Are cheap external USB video cards good enough to power an extra monitor or five, and what are their pitfalls? Won't handle 3D acceleration? Take up valuable CPU cycles? Leave dirty dishes around your desk and have a bad odour?
After I published my pseudo-scientific investigation
several weeks ago into the widespread problem of phantom monitor pain,
quite a few readers wrote in with one simple question. "Renai,"
they earnestly asked me, "why don't you simply get yourself a
second monitor at work?"
The answer, it turns out, is not as simple as that. But then, it never is for people like me who tinker with their hardware too much.
My ZDNet.com.au workstation is a Dell Optiplex 755, which in
general terms I'm happy with, as it has a nippy Core 2 Duo CPU and
2GB of RAM. Those of you who have worked in publishing houses will
know this is a bounty of processing power not normally found on
However, the one problem with my slimline Dell is that its
graphics card doesn't come with two monitor outputs ... in fact it
doesn't even come with a DVI output. Instead, it has but a solitary
VGA plug to make do with.
Consequently, the only ways I can get a second monitor working
is to buy a half-height video card and do some delicate surgery on
my Optiplex, or to simply buy one of these new-fangled external USB
video cards people have told me about.
An external USB video card(Credit: Winstar)
You can pick one up from Aus PC-Market for slightly over $110,
or more if you want a really fancy one. A cursory look at the
specifications shows that most of the units can provide resolutions
of up to 1600x1200 or even more, and work on a variety of operating
I'm still slightly suspicious of such a solution though, as I'm
not sure of the extent to which the USB 2.0 specification is geared
to support extra displays (especially when it comes to 3D
acceleration), and whether there would be an impact on my CPU from
the extra gear.
What has your experience been with external USB cards? Good, bad