Dell ups its wide game in monitors

With nearly 5 million pixels, the U3417W is great for wide spreadsheets, multitasking and enhanced productivity.

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An old shot of Red Square at dusk before the fall of the Soviet Union makes a good lock-screen pic.

Credit: Roger Kay

A brandy new Dell UltraSharp U3417W monitor showed up at my office last week, and it’s pretty sweet.

The U in the cryptic product name refers to the ultra sharp part: high pixel density (at 3440x1440, the thing has just shy of 5 million of them); the 34 stands for a 34-inch diagonal, which is a lot of real estate; the 17 represents an upgrade from the 15, the predecessor product (U3415W); and the W means wide, as in 21:9 aspect ratio. Oh, and it’s curved.

I’m driving the thing with a Dell Alienware 13, a 13-inch gaming notebook, which is small enough to take on the road to a gamers’ convention. But I’m using it in a desktop configuration, by which I mean I’m routing the video signal through an Alienware Graphics Amplifier unit, which has an nVidia GeForce 980 graphics card in it. That way, I can get the full benefit of the monitor’s 5ms response time.

The display is not 4K, which has around 8 million pixels, but its got that same quality feel. And speaking of feel, there's a feeling you get sitting in front of the wide, curving glass: all powerful. It’s like having a jet fighter control panel in front of you. Everything on the screen, even at the edges seems ready at hand.

Even though the shape of the monitor calls to mind the PC gaming experience, Dell is positioning the U3417W as a business productivity tool. I totally get that. For productivity, you can’t have too many pixels. The more the merrier. And anyway, the 60Hz refresh rate is a little low for the twitchiest of gamers.

Dell ships the unit with its own display software, which includes a utility for dividing the screen into various possible sections, to which open windows adhere automatically.   It’s supposed to keep multiple documents up without their overlapping. But I found this feature more bothersome than helpful. Just give me all the pixels, and I’ll figure out what to do with them. I’ll size my own windows, thank you very much! It’s possible that the feature might work better if Microsoft didn’t fight its own customers (OEMs like Dell) for control of every possible subsystem.

Few of my pictures actually fit on the screen. My screen saver is set to rotate art from the Great Masters (Bruegel, Dali, Kandinsky, Klee, Klimt, Monet, Picasso, Van Gogh and others), none of whom worked on canvases with an aspect ratio of 21:9, except perhaps Van Gogh in one of his final paintings before he took his own life (Wheatfield with Crows, 1890). Most of the time, Van Gogh seemed to prefer a format that looks more like 4:3, the basic boxy CRT monitor standard from days of yore.

In fact, though, a whole community on Reddit is devoted to fantastic 3440x1440 pictures (see WQHD_Wallpaper). There, you can find amazing backgrounds that do the format justice. Many of them are scenes from gaming worlds, but others are specially cropped high-resolution photos, and there are even a few works of art.

Of course, a monitor this fancy is often paired with a desktop rather than a notebook. The only reason it works well enough with the Alienware notebook is because of the external graphics unit. A display like this could easily be paired with a Dell OptiPlex XE2, for example, fitted with an nVidia or AMD graphics card and used for wide spreadsheets, lots of multitasking, and increased productivity.

A few other things of note about the U3417W:

  • It comes with a built-in Kernel-based Virtual Machine (KVM), which lets two PCs address it at the same time. (I’m not sure who would use it this way, but there you go).
  • It is capable of displaying 1.07 billion colors.
  • It has two 9-watt speakers for great audio.
  • Its viewing angle is 178 degrees, which I think means you can view it almost edge on.
  • Its contrast ratio is 5,000,000:1 (that’s five million to one).
  • It lists for $1,199, pretty rich, but, hey, you have to pay for quality.

If pixels mean productivity to you, then the U3417W is worth considering.

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