Split desktop on two monitors
July 17, 2009 11:22 PM   Subscribe

Help me setup a dual-monitor XP desktop at work with minimum fuss/cost.

We are buying a new Wintel/XP Professional with two monitors at my office (yay for my boss-convincing skills!). It will be assembled (so I can get any specific h/w if required). The two monitors are solely for office use (no heavy graphics/gaming), so VGA inputs are sufficient for me. Mostly I'll have my mail/browser/IM/housekeeping on one monitor and second one for all main work apps.

Obviously, the lesser the cost/freeware the better.

My question is two-part:

On the hardware side:
- can I just use a VGA splitter, like this one, for XP to recognize as two monitors? Or will I need a graphics card with dual monitor support? And even then do I need to make sure that both o/p of that card are VGA or DVI? What is the least costly setup that will work? Because if a graphics card is required I need to know it upfront before our purchase. I will not get budget later to upgrade.

On the software side:
- Since I've previosly never used this kind of setup, I always thought ControlPanel-->Display settings-->"extend my windows onto this monitor" chkbox is the only thing required to support this. But having googled and read some prevs threads, I'm a bit confused with all these ultramon/MMT taskbar/maxivista/citrix and whatnots. Do I need to purchase any of these s/w. I won't mind buying if they are really required. But if they are just fancypants features which I'm never going to use then I'd like not to. Is it ok if I start with XP's barebones support, and use for sometime and see if it matches my expectations and then upgrade to any of these 3rd party desktop managers if reqd later, or is this simply not going to cut it?

Or having a h/w solution like nVidia graphics card (which one?) with nVidia desktop manager, simply eliminates the s/w options?

posted by forwebsites to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Welcome to the awesome side. >:D
I'm a digital painter, so dual displays is a huge help in terms of being able to shove all my palettes and things onto the other monitor to maximize usable space on the primary. (Also I can run things like video players on the secondary... ya know, as background noise. woohoo!)

That said...

Most, if not ALL graphics cards are dual monitor-capable. (Inversely, I have never EVER seen a motherboard with TWO onboard VGA-out ports.) If the card has DVI-out, it will most likely come with one DVI-to-VGA adapter. You'll probably want to get a second adapter but they're, what, less than $10?

You mention nVidia... pretty much any GeForce you find works like that.

Also, Ultramon is very very much worthwhile since it lets you put a taskbar on the secondary and other simple perks like designating different wallpapers per monitor. You'd have no idea how much of a difference this makes since Windows doesn't let you do either out of the box. >_>;
posted by Yoshi Ayarane at 3:14 AM on July 18, 2009

Best answer: Ultramon and the like are for handling windows once you get your dual monitor setup. Multimon will work just fine for this setup. XP is horrible at hot keying windows around a dual monitor setup, that's why ultramon can charge the exorbitant price for the software. Basically all you really need is two monitors and two video outs. You can mix up the DVI and VGA and it willl work just fine, they don't have to be on the same card or anything. Having two moniors is really great, you'll wonder why you didn't go about it sooner.
posted by bigmusic at 4:19 AM on July 18, 2009

Best answer: can I just use a VGA splitter, like this one, for XP to recognize as two monitors

This will just show the same thing on both monitors, which I doubt is what you want.
posted by smackfu at 7:00 AM on July 18, 2009

Yeah, the splitter won't work. You need a video card with two ports on the back. Almost all cards made in the last two years have that. If you need to buy a new card it gets a bit tricky: be sure it's compatible with the kind of video card slot your computer has. (Keywords: AGP, PCI-Express). I'd also strongly encourage you to go with DVI ports and LCDs if it's in the budget. The quality is way better and having two CRTs on a desk takes up too much room.

Software-wise you shouldn't need anything. Stock Windows XP with the ATI or NVidia driver will work fine. Stuff like Ultramon is for tweaking your setup and (in my mind) is unnecessary.

Two monitors are awesome. Enjoy!
posted by Nelson at 7:27 AM on July 18, 2009

Response by poster: thanks everyone. I knew that vga-splitters give same signal on both monitors, but I was not sure if any s/w along with it allowed to split desktop. So thank smackfu, for removing that doubt.

So, I'll be going for some el-cheapo dual o/p graphics card (ATI Radeon HD 4350 1GB DDR2 is what I found from a local dealer). Most cards that I've seen in my local store provide one VGA and one DVI o/p (along with a DVI-VGA converter if needed). So I'll probably just go for the Radeon.

And two 19" Viewsonic VA926 LCD, supporting both DVI/VGA inputs.

Guess that should be enough. I'll have a look at the *mon utilities later if required.
Thanks y'all.
posted by forwebsites at 9:50 AM on July 18, 2009

I've used these on office setups when my users want dual monitors, with good results. Beats having to crack the case open.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 10:03 AM on July 18, 2009

FYI I have one of my monitors set horizontal and the other vertical. I find this tremendously useful.

Vertical is far better for most anything involving text (from programming to reading web pages) while horizontal is better for viewing videos and things like large spreadsheets. And of course you can put 2 or 3 vertical-shaped windows across the horizontal workspace--though obviously you can't see them with as much detail or as much vertical depth as a window you have full-screened on the vertical monitor.

If I were mostly working on text & (say) programming I would probably go with both of my screens vertically oriented--it's that much better than horizontally. Finally I can see a whole entire page at once, at decent resolution in Word, Publisher, etc.

I mention this because you might look for monitors that have the capability to be positioned vertically. Mine don't and so I end up just sort of propping the vertical one which isn't really the best.

Some monitors have the ability to swivel somehow on the base or maybe just switch the base hardware to the different end. "Portrait" is the word you're looking for. An article about it here.
posted by flug at 12:12 PM on July 18, 2009

FYI I have one of my monitors set horizontal and the other vertical. I find this tremendously useful.

Yes, what flug said. If you have monitors that pivot, this is the way to go.
posted by chrisamiller at 1:20 PM on July 18, 2009

Response by poster: thanks guys. I'll see if I can get one of the monitors as portrait.
posted by forwebsites at 4:24 AM on July 19, 2009

If you go the route of two video cards (one on motherboard, one card) it's been my experience with Windows XP that it sometimes matters the order of video driver installation - so if one way doesn't work. Try uninstalling the video drivers and reinstalling them the other way. Hopefully you won't have to do this, but it cost me a good two days of fanangling one time, so heads up.
posted by bigmusic at 11:21 AM on July 19, 2009

« Older Where do you dance if you missed the Electric...   |   Advice on Someone Interested in a Programming... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.