By Steve Bass | Monday, September 20, 2010 at 12:06 pm
That from my wife who last year resisted using a second monitor. It’s so darn quaint when she admits she’s wrong.
Judy found that out when I brought home a friend’s PC for repair, needed a monitor, and borrowed hers. (First rule of computing: Use someone else’s equipment whenever possible.)
The repair was taking longer than I expected — funny how computers do that to you — and, my pobrecita was feeling deprived.
I added a second monitor years ago and it was sweller than swell. Click a link in an e-mail on the right monitor and watch it appear in the browser on the left monitor. Besides watching my productivity increase (I say that for you business types), it felt wildly cool seeing two screens at once.
If you didn’t realize, I like cool things.
But my gut said, “If two’s good, three’s got to be better.” It is.
That’s because with three, I’m on the middle screen, writing in Word, doing research in a browser on another screen, and trying out the app I’m reviewing in on the third window. Or if Judy’s not around, watching a movie.
Once you get used to spending money for the equipment, believe me, adding a second, third, or even fourth screen isn’t difficult.
Okay, that’s the setup. Here’s how to do it.
In less time than it takes for your system to boot up, you can install a second or third monitor. (Actually, you can string together as many as six of them; more in a sec.)
Most PCs have video adapters — either built into the motherboard, or a separate video adapter add-in card — and have two monitor ports. The ports are generally two DVI or VGA connectors, or maybe one of each. (Of course, if you’re on the forefront of technology, you probably have the even better HDMI; I’m jealous.)
So adding a second monitor is straightforward: Turn off your PC, connect the cable that comes with the monitor to the second port on the video adapter, and boot. XP and Win 7 will spot the new monitor and talk you through the setup steps. Microsoft has a tutorial that explains how it works.
But I’m thinking that many of you don’t want to crawl under the desk with all the dust and schmutz to find the second video adapter port. So I have an alternative, a nifty one, too.
All you need is a spare USB port and StarTech.com’s Professional High Resolution USB DVI External Dual or Multi Monitor Video Adapter (USB2DVIPRO). You can use it to save crawling under the desk to attach a second monitor. And like me, you can have a third monitor without the struggle of opening your computer’s case to add a another internal video adapter.
Installing the StarTech device is a five-minute operation. Install the drivers, attach the monitor’s cable into the gizmo, plug it into a USB port, and you’re in business. (Okay, yes, if your only free USB port is on the back of the computer, you’ll need to wiggle your way to its location.)
The USB2DVIPRO device is rated for a super-high 1920 x 1200 resolution. Amazon sells it for under $100.
StarTech has a another model, the USB2DVIE2, that’s rated for 1680 x 1050 resolution, more than adequate for most of us, and it sells for about $50 on Amazon.
If you have extra USB ports–and extra moolah–you can connect up to four StarTech adapters on your PC. With the two connected to your PC’s video adapter, you can act like a super day trader with six monitors.
Sure, you’re saying, the image must be lousy and the display refresh rate–if it refreshes–will be slower than a ‘386 booting Windows 3.1.
Wrong and wrong. It’s like plugging directly into your PC’s video adapter. And if I didn’t know, I couldn’t tell which monitor was attached to the StarTech.
No, I didn’t test it with a notebook or 64-bit operating system, and I don’t own a memory- or graphic-intensive video game, so I don’t have those answers for you. But I was fine with the refresh and images and resolution for the dozens of apps I run, online games, and for playing videos.
You can manage multiple monitors using just the native features in Windows XP and 7. But Microsoft gives you bare-bones functionality.
For instance, if you move an application from one monitor to the other, the window won’t necessary fit perfectly and you’ll have to fiddle with adjusting the size. I prefer having a Taskbar on each monitor showing active apps; you might prefer a Taskbar on one monitor showing all the running apps. The software built into Windows doesn’t offer these options.
Some video adapters–most notably from ATI and Nvidia–come with multi-monitor software tools, and there are free and low-cost third-party tools that add even more functionality to multi-display setups. Zbar, for instance, is a freebie that lets you manage the taskbar across monitors. And if your iPad isn’t busy, you can use the $10 MaxiVista to turn it into a second monitor.
My love, though, is UltraMon. It’s $40, but you can download a 30-day free trial. Among its many valuable features, UltraMon gives you features you can’t get using Windows’ native dual-monitor support. For instance:
It’s also great for spreadsheet users: One click maximizes the spreadsheet across all your monitors so you don’t have to touch the scrollbars.
UltraMon works in all versions of Windows, including 64-bit versions, and supports multi-display systems. The author put together a valuable FAQ dealing with generic multi-monitor problems, and the company’s forum is well maintained.
Okay, you’ve got the idea. Now head for Amazon or Costco and buy the cheapest monitor you can find. Even a small 15-incher will do. Hook it up to your PC–and feel that coolness.
[This post is excerpted from Steve’s TechBite newsletter. If you liked it, head here to sign up–it’s delivered on Wednesdays to your inbox, and it’s free.]