Monitor shopping: LED vs LCD monitors

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

Q. I spend a lot of time at my computer, so I need a monitor that's easy on my eyes, but monitor shopping is confusing. What is the difference between an LED and an LCD monitor?

A. LED (light emitting diode) and LCD (liquid crystal display) monitors are based on the same basic technology, but differ in the kind of backlighting used. Technically, LEDs are a type of LCD monitor.

Unlike older CRT (cathode ray tube) monitors that generated their own light, LCD displays rely on an external source to manipulate light passing through polarized liquid crystals. Backlighting significantly affects picture quality, the result being that LEDs offer superior picture quality to LCDs.

LEDs also provide truer color quality, meaning blacker blacks and whiter whites, with just a hint of lemony freshness. Due to the configuration of the backlighting, LEDs are typically much slimmer than conventional LCDs.

LED monitors require less power -- up to 40 percent less than conventional LCD monitors. They are also more environmentally friendly because mercury is not used in their production.

LED monitors are definitely easier on the eyes than LCD monitors which make them popular choices for people who work long hours at the computer. Not surprising, I spend a lot of time at the computer and though I have a number of monitors, both LCDs and LEDs, for my primary system I use a Samsung LED. It is noticeably easier on my aging eyes.

Q. In a recent issue of your excellent newsletter, you said that you stopped using CDs or DVDs for long-term storage several years ago and now only use external flash drives. A friend told me that flash drives have a built-in counter and that the drive can only be accessed a certain number of times. Is that true and if so, are you concerned about it?

A. Flash drives do not have an actual counter, but each drive -- and it varies by manufacturer -- has an approximate number of what are called P/E or Program/Erase cycles, which basically means write/rewrite cycles.

Even the most inexpensive drives, however, are rated at approximately 100,000 P/E cycles or more. What that means is if you save and/or overwrite data on your flash drive, let's say 25 times a day -- which is ridiculously high -- the drive would serve you well for more than ten years. With new technologies emerging faster than new reality shows, any flash drive in use today won't be in use ten years from now, anyway.

If you use the drive a more typical five times a day, its potential life span is approximately 54 years, so the concept of P/E cycles is essentially meaningless to most average users. Newer flash drives have P/E cycles of 1 million, so I am not losing any sleep over it.

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