Components Needed to Build a Multiple Monitor Computer
It’s not a new concept; running multiple monitors from the same computer, yet there are is still a lot of disinformation floating around the web regarding what you need to make this work correctly. In fact, in many cases (depending on you over all goal) you may not need anything to get your multiple monitor computers up and running. In reality, Windows, Mac OSX and many variations of Linux now support multiple monitors, so the key factors are going to be what video card you use, do you have a fast enough processor, and do you have enough RAM. I’ll talk a little bit about each of these factors and then you can determine what, if anything, you need to purchase in addition to these items.
First and foremost, you need to look at the back of your computer- you are looking for the output where your monitor is plugged into the computer. This is your video card and if you are lucky then yours already supports at least 2 monitors. In fact, a lot of the computers that we are seeing these days already come equipped with dual outputs on the video card. However, if yours doesn’t then that’s ok too! You have few fairly easy options to turn your single monitor computer into a dual monitor computer, purchase a new video card with dual outputs, purchase a second video card, purchase dual or triple monitor adapter or purchase a new computer. These options are all good options and deciding which one will work best for you honestly just depends on your budget and your knowledge.
Let’s discuss installing a new video card first, as this is likely the least expensive option. There are a lot of different types of video cards available, so it’s important that you pay attention to what you are buying before you end up purchasing. The price range of video cards runs anywhere from $60 up to $10,000 (yes, seriously), but you’re going to be purchasing is a card probably in the $175-$300 range. You want to pick a card that is multi-headed. You’ll also need to determine what type of slot you have available on your motherboard. There are 3 main types of slots available. PCI, PCI Express. Determining which type your PC has is as simple as running this program (Windows).
Alternatively, these are the characteristics of each type of slot. It should be noted that, yes, you will have to open the case on your PC eventually. If you’re not comfortable doing this then it might be best that you go with another solution to setup your multiple monitor PC
PCI-E slot is located apprx. 1 1/2″ from the M/B edge and slot is apprx. 4″ long including the locking tabs
AGP slot is located apprx. 2 3/8″ from the M/B edge and slot is apprx. 3″ long
PCI slot is also 1 1/2″ in from the M/B edge but the length is 3 1/4″
Now that you know what you have you can select the appropriate card and there are a few that I really like. Matrox makes a nice card at a decent price for PCIe computers. I like this card because it supports high-resolution graphics for large widescreen monitors, something that I recommend you purchase. Regardless of what you pick, the key is making sure you get the right type of card for your computer and additionally that you get a multi-headed card. If you aren’t sure, make sure you check with a professional before you buy.
Another option, if you aren’t comfortable installing a new video card in your computer is to use an adapter. Several companies make adapters that will work, but probably one of the most popular is the Matrox TripleHead2Go and DualHead2Go. These work great for laptops, but you can use them for your desktop. Probably the number one advantage to using an adapter instead of installing a new video card is convenience. The cost is going to be about the same, but it takes significantly less know-how and time to use the adapter versus the video card. And it’s less time consuming, because regardless of how quick you, installing new hardware just takes time. Whereas using an adapter like the aforementioned one is pretty much a plug and play event. You can simply follow the instructions and setup will only take a few minutes. You also run less risk of damaging your computer with static or just carelessness.
Next thing that you’ll have to select is the monitors you want to use with your multiple monitor computer. Picking a monitor comes down to a few main factors. Number one you need to determine the output type of your video card. There are 4 basic output types; let’s discuss those for just a moment. The first type is the old school VGA (Video Graphics Array). This was the standard for decades and what most analog CRT monitors connected with for years. The main problems with VGA graphics were that they were subject to electronic noise and image distortion. In other words, the image just wasn’t very clear. Starting a few years ago, DVI (Digital Visual Interface) replaced VGA as the standard for graphics. LCD and Plasma displays used this type of graphic interface for high definition images. Even some later CRT monitors were capable of handling DVI graphics. It’s also easy to hook up DVI to DVI-I via an adapter. This allows CRT monitors (does anyone still use these) to be easily converted to DVI. S-Video is next type of output we’ll talk about. This is the little round adapter that you might see on the back of your DVD player, especially older ones. Also, some laptops had this type of output making it easy to hook up video to your TV. And finally, HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface) is a digital audio/video interconnect that came out in 2003. This is particularly common for video game outputs.
Of course, the next import decision that you have to make is type, size and style of monitors that you want to use. There are a few different types of available that we’ll discuss. Other than this sentence, I’m going to leave CRT monitors out of this discussion. (Who uses those these days anyways?) The three main types of monitors that you’ll have to choose from are Plasma, LCD, and LED. Let’s talk a little bit about the pros and cons of each. Plasma was among the first types of flat screen monitors to hit the market. The advantage of plasma is that they have a high contrast ratio (about 1,000,000:1) and a low level of black. The response time is also is also very fast. The down side is that unless the monitor is very big, the resolution is not amazing. This is due to plasma monitor having large pixel pitch. You also may notice an image flicker, this is due to them being phosphor based. Another downside is that the have a glass screen, which can mean a glare. LCD screens are probably the most popular type of monitor these days. They have quite a few advantages, including being very light weight, and using very low energy. They are also relatively cheap in comparison to other types of screens. Color distortion due to bleeding, having a limited viewing angle and having an input lag are some of the cons to using an LCD screen. And finally we’ll talk about LED screens. These are the newest and probably best type of monitor available. They have the brightest and highest resolution image. They are slightly more expensive than LCD screens, but worth the extra money.
One thing that a lot of people leave out when they decide design their multi-monitor computer system is a monitor organization scheme, such as a dual, tri or quad monitor stand. Without a special stand you desk will be cluttered and having your extra monitor won’t be nearly as advantageous. Here are a few that you can check out for yourself. There are a few different types of arrangements that you should check out. The first is the standard horizontal dual, tri and quad monitor stand. There are also 1×2 and 2×2 stand for quad monitor setups that will take up significantly less space than a horizontal stand. And finally, a there are vertical stands available as well. You see these a lot in day trader offices. They are good stands.
Regardless of the type of setup that you decide to go with you always have another option as well; you can buy a prebuilt computer designed to handle multiple monitor computers along with a monitor array. While it’s true that you may end up spending a bit more money if you go this route, you’ll save a decent amount of time and frustration and you’ll have the opportunity to speak with a multiple monitor expert about your purchase. A lot of businesses and individuals alike go with this option simply for the timesavings, so it’s certainly an option to consider.