This review may be a little shorter than some of my reviews, not because I’m hurrying the review or writing a quick one necessarily. But more because the whole setup process was so quick and seamless and everything was working so well that I had it all running in no time, and there’s not a whole lot more to say but that it works perfectly!
I work a lot on websites and with graphics, photos and programming for websites so having multiple monitors is extremely useful.
I’m not a gamer but I do need a fairly good computer, especially for working with Photoshop and large graphic and photo projects as well as doing the occasional bit of video editing. But one thing my graphics card did not have the ability to do was connect to more than three monitors.
So I could have either replaced my current video card or added a second one, or just done without. But I didn’t really need to spend that much money for a replacement card or another card when I don’t need to have a high-performance refresh rate or high performance of any sort past a good display and resolution. The third monitor would be used for displaying things like code, master previews of what I’m working on, draggable tools, graphic elements, and other sorts of auxiliary data.
So all I needed was a quick and easy way to add another monitor without buying a replacement video card or an additional one.
One of the many relatively cheap pretty good quality USB video adapters would fit the bill perfectly.
Now there’s a lot of different ones out there, some are quite cheap and have fairly low resolution, especially if you are using USB 2.0.
I opted for the moderately priced DisplayLink USB to VGA / DVI / HDMI Graphics Adapter. There are a lot of companies that rebrand this exact model under their own name or sell a generic version but they are all made by the same manufacturer.
The outer packaging sleeve is slick and high quality, no generic badly designed boxes with bad English here. This looks like something you’re going to find in a nice computer store, with screenshots, labels, logo, descriptions and specs and features right on the outer box and even raised stickers.
The inner part box holds the components, with a folding cover with all the contents inside, neatly packaged with a cardboard spacer and each item inside a plastic bag.
There is a driver DVD at the bottom and a manual in a couple different languages. Instructions are simple and straightforward and written in regular easily readable English. There are instructions for Windows computers and the Mac. There is a bit of conflicting information on the website about whether it works or not with a Mac, apparently it does, and this device also works with Linux as long as you are a power user apparently. Also, there are some specs in the back and some other information on using it, including what happens when the computer goes into standby and for multiple users.
To continue on, also in the box is a standard medium length USB cable. And a DVI to VGA converter and a DVI to HDMI converter that is articulated in two different directions for easy use at any angle. Both adapters have threaded screws for secure mounting to the adapter and for mounting whatever cables you want to plug into it.
The device itself is deceptively small, but slightly heavy and solid-feeling with vents along the sides and chrome insets along each side as well as along the end that the USB port is on, and an LED indicator on the side. The USB socket is at one end and a DVI port at the other, the DVI with threaded holes for secure mounting of the adapters and/ or cable – depending on what method of connection from the monitor that you are using.
The first thing I did, and what I would always recommend you do and what was recommended by the seller; is to go to the original manufacturer’s website (DisplayLink) and download the newest drivers, and install them before you plug anything into your computer.
Once the driver was installed I saw that there was also demo version of multi-monitor helper program on the website. I gave it a try but it wasn’t anything I needed – possibly for some people it would make their life easier and would be worth the money. So it might be worth the try if you think you need it, but it wasn’t anything major.
The only other thing I needed to do next was find a safe place for my third monitor, which is (right now) a smaller, older monitor I had lying around for testing purposes that I will someday replace with a larger nicer one.
And of course I needed to plug everything together. It’s pretty obvious that if you have an HDMI port on your monitor then you plug an HDMI cable directly into the video adapter and then into your monitor, and if you have a DVI port on your monitor you want to plug your cable from your monitor to the DVI adapter and plug that into the video adapter. And of course if you are “stuck” with VGA then use that adapter and the proper cable. That part is pretty self-explanatory.
Note that while the USB video adapter comes with a USB cable to plug into your computer the unit does not come with any monitor cables of any kind. You will need to supply your own DVI, HDMI, or VGA cable as needed.
On my crappy extra monitor the resolution is only 1024×768 but when I upgrade this test monitor to a newer, larger one I plan on getting the maximum this device supports (1920×1080) or at least 1600×1200.
Once you see the new monitor powered up and working (hopefully) you can find the new icon in your notification bar that was installed, just click it for ‘video’. This just brings up your regular window’s monitor settings which you can alternately just access through your control panel. Just a note about this icon, you can disable this in your startup if you like because all seems to be are shortcuts to the video and audio settings in the control panel. It seems somewhat unnecessary but possibly useful to some, especially for when you are first setting everything up.
From your windows monitor setup you can select to extend your existing screen or mirror it, and access other settings for the monitor including the ability to rotate displays and increase or decrease the resolution. Also, if you are like me and using three different sized monitors the built-in windows control panel app allows you to drag the representation of the monitors vertically up or down depending on where they are physically positioned as well as dragging and dropping the monitor icons left or right depending on how you have them positioned in the real world. In other words – drag ’em on the screen to where they correspond to your real-life monitors.
That way if you are extending your screen you can seamlessly move your mouse across all the range of monitors without getting to one, that is maybe slightly higher, and having your mouse cursor stick at the virtual edge or jump higher or lower on the next monitor’s screen. And of course if for some reason your monitor’s default to the wrong position in Windows versus where they are physically positioned, you can drag it over to the opposite side as needed.
Dragging windows back and forth across all displays and data display, even video and graphics updates seem to work just fine through the system, with no lag seen.
Really the ease of setting this up for my particular computer configuration was amazing, compared to setting up some devices. It was quick and easy and very painless and in no time I had a very usable third monitor system available and and integrated into my work flow.
For an old hand like me who is used to messing with computer systems, old and new and their individual problems sometimes, I appreciate the ease of setting everything up so quickly and painlessly.
The LED on the side lights up green when it is connected, and blinks a bit as data is transferred. When the computer goes to sleep, hibernates, or the screen saver or blanker activates the LED goes off until everything is powered back up again. Startup time for the monitor through this device is the same as for the monitors connected directly to the video card.
The nice thing about this adapter is that it uses no external power and doesn’t really get all that warm. In fact this device even works on USB hubs, though I would suggest you use a powered hub. You can even add more monitors (and projectors) by buying extra units (up to six).
This device also works with projectors, long cables, USB hubs (as I said above) and repeaters, and long USB cables if needed. And it is powered by the USB itself and is small enough that you can take it along if you are going somewhere with your laptop and need to use an extra monitor, a projector, or a TV.
A quick test on a more limited computer shows that there are definitely some resources used by the computer, since the computer is doing a fair amount of the heavy lifting and not having the video handed off to a dedicated video card. The USB device is just more of a conduit than a video device you might say. The device basically uses your computer’s CPU and GPD to compress and transmit the pixels that are changing to the monitor you have connected through the device.
So this is something to keep in mind if you are planning on using it on a rather old computer, or one with more limited resources. On a very limited computer or one that has been heavily loaded down without extra resources available you may notice (as I did while testing it on an older computer) that the mouse might become slightly laggy. But on my more modern computer there didn’t seem to be a problem at any time, outside of heavy-duty gaming.
On Windows 7 Starter edition you can only mirror the screens, you can not extend them. On all other version from XP on up it will give you all modes of operation (though resolution will depend on various factors about the monitor itself).
It is recommended by the seller that the device may be used on games but I think that you will find that very high performance games are going to lag, possibly badly, unless you were just using the extra screen as some sort of low refresh data display or something like that. I did try it on a few games I had lying around here and it worked perfectly fine but they weren’t heavy resource users.
There is also a slightly cheaper USB to VGA only version. It is basically the same but without the DVI port and adapters. I would recommend the one I bought with all port adapters; even if you have an old VGA monitor that you are using – for a few more bucks you can be ready for expanding someday to a better monitor.
So to wrap this up – I very much have found this device useful, and appreciatively quick to set up. I have absolutely no complaints about it as yet so far – except it would not work well for gaming.
As time goes on I may update this blog entry if I have anything more to say about it, or have any issues.
In the meantime, if you need another monitor but your video card won’t support an additional one I highly recommend the DisplayLink USB to VGA / DVI / HDMI Graphics Adapter for your needs.