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

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.
Written by J.A. Watson on

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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