Back in November, I introduced you to my maxed-out iMac project. I wanted to build a system that could provide me all the performance i needed for both Mac and Windows applications, and mix them dynamically. Key to the project was my desire to run four (count 'em: four) displays on my iMac. I chose super-fast Flash storage, 32 gig of RAM, and the fastest processor Apple sells for the iMac.
My plan was to replace my beefy PC running two 24-inch 1920 x 1080 pixel monitors with four monitors. I wanted two monitors to be 27-inch monitors sporting 2560x1440 resolution, and my plan was to repurpose my original 24-inchers as left-wing and right-wing displays (there's a politics joke here, but I'll just let it go for now).
This would take me from a total screen footprint of 492 square inches to 1,115 square inches (thanks to the neat little screen comparison tool at DisplayWars.com). It would also take me from a pixel real estate of 4.1 million pixels to 11.5 million pixels. It was going to be a big improvement and I really needed all that space for work.
So that was November. This is almost March. Things didn't go quite as smoothly as I would have liked.
First, it took me forever to get Parallels (the Windows virtualization software) to work properly on four monitors. Oh, did I mention that one of my monitors is rotated 90-degrees? No? Oh, well the software and system had to work with that, too. Parallels didn't like it. Not at all.
I did solve that problem eventually (and I'm planning a write-up on the steps I took and the solution shortly), but it was not all that smooth sailing for a while.
Then there was the problem of simply not having enough ports (which turns out to be ironic -- I'll tell you why in a minute). Anyway, I wanted to be able to plug in a second 27-inch monitor (which would take one of the Thunderbolt ports, using it as a Mini DisplayPort adapter, along with a USB slot). Don't go pulling the trigger on ordering this just yet. It didn't work very well.
Next, I also wanted to connect my existing 24-inch monitor (which had an HDMI port). That took the second Thunderbolt port, again using it as a Mini DisplayPort adapter. In this case, I used a Mini DisplayPort to DVI adapter connected the DVI cable into the monitor.
That gave me connections to the 27-inch outboard monitor and one of the two 24-inchers. That also used up my two Mini DisplayPort/Thunderbolt ports. Neither of my two existing monitors had HDMI, so this was the only way to go. This also meant that I wouldn't be able to use my second spare 24-inch monitor.
But, dang-it, I wanted (nay, needed) that screen space. Okay, Plan-B. Best Buy. I hate shopping and I hate shopping at Best Buy, but I wasn't about to wait. So I hopped into the DaveMobile, drove at the paltry 45mph allowed here in central Florida, and brought home a $199 Vizio TV. Best Buy had a $239 24-inch monitor with HDMI, but this was both cheaper and would play Netflix. So during reboots, I could watch reruns of Top Gear and retain what little sanity people acknowledge I have.
Hands up if you noticed a slight problem with this plan. Anyone? Ferris? Bueller? Bueller?
Ah, good, you in the back. That's right. The current-model iMac doesn't have an HDMI port, and I'd already used up the spare DisplayPorts. Enter the DisplayLink USB-to-HDMI adapter.
Before I go on, let me point out that DisplayLink and DisplayPort are different little beasties. DisplayLink is a company that produces USB-based graphics interfaces while DisplayPort is type of display interface. I'm using both.
I added the DisplayLink adapter to drive the 24-inch Vizio TV as if it were just another monitor. It's also one of the only ways to get an extra display running on the iMac.
And there I had it all connected and even kind of working. At the far left is the 24-inc Vizio monitor, running 1920x1080. Moving to the right is the 27-inch iMac itself, rocking 2560x1440 pixels. Next is the Monoprice 27-inch ... screech ...
Okay, let's back up. As you might have noticed in the picture at the top of this article, there are two Apple logo displays: the iMac itself and an Apple 27-inch Thunderbolt display. If you've read any of my previous articles in this series, you'll recall no mention of the $999 Apple Thunderbolt display. You might even recall me crowing proudly about spending under $400 for a 27-inch Monoprice display.
Yeah, well, that didn't work.
Next up: turn the page to find out what finally did the trick...