Matrox TripleHead2Go Digital Edition

Matrox TripleHead2Go Digital Edition



  1. unholy
    Introduction

    If you have never heard of Matrox, you have been sleeping under a rock for way too long. Matrox was founded in 1976, and have produced award winning products for all industries that may require graphics implementation of any sort.

    Matrox Graphics Division is renowned for their innovation and reliability. Matrox are the leaders in Multi-Display graphics for both desktops and laptops. However, they also support other industries such as Medical and Public Information Displays.

    Today, I have one of the newest products from Matrox, the TripleHead2Go Digital Edition, which is part of Matrox’s GXM (Graphics eXpansion Modules) series of devices.

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    Packing and Contents

    The TripleHead2Go is well packed into the box, with foam and antistatic wrap. All the cables are tied up and have caps on the ends to prevent dust. If it has been stored at a warehouse for a long time you are protected from the evil dust!

    Contents:
    • TripleHead2Go Digital Edition
    • VGA to VGA (Computer to TripleHead2Go)
    • DVI to DVI (Computer to TripleHead2Go)
    • USB cable, A-B
    • Software CD
    All cables have EMI/RFI filters on both ends of the cables.

    The TripleHead2Go unit itself is wrapped in an Anti-Static bag, like a motherboard.

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    The Purpose of the TripleHead2Go

    It may seem such a silly topic, but it’s essential in understanding how the device works and why it works only with certain video cards at certain resolutions.

    The unit itself simply splits the output video signal of your video card into ether 1, 2 or 3 sections, and recodes the sections back into an analog or digital signal, which is then outputted to your monitors.

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    TripleHead2Go Setup

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    Standard 3 Monitor Setup
    This is why the card must support an output resolution equal to that of the monitors combined resolution. Here is where the digital part comes in, because of Dual-Link DVI (two DVI outputs on one DVI Head) you can actually have a high resolution output on 3 monitors. Some of the nVidia Quadro’s support Dual Dual-Link DVI whether or not you can run 6 monitors I am not sure, but it could be possible (Matrox tells me that they have not tested this configuration, and unfortunately don’t offer official support for it). Check out whether your video card is supported for Triple or Dual modes here http://www.matrox.com/graphics/en/gxm/support/th2go/digital/compatibility.php.

    The only problem with this is that your computer does not know that it is 3 monitors. This is where Matrox’s software comes into play and allows you to divide the screens up (even more divisions then there actually are, in case you happen to run a double TripleHead2Go or even quadruple…)

    First Impressions

    When you get the product, you always have a gut feeling on how it’s going to be, whether it is good or bad it’s always there before you actually use the thing.

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    After reading up on the TripleHead2Go before I got it, and sitting there eagerly waiting for it to arrive at my doorstep, I was continually impressed by the little features that it has. Once I got the device, I opened the box as if Christmas had come early. I was overwhelmed, it’s not only a lot smaller then in the pictures, but it’s an all aluminium casing that looks so clean and smooth with a nice black powder coating. In comparison to a CD as shown below it’s quite small. The TripleHead2Go has dimensions of 10cm x 14cm x 3.2cm, and weighs very little at 280g.

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    The unit has the monitor inputs and output positions clearly labelled so that you don’t need to look through the manual to find which plug goes where. It may be simple, but these things all add up.

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    Unit Specifications

    There nothing really too technical about this device, its purpose has already be stated, the rest is really just the resolutions and combinations it supports, as well as its features.

    The DVI Input allows resolutions up to 3800x1200 (2x 1900x1200) and 3840x1024 (3x 1280x1024). The VGA is the same as the previous analog version of the TripleHead2Go supporting up to 3840x1024, however your graphics card must support this resolution.

    The outputs of the TripleHead2Go can be plugged into digital or analog monitors, while the VGA connection can be obtained via the use of a DVI-I to VGA Adaptor, as pictured below.

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    The unit is powered by the supplied USB cable, which is handy as all computers have USB ports now days, even Macs.
    Check out more information including supported resolution combos on the TripleHead2Go product page. http://www.matrox.com/graphics/en/gxm/products/th2go/digital/home.php

    The TripleHead2Go comes with a 2 year warranty, while its user manuals are electronic that can always be printed if a hard copy if needed.

    Portability and Installation

    The TripleHead2Go is easy to install, you just have to shut down your machine, plug the USB cable in, connect the DVI or VGA cable from your computer to the device and then connect the monitors to those cables. Boot your computer up and your POST screen will even be triple monitor!

    Because of the use of USB to power the unit, it is entirely self contained, apart from connections from monitors and the computer. If you want to have three monitors at your local LAN or your product booth, you can.Not only can you run the power for the unit from your computer, you can run the entire unit from a laptop, with the exemption of your monitors, which would require their own power source. The use of USB for power and the fact that the unit can easily be unplugged and plugged back in makes the TripleHead2Go a really portable device. For reference, the TripleHead2Go takes about 15 minutes to setup (including software and display settings).

    Power Desk

    PowerDesk is the software that controls the TripleHead2Go’s single/dual/triple modes and also the resolutions, frequency and monitor count, this is called GXM (Graphics eXpansion Modules) Setup. The software has more then just this, the PowerDesk software is the software that integrates the single display to work like 2 or 3 separate displays. PowerDesk also includes other features the can prove useful for everyday usage.

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    The PowerDesk Tray Icon

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    PowerDesk TripleHead2Go GXM Setup Interface

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    Setting Up a Display Mode for the TripleHead2Go

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    Desktop Divider

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    Desktop Management
    Surround Gaming Utility

    The SGU software is the core of the gaming setup, it allows you to make a game work on three screens. Now there is the setback that this software is only for TripleHead2Go’s and Triple Display setups, which is because if you were to have dual monitors your crosshairs would be on top of the bezel between the monitors. It would help to have dual monitor support for RTS games or games that have no centre focal point. The software attempts to find the install directories of your games, if it cannot you will have to specify them. The software sets the resolution of the game to one of the 4 set resolutions (which may be a problem on widescreen aspect monitors) of 1920x480 (3x640x480), 2400x600 (3x800x600), 3072x786 (3x1024x768 ) and 3840x1024 (3x1280x1024).

    Check the Matrox website for supported games (as some do not actually require the SGU Software in order to run). http://www.matrox.com/graphics/en/gxm/products/th2go/gaming/list.php

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    Bezel Management

    Bezel management allows you to position the screen on physical monitors, so that you can remove the split line effect that is caused by the bezel of your monitors, although it’s not particularly useful on your desktop, it really adds the effect in games. There are a few problems with this though; text will be lost to where the bezel is which may effect only some games as opposed to others.

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    Without Bezel Management

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    With Bezel Management
    Testing

    There is not much that you can really test for this module, apart from the usability of it. The SGU software allows you to setup games to run in multi-display mode, and aids in the setup of Hardware Accelerated Video Applications. The testing will focus on some on the good parts and bad parts of triple monitors in each game or application when using the TripleHead2Go.

    I was unable to test the TripleHead2Go on three exactly the same monitors, however I was able to test it on three digital monitors which were LCD’s and 17” screen size. The TripleHead2Go was also tested on a Dell Laptop in a Dual Head mode from a VGA port.

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    In both cases the only settings that were changed were the resolutions, in a width direction only. Even though there was performance drop, it was still very quick at rendering. However, the performance at higher resolutions in games may seriously affect performance.

    Half-Life 2

    The source engine is probably one of the nicest engines around (however not the most graphical), with Half-Life 2 as its main user you can see some nice panorama’s throughout the game, however whilst I was playing, the crosshairs were invisible… Valve is meant to be fixing this.

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    Counter-Strike Source

    One of the most played Multiplayer First Person shooters. The TripleHead2Go really gives you the edge in this style of game, not only displaying more of the game due to the FOV but because of the FOV some of the walls tend to disappear… no it doesn’t have in built wall hacks its actually quite hard to get it to work in a helping way, but when it does happen, at least you can say, “it wasn’t me it was the TripleHead2Go” and then give your little black box a high five!

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    Nice Big Map when you’re Spectating

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    Clear Vision around a Corner

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    Movies (Using VLC Player)

    Movies were never meant to be played on multi-monitor desktops, however the TripleHead2Go makes it really simple to setup because its all done on a single display and then split. However I can’t say that watching a movie on three monitors is eye pleasing, if you’re planning on watching wide screen movies, think again and buy a nice big TV instead of three monitors.

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    Non-Stretched

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    Stretched over 3 Screens
    3D Studio Max

    3D Studio Max is probably the most used 3D modelling software on a professional scale. Multi-Monitor support can be used in many ways, whether you chose to dedicate one screen as a toolbar screen and another for the Render Window it is up to you. It’s easy to setup your own style and work away at your latest model or render. After using 3D Studio Max for awhile with three screens, it really makes everything quicker, no dragging of windows around.

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    Windows Desktop

    The desktop is made very large for your application needs; this may improve your working performance or just help you when doing everyday activities. However, you can have three maximised windows across the screen or any combo of double size and triple sized windows. I did however notice an odd thing whilst using the TripleHead2Go in Vista, the 3D application switch made some windows out of view, which makes it harder to see what’s on the window, however not that much of a problem as you can still see the windows contents.

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    Dual Head mode on a Laptop

    It’s relatively easy to use the TripleHead2Go in a dual head mode, so if your worried that your buying the TripleHead2Go but not using it just yet then don’t worry, it still works in a dual head mode. You can purchase a TripleHead2Go, use two monitors and then purchase a third monitor later.


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    Conclusion

    After reading about the TripleHead2Go I was impressed, after looking at it in real life I was even more impressed, and then I played around with it… it’s no toy that’s for sure.

    There are many ways to approach the multi-display market, whether it be making special video cards that support 3 monitors or you take a very neat and handy approach and use a TripleHead2Go. The TripleHead2Go is just perfect for its application, it may have some setbacks in that you will need a dual-link DVI or high resolution VGA output video card, but with 7600GT’s like mine hitting the USD$100 mark. If you have ever tried to get games to run on dual monitors before you would know it’s a pain, the TripleHead2Go takes multi-monitor gaming to another level.

    However, the benefits don’t stop there, there is more. If you are looking at buying a setup for a 3 monitor display for what ever reason, the TripleHead2Go is probably your best pick. The TripleHead2Go may cost more then buying two cheap video cards, however the benefits of having the ability to run games over three monitors and the ability to use a full monitor as opposed to 3 separate ones. Which will prove useful in certain software that may run a Hardware Accelerated Video Card environment. So you say buying cheap video cards is the better option? Well no, if you run multiple triple monitor displays at your company or even at home, or maybe you just go through a new video card each year. The cost of buying your first set of video cards and then replacing them, is more expensive than buying a single video card and a TripleHead2Go. This is because the TripleHead2Go doesn’t need to be replaced when your replace your video card, which makes it quite useful if you get new computers every now and again or you want to have 3 computers linked to the 1 set of triple displays.

    The TripleHead2Go is not just easy to use, it’s portable, and because it is powered from USB, no transformer packs or external power supplies are needed, just plug it in and you’re ready to go. The speed of set up is handy for presentations, or if you’re a gamer that likes to attend LAN’s, then the TripleHead2Go is perfect for you.

    Pros:
    • Small and Portable
    • Easy to Install and uninstall
    • Strong Metal Casing
    • Use of both Digital and Analog, even though it’s a Digital Edition
    • Use USB for powering the unit, instead of an external power source
    • High Resolutions (3480x1024)
    • Support for non 4:3 Aspects
    • Not only Supports Triple Head but also Dual and Single
    • Can be used as an Analog to Digital converter
    • Very Effective device to implement Triple Displays
    • More Cost Effective over time and saves spending large amounts of money to purchase a dual card setup
    • Great Software, works on Windows Vista (Thumbs up to Matrox’s Software Engineers!)
    • EMI/RFI Filtered Cables
    • Works with laptops, and because of the USB power source makes it able to work from the laptop’s battery
    • Support for a large array of games (may not support every game however, Matrox are always updating the list of supported games and are also working with game developers to add support)
    • RoHS compliant. Keeps a lead free environment
    • 2 Year warranty
    • Backed by the leader in Multi-Display solutions
    Cons:
    • Cables supplied are quite short, and won’t reach to the top of an ATX tower case (this may be a problem, however the short cables prevent loss of signal, or signal distortion which may be a problem with larger resolutions).

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    Images

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