Normally I don't much care about how things look, but the ViewSonic VP171b looks damn good on a desk.

It's part of the company's Pro Series line of LCD monitors. The 17-inch display's ThinEdge bezel design frees up a remarkable amount of desk space, and the tripod-inspired stand makes for a sleek look and small footprint.

The monitor's minimal borders let power users set up multiple-display configurations with virtually no gaps between panels, creating a nearly continuous viewing area for multitasking and mixed-media data analysis.

Multiple-display configurations cost extra, of course. The company offers four mounts that can be used to create different configurations: side-by-side horizontal (with two or three displays); vertically stacked (two displays); and a quad display mount (four displays in a tiled arrangement). Mount prices range from $265 to $395.

The VP171b's crisp display makes staring at documents and Web pages for hours pleasant with no eyestrain. Height, pivot, tilt and swivel adjustments also make it easy to infinitely tweak the display to accommodate any user's physical requirements. The difference between CRT and LCD displays is like the difference between VHS and DVD -- worth every penny.

PerfectPortrait display-pivot software from the included CD allows the VP171b to display in either landscape or portrait mode -- handy when browsing long Web sites. I didn't realize how annoying endless scrolling is until I didn't have to do it anymore. Working on Word documents also is better when you have 13.3 inches of screen real estate to work with.

I did have some trouble when I first connected the monitor. Windows 2000 didn't detect it automatically, leading to a visually stimulating but totally frustrating effect while booting. The right half of the screen went deep green while the other half turned sea blue, then the top half became brilliant amber and so on.

I struggled with the installation disk twice. The first time I did what the install wizard said, but still got the kaleidoscope effect. On the second go, the install wizard suggested using a different driver (from Microsoft) than what was provided on ViewSonic's installation disk. Still no luck.

After a valiant effort, I called ViewSonic's help desk. At 8:41 a.m., I was immediately put on hold. Eleven minutes later, a very nice person transferred me to tech support. At 8:55 a.m., a tech support agent came on, listened to my tale of woe and gave me two options: a) Go into fail-safe mode at boot, which would tell whether the problem stemmed from a driver, or b) switch the analog input to DSUB2 instead of DSUB1.

Being lazy (and very, very afraid of entering Windows' fail-safe mode) I switched to DSUB2, and my problem was solved.

If your agency has the budget to buy this monitor, go for it. It's not cheap -- the VP171b sells for $569.99 on CDW's Web site -- but it sure makes whatever you're looking at a whole lot prettier.

Specs

17" color TFT active matrix SXGA LCD

Display Area -- 13.3" (horizontal) x 10.6" (vertical) x 17.0" (diagonal)

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Shane Peterson  |  Associate Editor