External USB ‘Video Cards’ Make it Easy to Build a Multiple PC Monitor Setup

WC Hands-On Testing

One of our dual monitor setups. This one uses two inexpensive 19″ monitors.

We discussed the benefits of a multiple PC-monitor setup a short while ago in our review of the Lenovo L12721s W Wide-Screen LCD/LED monitor. Nevertheless, even though we eventually took the plunge and invested in a 27″ wide-screen monitor because of Microsoft Windows 8, we assure you that once you’ve tried a dual/multiple monitor setup, you’ll never go back to a skinny single monitor again. Plus if you have an extra monitor laying around, you can use a multiple-monitor setup in order to avoid buying a widescreen monitor, most of which are expensive. You can also use different-size monitors and specify the left/right placement and the vertical relationship of the smaller monitor in a dual monitor setup.

Although a multiple monitor setup is indisputably deluxe, there are several drawbacks:

  1. It requires a larger footprint than a single widescreen monitor.
  2. To date, Windows 8+ does not provide the ability to extend a single desktop across multiple monitors, unlike earlier versions of Windows.
  3. It requires the management of multiple video and AC cables.

Here’s what you need for a DIY multiple-monitor setup:

  1. Two or more monitors.
  2. Two monitor cables.
  3. A second AC power source.
  4. A graphics system with multiple monitor outputs – this systems usually have one DVI and one VGA port. If you have one of these, most likely you will need at least one monitor with DVI input or a DVI to RGB adapter.

Top – VGA connector. Bottom – DVI connector.

If you don’t have multiple video outputs and you are unwilling and/or unable to upgrade your video card, you can use of these easy solutions:

 IOGEAR GUC2015V USB 2.0 External VGA Video Card

IOGEAR USB 2.0 External Video Card – MSRP, $64.95.

My infamous Gateway warhorse came with an embedded NVidia GeForce 6100 graphics system that has only a single VGA port. Much to my consternation, it would not recognize a traditional video card installed in its PCIe expansion slot come hell or high water. Consequently, the only solution that I could use for a dual monitor setup was to employ one of the “external video cards” shown above.

Although I can swap out video cards in my sleep, the installation of an external “video card” is worlds easier than shopping for a video card that supports dual monitors, mucking around with the tools required to disassemble your PC, inhaling the dust and debris, and doing whatever additional mucking around that is required in order to add/change a video card. A bonus is that the required software is far safer and easier to install that what is required by a change in video card. Moreover, the software is also easy to customize and in my case, easily survived the migration from Windows 7 to Windows 8. Plus, software updates are automatically handled by Windows update.

Pros

  1. External “video cards” work well and are easy to install.
  2. The video quality of the external “video card” is identical to that of the host graphics adapter.
  3. External video cards are powered via USB, so no additional AC power source or adapter is required.

Cons

  1. There is a minute delay with the operation of the secondary monitor and I can only assume that this may be exacerbated by the addition of third, fourth, fifth monitors, etc. In other words, you will not want to use this setup for playing first-person shooter games on a quasi wide-screen, for example. The solution is that you keep the primary application on the monitor powered by the PC graphics system and the more static of the two applications running in the monitored powered by the external “video card.”

Nevertheless the use of an external “video card” is by far the easiest solution for a multiple monitor setup that runs two or more Windows applications side-by-side.

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