Matrox Triplehead2Go Digital Edition Review
Matrox is a company that began changing the computer world in the Mid 70s. They made many different products, from simple networking switches and hubs all the way up to 3D graphics cards - which at the time were amongst the best in the buisness. One particular feature of their graphics cards made them stand out from the pack, a feature that was quickly adopted and copied by all the other graphics card manufacturers, was their multi-display technology.
Now, over 30 years later, Matrox has again pushed the envelope by releasing their latest GXM (or Graphics eXpansion Module). The most recent variant is the one we will be taking a look at today, the Matrox TripleHead2Go Digital Edition (which for the rest of the review will be referred to as the TH2Go). It is now capable (with the recent updates that will be described later) to output up to 1680 x 1050 resolution across three monitors for total resolution of 5040 x 1050 ( or 5.3 Megapixels ). Just for comparison, a new 30'' monitor only has a resolution of 2560x1600 ( or 4.1 Megapixels ) which means the TH2Go is actually quite an accomplishment. Without further ado, let's get this review started.
Packaging and Accessories
The TH2Go comes in glossy blue box that prominenty shows three screens sharing one image - there is little doubt about this products intended purpose.
The flip side of box lists its capabilities in three languages including "Harness your existing graphics hardware's full capabilities for 2D, 3D and video". We'll put that theory to the test.
The TH2Go comes with the following:
- The TH2Go unit
- 1' long VGA cable
- 1' long Dual-link DVI cable
- 1' long USB A to B cable
- Installation CD + manual.
The TH2Go in the flesh
The TH2Go is about the same size as two or three stacked DVD cases - not very large at all. The above picture was not taken while under the influence of alcohol.
On the input side, the TH2Go has an input for VGA, DVI (dual-link) and USB. Please note however that the USB cable does not send/receive any data and is only used to power the TH2Go.
On the opposite side lies the TH2Go's three DVI outputs to go to three individual monitors. These can be used with a DVI cable or with a DVI to VGA adapter and VGA cable.
Now let's see just how to install it. Excitement!
A very good User Manual for the installation of the TH2go can be found here:
In my own nutshell:
Installation of the TH2Go is fairly straight forward. With your system off, connect the TH2Go to your graphics cards dual-link DVI output using the supplied DVI cable, the VGA cable, or using an adapter on the DVI connector. I tried using different combinations of VGA and DVI cables to mix it up and found no issues using either one.
Note: For any widescreen resolutions you must use a DirectX 10 or newer video card with a true dual-link DVI connection and the supplied DVI cable to the TH2Go. A dual-link DVI connection is absolutely required for the amount of information that is going to pass through it. Simply put, VGA does not have nearly the sufficient bandwidth for anything above 3x 1280 x 1024.
Note 2: Not all dual-link DVI connectors are in fact true dual-link, some graphics card manufacturers will provide two seemingly dual-link DVI connectors yet only one of them is truly dual-link DVI. Unfortunately, there is no way to tell if you're connected to a true dual-link DVI connector on your graphics card until you try the triple widescreen resolutions. This was the case in my own testing as well - even though both ports of my 4870X2 were called dual-link, only one actually worked at maximum resolution. The other caused panning & scanning and/or desktop area changes without upping the resolution.
This is the one area that seems to vary from user to user: "How do I position my three LCD monitors?". The fact of the matter is, there's no real rule to tell you. From my own experience during the course of this review, I found that having all three monitors directly adjacent to one another was not the best solution. As we'll discover in the gaming section, the side monitors are Not meant to be viewed head-on in most games. In the end, I positioned my side monitors at about 20-30 degree angle to my center one, slightly overlapping the center monitors bezel. This provided the best mix of gaming use and windows desktop use - both of which will be covered later on. Below is a picture of my current triple monitor setup.
With all the cables connected ( yes, there's alot of them ), power on your system to get to Windows. In most cases, only one of your monitors will currently be functioning properly at this point (the one connected to port #1 on the TH2Go, the others will not have a signal yet). You may choose to install the driver off the install CD, but for triple widescreen resolutions you may need to download the newest software off the Matrox website. Triple widescreen resolutions are only supported on software versions 18.104.22.168 or newer. I'd highly recommend using the following link to download the latest software as well as a firmware update for the TH2Go (In case yours was purchased before the time of the Widescreen update): Matrox Graphics - Support - Triple Widescreen Resolution Software Request
Now with the latest firmware and software installed (and after a restart) the Matrox Powerdesk icon will be added to your usual array of others. A quick right-click on the icon brings up a handy slew of options, most of which are self-explanatory.
The most important one to finish your triplehead setup is the "Matrox GXM Setup" option. A quick click on it will bring up the necessary options to configure your triple monitor setup.
First and foremost, check to make sure that your Matrox product and graphics hardware are detected properly by Powerdesk. In this case, the software properly detected my 4870 X2 without issues and even reported my monitors. You'll notice that Powerdesk can detect whether your monitors or connecter with DVI or VGA cables by the description listed to each one. Again in this case, Powerdesk was able to properly detect and function with my center monitor using a VGA cable instead of DVI.
Next up in the Powerdesk window is a listing for "Current display mode" as well as buttons to change the mode, edit the mode list, bezel management, swap displays and display setups.
Changing the display mode:
(Digital users may skip to the second step)
1 - For analog users: Those of you that have three regular monitors (4:3 aspect ratio) and won't be using the widescreen modes should click on the "Edit Mode List" option.
From the "Edit mode list" window you can add up to four single, dual or triple monitor resolutions to the "Provided display modes" list. The highest triple resolution available in analog mode is 3x 1280x800 or 3840x800. Once added to that list, you'll have to click "Apply" and then restart your computer for the changes to take affect.
2 - Now when you click "Change" you can select your resolutions from a list of available ones (Analog users: this is where your 4 specified resolutions from Step 1 will appear).
3 - Select the triple resolution you want to use, then click apply - if all is well then your two other monitors should come to life. Digital users - now here's where we get into some rough waters...
Depending on your graphics card, a maximum resolution of either triple 1680 x 1050 or triple 1440 x 900 will be avaible. The difference? You guessed it - ATI/Nvidia. From my understanding, ATI drivers and/or software cannot support horizontal resolutions that are not a multiple of 32! Checking my own reasoning: (3 x 1650) / 32 = 157.5. (3 x 1440) / 32 = 135. This means that on ATI grahpics hardware, you're stuck using triple 1440 x 900. In other words, users like me with three 22'' widescreen monitors will be viewing the same number of pixels as someone with three 19'' widescreen monitors. Why isn't it Matrox's problem? Well on Nvidia hardware that limitation is non-existent. Unfortunately for this review I didn't have an Nvidia card to test out the full 5040 x 1050 resolution. Why hasn't ATI fixed the obvious error in the drivers? Why not ask them? I encourage any ATI users the feel this problem should be fixed to contact ATI and tell them so. Until then, we - the ATI users - will remain at a maximum triple 1440 x 900 resolution.
But back to the review! At one resolution or another, we now have three screens to play with!
I'll be honest with you, I wasn't quite sure what to think of the "Bezel Management" button in the Powerdesk windows until I clicked on it - then all was made clear. Matrox has cleverly added this handy utility to make viewing one image across the three monitors make sense. Simply put, without it, while gaming objects would "jump" from one screen to another in a decidedly unnatural fashion - the Bezel Management tool fix this.
With the Bezel Management tool, users can cut out a number of pixels between the monitors as to make it seem as if objects pass behind the bezel rather than skipping past them. It also allows objects that would span more than one monitor to seem continuous without breaking in middle. The price for this nifty feature? The same number of pixels that are removed from in between the monitors are taken from the far sides of your display, resulting in small black bars on the outer edges of your side monitors. While this may seem like a bad thing, it's actually pretty much unnoticable while gaming... and sometimes even in windows. Even during the course of this review, I worked in Windows for several minutes without noticing before I remembered to toggle it off (which can be assigned to a hotkey by the way).
Another handy feature comes from clicking the "Display Setups" button. It allows to save any current monitor setup, single monitor to triple monitor, and recall it at will. There's even hotkeys for this as well that are available when you right-click on the Powerdesk icon on your system tray. This is very useful when trying to switch to a new or untested resolution and getting an "unsupported input" or similar message from your unhappy monitors. Just hitting the hotkey for "Restore Saved Display Setup" once or twice to bring up an OSD to switch to your next saved display setup, to an "Auto" setup or to exit.
Note: Some of you may have noticed the "Swap Displays" button in the Powerdesk window or the hotkey for it. I'd recommend against using it completely unless gremlins enter your room at night and change the order in which your displays are connected. Click the button or using the hotkey for it will start flipping the mappings for the monitors in a very confusing pattern - presumably to help a user that has connected his/her displays out of the order shown their handy hardware setup guide.
Now that all the setup is out of the way, let's see what three monitors can do!
Windows Desktop Productivity
If you're trying to justify purchasing a TH2Go and need more of a reason beyond the gaming aspect - here you go. The amount of desktop area is incredible! As you can see here, I have few issues having many program windows at once across multiple monitors. The TH2Go is definitely a must-have for those looking to increase their productivity. If you're paying extra close attention, you'll notice that my wallpaper isn't stretched at all - I get my triple monitor wallpapers from InterfaceLIFT: Wallpaper sorted by Date. I'd strongly suggest to swing by there sometime if you're looking for a better background, even on a single monitor.
But now comes the section that many of you probably scrolled directly to - the Gaming!
Half Life 2:
I decided to start off the gaming tests with Valve's Half-Life 2 and it's follow-up using the source engine, Team Fortress 2. They both have native widescreen resolutions built-in. Please note that the triple widescreen resolutions are available under the "16:9" resolutions list and not the "16:10" for this game. Screenshots:
Right off the bat, you'll notice that objects that come towards the edges of the side monitors become more stretched. This is normal and should not be considered an error. These games were never designed for a viewing angle using 3 monitors so it's only natural that there is some distrotion. The menus also appeared in the center monitor with only black on the sides. All that aside, when your focus is on the center monitor, the side monitors are meant to be more of a perhipheral vision view and they work very well in that regard. While gaming I consistently felt like I could see more of what's going on around me and was able to see enemies on my sides using my perhipheral vision. There is no doubt that having the extra monitors is advantageous. More screenshots:
Now for a bit of a challenge: The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion does not natively support any triple resolutions by default. To get around this limitation, Matrox has provided yet another handy tool : The Surround Gaming Utility (SGU). You can find this utility here: Matrox Graphics - Support - Matrox TripleHead2Go Surround Gaming Utility. It basically patches any of the listed supported games by modifying its configuration files so you don't have to.
I scrolled down to find "Oblivion" and the message "Game not optimized yet" appeared on the bottom right when I clicked on it. So I think clicked the highest widescreen resolution available (in this case 3x 1280x800) and the clicked "Optimize". The SGU will ask you confirmation:
Clicking "Yes" will modify the games configuration for the resolution specified. Remember that you can always return to the SGU and click on the "Restore" button for your optimized game to return the resolution settings to defaults. Once the modifications are complete (only takes a second) the SGU will even ask if you want a special shortcut to be created with your optimized settings included.
Double clicking the shortcut will not start the game at the specified resolutions. It's not perfect however, since these games were not intended to have such modifications done to them. For example:
The text from some of the menu confirmations disappeared, but no other bugs were apparent.
To be frank, playing Oblivion with three monitors is simply amazing. With the games lighting effects and HDR glow, landscapes like the ones shown above are breathtaking - I'll never go back to playing Oblivion any other way.
Now due to time constraits (and the fact that one of my monitors was defective and had to be RMA'd when I received it), I didn't get much of a chance to test many other games. I did, however, take a few minutes to ask that age old question...
...Does it play Crysis?
This game needs no introduction. Before I got my extra monitors and the TH2Go, this game could make my system suffer (bottlenecks and the like don't help any). Now with three times the resolution, I think I can occasionally hear my system whimper in pain (and I've heard my 4870 X2 start spinning on max for the first time). Yet, I had to try it, just see how good it looked. So without further ado, after dropping the resolution to "Medium" settings on the and setting AA to 2X, I give you the Crysis screenshots: (From the demo version)
Crysis is very intense experience with a single monitor and with three, even more so. Despite my systems shortcomings it' simply awe-inspiring. Need I say more?...
Oh wait, I do.
Overall I found that using Matrox's TH2Go adds so much to both gaming and regular desktop use. Despite a few annoyances at not getting the maximum resolution possible due to ATI's driver limitations, the overall payoff is more than worth the effort.
I'd give the Matrox Triplehead2Go Digital Edition the "Dam Innovative!" award.
- Amazing addition for any gamer that wants a more immersive experience
- It's less expensive to buy two extra monitors and a TH2Go than it is to buy a 30' monitor - More pixels too!
- Increases productivity especially for Photoshop users and multi-taskers.
- It plays Crysis, and causes your system to cry anew for more upgrades.
- Can be tricky to set up due to fake dual-link connectors. (No fault of Matrox)
- ATI products limit the resolution due to driver problems. (No fault of Matrox)
- You may need a bigger desk! (Totally their fault)
- You may need to upgrade to turn all your games effects back on.
Pricing: Canadian Prices: Matrox Graphics - Matrox TripleHead2Go Graphics Expansion Module Digital... - T2GD3DIF
Thank you to all who helped make this review possible and to the HardwareCanucks.com forum for letting me write it.
Nice review. Very well done. I like how you compared it to a beer bottle. Only in Canada. I do have one recommendation to make it more pleasing to the eye try left justifying your paragraphs.
Thanks for the comments! I was a little on the fence about whether to center justify then or left justify. Sometime I'll learn with future reviews I hope. :thumb:
Nice review CMetaphor. That is quite the gizmo alright.
Thanks for the comment misterlarry :thumb:
I think it might have been better to have pictures showing the actual monitors when gaming rather than screen shots. Like the initial picture.
I just didnít get a real feel for what I would be seeing while gaming. Do you take any performance hits using this system?
Question: There is a DVI Dual Link INPUT....does it also have dual link on the OUTPUT?
@ DK2: I was going to take more pictures of the "gaming experience" as well as some benchmarks to show the performance difference but Believed I was running out of time for the Nov.1st deadline. Now with the extension, I'll probably add some extra screenshots as well as some benchmarks to show the performance hit when upping the resolution. But expect the hit to be worse than when moving to a 30'' monitor, since there's more information to process.
@ Skymtl: The outputs of the TH2Go are single-link, which is why when only using two monitors you can connect 2x 1900x1200 monitors. You cannot connect three such monitors due to the bandwidth limitations of the dual-link DVI on the graphics card.
If these are tryouts, is it appropriate to post something much more critical? mods?
Can you explain your question a bit better DK2?
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