Add Multi-Monitor Support to Any PC

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Until recently, options for multi-monitor support were limited. You could accept the fact that your computer didn't support it – or replace the computer entirely. Or, assuming your machine had an open expansion slot, you could take on a DIY video-card upgrade, a project fraught with the joys of research, installation, troubleshooting, and without any guarantee of success.

The EVGA Plus+ UV16 fills these voids, allowing virtually anyone with available USB 2.0 ports on a PC computer to add extra monitors. The device is configured by default with a DVI-D port, but can also be used with VGA monitors by employing an included adapter. Resolutions of up to 1680 x 1050 are supported.

While this tiny device isn't quite plug & play, installation is relatively simple. First you install the software & driver from the included CD. Then you connect the device to your computer via a USB cable and to your monitor via a monitor cable. Now you should be up and running. But…

Several caveats at this point will prevent stumbling or purchasing this device with false expectations.

The UV16 does not support long cable runs, unless you have a signal booster. You should also expect less than perfect video performance with high-end applications. Since the UV16 uses USB 2.0 connectivity, throughput is limited to 480Mbps. By way of comparison, HD bandwidth is measured in Gbps.

This is not to say that picture quality is bad. I've had few problems with the exception of playing HD movies that occasionally lose signal or look bitmapped. For web browsing, YouTube, and office applications, I can'tdiscern any difference in performance compared to the monitors running from my video card.

I learned of limitations with transmission distance with a call to EVGA tech support when my 50' DVI cable kept losing its signal. In contrast to many encounters with tech support in general, this call was a pleasant experience. And more miraculously their tech support is available 24/7. The nice people there helped me troubleshoot my issue and even directed me to their equally useful & well organized web site for driver updates.                                                                                                                                                   

photo courtesy of realtimesoft.com / ultramon.com

Unlike many marketing ploys disguised as productivity solutions, working off of multiple monitors affords me truly dramatic gains in efficiency. I get more work done in less time and at the end of the day don't feel discombobulated from switching windows hundreds of times.

I bought a UV16 to see if these benefits could be expanded with a third monitor, something I couldn't do previously because my machine only supports dual-monitor output. My verdict is that every additional monitor has a multiplier effect on efficiency & fun. In fact, I was so pleased that I added a fourth EVGA soon thereafter. I'm now eagerly rationalizing the purchase of a fifth.

There are two ways you're going to see gains in your productivity with this device. The first is through default features in the UV16. The second is by taking advantage of the other products & tools designed to enhance a multi-monitor setup.

As a standalone solution, the UV16 allows for much customization: screen resolution, color quality, screen rotation, layout position, and mirroring are just a few of many options. Once you've tweaked those settings, consider expanding your possibilities with useful & geeky third-party apps. Sometimes these add-ons have less to do with work than just how cool it is to have two, three, or more monitors spanning your desk. For example, applications like trippy multi-monitor screensavers & desktops don't necessarily contribute to productivity, but are great for revitalizing an otherwise dull workspace.

Also remember that adding an extra monitor isn't a project limited to desktop activity. This solution can easily be used for many other business & personal applications. Use the mirroring feature to share the view of your monitor with clients. Extend a monitor to your shop window for economical & effective retail signage. Or, mount a monitor on a cart with casters as an effective aid during presentations.

Below are a few products & apps that might help you flush out ideas for a fully customized multi-monitor setup. Bear in mind that it's not an all-inclusive list. What you can do with two, six, or even 16 monitors is really only limited by your imagination, as the madness documented in the above photo clearly demonstrates. Whether your goal is increased productivity or desk envy, a little creativity & research is all it takes to create a multi-monitor solution that fits your needs.


B&H BUYER'S GUIDE

Multi-Monitor Products

LCD Monitors LCD Stands
15" Single
17" Dual
19" Triple
20" Quad
21" Wall Mounts
22" Floor Mounts

Third-Party Applications

Ultramon Multi-Monitor Task Bar

I can personally attest to the usefulness of this program. It's a multi-monitor toolbar that allows you to more easily manage and practically use two or more monitors. For instance, burdensome tasks like moving windows between monitors can be automated with hot keys and the mystery of which monitor is running your app is solved by placing a toolbar on each monitor – among many other options. I have found it to be the fullest-featured and most customizable multi-monitor toolbar.

Synergy

If you're really feeling adventurous, how about uniting two or more computers, each with multiple monitors, under the dominion of one mouse & keyboard. This open-source project, released under the GNU Public License (GNL), allows you to do just that. It essentially turns all of your computers and their monitors into a single virtual screen.