The Best Monitor Arms for Standing Desks in 2021
- Lab tested
Monitor Arms Are Absolutely Essential, And Here’s Why:
We’re often asked whether a monitor arm is a truly necessary investment. If you’re working at a fixed-height desk AND your external monitor has a height-adjustable stand, then probably not. But if you’re planning to both sit and stand at an adjustable-height desk the answer is an unequivocal YES.
Working with a monitor that’s positioned too low while standing can cause users to slouch forward, cascading into neck, shoulder and back pain, and a host of other problems in the long run. In the vast majority of cases of poor ergonomic setups, people are found to be craning their necks forward and glancing downward, most often to look at a laptop display. You can read about the occurrence of poor monitor setups in this recent study by the University of Cincinnati Ergonomics Department. This is why external displays mounted to articulating, ergonomic monitor arms are essential for all standing desk users.
The biomechanics are pretty easy to understand. Simply stated, if your monitor is positioned too high or too low, you’ll be setting yourself on the fast track to neck and shoulder strain. For every inch that your 12 lb head is leaning forward or backward to look at the screen, your neck muscles need to support an extra 10 lbs of weight. So craning down to look at a laptop screen with your head tilted forward 2 inches means your neck muscles are being recruited to support 32 lbs of weight—usually for hours on end.
When it comes to standing desk ergonomics the problem is exacerbated by something even many certified ergonomics where never trained to identify or correct. To understand this clearly just compare side-view x-ray images of the human skeleton when someone changes position from sitting to standing. Because our spines bend 90º at the bottom when we’re seated, our spines stretch out when we stand, making the relative distance between the keyboard and the appropriate monitor height (to avoid neck strain) greater. The taller the individual the bigger this height difference becomes.
Long-term, so-called computer hunch posture can lead to an array of painful maladies that can reduce quality of life, send someone into years of chiropractic, physical therapy, medications and even surgeries, so this is not something to be dismissive about—whether we’re talking about your own body or your co-workers’. Even in a seated posture, prolonged forward leaning to view a laptop screen can lead to all of the chronic issues you see in this illustration.
The least expensive and first go-to solution is to add an external display and install it on an ergonomic monitor arm, which is the focus of this article. (The other two key weapons in this battle are ergonomic keyboard trays and ergonomic chairs. For standing desk users there’s a fourth, the all-too-critical anti-fatigue standing mat.)
How To Find the Best Monitor Arm for Your Workstation
It may seem daunting. After all, there are literally thousands of monitor arm models on the market—over 2,000 on Amazon alone!
In the category of ergonomic accessories it is the single item most likely to get returned for refund or replacement because of the tremendous variability in display sizes and weights, and the fact that there is simply no one solution that fits all. Part of the reason that there are so many models on the market is that nearly one million arms are sold in the US every year—it’s a gigantic market—but the other reason is that each model has a very specific range of weight and display size that it can handle.
This is one example where you might want to buy directly from a reputable online ergonomics dealer or manufacturer rather than on a marketplace where no expertise is proffered in selecting the right one for you. It is also one of those categories in which user reviews, even verified ones, cannot be relied upon—not just because of the propensity for fake reviews on sites like Amazon, but the fact that everyone’s computer equipment and anthropometry is completely different. What worked for one user may not work well at all for you.
A Step-By-Step Guide to Selecting a Monitor Arm
A little due diligence up front to narrow down your choices will go a long way toward eliminating the frustration many users run into when the monitor mount they ordered doesn’t work with their display(s). We’re here to help! This primer will help you figure out your own criteria for what kind of display mount you’ll need, and our review abstracts below will lead you to our lab-tested reviews of the most popular arms on the market today. Let’s get started!
Step 1: Get all the specs on your monitor(s)
These are actually easy to do with a simple Google search, or you can look up the specs on the manufacturer’s website. You’ll want to get the height and width of each monitor along with its weight. Do not be confused by the diagonal width, which is how displays and TVs are sold. Especially if you’re going to mounting multiple displays on an arm, you need to know height and width.
One free tool we like to share with readers is Ergotron’s Mount Finder, a database of literally every computer monitor ever made. In one quick search you can find out the weight and diagonal size of your monitor, the VESA hole pattern for it, and notes on whether it is compatible with a VESA monitor arm mount and if you’ll need to do anything special to accommodate it (like removing the stand or adding a VESA adapter). The database even includes tablets and laptops. While this is sufficient information for most single-display setups, if you’re looking to mount two or more displays on the same mount you’ll still need to Google up the width of the display. And if you’re unsure about the dynamic height range of the arm you’ll need to Google up the display’s height as well. We sure wish Ergotron would include this information in their database.
If you have two displays then you’ll want to look for a dual monitor arm. There are two styles. One variety has two independent arms that attach into a hub in the edge clamp (example). The other has a single, heavy-duty arm with a crossbar for attaching the two displays next to each other (example).
The independent arms are great if you want to position each monitor differently, such as having one monitor in portrait mode and the other in landscape. Or have a display on one arm and use a laptop holder to use your laptop’s built-in display as a second screen, on the other arm. The crossbar version usually has a handle in the front, which makes it super easy to move both monitors up and down together in perfect horizontal alignment. Remember, you’ll be doing that each time you switch from sitting to standing.
The crossbar duals are pricier, for sure, but so much more elegant for the typical user. Users who frequently need to move their screens around to share with a co-worker or client love these dual monitor arms with a built-in handle.
Of course you can always use two independent single arms. Especially if you already own one arm and you want to add a second screen, or if one of your screens is really heavy and needs a pricier heady-duty arm of its own.
If you are looking to mount three or more displays there are basically three options, none of them are cheap, all have their plusses and minuses.
- Option 1: Use a combination of single arms and dual arms to accomplish the job.
- Option 2: Search for a high-end commercial monitor arm that can support 3 to 6 monitors; just be prepared for the sticker shock.
- Option 3: There are truly heavy-duty electric monitor arms coming out in 2021, like iMovR’s rumored ‘EMMA,’ that can support over 100 lbs of monitors in 18 possible configurations of one-to-three displays on the bottom crossbar, and one-to-three on the optional top crossbar. Sign up for our free newsletter to learn about when these electric monitor mounts hit the market.
One thing worth mentioning is that most people will likely give up on adjusting the height of their monitors each time they stand, once they get to three or more displays. Changing height on three or more arms every time, and getting all the displays back into horizontal alignment becomes a royal pain. If you’re OCD about things being in a straight line this will become irritating. But there’s hope! This is where electric arms are really going to change ergonomics for the better, especially for software developers, stock traders, gamers and other multi-monitor users.
Step 2: 99.99% of ergonomic monitor arms use a VESA mount
The VESA mount you’ll find on most ergonomic display mounts is a square plate with four holes spaced 75mm from each other and another four holes spaced 100mm from each other. There are some oddball ones out there with 50mm, 90mm and even 200mm hole patterns, but in all likelihood with today’s popular LCD monitors you’re going to use the 75mm pattern for smaller displays and 100mm for larger displays. So make sure you know which hole patterns are drilled into the back of your monitor(s) and that the arm you select will have a VESA plate that is compatible.
A couple of important details to note:
For iMac computers you will need to purchase a VESA adapter bracket, either from Apple or from one of the many alternative options on Amazon. We recommend getting on that allows you to remove the built-in stand as this is extra weight that you don’t want to saddle the monitor arm with, and is also a much more elegant solution. While the stand looks permanently attached, it actually removes pretty easily. Check here for more information about mounting your iMac on a monitor arm.
- Cheaper arms are slightly difficult to install without the help of someone to hold up the display while you drive four screws into the VESA plate. Premium arms come with a simple quick connect adapter that you first attach to the back of the LCD display while it’s laying flat on a desk, in 30 seconds. Then the entire monitor “slips over” the VESA plate. This $1 part makes a huge difference in installation ease. Just note that there are a few LCD models that have a recessed square in the back of the display that the VESA plate sets into; in that case you won’t be able to use the quick connect adaptor—just toss the plastic piece and get a friend to hold up your monitor while you screw it onto the VESA plate old school. As a caveat to all of this, if you’re looking to absolutely maximize rigidity in your monitor arm system (e.g. for treadmill desk users) toss the quick-connect adapter and bold your monitor directly to the VESA plate.
Step 3: Determine the Required Dynamic Height Adjustment Range of Your Monitor Arm
There’s a simple equation you can use to determine whether or not a given monitor arm will work for you, or whether you’re too tall for it. You’ll need to know the following:
A—the maximum height of your monitor arm
B—half the height of your monitor—because the mounting plate is generally located in the center of the monitor, half of the monitor will stick up higher than the plate. (Note a lot of the newer monitors on the market do NOT have the VESA mounting holes in the center, so be sure to measure your specific monitor.
C—your eye height at the zero-degree sight line (i.e. the distance from the floor to your eyes while standing looking straight ahead)
D—the height of your standing desk while you are standing
If A+B ≥ C-D, then you can use the monitor arm without having to crane your neck down or strain your optic nerve. (Note: while not ideal, even if you exceed this limit by a couple of inches you might be ok—and you’ll certainly be better off with a monitor arm than without one—just try and make sure your application windows are always high up within the display area.)
This formula works for standing desk converters as well; you’d just have to use the height of your converter for D. Most X-lift and Z-lift standing desk converters add about 6″, so you’ll want to look for a “short pole” monitor arm specifically designed for use with converters (example). These smaller arms are also lighter, which is important given the limited weight capacity of these non-electric desk converters.
Step 4: Determining the Arm Extension Reach and Arm Retraction Depth
This is one of the most commonly neglected specs that users find out too late that they should have checked out in advance. The arm extension reach is the maximum distance the monitor can be moved toward the user, or aside when wanting to show a co-worker or client your screen. If you collaborate a lot with others, or sometimes share a display with a desk mate to your right or left, this is an important spec to consider.
If you plan to use your monitor arm on a corner desk or L-desk and mount it near the “corner” then it is also a very important spec. While some corner desks have a chamfered back edge so that monitor arms with a normal extension reach can be used, if your L-desk doesn’t have this feature you’ll want to find an arm that’ll allow your monitor to reach forward far enough so that your focal depth is correct. Typically this is approximately the length of your arm reaching out to the top of the screen. But it could be greater if your display is particularly large.
Arm retraction is a measure of how far forward of the back edge of your desk your monitors will sit when pushed all the way back. On most arms this is about 4″ – 5″ assuming an edge-clamped mounting. However, some dual monitor arms with crossbars can be as much as 8.5″ off the back edge. If your desktop is a capacious 36″-deep that might be perfect, and it may still be workable on a standard 30″-deep standing desk if your monitors aren’t super-large or you have a keyboard tray that lets you stand back an extra foot or so from the desk, but you would never want to use this kind of arm on a “compact” 24″-deep desk.
Of course the other workaround for depth-of-field is to mount the arm in a custom-drilled grommet hole instead of using the edge clamp. Premium monitor arms from Ergotron, iMovR and others always include hardware for both in the box, but be careful when order cheap monitor arms to check that they are grommet-mount, edge-clamp mount or contain both sets of hardware. Also make sure they are “articulating,” and not just fixed-height arms that won’t do you any good on a sit-to-stand workstation.
Step 5: Putting It All Together
With your parameters in hand it’s just a matter of narrowing the options.
- Make sure the weight capacity of the arm is greater than the weight of the monitor itself. If you’re going to be removing a stand as part of adding the display to a VESA clamp then you can subtract the weight of the stand. If you have two or more monitors then make sure the combined weight of the displays is still within the performance specs of the arm.
- Check that the top of the dynamic height adjustment range of the arm is high enough for your monitor (Step 4 above).
- If mounting two or more arms on a single mount make sure the width of each monitor is within the specified range the arm was designed for.
- Check that arm extension and arm retraction specs will work well with your desktop depth and usage profile.
- Check all the special considerations below to see if any of these situations apply to you.
- If you can, confirm your decision with an expert, like one of our ergonomic experts at WorkWhileWalking (reach us on live chat, bottom right corner of your screen).
- See our primer on the difference between air cylinder and compression spring counterbalance mechanisms in monitor arms to decide whether this is an important criteria for you. While gas-piston arms are definitely smoother and easier to move, low-quality ones can lose their lift capacity prematurely and start to sag. Look for ones with 10-15 year warranties. As a general rule of thumb, in fact, we would steer consumers away from any commodity monitor mount that comes with less than 10 years of coverage. With a stand-up desks these arms will get a workout several times a day, go for quality.
- A distinct disadvantage of most monitor arm designs, because they were fundamentally created decades ago for users who would only sit at a fixed-height desk, is that there is an arcing motion to their counterbalance mechanisms. This means that even though you can set the edge clamp so that the monitors are centered on your desktop, as soon as you change position between sitting and standing the center will likely shift a couple of inches left or right. This is an annoying consequence of yesteryear designs that we have vociferously complained about to all the major monitor arm manufacturers for the past decade, to little avail. At WorkWhileWalking we’re hypersensitive to this issue because office treadmills are hard to move, and making the user crane their necks left or right a couple of inches kind of sucks. The workaround? Buy a larger display and move your working application windows to the center as much as possible.
- While many arm manufacturers seeking to catch the new wave of millions of standing desk buyers have increased the height of their poles, they haven’t done anything to address this arcing motion. So you may find that you need to compromise the position of the edge clamp to get to a middling of the center position.
- Unless you have room behind your desk. If not blocked by a wall or the back side of a co-worker’s desk, you can sold this problem by sticking the elbow of your monitor arm straight back. Then the arms motion will be straight up and down with no arcing.
- New electric monitor arms coming out in 2021 generally move straight up and down, eliminating this problem completely.
- Make sure the edge clamp can handle the thickness of your desk and can work around any metal components under the desktop, such as crossbars and other frame members that might get in the way. A classic example is Vari standing desk converters that have a metal frame member not far from the back edge of the work surface that prevent all but specially-made Vari monitor arms to be installed.
- Treadmill desk users will want to shy away from arms that are too shaky, and stick with ones that either have stiff joints or have hex key adjustments for tightening them. On any two-legged desk it is unavoidable to have some oscillation induced into the desk by the user’s swaying walking motions, and you’ll want to minimize the amplification of those oscillations in your displays as transmitted through the monitor arms.
- Understand that with most desktops the position of the edge clamp is essential to hone in on before really tightening down in place. We’ve seen a lot of desktops after years of having an edge-mounted monitor arm attached in the same spot, and there’s often a slight depression in the wood or laminate from where it used to be, or worse, a discoloration in the desktop from the protective rubber pad that come with most monitor arms (ironically to protect the desktop from indentations). Note that neither the monitor arm manufacturer’s or desk manufacturer’s warranty is likely to cover any damage of this nature.
Top Ergonomic Monitor Arm Reviews
The Tempo Light and Heavy Duty Tempo Monitor Arms are high-quality products that provide ample ergonomic adjustability for the vast majority of users—and they fit right in with iMovR’s trend towards “easy set-up, exceptional quality.” While tall users might be better served by a taller-pole arm, the Tempo is an easy decision for everyone else. For the innovation, ease of use and reliability offered, the Tempo is one of the best values to be found in the crowded field of ergonomic monitor arms.
It can be quite challenging for standing desk users to mount two monitors at an ergonomically appropriate height, but iMovR’s Tempo dual LCD monitor arm makes it easy. Its considerable range of ergonomic adjustments allows for a ton of different configurations (though the most common by far is side-by-side), and its internal gas-lift counterbalance mechanism allows for smooth, yet precise, adjustment. Arriving pre-assembled, installation is a breeze. The 15 year warranty is exceptional.
Our top value pick for use with standing desk converters (X-lift and Z-lift types, specifically), as long as your monitor weighs 17.6 lbs or less. Uncommonly robust features and high quality construction for a monitor arm in this price range, with a 10-year warranty and commercial office furniture grade ratings to match. Note that the “short pole” design, while making this the ideal arm for use with desktop converters, also means it may be too short for taller individuals to use on a full-fledged standing desk or treadmill desk.
Ergotron makes a darn good monitor arm. The company delivers on promises of quality, range of motion, durability, and just about everything else. Rave customer reviews back these claims. The LX is an excellent choice for standing desk and treadmill desk users, but we strongly recommend upgrading to the Tall Pole (13″) version for proper ergonomics if you’re not using it on a fixed-height desk.
Price: $ 159
The king of Ergotron’s desk mount monitor arm line, the LX Sit-Stand possesses a wide adjustment range and capacity to give standing desk and treadmill desk users more options to customize the active workstation of their dreams. It’s brawny 30 lbs maximum lift capacity, however, has not kept up with the much larger and heavier monitors being sold today, so check your specs.
Price: $ 270.99
If your office decor is designed to impress viitors, and especially for workstations where the back of the monitor isn’t against a wall but rather out in the open and visible, you might want to pay up for the glitzy Humanscale designs. While the monitor arms themselves are not spectacular from a functionality standpoint, and the same functionality could be had for a whole lot less money, they are the stand-out choice when looking for elegance over all else. 15 year warranty is reflective of the durability and reliability of their metal spring counterbalance mechanisms, but frankly you can find more updated gas-piston counterbalance units these days that also have 15 year warranties.
It’s awful pretty. But it’s also awful weak. With a 15.5 lb maximum lift capacity most monitors being sold today would not be able to stay afloat. This is Humanscale’s low-end arm, but it’s priced where other brands have their top-end arms, so if you buy it you’re buying it for its handsome looks. We were disappointed to see that in this successor to the M2 monitor arm this new one has less performance and a 10 year warranty in place of 15 years.
Ergotech’s new series of adjustable monitor arms offers a wide range of adjustability and capabilities, including dual monitor attachment, at a low price. But its near-dangerous levels of instability, due to a poorly-designed desk edge clamp, makes it impossible for us to recommend it, even as a budget alternative.
The Bild monitor mount was a great concept that IOP just couldn’t pull off with its usual success. At the end of the day it’s an expensive way to mount a large number of monitors with no height adjustment possible, making it a “monitor mount,” not an “ergonomic monitor arm.” Unless you need more than 6 monitors there are better solutions out there for a lot less money.