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!