Help me build/buy a mulitple-monitor supporting computer
September 26, 2010 12:56 PM   Subscribe

I want a desktop computer/video card capable of handling at least 4 monitors, but I'm having trouble figuring out exactly what I need (without spending thousands of dollars).

Ideally, I want a setup like one of these 4x4 packages (, perhaps with the option of having a fifth monitor. I've browsed previous askmes, and searched the web but most advice is either just for two monitors, or incomprehensible to me (or current as of 2007). I am happy buying anything I need, but don't want to spend the kind of money a custom job like the ones on that site cost. At work I have a computer that seems to have one video card (Matrox Millenium DVI card with 256mb ram) that uses a splitter to extend the desktop across three (VGA) screens, which seems to work fine, but all the advice I have read says not to split, and that the card needs at least 1gb of ram, and multiple inputs.

If anyone can tell me what kind of video card I need, and explain the basics of what else I might need to think about to build such a setup, it would be greatly appreciated.

Other questions/considerations
- I don't want to build my own desktop, would rather buy something and modify as needed
- Does the processor/ram on the computer matter or is all about the video card?
- DVI? Dual-DVI? VGA? HDMI? Does any of it really matter for my purposes? Was thinking DVI for no good reason.
- Do I need a 500w power supply or is 300w fine for any high-end video card?
- 99% of this would be used for work/internet/video playback - no intention to play fancy games (well, maybe the new civs).
- My key need is a big extended desktop that will allow me to have multiple applications open, snapped to the size of the monitor they are displayed on.

Thanks in advance for any help
posted by loquax to Technology (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Buy any computer then get 3 usb to dvi connectors. If you are not doing 4 screens of high-end graphics that should be enough.
posted by Rubbstone at 2:04 PM on September 26, 2010

this for example
posted by Rubbstone at 2:07 PM on September 26, 2010

ask at the Tom's Hardware forums?
posted by sninctown at 2:17 PM on September 26, 2010

Buy any computer, and a video card with 4 or more video ports (ATI with DisplayPort ports is probably going to be the most common). Or two video cards (if your system has multiple PCI-Express slots), with at least 2 ports. Preferably the same model of card, but if you're not going to SLI them (combine their performance for 3D), it doesn't really matter.

High-end video cards will require higher-end power supplies. Otherwise, your request is actually pretty pedestrian these days.

The cards do not, by any stretch of the imagination, need 1GB of RAM. 1GB would be what games would want. One screen, 1920x1200x32bpp is something like 72MB. Not anywhere near 1GB.
posted by Rendus at 3:56 PM on September 26, 2010

Well, correction. Buy any computer with a PCI-Express slot. That's the only thing you really need to look for.
posted by Rendus at 3:57 PM on September 26, 2010

Rubbstone - didn't even know those existed. That may do the trick but reviews seem to say that they don't handle video very well, and that you need to reconfigure the monitors every time you boot up. Any experience with them?

Rendus - Yeah, can you tell it's been about 10 years since I even thought about a video card? So are you saying it's as simple as getting two 256mb video cards with X inputs total and just plugging in the monitors? There are no issues with recognizing multiple cards, and the monitors on two different cards? Would a setup like that be decent at video playback? Would power/cooling be an issue with something like that, as opposed to the higher-end cards do you think?

Sorry, I realize I'm probably asking stupid questions, that's why I can't wade through the hardware forums, most of that discussion is over my head.
posted by loquax at 4:07 PM on September 26, 2010

Adding this Radeon 5770 to a full-size pre-build computer with an adequate power supply should give you what you want. Two of these GeForce 210s might also work, as per Rendus. But you have to check on the manufacturer's website to see if the card supports using 2 or 4 outputs at the same time: many cards come with 2 DVI and 1 HDMI ports, and can only use either the 2 DVIs, or 1 DVI + the HDMI.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 5:00 PM on September 26, 2010

Rendex's advice is sound. Just make sure you have enough (correctly-sized!) PCI Express slots. Almost every card today has 2 outputs -- like 'Monday' said, sometimes there's an extra HDMI connector slapped on, primarily because HDMI and DVI use the same type of signal, but with a different connector.
posted by schmod at 5:44 PM on September 26, 2010

I use the USB adapters both at home and at work. I can't really suggest them unless your only option is a laptop. While I don't have to reconfigure them, they do stop working from time to time. It will either freeze an image on the screen, or the computer will not recognize the adapter. Video's generally do not run smooth.
The proper option is to get PCI-E video cards as others have suggested. They will give you the least hassle.
posted by Climber at 7:50 AM on September 27, 2010

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