Monitor Stand vs Monitor Arm: Pros, Cons and Ergonomics

Even for the best designed desk setups the decision to go with either a monitor arm or stand isn’t a clear cut choice. They can both look fantastic and each have advantages over the other depending on the size of the monitor being held, and the functional purpose of the entire setup.

A monitor arm creates a clutter free work surface whilst offering the ability to customize the position of your monitor on all of the X, Y and Z axis. This becomes invaluable if you are short of space, or wish to transition from one configuration to another with ease. 

A monitor stand will incur less of an expense (as they are typically provided along with the monitor), have no limitations on what style of desk they can be applied too, and makes it far easier to completely remove the monitor from your work surface.

In this lowdown however we’ll attempt to sideline all bias to judge the monitor arm vs monitor stand debate.

Why does monitor position matter? 

Some people will just plonk their computer monitor on the desk and be done with it. 

Straight away this poses a problem, as if that monitor is even a couple of inches lower than perfect you’ll be leaning forward and craning your neck in no time. This might be something that you can ignore, or tough out in the short term but over time are some of the leading causes of neck strain and backache. 

Sitting too close, or too far away from your monitor and your eyes will be asked to work far harder than normal to focus upon the content on the screen. This will lead to asthenopia (otherwise known as eye strain), a term used to describe when muscles surrounding the eyes become overworked. 

Over days and weeks these relatively minor inconveniences will inevitably have a knock on negative effect upon productivity. 

Although it’s difficult to attribute an exact ‘time lost’ quantity on the impact of badly positioned monitors, it is thought that this is a significant contributor to the $45 – $54 million of economic losses work related musculoskeletal disorders cause to office workers each year. 

For reference the correct position for a single monitor is to have the top of the monitor level with your eyebrows and at an arm’s length distance from your seated position. 

This encourages good posture, straightens your neck and back naturally, and makes your arms rest in a comfortable position when using the mouse and keyboard.

Multi-monitor setups should have the dominant screen positioned directly in front of you with the secondary screen slightly off to one side.

Photo by Zachary Nelson on Unsplash

What are the pros and cons of a monitor arm?

What are the pros of using a monitor arm?

The biggest advantage of incorporating a monitor arm into a desk setup is a practical one in that it removes the need to give over space on your desktop to a monitor stand.

This not only creates more functional space for papers, stationery or other devices but it also means you can more easily fit in multiple monitors, a laptop beneath your monitor or simply achieve a minimalist look by having nothing but a clean workspace in front of you. 

An arm also opens up the ability to customise the position of your monitor to a degree that just cannot be achieved with a monitor stand. 

Tilt, adjust, and re-angle your screen. Check. Switch from landscape to vertical easily. Check. Wish to create a setup of 2 or 3 monitors to reap proven productivity benefits. No problem.

In most models, the casing of the arms have built in cable management features to hide or keep control of those unsightly wires.

Additional features on many of the top end monitor arms also include USB charging points built into the base – these are nice to have, but ultimately not essential. 

A good example of a monitor arm which ticks all of the above boxes, can handle heavy weights and is well reviewed is the North Bayou F110A.

What are the cons of a monitor arm?

Installing monitor arms can be a bit of a hassle. Not all of the time mind you but it should be expected that when your package first arrives you’ll have to give over a small amount of time to reading instructions and get down and dirty with an allen key.  

Mounting the arm can also be an awkward challenge. Whether via a C-clamp (for clamping on a desk edge) or grommet (fixing through a hole in the desktop) once the unit and connecting cables are all in place, everything is fixed and temporarily immovable. Lest you take it all apart and begin to reassemble it all elsewhere.

There are weight and size limitations on each monitor arm. Acquire an arm that is not strong enough to support your display and you might find the gas springs will sink under its weight and point your screen downwards at an angle which is of no use to anyone.   

Limitations could also present themselves in the form of the arm having restricted movements. Some models provide flexibility on 2 axis only, whilst the fully extended length of an arm that moves on 3 axis can sometimes be frustratingly short.

It might also be worthwhile to state the obvious and say that monitor arms are not universal. You’ll need to check the attachment and maximum carrying capacity of the arm match up well with the specs of the monitor before adding anything to your shopping basket.

iMac owners know this all too well with VESA adaptors being a necessary accessory before they can even begin to look at utilising any of the arms on the market. 

Wall mounted arms are less commonly used, but if this design marries well with your setup in addition to the above inconveniences you’ll need to patch up old holes in the wall if you decide to relocate your desk by even a few feet.  

Finally, a major inhibitor for many is the cost of monitor arms. Sure single and dual budget units can be found but they’re almost certainly going to set you back more than a monitor stand might cost.

We LikeWe Don’t Like
The ability to prevent any desk space from being wastedThe hassle of building and installing a new unit
The versatility to create any monitor configuration, and one that best suits your purposeDepending on your desk may require to drilling holes through the desktop (to fit via grommet) or into an adjacent wall (for wall mounted arms)
Dual and triple monitor options available to really maximise the screen space without sacrificing work spaceIf using a C-clamp the monitor arm units requires space to the rear of the unit to fully operate
Brings an ultra clean, decluttered look to a setupMonitor size and weight limitations apply to each arm
Costs vary but high quality units will cost close to $100
Image by gorodenkoff on Canva Pro

What are the pros and cons of a monitor stand?

What are the pros of a monitor stand?

First off monitor stands are usually cheaper than arms. Typically a monitor is supplied with a stand, and so in that case there will be zero worries that the stand is capable of 

Stands also often have much of the same scope for adjusting the height and tilt which is great if multiple people use the computer. If you share a workstation, having a stand that can be quickly and easily adapted to your viewing preferences with ease is very important.

Combine this with a monitor riser to gain some extra height. However, in doing so you do need to make sure that the overall piece is reasonably stable or secured in some way to reduce the risk of the monitor falling and breaking.

Stands are also much easier to install, as you don’t have to mess around with fitting or drilling. If you aren’t keen on DIY or you don’t have the tools to fit a monitor arm to the wall, this is definitely an advantage of using a monitor stand.

What are the cons of a monitor stand?

The biggest downside of using a stand is that it takes up desk space. Unless you have a very large desk, this can be annoying, because that space could be used for valuable accessories or  equipment such as a second screen. 

A second con is that you rarely have depth adjustment when it comes to a stand. You can pull the monitor further forward, but this involves pushing other items out of the way, whereas a monitor arm will usually just swing out.

This can be irritating if you want to do some close-up work, because you have to lean in or mess around with repositioning the whole stand.

Next, you may find that a monitor stand is less stable, because it is not usually fixed down. That means that if someone jogs the desk or a cat or dog jumps up, the stand – and the whole monitor – could fall.

We LikeWe Don’t Like
The cost for top end stands is normally still less than a monitor armMonitor stands by their nature take up desk real estate
Top models offer screen movements on the X and Y axis including some that offer vertical positioningStands provided free with a monitor purchase are basic. Few have the ability to do anything more than adjust tilt and angle
Easy, no fuss installation
A wide selection of dual monitor stands are available
Can be used on any type of desk or work surface

Final thoughts

Form and function of your workspace will have the deciding vote over whether a monitor arm or monitor stand is best for you.

As tempting as it is, try not to let appearance sway your opinion too much. Aesthetics count for very little if you find a new piece of kit ends up creating more of a hindrance than helping.

Broadly speaking a monitor arm is often a better choice if desk space is limited and you don’t need to move the monitor too often.

However, if you have a work station with ample room or a desk that doesn’t take kindly to a monitor arm clamp you will probably find that a monitor stand is a better choice for you. Just remember to pick one that allows you to adjust the height as well as angle.

One thing that is unanimous however is that paying attention to the position of your monitor within a setup makes for an easy win from both a productivity perspective as well as an aesthetic one.

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