Of all the components of a computer system, the monitor is the most fragile. And of all of your own components, your eyes are the most vulnerable. Most of today's computer monitors come equipped with a slew of controls and adjustments. Use them -- and follow this tune-up procedure.
- First, check the "vertical refresh rate" -- the number of times per second that the computer screen's image is refreshed. Setting the rate to 85 Hz should minimize any flickering. In Windows 95, find this option by going to the control panel and clicking on the "display" icon.
- While you're checking the refresh rate, make sure the image resolution is set to "SVGA," or 800 by 600 pixels. This provides greater detail in images.
- The focus of most computer screens decreases as you look near the edges. Using the monitor's controls, set the image size back from the edges of the screen by about a quarter of an inch. Also adjust the contrast so you can see the edges of letters clearly.
- DisplayMate for Windows ($79) puts your monitor through a series of torture tests designed to reveal flaws in the image quality. Grid patterns show geometric image distortion, for example, and color bars demonstrate color accuracy. Many monitors let you adjust these image aspects, but it's difficult to identify problems without a testing program like DisplayMate.
- Run through this tune-up about once a month. A monitor's delicate analog components are under a lot of stress, and settings tend to shift.
- If you're staring at a monitor that's two or three years old, consider getting a new model. Monitors start wearing out from the moment you first turn them on. Focus tends to decrease as the monitor ages, and even brightness decreases as the phosphors inside the screen are pounded by the monitor's electron guns. A good-quality, 17-inch monitor can be had for about $700.
Coordinates: DisplayMate for Windows 1.2, SONERATechnologies, 800-932-6323; http://www.displaymate.com .