At Microsoft, we love multiple monitor setups. It is quite rare to see developer workstations with *just* one monitor; most developers have two monitors and quite a few are using 3 or 4 these days. I have 3 Dell 1920×1200 IPS panels hooked up to a Radeon R9 290, so I’m a bit spoiled.
In the past it was quite expensive to build these setups: either a specialized video card, multiple video cards, or USB video devices had to be added. Throwing an old video card into your system to get extra outputs is a great way to get a quad monitor setup on a budget, but depending on what cards you have laying around, compatibility may be an issue. Typically, AMD and NVIDIA only support multi-card setups if both cards are from the same generation. Using two cards from two different vendors or two different GPU generations is a “use at own risk” situation; although it may work now, future device driver updates could drop support for the older card leaving you stranded.
Wherever possible, I like to simplify my builds. If you aren’t searching for blazing gaming performance and just want to hook up 4 regular monitors to get work done, you can try the Gigabyte GV-R725XOC-1GD. It is a Radeon R7 250X card that has two DisplayPort outputs in addition to HDMI and DVI all for $70 with sale and rebate ($100 without discounts):
[Picture courtesy Gigabyte.com]
There are many video cards on the market that have 4 or more video connectors on the back, including my expensive Radeon R9 290, but most cards only allow you to use 3 of the 4 connections simultaneously because of chipset limitations. In general if a card has two or more DisplayPort connections, then it can support 4 monitors seamlessly. But if it only has one DisplayPort connection, you’ll often need an MST hub or a second video card to enable the 4th display which adds expense and complication to your system build. As far as I know, Gigabyte’s version of the Radeon R7 250X is the first card to support a native quad monitor configuration for under $100.
The GPU on this card is not screaming fast; it is just a re-packaged Radeon HD 7770 with 1GB of VRAM, a design that is now two years old. But because it is based on the “Graphics Core Next” architecture (Cape Verde XT flavor), it supports DirectX 12 according to AMD. The card maxes out at 95 watts and requires a single 6-pin PCIE power connector and uses 2 PCI slots so it won’t fit into some compact PCs. The specs recommend a 450watt system power supply, but 350-400watt supplies ought to work just fine. The PCI bus already supplies 75watts, so this card only needs 20watts more than a card without a PCIE-power connection requirement, so it’s not a big worry if you already have a quality power supply.
NVIDIA cards are great too. The Gigabyte GV-N750OC (GTX 750) claims quad simultaneous monitor support as well for $130.
With either of these cards if you plan to use 4 HDMI/DVI monitors, you’ll probably have to get “active” DisplayPort->HDMI/DVI adapters. These adapters are not needed if your monitors use DisplayPort natively. For more info on “active” adapters, please see DisplayPort->HDMI dongles – active vs passive re-visited. If you know of other modern graphics adapters support 4 simultaneous monitors for a budget price, please drop me a note and I’ll add to the list.
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