3 Monitors with a Single Graphics Card
November 22, 2010 12:17 PM   Subscribe

Will modern graphics cards with two DVI ports (or one DVI and one VGA) and an HDMI port allow me to use dual monitors plus a TV (or 3 monitors) at the same time?

I'm planning a build of a new desktop and trying to determine if a single graphics card will meet my needs, or if I will need two graphics cards.

My monitor needs are to use two regular LCD monitors (assume these have all the standard ports) and a large Samsung LCD flatscreen TV via HDMI. My use profile does not involve computer games or any intense graphical work. Mainly it's web use, office suites, multimedia and lots of 1080p video content (think: torrents).

Based on my research, using a single graphics card will allow me to use a mini ATX motherboard, which is preferable, rather than a full size more expensive board with two PCIexpress 2.0 slots. But, I'm a little confused by the current offerings of graphics cards.

Newegg features several cards in the $30-$80 price range that have 2 DVI +1 HDMI or 1 DVI, 1 VGA and 1 HDMI. An example is the PowerColor AX4350. At first glance, I thought this would be perfect for me, but from checking out the manufacturer's website it says:

Two independent display controllers

* Drive two displays simultaneously with independent resolutions, refresh rates, color controls and video overlays for each display

This leaves me confused as to how this card (or similar cards) would work with all three ports engaged at once. Does the HDMI port work but have to "clone" one of the other outputs? Will all similar graphics cards with 3 ports work the same way?

If someone could explain this in plain English it would be appreciated. if there are more appropriate cards in this general price range that would work better for my needs, I am open to suggestions.

One other consideration: I am hoping to get something fanless, but there appear to be several choices (including the one linked above).

posted by jameslavelle3 to Computers & Internet (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I can't speak directly to cards with 2 DVI + 1 HDMI, but all the cards I ever saw that had 2 DVI (or 1 DVI + 1 VGA) + 1 S-Video output could only drive two total outputs at the same time. It's possible that this has changed in modern cards but I suspect it has not.
posted by Juffo-Wup at 12:24 PM on November 22, 2010

I believe you want an AMD 5xxx series card with Eyefinity. The 4xxx series can probably only do 2 simultaneous displays. Choose one from these that meet your requirements.
Ensure the one you pick doesn't need its own power connector from your power supply.
posted by ijoyner at 12:34 PM on November 22, 2010

This may better describe Eyefinity. These series of cards will also pass audio through the HDMI port so you only have to hook up the single cable to the TV.
posted by ijoyner at 12:37 PM on November 22, 2010

The 4350 card will probably drive one through DVI or HDMI and one through VGA. Not what you are looking for.

I know that recent ATI Video Cards that have Eyefinity will run three monitors as once. The cheapest of which are the 5450's. You can snag one for $30 or so after rebates at newegg. I would hesitate to actually suggest a 5450 to anyone trying to do anything graphic intensive (blu-ray, quality video) with a 5450, and would suggest bumping up to at least a 5570, which starts at $55-60 after rebates. If you are going to be gaming, move to a 5770 or higher ($115-120 after rebates for 5770's).

Nvidia does not have single-card triple monitor support from anything I can gather.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 12:39 PM on November 22, 2010

I have that same card (sapphire) and it displays on three cloning one of the displays. But not well. Not recommended.
posted by bravowhiskey at 12:44 PM on November 22, 2010

I was in the same situation last year and did some research on that. EyeFinity sounds really awesome on paper but only until you read the fineprint. It only works with screens connected via Displayport, and no, a passive DVI to displayport adapter is not enough, you need active ones and these cost a lot of money (last time I checked when I bought my Radeon HD 5850 they were about 70 Euro / $100 and really hard to get).

Your best solution is to buy a 2nd cheap $30 card with HDMI and connect your TV to that, it works perfectly here. Just make sure to buy 2 Nvidia or 2 ATI cards to avoid dealing with 2 parallel graphics drivers (which, in theory is doable on Windows 7, but it's unnecessary hassle and I never managed to get it to work properly, same with the HDMI cloning).
posted by starzero at 1:54 PM on November 22, 2010

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