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Within the same budget, which do you think would be the best boost to productivity for general web development : An SSD as boot drive, or a second screen ?

I currently use a 16.4" laptop with full HD screen and 7200 RPM HDD


EDIT: In light of the answers so far, I add that I work at home and while I have a home office with a proper desk, I'm just as often coding sitting on the sofa in the living room.

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closed as primarily opinion-based by gnat, user61852, Thomas Owens Jul 1 at 11:53

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

SSD will get way cheaper soon. A second screen probably will not. So, invest in SSD next year. –  Job Dec 27 '10 at 2:03
@Job, good point. In addition, SSD capacities are still rather small (in the non-outrageous price range), so having one prompts you to think what goes on it and what goes to an external HDD. –  dbkk Dec 27 '10 at 12:07
@dbkk, right, a plain old HDD has a memory cache too ... –  Job Dec 27 '10 at 16:00
@Job: people have been saying that for quite a few years now –  Andreas Bonini Dec 28 '10 at 20:05
Thank you everyone, second screen is on it's way! –  jfoucher Dec 30 '10 at 15:27
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7 Answers

up vote 53 down vote accepted

Second screen, no other answer possible. Booting you make once a day, so you can gain 1 minute, + maybe a few minutes in filesystem access (depending of your files usage). Switching between windows, searching some closed (or not) window behind others consumes more time (you are making it multipe times / hour; according to RescueTime "On average men switch windows 53 times per hour, compared to women who clocked in at 45 per hour".)

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If jfoucher is a Java programmer, several IDE's - e.g. Eclipse - juggle thousand of small files all the time. Here a fast drive helps. –  user1249 Dec 27 '10 at 0:27
It's mostly done in background, so for him not really big gain –  ts01 Dec 27 '10 at 6:54
I had two screens for years until I looked at the problem from a different angle, whats making me desire/want/utilize two screens, I then changed my workflow/tooling and now I switch apps and neck move a lot less, two screens almost always indicate some sloppy workflow –  mattcodes Jun 10 '12 at 7:35
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It depends entirely on what you do, and how do you do it.

Pro for a second screen:

  • you can view (more) docs, code, and output at the same time

Pro for SSD drive:

  • much disk intensive stuff is faster, e.g., compilations

If what you do is something like developing web sites, where you need the UI code, the backend code, a browser, and some log files open at the same time, then a bigger screen is probably a better idea.

If, instead, you do something like debug large applications in compiled languages, trying to find which revision broke things, and git bisecting until you find the right place, then perhaps an SSD is better.

There's other things you might be able to do instead. For example, more RAM might speed things up more than an SSD. Or you might buy books or a training course. Or you might buy a second laptop, used, and dedicate all your computer activities that are distracting you from your work to that one.

Or you might save the money.

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I develop mostly in PHP, some Python, so no compilation involved –  jfoucher Dec 27 '10 at 7:18
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I have both an SSD and a second screen. I barely use the second screen, my main screen is big enough for me. A cheap SSD where the (huge) codebase resides made git operations a breeze and compilation faster, and the computer in general more responsive.

But you're using a notebook with a 16" screen and probably your codebase is not as huge; in your setting one more screen (preferably 20" or bigger) should be a better choice.

Also, I'd consider an ergonomic keyboard (mine is MS Natural 4000). Typing gets somehow faster, and you get far less strain in the hands.

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MS Natural 4K is my good, good friend. –  Paul Nathan Dec 26 '10 at 20:44
I can't really live without a second screen, at least the program am developing is on the second screen. I am currently using unity for which a third screen or virtual desktop is very helpful. –  Harald Scheirich Dec 27 '10 at 3:51
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I have two screens, and have no productivity increase from the second one. Having a big screen is useful, but once you have that the smaller (in my case laptop) second screen is not an additional boost. Also beware that if you use one screen for email/twitter/irc, it can actually lower your productivity as you get distracted, compared with hiding those windows behind your editor.

SSD is useful if you have software that requires a lot of reading from disk when loading/compiling. I work with Plone, and when you have a copy of a customer site with a 3GB database loading can be slow. An SSD speeds that up and so helps in that case.

If your software doesn't require a lot of disk reads/writes for each compile/reload cycle, then an SSD isn't that useful.

I've found more productivity increases in using things like Pomodoro.

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Given you're doing web development, SSD's avantage for compilation doesn't apply because you most likely use a scripting language / no compilation.

As for the screen, if it's small then yes a second screen would help, however you might prefer to get one big screen instead.

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If you have company mandated anti-virus any SSD drive advantage will be eaten by the anti-virus program and then go for the extra screen instead.

Note that some of the advantages of a SSD-drive in a low memory system can be achieved by ReadyBoost with a big USB-key.

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I'm using linux for everything, so this doesn't apply to be, but it could be useful to someone else. –  jfoucher Dec 28 '10 at 15:27
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I would say get one big screen instead of a second one.

A second screen usually fills up with distracting stuff. You do not want to see email instantly. It will pull you out of the zone.

I really like the 30" high resolution monitor I got for myself. I sold off my older 24" instead of keeping it and I haven't missed it. The 30" feels like a gigantic space and it easily maximizes single applications for fewer distractions.

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-1 for resurrecting an old thread without adding anything substantial... your 30" screen is still resolution limited, so all you gain is larger clutter rather than more real estate. Also since the OP commented in December that the 2nd screen was the way he was going to go, I doubt he'd be able to return it at this late date for a larger one. –  Stephen Jul 18 '11 at 20:27
@Stephen: Stack Exchange sites aren't intended for answers to one guy's question. Anyone else looking for recommendations might be interested too. –  Zan Lynx Jul 18 '11 at 20:28
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