How to Pick the Right Monitor Mount

I have some depressing news for you: the mount or stand that came with your monitor probably sucks. Oh, it’ll hold up the screen and stand on your desk…but that’s about it.

Most stock monitor stands that come from manufacturers are barebones, lacking options for both viewing and ergonomics (with a few exceptions for premium and gaming-branded models). Replacing it with a dedicated stand, especially if you use a multiple monitor setup, is an easy way to improve your workspace. Here’s how to pick the right one.

Make Sure Your Monitors Are VESA Compatible

Before we continue: know that in order to use basically any third-party stand or mount, your monitor needs to be VESA compatible. That means having standard mounting holes drilled into the back, typically directly into the steel frame of the monitor itself, allowing for any compatible mount to be screwed in. VESA 100 (with a square hole pattern 100mm wide on each side) is the standard, though some super-sized monitors above 35 inches may have larger requirements. Many smaller, cheaper, or thinner monitors may not be VESA-compatible, and will work only with the custom stands that came from the manufacturer.

The monitor on the left includes a 100mm VESA mount, but the one on the right has a curved back that can’t accommodate one.

Freestanding Mounts: Ergonomics On a Budget

These are simply a replacement for the standard monitor mound or stand—they attach to your monitor at the top and rest on your desk’s surface, just like normal. But replacing your stand with a third-party one can give you more options, including a much greater height (ideally placing the center of the screen at your eye level or just below it), panning and tilting, and even rotating the screen itself into a landscape format.

More elaborate models come with spring-loaded rising mechanisms and integrated cable management, but if you’re looking for a freestanding mount, you are generally want the cheapest option. Single-monitor stands with all the features above can be had for as little as $30.

Side-Clamp Desk Mounts: Maximum Desk Space and Flexibility

An intermediate option is to use a clamp-style mount, which attaches the riser pole or arm to the side of the desk. This gives you the advantage of clearing away desk space immediately beneath the monitor, without having to resort to a permanent or semi-permanent installation. You’ll need a desktop that extends out beyond the legs or support by a few inches—most modern computer desks will do, but older styles with a “boxy” construction may be incompatible. Installation is easy, and requires only a screwdriver and a little elbow grease to secure the clamps in place.

Side-clamp mounts can be simple, with only a few pieces of steel, or elaborate, with multi-jointed arms supported by tightened bolts or even gas-spring mechanisms suspending the monitor over the desk and closer to your face. Some even have pass-through ports for handy extras, like USB and audio. In fact, the construction is simple enough that you can build one yourself if you’re handy with a few basic power tools.

Through-The-Desk Grommet Stands: Heavyweight Champions

For a semi-permanent mount that takes up minimal space on your desk, a through-the-desk mount might just do the trick. These stands utilize a single, heavy-duty bolt that goes through a hole in the desk to secure the weight of both the stand and the monitor. Naturally, this limits your options, as you’ll need to either drill your own hole or have a desk with an existing one, like a standard cable management grommet hole. Of course, there’s no guarantee that these will be in the ideal spot for your monitor mount.

Through-the-desk stands tend to be popular with users who need to mount the maximum amount of weight combined with the minimum amount of desktop obstruction. Double, triple, and quadruple-monitor setups with through-the-desk mounts are common. Some models offer a choice: either a standard bolt mount fixed to the desk, a clamp for the side of the desk, or a huge weighted plate that sits on the desk in a freestanding style to counterbalance the weight of multiple monitors. They tend to be fairly cheap in single-monitor configurations, with prices increasing for more elaborate models.

Wall Mounts: For the Slickest-Looking Setup Around

Wall mounts are a popular option for users who want completely unobstructed desk space and an attractive work area. But thanks to more limited ergonomic positions, the need for a permanent installation on a wall (with a stud), and their unsuitability for most offices and rental properties, they need a lot of prerequisites.

Even so, monitor wall mounts come in a lot of varieties, very much like the same mounts for televisions. The simplest and cheapest mount directly to one spot with no panning or tilting options. More complex variants add simple panning, panning and tilting plus rotation for landscape mode, simple jointed extension arms, and again, multi-joined gas spring stabilization arms. Prices will be about the same as for clamp-on varieties.

One thing that wall mounts can’t handle well is multiple monitors. After two monitors (and not big ones), the weight is too much to mount to a single point, and you’ll have to resort to multiple mounts (on multiple studs).

Multi-Monitor Setups Have Limited Options

If you love the multitasking boost of multiple monitors like I do, your options for third-party mounts will generally get fewer and fewer the more monitors you add. Double-monitor models are available in all of the categories above, but triple-monitor setups are generally not offered in wall-mount options, due to the extra weight. Freestanding mounts (with a heavy steel stand counterweight) and through-the-desk mounts are much more common.

Once you expand to four or more monitors, you more or less have to go with premium, heavy-duty options in the freestanding, through-the-desk, or (less frequently)┬áside-clamp options. And they won’t be cheap: quality steel pipe and arm versions start at around $100, going up to $400 or more for gas spring models.

Image credit: Amazon

Michael Crider has been covering technology on the web since 2011. His interests include folk music, football, science fiction, and salsa verde, in no particular order. He wrote a novel called Good Intentions: A Supervillain Story, and it's available on Amazon. You can follow him on Twitter if you want.