About six months ago, I made a pretty big decision to buy a souped-up laptop to use as my primary computer. In the past, I’d been using desktop systems supplemented with an inexpensive laptop for traveling but having various files spread out between different systems finally got the best of me and, being too lazy to set up some sort of synchronization scheme, I finally said to hell with it and got a big boy laptop.
Immediately, I missed running multiple displays. Sure, I could run two displays at once but I wanted more. I’d been using two dual-input graphics cards to run four monitors with my previous setup and I missed having my writing software open on one display, Firefox on the next, my RSS reader on the third, and the CrunchGear chat room on the fourth. About to resign to the idea of two displays for life for the sake of simplicity, I got a chance to try out the Matrox DualHead2Go Digital Edition. Life was good again.
Setup and Installation
So here’s my current setup from left to right. I have my VAIO laptop with a 13.3-inch screen next to a Gateway 19-inch flat panel with a 1440×900 resolution, next to an Acer 19-inch flat panel that also has a 1440×900 resolution. The VGA out on my VAIO connects to the Matrox box, into which the Gateway and Acer monitors are connected.
The white monitor on the far right is hooked into a desktop PC that I use for the CrunchGear chat room and to render video files so as not to bog down my laptop while I’m trying to do other things. I use a great little free program called Synergy to allow the external keyboard and mouse I use to control all four screens. And yes, I could just use Synergy with two monitors hooked up to the PC and one external monitor hooked up to the laptop to achieve a similar effect, but having three displays running off of my main computer instead of two makes a pretty substantial difference as far as file saving and clipboard usage goes (Synergy does do clipboard stuff but it’s wonky).
So once you have your two extra monitors hooked into the Matrox box, Windows sees the two as one giant, wide display — in my case, a 2880×900 secondary monitor.
The included Matrox PowerDesk SE software is able to intelligently differentiate the 2800×900 display into two separate display units of 1440×900 pixels each, which is important because you don’t want to maximize a window and have it span across two giant monitors with a gap made up of the two edges of your monitors in the middle.
Simply put; it works. And it works well enough that I forget it’s even there — that’s the best part. I’m very impressed with this little box. I haven’t noticed any slowdown from a graphics standpoint, as if the NVIDIA GeForce 8400M GS chip in my VAIO was struggling under the weight of driving three different displays (granted, the Matrox box offloads a lot of the heavy lifting since it is, after all, a hardware device).
It’s a little iffy sometimes when I take my laptop out of the equation (say, into another room) and then come back and hook it back up to the Matrox box. Sometimes only one of the displays comes back up and I have to re-hook the cable from the laptop to the Matrox box a couple times to get the other monitor to wake up. I can’t tell if that’s a Vista issue or a Matrox issue, though, but I just thought I’d mention it here.
Also, I can’t figure out for the life of me how to get my desktop background to fill each of the flat panel monitors instead of stretching between the two (see below). I had it working before but I did something and knocked it out of whack somehow. That’s either a Matrox issue or a Doug Aamoth issue. I’m betting on the second option.
My recommendation is the same as Ferris Bueller’s: If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up. My productivity has gone up measurably and it’s really made adjusting to life with just a laptop a lot easier, especially since I’m used to my desk looking like a stock trader’s.
You can get the analog version for $169, the digital version seen in this review for $229, a triple monitor analog version for $299, or a triple monitor digital version for $329. These prices are all direct from Matrox, of course. You may be able to find them elsewhere for less.
Matrox DualHead2Go Digital Edition [Product Page]