Multiple Monitor Solutions For The MacBook Pro

My Office

With my desktop out of action, I’m currently on my new MacBook Pro as I’ve written, making use of its internal screen to run things on the Mac side and one of my external screens to run Windows apps. It annoys me that my two other monitors as you can see in the picture above are going to waste (the picture shows my normal setup, not the current one). But the MacBook, like all laptops I’ve seen, as only one external output. What can you do?

NOTE: See also my follow-up post since this was written, My MacBook Pro Goes Multimonitor: 4 Monitors At Once!

Well, I started exploring options. Here’s the big caveat. I’ve not tried any of these and probably won’t. That’s because I’m about to head off on a trip, and by the time I get back, my desktop will be repaired. But who knows, maybe I will some day. It’s a pain to be shifting from a desktop to a laptop, despite what I think are my awesome and cool powers of organizing information I need to take with me on the go. More on that later — perhaps they aren’t so awesome and cool! But two screens just don’t cut it for me, so to stay on a laptop — any laptop — I’d need a multimonitor solution.

Kensington has a dual monitor adapter that looked promising. You plug it into a USB port, and that gives you a second external monitor. Alas — it doesn’t work for the Mac. Kensington seems to have an issue with Macs, I guess. A USB docking station that could do a similar thing doesn’t work for Macs either, says this Mac forum. And reviews at Amazon say it doesn’t work well, period. Of course, there’s a chance that either solution would work for my virtual Windows setup. Maybe I’ll find a way to test it someday.

VTBook is another solution I stumbled upon after reading up on the MacRumors forum. This is a CardBus solution that gives your laptop a second external monitor or even three external monitors, if you get the right cable. Downside? At about $250, it’s expensive. Worse, the MacBook Pro can only take the small ExpressCard format. That means you’d have to buy yet another adapter like this.

The Magma ExpressBox looks interesting but clunky. Got an old PCI video card lying around? You shove it into this box, then connect the box via the ExpressCard slot and boom, you have a second external monitor. I’m guessing if you can find a PCI card with dual outputs, you could then have a third external monitor as well. But at about $750, this ain’t the solution for me!

SideCar from Digital Tigers looks awesome, promising to let you run up to four external displays. Wow! Oh, but it’s a CardBus connection, so you’d need an ExpressCard adapter. And like $1,300. No thanks.

I like the Matrox products best. These are the DualHead2Go and TripleHead2Go. Dual will power two external monitors; triple will do three. You can get them in VGA or DVI versions. Here’s the magic thing. You just run a cable from your DVI output into the box. That’s it (or so they say). And, it will work for the Mac OS. Here’s someone proudly doing this on a MacBook pro. As for pricing, it’s about $150 to $200 depending on the version you go to. If I see one of these when I’m in New York next week for the Ad Age Digital Conference, I might have to go for it.

I’ll end on MaxiVista. After finally trying this software, I’m seriously sad I’ve dumped a Windows laptop. See, if I’m gone on a long trip, I’ll pack a 15″ external monitor with me, because I find that extra screen makes me so productive. I’m still waiting for the laptop maker that gets smart and gives me a laptop where I can somehow fold out a second screen!

Even though I got the smallest monitor I could find, it’s still heavy. But MaxiVista lets you use a second laptop as an external monitor. That’s pretty cool, because I have two old ultralights in the house, my Toshiba Portege 3010 and Portege 3480. Seriously light — like the hype over the MacBook Air made me think ummm, I had a small notebook like that three years ago.

Packing those puppies would be much easier than lugging that third monitor. So I fired up MaxiVista in Windows running under VMWare Fusion. That was the server. The client was MaxiVista running on my old Toshiba laptop. And wow! It worked. I totally was able to extend my monitor.

Alas, there was one small problem. When I tried to click on something in the main screen, the main window on VMWare, the mouse was totally off. Say I wanted to click on a button that was in the exact middle of the screen. I’d have to slide the pointer almost to the right of the screen to actually connect.

I contacted MaxiVista, but they provide no Mac support. It would have been a great and cheap ($30) solution. Guess Windows users still have some luck after all!

Postscript: See also My MacBook Pro Goes Multimonitor: 4 Monitors At Once!


Comments

  1. says

    Danny, I used to run multiple monitors in my PC days.
    Spaces does help (I assume you’ve discovered this feature), especially when I haul the laptop out, but it doesn’t solve the whole problem.
    Like you, I’m often working on one screen, writing about what’s on a second screen, while reality-checking it on a third.
    The Matrox is the way to go IMO.

  2. says

    You could try Synergy. Run the second laptop independently, but control it via the first laptop. That would do if you wanted to open (say) something simple like a browser on the second laptop.

  3. says

    Uh Oh – Danny’s crossed over… I can’t get over the fact that you spoke about windows users in third person! hehe
    oh and.. Hi Matt!

  4. says

    I don’t know if you’ve tried it yet, but if you miss your delete key (like you said in your last post), you can just connect a regular PC keyboard to your Mac. The delete key works, I’m using it now.

  5. says

    On my desktop PC, I use the SEE2 USB 2.0 VGA Adapter to run a second monitor and Synergy to make use of a single keyboard and mouse with my desktop and laptop. So, I’ve got what amounts to three monitors.
    Don’t know if any of this will work for Danny, now that he’s gone over to the Dark Side. :-(

  6. says

    Thanks for the research. For several years I used the VTBook with my PowerBook G4. Two 20″ Cinema displays were far cheaper than a single large display, and much more versatile. The only downside was that you couldn’t disconnect the card without shutting down the laptop. MacOS doesn’t (didn’t?) expect display adapters to be dynamically added/removed–not terribly surprising. I just checked the VillageTronic site and it now appears they have two new Mac solutions. ViBook and ViDock. The former is USB based, the latter is ExpressCard based (presumably higher performance, I’m checking them out now). In the meantime, if anyone’s looking to buy a second-hand VTBook, let me know!

  7. says

    gh0stly, that seems to just mirror the display on a separate monitor or projector. What if you want them to work as dual monitors, but not mirrored. Wish I had a solution for this that wasn’t $300. :)

  8. Dan D says

    The DualHead2Go (est $150) is significantly cheaper then the TripleHead2Go ($250). I have the MacBook Pro. Looks like both models are compatible, only downside from what I could tell is using VGA for the DualHead as opposed to DVI for the TripleHead. Does the quality difference really justify the extra $100+?

  9. Simoneyes says

    The EVGA UV+ ($45) is pretty good, they released a driver for OSX half a year ago. The graphics are fine, no good for video or gaming but it’s just USB.
    Worth it for the price, I caught it on sale half price a couple months ago.

  10. Greg Boser says

    OK, I figured I’d post my recent adventures with running dual monitors on a MBP since this post ranks number 1 for “macbook pro dual monitors” :)

    Based on the mac info page at
    http://www.matrox.com/graphics/en/solutions/mac/choice/

    I purchased a DualHead2Go DP (my MBP is an 09 unibody model). The first problem was that no one had it in stock. I had to go ahead and pay and then wait for over a month for it to finally show up.

    In addition to the box, I had to purchase one display Port to Mini Display Port adapter (about $30.00) and two DVI to Display Port monitor cables that were about $25.00 a piece.

    This is the ones you need:

    http://www.amazon.com/Displayport-Video-Converter-Connects-Capable/dp/B001S2PYPU

    When I finally had all the pieces, I hooked it up to my two 26″ LG W2600H monitors, it didn’t work. The Matrox box actually creates a 3840 X 1200 resolution setting that turns two 1900 X 1200 monitors into one large display. But when I would switch to that setting, the monitors would turn green and start flashing really bad.

    After a couple of days worth of emails from Matrox tech support, I was finally told to check the energy saver settings. The default on the MBP is “better battery life” but you need all of the graphic card’s horsepower to run the dual screens, so you need to switch that to “higher performance”. Once I did that, it started working and I haven’t had any real issues with it.

    The only thing that is a bit annoying with the “one large display” is that not all programs respond to the keyboard shortcuts that allow you to move and resize a program to a single display. It works fine for browser windows, but programs like Dreamweaver or Photoshop don’t, so when you click the button th maximise the program, it spans across the the width of both monitors. and that creates a lot of head movement going back and forth from the program menus.

    If I had to do it over, I think I would go with something like the new Vibook instead. http://www.villagetronic.com/vibook/index.html

    It is USB based, and I believe gives you the ability to run each monitor as a truly independent display. The biggest issue with it is that it is also indefinitely back ordered. If you want to go this route, you will need to pay upfront and wait like I had to do with the Matrox box.

  11. says

    OMG, Greg, I got a Matrox Triple Head tonight. I’ve got four monitors running off my MacBook right now. And it would be so awesome, except it doesn’t know what to do with one widescreen capable of 1920×1200 in the middle and two squares on either side that can do 1600×1200. Instead, it knocks it all down to a big 3840×1024 screen. Lots of room, but I want the resolution, too.

    The Vibook looks cool. Or I could go down two two monitors and have the higher resolution. But if I’m going to do two, maybe two iMacs next to each other :)

  12. says

    Not for three monitors. If I went to two, I think it can drive higher resolutions. There’s a giant complicated list that explains:

    http://www.matrox.com/graphics/en/support/compatibility/gxm/resolutions/

    If you run in triple mode, 1024 is the best you can do (1050 in some cases). So a lot of resolution is wasted on my monitors that go to 1200. Worse, it think they’re all one screen of the same size — so the widescreen in the middle gets all stretched.

    The dual head would be a way to go with two monitors. I could lose my widescreen and shove the two square ones next to each other. Or get another widescreen.

    But honestly, a Windows desktop might just be easier if I really want multiple monitor support. In that, it’s easier to move windows around from screen to screen, and you have a taskbar for each window.

  13. Steve O'neill says

    Ok this seems like an incredibley informative page for dual screens and so forth the best ive found so far so I would be extremley greatful if someone could give me a shopping list in it’s simplist form. I have the latest macbook pro 13″ laptop running snow leopard arrived jan 10th 2010looks even better than my white 13″ ive upgraded from. Im interested in running it as the centre of my software based music studio so im not fussed about amazing graphics or gaming at all hence i have 2 x CIBOX 22″ monitors as there cheap and do the job I require them to do. They have a vga and dvi sockets on them but i understand dvi would be better. I have no plans to run more than 2 screens and wish to shut my laptop and just use the two extermal monitors seperatley as i have a seperate mouse and keyboard, your help would be much appreiciated as ive spent in the region of 6k on the setup and dont have the money to splash around getting the wrong kit from countries afar taking 3 weeks to arrive …..much love steve o ( mac for life ) !!!!

  14. Charley Stivers says

    I have the same issue as Steve O’neill. I have two different Macs that run separately by my office partner and me, a late MacBook and a MacBook Pro both running on Snow Leopard. Do the Matrox products function properly with Snow Leopard?

  15. Damien says

    Im using 3 screens at the moment with my macbook pro, late 2009 version, if u look up duel mini display cable ull find it, nd it will work, im using 2 tvs tho, duel mini display to HDMI

  16. Terry Gold says

    All – I went on the search. If you are wanting to do more than 2 external monitors DO NOT waste money on Matrox. Yes it will extend to multiple monitors, but leaves the limitations of your graphics card in place. Meaning that anything above 2 monitors it splits youre native resolution (divide by # of monitors) and this makes it pretty much unasable.

    I prefer mac, but for business am forced to use windows. I have an imac for personal. For the windows machine i found an ideal solution that addresses all of this. A product that i came across from Sewell, takes DVI to USB in an adaptor that has a graphics card. You get native high res for each monitor with each adaptor dedicated. Wokrs perfectly. I got a cheap software program from Digitaltigers that extends options for how to handle the behavior of multiple windows beyond native controls. I am in heaven at $350 for all of it.

    Now onto Mac. The displayport drivers apparently support mac. My monitor the Sammy 2370 LED (yes, they ROCK if you are thinking about them), so in theory, all of this should work as long as you have enough input on your Mac. This is what i need to explore next. If anyone tries it, or has guidance (I am a mac newbeee) it would be welcome. By the way, like i said this works the way you want it to with no sacrefice (up to 6 external)… you can email me direct if you have comments or suggestions..thank you teegold420@yahoo.com. Terry

  17. says

    Hey there, i have to purchase a laptop, and ive selected the Dell XPS 15 Laptop, which is with the Core i7 Processor and 2 GB Graphics Card. The thing is that i want to extend the display on 4 more lcd’s for my stock monitoring business, so that i can monitor different programs all at once, but im confused to go with which product to make this possibe. Please suggest me which product i need to get.