Testing a new monitor with OpenSuSE, Fedora, Linux Mint, Ubuntu...and Windows 7

Testing a new monitor with OpenSuSE, Fedora, Linux Mint, Ubuntu...and Windows 7

Summary: A third display brings up some interesting questions and nice possibilities. Here's what I found when testing it out different versions of Linux - and Windows.


I've been looking for a new monitor for quite some time. Until now, I have still been dragging along with some pretty nasty old 19-inch 1280x1024 VGA relics, and having two 24-inch high-res beauties at work has started to spoil me. 

I was in the store and happened to come across an HP x2301, which had been a display unit (it was the last one, and was still out on the shelf), so the price was marked down — and the store was having 10 percent off all HP products to boot. 

That meant it was a pretty much unbeatable price, so here I am at home setting it up.  It will be used on my new (refurbished) IBM Thinkpad T-400 with docking station.

Monitors today generally all have a VGA connection, and then some combination of DVI, HDMI and Display Port connection as well: the lowest price units usually have just one of those three digital connections, the highest price models have all three. 

Another reason I decided to get this one while I could was that it has both DVI and HDMI connection, and I am likely to want them both — my Thinkpad docking station has DVI-D, while my various netbooks all have HDMI.

The other important characteristics of a monitor, of course, are the size and resolution.  This one is 23-inch and 1920x1080, which are both pretty good. Anything bigger than this still costs significantly more, and I'm not aware of anything with higher resolution, well, maybe that's not true, I was looking at an ultra-wide monitor (27-inch or something like that) which was at least higher horizontal resolution than this, it had an ultra-wide price tag on it as well. 

Speaking of size, another very nice feature of this one is that it is extremely thin:

HP x2301 Micro Thin LED Backlit Monitor


The picture above also shows what is probably my least favorite part — it has a kind of dopey-looking base.  Worse than that, though, it also has a typical (large) power brick.  Now, I am an electrical engineer, but I haven't worked in that field since... well, since I left university, actually, but can someone tell me why you would put a base that size on a monitor, and then NOT integrate the power supply into it? 

Take away the power brick, and this would be a perfect monitor in my opinion.  Ah well, that probably would have increased the price.

So, the really interesting part of all this is how did the new monitor work with various operating systems. I decided to leave the old external monitor connected at first, to see what would happen.  It is on the VGA port of the docking station, so I put the new one on the DVI-D port, and fired up openSuSE 12.3.

It came up with the two external monitors running an extended desktop, but for some reason it got the resolution of the new monitor wrong, it was configured at something like 1440x900.  A quick run of the Display utility (or xrandr for you macho CLI types) will take care of that.

openSuSE 12.3 KDE Display Management


Here you can select the correct resolution for each display, choose which one is disabled, and set their relative positions. To be honest this seems a bit clunky, because you have to set the window positions from the drop-down menus rather than just dragging them around, but it works, anyway. 

Now I had the two monitors running at 1280x1024 and 1920x1080: very nice. I changed the configuration around to use the laptop display with either of the external montiors, and that worked fine too; of course, it wasn't possible to get all three going at once, because ordinary laptop graphic controlers are not up to that: too bad.

I then rebooted to Fedora 19, and it came up with both of the external displays at optimum resolution.  This time it has the Gnome Display management utility.

Fedora 19 Gnome Display Management


In contrast to the openSuSE KDE utility, this time you can arrange the display positions by dragging them around. There are slightly sticky edges to help you get horizontal and/or vertical alignment just right. Again, I spent a bit of time fiddling around with different pairs of displays, and they all worked. 

At this point I was already starting to think that it would be pretty much the same for the rest of the Linux distributions I have loaded on the T-400.  I was wrong...

Next up was Linux Mint 15, which came up with the two external monitors active, but mirrored rather than an extended desktop.  A quick run through the Displays control (the same Gnome utility as in Fedora 19) took care of that, and got me an extended desktop with both monitors at optimum resolution.  So now I knew they weren't all going to act the same. But next up was Ubuntu, and Mint is derived from Ubuntu so at least it will be the same as this one, right?

Wrong. Well, probably not fair because I booted Ubuntu 13.10, and Linux Mint 15 is based on Ubuntu 13.04, so maybe if I had tried that version it would have been the same.

But anyway, what happened was that Ubuntu 13.10 came up with the laptop display and the VGA display active, but mirrored. Worse than that, though, it had the display arranged very strangely, so I not only had to disable the laptop display and enable the DVI display, but I also had to drag their icons around to get at least a rational layout. (Gnome Display utility again) Once that was done everything was ok, and again I could use any pair of displays that I wanted.

Last of the Linux distributions to test was Debian 7.2.  It came up the same as Mint had done, with the two external displays active but mirrored rather than extended.  I could have fixed this using the Gnome Displays GUI again, but for the benefit of hard-core command line enthusiasts who might want the gory details, here it is (to get the correct output device names, just run xrandr with no arguments):

    xrandr --output VGA1 --auto --output HDMI2 --auto --right-of VGA1

Finally, how about a quick preview of the next couple of releases?

Fedora 20 has a new release of Gnome, with a new Displays utility:

Fedora 20 Display Configuration GUI


Click to select any one of the displays and choose Off/Primary/Secondary, set the resolution and rotation. Nice.

openSuSE 13.1 likewise haa a new KDE (and a new yast2), which likewise includes a new Display Configuration:

openSuSE 13.1 KDE Display Control


Now that is nice. Click the check-box in the middle of each display to activate/deactivate it, click the icons to set rotation and resolution, and click the star to set the primary display. Zowie, if the rest of the redesign of yast is that nice, I can hardly wait!

So, all five Linux distributions had worked with both external monitors, and had let me do pretty much anything I wanted, within the capability of the hardware (graphic controller) itself.  Now, what about Windows?  I kept a small partition on the T-400 with Windows 7 in it, because I have to use it for work occasionally and also for testing purposes. Like now.

Windows 7 Professional booted up with the laptop display and the VGA display active, but mirrored. I was able to select either of the external displays together with the laptop display, but I couldn't get it to disable the laptop display and leave me with the two externals active.  I finally stumbled onto the (obvious) solution — just close the laptop lid, then the laptop display is disabled and the two externals are active.

There's a certain amount of logic to that, but honestly I'm not thrilled.  I see it as another case of Microsoft assuming they know what is best, whereas Linux leaves you the flexibility to do whatever you want.

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Topic: Linux

J.A. Watson

About J.A. Watson

I started working with what we called "analog computers" in aircraft maintenance with the United States Air Force in 1970. After finishing military service and returning to university, I was introduced to microprocessors and machine language programming on Intel 4040 processors. After that I also worked on, operated and programmed Digital Equipment Corporation PDP-8, PDP-11 (/45 and /70) and VAX minicomputers. I was involved with the first wave of Unix-based microcomputers, in the early '80s. I have been working in software development, operation, installation and support since then.

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  • Testing a new monitor with OpenSuSE, Fedora, Linux Mint, Ubuntu...and Windo

    "There's a certain amount of logic to that, but honestly I'm not thrilled. I see it as another case of Microsoft assuming they know what is best, whereas Linux leaves you the flexibility to do whatever you want."

    And that is the problem. Microsoft made it extremely easy to get the monitors set up. Close the lid and in 3 seconds and it was done. Look what you had to do in linux to get it working. Bring up the terminal window, type in some complex commands and hope it works. Not many people are going to know how to do that much less want to do that and will not do that just to get their monitors working. So in this case Microsoft did do what was best.
    • Time to feed the TROLL(Loverock)


      The author only did the commands for the Debian distro and just to show that it could be done. All the others needed a little tweaking using the display tools to get it to do what the author wanted them to do.

      But with windows the author could not even turn off the display on the laptop if he wanted to. This required him closing the laptop which would require him to use a separate keyboard. How is this efficient at all.
      • As usual, LD didn't read the article.

        He just searches the text for terminal, command, etc, then makes completely irrelevant comments.
        Ignore him.
    • Testing a new monitor with OpenSuSE, Fedora, Linux Mint, Ubuntu...and Windo

      I have to disagree. I've pretty much done the same thing with all the distros he has and more and they all require adjustments with the display managers including Windows. Nevertheless, none of them were really much of a hassle at all.
    • There is no limit to how much you will lie

      To support MS.
  • Being a developer...

    Being a developer for last 25 years I have always tried to get the best setup with multiple monitors, so thanks for the article. I am not sure why your Win7 setup will only mirror when you have the laptop monitor active.
    Looking around the office now I see 4 other devs plus myself with laptops connected to 3 external monitors all showing 4 distinct desktops -- running Win7. Most of the devs here use regular desktops (mix of Win8/7) with 4 displays but 5 of us have basically the same setup running on 5 yr old dells. The network guys have similar setups but mainly running some variation of Linux - same hardware though.
    Oh, 1 caveat on the laptops... we have external video cards to support the additional displays... perhaps that is the difference.
    Nole Mercy
    • Being a developer...

      It sounds like you guys have a pretty sweet setup.
  • Testing out a new monitor...

    For testing hook it up to a Mac Mini to get an accurate representation of its capabilities . Personally I always use the iMac display as a benchmark and rate all other desktop displays against that.
  • I though tthat the PC was dead?

    ZDnet has declared the death of the PC more times than I can count, yet they're excited about a desktop monitor.

    What do we need this for, ZDnet? I thought that all of our work could be done on a 10" ipad?
    • with the right tablet

      It's pretty amazing what you can do - including multiple monitor support

  • sounds like Windows did a better job overall


    With all your tinkering with different flavors of Linux you can run 2 out of 3 displays. Windows 7 can run 2 out of 3 as well, and is smart enough to configure it automagically. Windows 7 defaulted to mirror instead of extended - just like the linux variants. I imagine somebody's statistics say that more home users are mirroring the desktop (connecting to a TV) than extending it, and users who need an extended desktop either know enough to tweak the configuration or have an IT department to call.

    Unless you are using the laptop keyboard/mousepad for input I don't know why you would want the lid open when using two external monitors (since the laptop display has to be disabled in order to use two externals).
  • Sounds like you're just looking for something to complain about.


    "I see it as another case of Microsoft assuming they know what is best, whereas Linux leaves you the flexibility to do whatever you want"

    Apparently Microsoft does know what's best for the people that Windows targets. If they didn't then Linux would have the 90% market share, with Windows at 1-2%.

    In other words, 3 monitors on one system is really not what the vast majority of the world is looking for in their systems.

    Oh, and you usually just press the "function+[montor]" key to disable the onboard laptop display...
    • Re: Linux would have the 90% market share, with Windows at 1-2%.


      "Apparently Microsoft does know what's best for the people that Windows targets. If they didn't then Linux would have the 90% market share, with Windows at 1-2%."

      You are really closer than you think to those figures. If NetMarketShare were to count Windows distros like they do Linux distros, your numbers are no that far off.

      First NetMarketShare only counts stats collected from their ad-network and enterprise finance site.

      Second NetMarketShare only counts RedHat and Suse Enterprise Linux

      If NetMarketShare were to only count Windows 8 and 8.1 Enterprise licensed distros the numbers may be pretty close to your prediction.

      As for multiple monitors, I keep reading that one must have Windows to do "real work" and there are a lot of examples here of "real work" involving multiple monitors, ruling out "toy tablets" in enterprise.

      But I guess you really can't believe everything you read hear after-all.
      • RE: NetMarketShare only counts RedHat and Suse Enterprise Linux


        Are you saying that NetMarketShare is only counting RHEL & the Microsoft distro ?

        (yup, Suse is sponsored by MS - and some other companies)
  • WOW!

    All of you Windows honks need to rise from padded knee and get of the Gates wood. You need to go into the display settings on ALL of the above and do some tinkering, It literally takes like 2-3 minutes. End of story!
  • true - it is more fun to tickle more out of a system or out of hardware ...


    Those who know how to configure hardware with Linux, know too, that it is more fun to configure and tickle more out of hardware or out of the system. The output of displays depends on graphical chipsets (if they are hybrid chipsets) - and their drivers. In Linux one has the bigger chance to enfluence the input by drivers than in Windows, and therefore to get more optimal output. There are more possibilities to adjust the screen, whether the number of displays and so on. By this way - Linux is really the more fair system at NO additionally costs.