screens are rare on new notebooks. Apparently, business users only want to use their laptops for watching movies in hotels or something, because 16:10 is being replaced with 16:9. This means that where 1280×800 was the default resolution last year, you now get 1366×768. That’s worse. Period. If you upgrade, you’ll get 1600×900, which is worse than 1680×1050. If you spend a lot of money, you might get 1920×1080, but then the pixel density is too high for working comfortably for 8 hours a day.

    I think I’m going to write some letters to a few producers of notebooks. (Asus, HP, Dell, Apple, Toshiba, maybe even Acer). I’ll print it in landscape with a tiny font and I’ll end the letter with a statement like: “If this was annoying to read, imagine what it’s like to work like this every day of the year.”

  23. Sara on February 7, 2010 at 10:10 pm

    As a student who is on the computer writing papers and conducting onlive research all day i completely agree. it is really frustrating to work on these shiny wide screens and to constrain the eyes so much. i only started using a wide screen after my other 3:4 laptop crashed 4 months ago and i already need glasses.

  24. Erik on May 15, 2010 at 8:23 pm

    Just want to say thanks, – it is somehow comforting to hear that others have the same issue, even though there is no solution yet.
    From working on a Dell back in 2001 on up to 1400 vertical, then HP on 1050, and now on HP capable of 800… it sucks!
    And I just cannot believe that a three year old article about technological backward progress(?) is still valid, – more than ever.
    Anyway, I will continue to search for a decent notebook, – I may even try to get a few letters out to the hardware guys to get a little more focus on this untapped market… but outcome might well be that I will buy a cheaper desktop solution…

  25. Bruno on May 21, 2010 at 2:08 pm

    Hi, found this page by chance whilst searching for…you guest it(!)..a non wide screen laptop!

    I became a little frustrated at not being able to find a decent laptop with a normal screen – for normal people – with normal eyes – who want to do normal things, like work on documents, write, surf the net, design etc, etc,..other than, waste all there valuable time watching dvd’s etc!!
    I decided to type ‘I hate widescreen laptops’ into google to see what I could find. What did I find? A site/post that is over 3 yrs old and still going strong. Well done Mike Taber.

    Question, Don’t any of the so called heads of marketing, CEO’S of manufacturing companies, Dell, Toshiba, etc, etc,etc, understand that not everybody wants to sit and play games or watch movies all day! Wake up people..your customers are angry, frustrated and damn fed up with this retrograde step! Having to scroll up and down every few minutes is a real pain in the rear! I tried a friends widescreen drove me crazy. I need a new laptop..not a new desktop, but it looks like I’m being forced down a one way street to desktop land!
    I don’t understand these so called marketing they not use laptops on the go? Surely they must do, and so must understand our frustrations. Arghhh!!!

    Bottom line though is it’a all about the money. Or why else would they keep pushing such tat and ignore the voice of many!!

  26. Rob on May 26, 2010 at 12:32 am

    Heah, heah!… it’s not just laptops though… I manage a school site where we wanted to replace our older 17″ LCD screens. To get anywhere even close to a similar vertical size; not a bad idea when you are doing lots of wordprocessing, or for that matter Photoshop! we struggled. We found that Philips produce what is now termed “business” screens in good old 4:3, but of course they don’t have speakers, which is just as stupid; do business people not use sound? In the end we have had to go to a 22″ model in widescreen… though even that is less visible lines than we enjoyed before. There has also been a change in the larger 24″ models; the one I currently use is 1920×1200, which isn’t too bad, but that model is no longer available and the latest models are now 1920×1080… no doubt another big cost saving…

  27. Michael on May 26, 2010 at 9:20 pm

    Today I went to Best Buy looking for a laptop. Widescreens as far as the eye could see. It’s terrible. It’s hard on the eyes and I felt like I was straining myself in the few minutes that I was there. Does anyone know a link to a place where they still sell non-widescreens?

  28. Mike Taber on May 26, 2010 at 9:26 pm

    The only one that I’m aware of is the Panasonic Toughbook, which has a 1600×1200 screen. Your best bet is to find an “off-brand”, as most of the major manufacturers have simply stopped selling them.

    This would be a prime opportunity for a small manufacturer to start building them again. Wouldn’t have to have many options, but they could charge a premium. The issue I think is that the LCD manufacturers simply don’t make them anymore.

  29. Brendan on June 13, 2010 at 7:49 am

    Once upon a time, industrial requirements led demand for computing hardware. The manufacturers therefore had to develop and build to specifications that met industrial requirements.

    Then along came consumerism and the age-old numbers game and sound-bites to woo a technically-inept public. Processors had to be faster, despite everything else on their systems being slow and imbalanced, so gamers could preen their feathers based on how many big numbers they could quote. Along comes a new processor and you have to buy one to maintain respect amongst your peers. Same thing with hard-drive capacity, irrespective of speed, cache, or seek times for given applications, and so on.

    Now we have the “Widescreen” must-haves, marketed to Joe Public sold on being able to watch widescreen movies on his/her PC – irrespective of the fact he could watch them anyway. But it does reduce real-estate for the manufacturers and therefore reduces cost, EVEN THOUGH the old 4:3 aspect ratio was originally chosen as the optimal format for motion viewing! But heh, ” I can watch wide-screen films just like the cinema, on my PC” (LOL).

    This kind of marketing crap to the ignorants is going on everywhere now, to the point that suppliers and service providers can easily dictate terms, for their own advantage, to the overwhelmingly Ignorant, dumbed-down masses. It’s not about what WE really want any more, it’s whether it can maximise profit and sales by differentiation and sound-bites.

  30. Dennis on August 23, 2010 at 4:02 pm

    Let’s all send this blog to the laptop maker’s:

    It’s been over three years since Mikes article was written. Apparently the laptop manufacturers have not taken this blog seriously. I would hope that they have seen it, but maybe they haven’t. So, if anyone knows the best addresses for them (either email or regular mail) please post. I for one will do my part.

  31. Stefan on August 27, 2010 at 5:31 pm

    Agreed 100% with the previous comment. I just bought a Toshiba with 1366×768 resolution, and it’s driving me nuts to the point where I’m about to return the thing. Thankfully I bought it at Costco (90 day returns, no questions asked). I use this machine mostly for reading and writing, and dearly miss the chunk of vertical space I lost. I can see how this is nice for HD movies, but otherwise it’s really annoying for me.

  32. Charlie on September 9, 2010 at 9:13 am

    Not to mention, the laptops are forced to be so damn wide. Now, with a full size keyboard with keypad, add a mouse to the side…and conference room elbow space is now at a premium.

    Additionally, with my widescreen laptop, I can no longer park it on a server rack shelf and have room for, phone, notepad, etc.


  33. Satish on September 13, 2010 at 12:55 pm

    The transition from square (4:3) screens to 16:10 widescreen was itself very painful. I used to have a IBM T42 with 14″ 4:3 square screen. I loved it. I wanted to buy a new Thinkpad, so I last year around August 2009 I ordered Lenovo Thinkpad T400. It was light weight, but widescreen. Did not like it. Thought of getting adjusted, but the palm rest area was too small to rest. I mean the depth of the laptop is not good as that of T42. My wrists started paining, as I type more being a programmer. Returned it with 15% restocking fee 🙁

    Then again, 3 days back I got a new Lenovo Thinkpad T510. What a shame. 16:9 (HD+) widescreen. My neck started paining a lot, as I have to keep my neck tilted to left side, while typing the code in my favorite Editplus editor. One day of use and such a bad experience. I am again returning it with 15% restocking fee.

    I don’t know why the industry moved to widescreen, and that too 16:9 stuff, for business laptops. I really really really need a 4:3 laptop again.


  34. Satish on September 13, 2010 at 2:03 pm

    What a nice saying:

    “The only practical use for this new generation of laptops, he said, is for watching movies in the dark.”

    Thanks to your friend, Dave Ziffer 🙂


  35. Crosbie on September 20, 2010 at 2:43 am

    Thanks all! I too have little interest in a new laptop if the screen is too wide. More to the point, if the screen is to short. Perhaps we should call them ‘shortscreens’. Anyway, I suppose the laptop makers cannot make 4:3 laptops if LCD makers are not making the panels – and it would appear they are not. The situation is now grim. *No-one* is making 4:3 displays. Presumably a line to make these things takes considerable time and investment to set up. If it’s not happening right now, that probably means no new 4:3 displays at all for years ahead, and the end-of-line supplies are all dried up.

    It’s very sad.

  36. Shady on October 21, 2010 at 9:10 pm

    I’ve been fretting over this for weeks now, and until I did a casual search and found this article, I thought I was the only one “crazy” enough to actually want a 4:3-display laptop. I’m glad (sad?) I’m not the only one. I had been using a Compaq 6710b given to me by my boss for two years, until he took it back a few weeks ago, and I could never really get used to the display. Prior to that, I had been using a Macbook, which I ended up giving to my mother. A couple of weeks back, I decided to fire up my old T42, and the feeling I got navigating that “vast” 14.1-inch display was like coming home. That’s when I became certain that I wanted a 4:3 for my next laptop.

    It turned out to be easier said than done, though. I scoured the market, hunted high and low in used-laptop shops, and found exactly zero 4:3 laptops.

    Well, not exactly. Last night I put a deposit on one of two (heavily) discounted Getac B300’s. A heavy mother of a laptop, yes, but a full-featured, expandable one at that, with a 13.3-inch 4:3 display. And oh, that keyboard! And frankly, lest I need to go out and hunt for yet another laptop in a few years’ time, tonight I’m toying with the idea of picking up the other one as well!

  37. Rafi on October 27, 2010 at 3:58 am


    After three years, this article is more relevant now than before. I am a webmaster and spends most of my time online. I think the average user spends more time on the net than anything else. After the browser header and the website header (plus banner ads) all we have is few inches of content and like the TV remote, the mouse scroll is the most used (abused) part. We are always scrolling and leaning down to read whatever possible before our neck start aching.

    Why no one thinks about it? Don’t we all pay some extra dollars to get a decent usable and ergonomic laptop? Like in all other business and politics, why the user opinion has no value?



  38. lsi on October 31, 2010 at 7:37 am

    Thanks Mike and all for posts, I think you’ve answered my question, which was “why would anyone want a widescreen if they are not watching dvds” .. and the answer is – they wouldn’t!

    Me long-time developer, my new colleagues have widescreens on their desktops, while for my desktop I requested 2x 4:3 displays with a dual-head display adapter.

    Works great, but they are asking me, why not just have one big monitor? Now I have all the answers I need…..

  39. FlyingBoat on November 14, 2010 at 6:28 pm

    So, I was finally ready to dump my old laptop and picked up a new one which is much faster and lighter. But everyone in the family hates the wide screen format! What a croc of crp! We want vertical space! My wife is having me take back the new one and we will keep the old slow compaq. We would rather have the old one where we can see more and aren’t contantly scrolling.

    I am sure they are in this format because it is cheaper to make a standard ratio for TV’s and Laptops. There are also the tons of ignorant people out there who think that it is a good thing that laptops are widescreen. After all their TV upgraded to widescreen so it must be good to have the laptop go widescreen too correct? Stupid people stupid companies. They just lost my money.

  40. Dave Ziffer on December 27, 2010 at 10:48 pm

    You all might find my diatribe at the website address for this comment interesting (click on it). You would think that there would be ONE laptop maker who’d want to capture the marketplace of people like me who HATE SHINY WIDESCREENS but there are NONE. I absolutely refuse to buy one of the new monstrosities and will do everything in my power to keep my old Lenovo T60 running until some manufacturer out there comes back to his senses. This is utterly absurd.

  41. Harleqin on January 7, 2011 at 9:59 am

    I have a 1280×800 (16:10) 15″ screen and feel quite comfortable with it. However, I also think that toolbars are overrated. What I like about widescreen is that I can have two Emacs windows side by side. I have removed all clutter from my screen by using e.g. a tiling window manager (stumpwm), Vimperator, and Emacs without toolbars.

    For coding, I have enough vertical space, but I have the advantage of using Lisp mostly, which doesn’t need so many empty lines to unclutter the code.

    My biggest gripe when buying a new notebook was the difficulty of finding one with a non-glossy screen and without Windows.

  42. curveship on January 7, 2011 at 10:47 am

    Here here! I sit here typing on a Thinkpad t60p, the last (I believe) Thinkpad to sport a 1600×1200 IPS screen. Currently 3.5 years old, but it will be a distant and sad day that I let it go.

  43. Mike Taber on January 7, 2011 at 10:50 am

    I still own and use my Thinkpad T60p. Throw an SSD drive in it to give it a completely new life. You’ll be amazed at the performance difference.

  44. Brad on January 7, 2011 at 11:04 am

    Widescreens are superior because the human visual field is greater laterally than it is vertically (my eyes are not positioned on top of one another). Your complaint is a matter of resolution. Want a “taller” viewport? Sit closer to your screen and crank up the resolution.

  45. Mike Taber on January 7, 2011 at 11:08 am

    Sorry Brad, but my resolution is as high as it will go. And when you’re trying to find a laptop, good luck finding a 15″ laptop that is 1600×1200. It’s those extra 200-300 vertical pixels that really matter for developers because of all the toolbars that have to be arranged vertically.

  46. Sam LG on January 7, 2011 at 1:27 pm

    Doesn’t help when working on the laptop only, but at my desk, I’ve got two external monitors plugged in (one via a USB-to-DVI controller). Both are 16:10, but I used the VESA mounts on the larger one to attach it to a rotating monitor stand. So my 1920×1200 is in portrait mode, and that’s where I do all of my coding. The 1680×1050 is in landscape, and while I can’t quite tile two windows comfortably, it’s reasonable for overlapping a few browser windows, and that’s where my terminal windows live (Cucumber output can get fairly wide). The laptop’s built-in 1280×800 is for my time-tracking and Campfire windows.

    Works reasonably well, though 1900 vertical pixels of code might actually be a little too much.

  47. David B. Wildgoose on January 7, 2011 at 1:30 pm


    I was looking at one of the gorgeous MacBook Air laptops but the one thing that puts me off is the lack of vertical resolution.

    Nearly all books are taller than they are wide. There is a reason for this. There is a maximum sensible width for text, so what actually matters is vertical resolution for *anybody* who works with text, (i.e. not just us programmers).

  48. noob on January 7, 2011 at 1:54 pm

    Brad: Obviously you are a huge computer noob and do not use your laptop for anything other than mindless entertainment. If you were to use your computer for business purposes such as programming, you’d know that vertical real-estate beats horizontal real-estate any day.

    Go back to wow, your guild is calling.

  49. Cat Typist on January 8, 2011 at 2:31 am

    It’s not “widescreen,” it’s “SHORTscreen.”

    The marketers’ name for it is a scam.

  50. Mark Graybill on January 8, 2011 at 5:43 am

    I remember “full page displays”, and hoping that they’d become standard. After all. how many of us prefer would “widescreen” magazine pages over the portrait format pages we read now?

    Among my first programming “displays” was a tty printout. I had a bar screwed to the wall about 30 inches higher than the platen that I’d loop the paper over. It’s been the only workstation I’ve ever had where I can see enough code at once.

    The tablets may be bringing a solution now. They’ll typically work in either orientation. With wireless mouse and keyboard and a case that doubles as an easel on a tablet with a real OS…we may get the portrait screen a portable programmer should have had since 20 years ago.

    Now to find one that isn’t shiny shiny…I want to see code, not my shirt!

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