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Living the 3 monitor dream

Posted : Wednesday, 04 January 2012 17:16:33

I’ve been using a dual display on my desktop PC and have become so used to it that I really feel constrained when I find myself having to use a single display machine. I particularly notice the amount of time I spend switching between windows - more specifically the amount of time I spend trying to remember which window I want to view out of all those sitting in my taskbar, okay aero peek made this a bit less hassle but its still a pain in the a**. I do use a laptop when I work away from home and while the screen constraints are even greater in that scenario, when I’m on the road mobility, portability and practicality outrank productivity concerns so I can accept tolerate the small keyboard/one screen combo. When I’m at home however its a different story and where I don’t have the same practical constraints as the laptop scenario, I’ll take any productivity boost going. This is how my two monitor setup looked… (note my PC is under the desk)

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As I said I’ve been a dual-screener for a long time now and for the last six months or so I’ve been considering getting another screen. Lending considerable weight to my drive toward a third screen was this recent post from Scott Hanselman - http://www.hanselman.com/blog/TheSweetSpotOfMultipleMonitorProductivityThatMagicalThirdMonitor.aspx. After reading that post I pretty much decided to go for it. The only problem then holding me back was that I know nothing about hardware, seriously nothing. I am not a hardware guy. In previous jobs I always used to ask the network or systems guys how to do something new but since I’ve been self-employed I don’t have that luxury anymore. So I spent a bit of time researching and established I needed the following things…

  1. Monitor (essential)
  2. New Graphics Card (essential)
  3. Mount/Stand (optional)

The first thing I needed was another screen so I got a ProLite E2473HDS from Dabs. My other two screens have an aspect ratio of 16:10 but these seem to have fallen out of favour and all the widescreen monitors I found (including the one I bought) have an aspect ratio of 16:9, the ultimate result is that the native resolutions aren’t entirely compatible (1680x1050 compared to 1920x1080) but I can live with this and if I want to force the same resolution for 3-screen gaming I can make use of scaling technology provided by any decent graphics card. To make sure it worked OK I replaced one of my older monitors and all was good, I do have a dead pixel which is a bit upsetting but within the manufacturers dead pixel tolerance range so I’ll have to live with that. New Monitor? Check!

In Scott’s post he states that he has two video cards working in tandem to deliver the 3 screen dream. I have a compact PC case and don’t have the luxury of any spare PCI-E slots so I needed a solution that could be delivered by a single video card. In the first instance I identified that the ATI Radeon 6770 card claims to support 3 simultaneous displays so I bought one from Maplin. I don’t know if I did something wrong (like I said, I’m not a hardware guy) but it would not support 3 monitors no matter what I did – I only ever got two out of three working. Incidentally I could get any two of the three screens I have working but not all three at the same time. I took the card back and began the search for another. I found the Sapphire FleX HD 6870 and bought it from MoreComputers.com and it arrived today. New Graphics Card? Check!

So this is what a graphics card looks like (apparently)…

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It was now time to “do hardware” so I disconnected the hundreds of cables at the back of my PC and got my screwdrivers out…

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The first thing that needed to happen was to get the case off, I don’t like going anywhere that requires a screwdriver to get to but I was not going to pay someone to do this…

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With even my limited knowledge I knew that the bit marked in red was the current card that I needed to replace so I began unscrewing things. I managed to get the card out without too much fuss, when I put it next to the new card it became clear that my new card used two of the PCI–E slot plates on the back of my PC…

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Luckily, the plate next to the current video card only had a SATA socket on it which I have never used so I just removed that one too…

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With the two plates clear I inserted the new video card and screwed everything back together…

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