You’re probably already aware of-or even already using-technology that lets you take advantage of more than one monitor to expand your monitor real estate. Typically, to hook up two or three monitors to a single system, you have to install more than one graphics card and ensure that you have proper cable connectivity-a hassle and an expense. Expanding your IT workspace across several monitors might seem hardly worth the effort. But what if you could do it all with a simple USB cable?
For the past month, I’ve been testing DisplayLink’s USB-connected networkdisplay technology, and I’m smitten. The monitor that DisplayLink sent me-an LG Electronics LG Flatron L206WU-is a 20.5” LCD powerhouse with a maximum 1680 X 1050 resolution that just pops from the screen. But it was after I plugged the monitor in with a USB cable and went through the easy configuration steps that I became truly enthused.
The process of configuring multi-monitor computing with DisplayLink is straightforward. You hook up your additional display(s) and access the Display Properties dialog box by right-clicking the desktop. On the Settings tab, you’ll see new options for managing more than one monitor. You can configure mirrored settings or choose to expand your desktop to take advantage of the extra real estate. The LG Flatron L206WU monitor came equipped with DisplayLink’s Plug & Display 4.1 software, which sat in the monitor’s flash memory, automatically installing itself when I connected it via USB to my system. I plugged the device in, and the system instantly recognized it with the familiar Found New Hardware chime. Then, self-installation through the straightforward wizard followed. Almost instantly, I had two working monitors and a doubled display environment.
The DisplayLink solution uses several components: The company’s proprietary Virtual Graphics Card (VGC) software runs on the PC and communicates with the PC’s graphics API, taking input from the API and translating it into a high-performance, lowlatency DisplayLink protocol for communication across the USB 2.0 interface. The VGC software requires no special hardware in the PC and runs like a standard Windows driver. A Hardware Rendering Engine (HRE) ASIC chip is embedded in the monitor, taking its input from the VGC software and converting it back to uncompressed pixels for display.
I let the solution run on my desktop, and the experience was top-notch-except for a few applications for which USB display was limiting. I typically used productivity software such as Microsoft Word on my primary display and dragged other software windows-such as my email Inbox and Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) window-over to the LG Flatron L206WU display. I also realized huge time savings while multitasking the monitors with multiple applications- for example, copying data from app to app across the screens.
I never once experienced any lag in typical office-environment tasks. I tried quickly opening and closing software, dragging and dropping, and everything worked smoothly-instantaneous keyboard/mouse feedback. And being accustomed to an old HP workhorse CRT monitor, the graphics on the LG Flatron L206WU monitor blew me away. Everything was sharp, and colors were realistic and vibrant.
Moving to more intensive tasks, however, I did experience lag. I tried an online video game and experienced minor screen jitters. I tried several video snippets, which worked well until I amped up to HD video, which caused problems. The inherent limitation of the technology is that intensive tasks consume a lot of processor power, leaving very little for the VGC software. As long as you understand that you won’t (for now) be enjoying HD video and full-screen 3D games on a USB-connected display, your experience will be phenomenal. Considering these limitations, DisplayLink’s solution is particularly suitable for business tasks, but it also has potential for IT scenarios. Imagine sitting at your desk, troubleshooting four or five user desktops on separate screens (DisplayLink permits daisychaining as many as five), all simultaneously manageable. If you try DisplayLink’s network display technology, you’ll never go back to a single-monitor setup again-particularly when all it takes to set up a panoramic, multimonitor environment is a USB cable.
PROS: Unprecedented USB convenience; plug-and-play setup; instantaneous keyboard/ mouse feedback when opening and closing software and dragging and dropping; permits daisy-chaining as many as five monitors