Multi-monitor docking with Surface Pro 3, Pro 4, Pro 2017, Surface Laptop, Surface Book/Book2, and Lenovo Yoga

[My article on hi-dpi multi-mon scaling tweaks generated a ton of interest. Several enthusiasts asked questions on the forums about how to choose the best multi-monitor docking setup for their Surface Pro and other high-end laptops. This article provides an analysis of some available options and weighs them against a small set of criteria common for enterprise and consumer environments.]

Intro

Suppose you have a premium laptop like the Surface Pro 3/4, Surface Book, or Lenovo Yoga Pro and you’d like to use it as desktop replacement with two external monitors. What accessories should you buy? To enable your laptop to fully replace a desktop computer, you need connections – lots of them. Desktops typically include 4 or more USB   ports, 2 or more monitor ports, audio, Ethernet and many other options. Some ports like Ethernet are essential in enterprise settings but not so much in consumer settings. When choosing accessories to provide the ports you need, the following factors should be considered:

  • cost
  • # of USB ports
  • # of monitor ports
  • monitor resolutions supported
  • other ports (audio/Ethernet)
  • convenience of single step docking action vs manually plugging in several cables

There are a few key accessory categories that provide these ports:

  • Factory Dock option (Surface Pro 3/ Surface Pro 4)
  • DisplayLink-based USB 3.0 docks
  • DisplayLink-based USB graphics adapters
  • DisplayPort MST hubs
  • USB 3.0 hubs
  • Adapters

Case Study Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro

The Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro is a wonderfully versatile laptop that already includes a lot of connections such as 2 USB 3.0 ports and a micro-HDMI monitor output. So out of the box you can hook up a big monitor (2560×1440@ up to 50Hz) and a full size keyboard/mouse without any additional accessories. But what if you need to add a hard drive, second monitor, USB memory stick, Ethernet, USB 3-D printer, etc.?

[Image courtesy “Yoga 3 Pro on Dell U2713hm at 2560×1440” forum contributor]

Lenovo Enterprise scenario

For Enterprise, a DisplayLink-based dock that provides two monitor outputs, Ethernet, and several USB 3.0 ports is probably the best option. Lenovo makes their own Thinkpad USB 3.0 dock that includes 5 USB ports, 2 DVI monitor connections, Ethernet and Audio. Other brands like Plugable and Targus provide docks with similar functionality at different price points, but if you are purchasing for enterprise and have a supplier that works with Lenovo already, it may be simpler to get the same brand. Using these docks is simple. Just plug in a single USB cable to your laptop and the power cable that came with your laptop for a total of 2 cables and you’re good to go. The only drawback of using these USB-based docks is that they are not natively supported by Windows and piggy-back on the Intel, AMD, or NVIDIA GPU device driver outside the best practices documented on MSDN for GPU devices in Windows 7/Windows 8 (For Windows 10 they are fully supported). For most environments they work just fine but they may not be as robust as a dedicated GPU running the monitor directly. Because the graphical output is managed by an additional software layer, some CPU performance is used. On modern laptops, this usage is not noticeable to end-users and would only be apparent when running performance benchmarks or graphics intensive games. Because many enterprises encourage their employees to use two monitors for productivity/ergonomic reasons and the laptop itself only has a receptacle for one monitor, a USB dock is the obvious choice.

Lenovo Consumer scenario

The Enterprise solution works fine for consumers too but for folks on a budget, instead of getting a full dock, you can get a simple 4-port USB 3.0 hub and a micro-HDMI->HDMI adapter. This will allow you to use a single large monitor and up to 5 USB devices with your laptop (4 plugged into the hub and one plugged directly into the laptop). You’ll need to manually plug in 3 cables with this setup: power, USB, and HDMI. If you need a second external monitor, it’s probably best to just get a full USB dock like the Plugable UD-3900.

Case Study Surface (various models)

The official Surface Blog provides a lot of info on this already so I won’t try to duplicate it.

[Image courtesy Surface Pro blog]

Surface Enterprise scenario

For enterprise, a DisplayLink dock works well and for budget-minded organizations the Plugable UD-3900 is probably the best choice given Plugable’s reputation for stellar support. However there is an option to use the Surface brand docking stations instead. The Surface brand docks provides 4 or 5 USB connections, Ethernet, audio, etc., just like the DisplayLink docks, but it does not use a DisplayLink chipset. They use the built-in Intel GPU for all monitors so there is no CPU-usage penalty or potential compatibility concerns. Also they are premium devices with excellent build quality. Plus with integrated power, you don’t need to remember your power brick and plug in power separately. The older clamp-style Surface Pro 3 dock provides one mini-DisplayPort connection and the Surface tablet provides a second mini-DisplayPort connection. This allows 2 monitors to be connected with no additional devices. The newer brick-shaped Surface Pro 4 dock provides two miniDP connections natively for the easiest multi-monitor experience on both Surface Pro 3 and Surface Pro 4. For customers using the older clamp-style dock with 2 or more external monitors that prefer a docking experience where multiple cables don’t need to be plugged in manually, there are a few options:

  • If your monitors support DisplayPort MST then you can daisy-chain one monitor to the next so that all the monitors are connected through one DisplayPort cable attached to the dock. Most customers do not have these monitors and it is silly to go buy them just for this feature if you already have working monitors.
  • You can add an MST hub which allows connecting 2 or 3 monitors via a single DisplayPort cable. (Some MST hubs from 2012-2013 had hardware flaws which blocked using 2 or more monitors. The current models have corrected these issues and support 2 or 3 monitors just fine. If you happen to buy a used MST hub where the 2nd monitor doesn’t work, contact the vendor for a replacement.) These hubs need additional cables and some require an external power supply so you may have to deal with a mess of cables.
  • You can add a DisplayLink USB Graphics adapter which are less expensive than MST hubs. They don’t need external power so there is much less cable clutter compared to the MST hubs.

Surface Consumer scenario

For consumer use, the DisplayLink docks and Surface brand docks work the best, but they can be a little expensive. If you don’t need a premium experience, you can make do with a 4-port USB 3.0 hub and a mini-DisplayPort-> HDMI adapter to plug into your regular monitor. If you need a second monitor, you can get an MST hub or DisplayLink-based Dock or one of the USB graphics adapters. But the most economical choice is, again, the Plugable UD-3900 and similar docks. If you only need one external monitor, a new docking solution from ETauro incorporates  a 4-port USB hub, Displayport extension and charger all integrated into one box, but it only works with the Surface Pro, not the SurfaceBook.

Product Summary Table

Dock/adapter

Price

Monitors added*

Other Ports

Surface Pro 3 / Pro4 / Pro 2017 VESA docking station $79-$275 2x 2560×1440 @60Hz via miniDP 4 USB, combined audio in/out jack, Ethernet, Charging, 2 miniDP
Surface Pro 4 Docking Station $199 2x 2560×1440 @60Hz via miniDP 4 USB, combined audio in/out jack, Ethernet, Charging, 2 miniDP
Surface Pro 3 Docking Station (discontinued) $150-300 1x 2560×1440 @60Hz via miniDP 5 USB, combined audio in/out jack, Ethernet, Charging, miniDP
Plugable UD-6950 $170-250 2x 4K@60Hz or 1x 5K@60Hz via DisplayPort 6 USB 3.0, audio in, audio out, Ethernet, 2 DisplayPort
Plugable UD-3900 or Hootoo docking station or iClever or ETekCity $70-100 2x 1920×1200 @60Hz or 1x 2560×1440 @50Hz via HDMI/DVI 6 USB, audio in, audio out, Ethernet, HDMI, DVI
Thinkpad USB 3.0 Dock $150 2x 2560×1440@60Hz via DP/HDMI 6 USB, audio in, audio out, Ethernet
Targus DV4K ~$200 2x 4k@ @60Hz via DP/HDMI 5 USB, audio in, audio out, Ethernet,
ETauro Surface Pro 3/4 hub, with Ethernet $70-200 0 – just a miniDP passthrough 4 USB, Charging, optional Ethernet
DisplayPort MST hubs ~$60-100 2x 2560×1440 @60Hz via DP None

(“Y-cable” models such as Club3D or Accell UltraAV docking stations add a USB hub and Ethernet)

DisplayLink USB Graphics adapter ~$60 1x 3440×1440@50Hz via DP None
Micro-HDMI->HDMI adapter ~$6 0 – just converts to HDMI and allows 1x 1920×1200 @60Hz or 1x 2560×1440 @60Hz None
MiniDP->HDMI 2.0 adapter ~$20 0 – just converts to HDMI and allows 1x 2560×1440 @60Hz None
4-port USB 3.0 hub $10-$20 0 4 USB
  • Note many of these devices support alternate monitor resolutions such as 4K@30Hz, but I’ve listed the most popular premium 60Hz resolutions that folks typically use at work and home. If you have a specific monitor you’d like to use, check the specs of the device carefully to ensure it works at your desired refresh rate.

References:

Back to main blog: https://dancharblog.wordpress.com

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17 thoughts on “Multi-monitor docking with Surface Pro 3, Pro 4, Pro 2017, Surface Laptop, Surface Book/Book2, and Lenovo Yoga

Add yours

  1. Great write up!
    I'm able to drive my Dell 27" at 2560×1440 via an HDMI to DVI dual link cable connected to my Yoga 3 Pro.  I needed a micro hdmi adapter to make the connection and a custom mode addition via the Intel Graphics configuration utility.
    The only issue I've run into is that the Intel utility will only allow me to go to 30 hz on the refresh rate.  Any higher and the utility barks at me about not having enough bandwidth to drive that mode line.
    I may try the docking suggestion. That said, any idea why I can't get above 30 hz?

    Like

  2. @Yoga 3 Pro on Dell U2713hm at 2560×1440
    The HDMI-> "dual link" DVI cable you have is probably just a single link cable even though all 24 pins are present at the DVI end. Note that HDMI has 19 pins and only 3 TDMS data pairs while a dual-link DVI has 6 TDMS data pairs. Unless there are active electronics in the cable, there is no way it is going to pass through a true dual-link DVI signal so that's probably why you're limited to 30Hz. Try connecting directly via micro-HDMI->HDMI.
    Also the older 27" monitors may not fully support HDMI 1.3/1.4 and may limit the resolution to 1920×1080 when using HDMI forcing you to use DisplayPort or dual-link DVI. See if there is a firmware update for the monitor.

    http://en.community.dell.com/support-forums/peripherals/f/3529/t/19482161
    http://en.community.dell.com/support-forums/peripherals/f/3529/t/19483304

    The Intel documentation on the Core M processor with HD Graphics 5300 says that 3 simultaneous monitors are supported natively, however with the Core M 5Y70 processor (Y-series) model there are some bandwidth limitations. I suspect the built-in panel with 3200×1800 resolution already uses up most of the available bandwidth but perhaps if you artificially reduce the built-in panel resolution to 1600×900, then more bandwidth will be available to the external monitor.

    ark.intel.com/…/83612
    software.intel.com/…/quick-reference-guide-to-intel-processor-graphics

    There are some other options to tweak in the Intel custom resolution tool like specifying CVT-RB timing instead of GTF. See this article for options to try on older Intel processors to set 2560×1440@55Hz or 2560×1440@50Hz. Those steps may work for the Broadwell/Core-M processors too:
    http://www.notebookcheck.net/2560×1440-or-2560×1600-via-HDMI.92840.0.html
    If you get it to work, please post a link to a picture of your setup and I can include it in the article if you like, but I suspect you may not be able to get the proper resolution until you buy one of the DisplayLink solutions.

    Like

  3. Okay, finally back in the saddle from the holidays to try out some of your suggestions.
    dropping the resolution on the built in display did not get me any extra refresh rate, however it had the benefit of normalizing the text/icon/window sizes to something closer to what I have on the Dell display. So now I've got that going for me. Remote Desktop Connection on the Yoga display is now usable.
    Sadly no firmware updates are available for the Dell.  So for now 2560×1440 at 33hz is good enough for the time being.
    I'm due for a new monitor anyway.  There's an Acer 4k monitor that supports higher resolutions through HDMI.  I may give that a ride and see if things work out. I doubt I'll make it to 4k, but even if I can get 2560 with a better refresh rate, it's worth the effort.
    Oh, and here's the pic of the Yoga 3 Pro in action with a 2560 monitor attached: http://imgur.com/qXa9REK
    Thanks for the tips!  I'll post here if the 4k monitor makes a difference.

    Like

  4. You mention that with the Yoga 3 Pro "out of the box you can hook up a big monitor (2560×1440@60Hz)".   In the Lenovo Yoga 3 Spec Sheet it says "Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 5300 in processor,supports external digital monitor via Micro HDMI Port (1080p support)".  Was your comment a misprint or do you have to do the graphcis card hacks to get the 2560?
    I'm wanting to buy a Yoga 3 to hook up to our 4k TV in conference room…would love to get at least 2560 resolution.  Very complicated!

    Like

  5. KSA Dallas, Yeah 60Hz was a typo. I fixed it to say 50Hz which should be achievable with an HDMI 1.4 compliant monitor and some tweaks to the Intel drivers. Check the post from the forum contributor "Yoga 3 Pro on Dell U2713hm at 2560×1440" above. This user got it working at ~30Hz. Check my suggestions for getting it working at 50Hz by adding custom resolutions with the Intel.com drivers. 1440p monitors are not terribly popular, so that's probably why Lenovo doesn't mention it. Frankly, I'm disappointed with the spec sheets posted on levnovo.com, they don't really provide the full specs on anything and just gloss over it.
    For a conference room, 2560 vs 1080 vs 4K doesn't matter. Since you'll be seated so far away from the screen, your visual system won't be able to discern the individual pixels anyway. It may look different, but probably not better at the higher resolution. I really wouldn't waste your time trying to get it to work for that application so if you like the Yoga, get it. Its a great convertible laptop.
    People get so caught up with spec sheets and resolution that they forget the most important aspect: does it look good? I blame marketing.

    Like

  6. Hi Dan,
    Thanks so much for putting this together. I have a Yoga 3 14' and am actually experiencing some issues that tech support at Lenovo cannot wrap their head around. This after 3 hours of working with various techs..
    Anyways, my issue is pretty straightforward (or so I thought), I have 2 DVI 24" Dell Monitors and purchased the  Thinkpad USB 3.0 Dock 0A33970 you mention above. The issue is that the picture is far from crisp on both monitors. I have played with various settings on the laptop but the text and overall picture remains washed out/fuzzy.
    I know the issues have to do with the connection to the Yoga as I have another Lenovo Thinkpad that connects to the same dock and with no issues.
    Tech support has claimed a couple of things all of which I think are inaccurate but will await your opinion:
    1) The Yoga 3 can only support monitors with IPS 4K and thats why its fuzzy.
    2) The Yoga 3 will not support the dock (though they were the ones that told me to purchase it!)
    3) The Yoga 3 will need to connect to external monitors via the micro usb port but they are unsure as to how to split the connection to accommodate two external monitors.
    As background, my Yoga 3 is 14" I7 chip, with 8gb ram, and windows 8.1. Please let me know if I can provide anything else and thanks so much for your help!!!

    Like

  7. @Brett,
    I believe the fuzzy display is a side effect of dpi-scaling that is apparent in some applications and is well-documented on other forums. But I think there are some options for you. Check out the Surface Pro article: blogs.msdn.com/…/high-dpi-multi-mon-with-surface-pro-3-dpi-scaling-tweaks.aspx
    If you buy into my approach there, you can easily do the same thing on the Lenovo Yoga to workaround your problem. Basically you need to set the external monitor as the "primary" monitor and instead of using software DPI-scaling to match all the monitors, just drop the effective resolution of the Lenovo built-in screen when it is docked so that it matches the external monitors.
    Your built-in screen is ~262DPI while your 24" 1080p screens are ~92DPI. You probably want to set the Lenovo display to 250% or thereabouts (1280×720 or 1366×768) to match up with the external screens as close as possible. Then choose 100% dpi-scaling across all displays. If you follow the guidance in the Surface Pro article, when you undock, your screen will magically revert to full 3200×1800 resolution so you get the best of both worlds.
    All three points from tech support are inaccurate. The Yoga 3 supports many different monitors, not just IPS 4K. A 4K monitor is more likely to have a DPI that is close to the Yoga screen and therefore less likely to have scaling issues, but just getting a 4K monitor doesn't automatically solve the issue. The Yoga 3 will indeed support the USB docks just fine. Connecting via the microHDMI port only allows one monitor not two.
    Thanks for posting and let us know how it goes.

    Like

  8. I apologize in advance –  I am pretty clueless about monitors, so please excuse any stupid questions.
    On my current ASUS I have a DisplayLink docking station, a Targus ACP71USz. The Targus site says it has DVI-I and HDMI 1.4 with 6-channel (5.1) audio 2048×1152@60Hz external monitor ports.
    Then I have two Dell  P2411Hb monitors. They do VGA and DVI. 1920 x 1080 resolution, plus full-screen support for lower resolutions.
    I have monitor1 plugged direct DVI into DVI, and monitor2 is DVI with an HDMI adapter. Works great except the ASUS is having all sorts of power/battery issues, so they got me a new Surface 3, which I can't wait to use – except I can't live without my multiple monitors.
    They also bought me a Surface docking station. I don't really care which one I use, as long as I still end up with 3 monitors.  (I keep the ASUS open, so I have three monitors when I'm docked.)  Whichever dock I don't use will go in the storage closet for someone else.
    I don't know that I care much about the resolution, and I've never fiddled with the refresh rate since it's never bothered me. I'm pretty nearsighted and old enough that even my near vision needs cheater glasses. I have my current monitors set for 1920×1080. I tend to use the OS magnification to boost up to 125%. I'm not trying to do any gaming or video intensive work so throughput probably isn't an issue for me.
    I can easily request new cables or hubs, if my Targus will work with my Dell monitors by just buying something inexpensive.
    I checked the Dell site and it says my P2411Hbs are not supported with Windows 10, so I have leverage to get new monitors if I need to. But if I get new monitors, or even grab some used monitors from a storage closet, I need to know what to look for so it will work. And appropriate cables.
    Can you make a recommendation?

    Like

  9. @monitor challenged
    Here are two approaches that will work with your current hardware with no need to search for new cables or anything:
    1. Surface Tablet -> Surface Dock -> Targus
     -> HDMI Monitor #1
     -> DVI Monitor #2
    This is easy to dock and hookup. Just plug the USB cable from the Targus to the back of the Surface dock and forget about it. Your monitors will still plug into the Targus. You'll be using more hardware than absolutely necessary, but it will work fine.
    2. Surface Tablet -> Targus
     -> HDMI Monitor #1
     -> DVI Monitor #2
    This has fewer devices and cable clutter than option #1, but you will need to manually plug in the USB and power to the Surface tablet just like on your old Asus laptop instead of using the more convenient Surface dock.
    Other approaches will require different hardware:
    3. Surface Tablet -> Surface Dock -> miniDP MST hub
     -> miniDP-HDMI adapter -> Monitor #1
     -> miniDP -> DVI adapter -> Monitor #2
    or
    4. Surface Tablet -> Surface Dock
     -> miniDP-HDMI adapter -> Monitor #1
     -> USB DisplayLink dongle DVI -> Monitor #2
    Given that you can get your workstation setup with the devices and cables you already have, I don’t think its worthwhile buying more stuff. But if someone else really wanted to use your Targus dock, you could certainly try one of these options.
    BTW your monitors *are* supported in Win10. Pretty much any monitor will work fine if it has the right connector for your PC. Vendors probably don't bother updating their websites for older products.

    Like

  10. THIS IS SO AWESOME! I did #1 as suggested above and just plugged the Targus into the Surface docking station. I moved the network cable from the Targus to the Surface doc, and the webcam and the USB hub, but left the monitors on the Targus, It took a while to get the Display Link driver installed, but it worked! It's a lot on my desktop, but I have plenty of space back there I'm not using.
    Thank you.  I didn't realize it could be that easy!

    Like

  11. Is anyone able to drive two external monitors on A Surface3 Pro under Windows 10?  I was able to do this under Windows 8.1, but it stopped working under Windows 10.  I have tried all sorts of things  – clean Win10 install, DisplayPort Hub, second USB Graphics adapter.  No matter what I try, I can only get one external monitor to work.  Frustrating.  Its pretty bad when my home-made desktop runs Win10 just fine, but a Microsoft machine has compatibility issues…

    Like

  12. Doug, yes we run SP3 with multiple monitors all the time here at Microsoft. Please head on over to answers.microsoft.com/…/surface and post your question there with details about your config and the support folks will help. I recommend connecting all your devices and then running dxdiag.exe and saving the log file. Also run dispdiag.exe from the command-prompt and save that log too. These two logs may help the support staff identify the problem you're having. If you're near a Microsoft store, you could bring your cables/adapters in and have the store team try to get it to work with their monitors.
    Hope you get it working. Windows 10 with multi-mon is great!

    Like

  13. Win 10 – Lenovo X1 – Lenovo Thinkpad  Hub 3.0 ->  up to 3 external monitors
    Please note that you can have up to 3 external monitors + Lenovo X1 screen working all without issue!
    -> 2 external monitors through the Hub 3.0 using the 2 DVI interface
    -> 1 external monitor through Lenovo X1 mini display port connector
    ->  1 monitor of the Lenovo X1
    You would need to buy
    – 1 adapter: mini display port to DVI (white over molding) (not the VGA who has the blue over molded plastic)
    – DVI to DVI cable (to connect the monitor to the above adapter)
    – Lenovo Thinkpad  Hub 3.0
    Please note that Lenovo has several different Hubs on the market till now (Feb 2016).
    Not all of them have 2 DVI outputs.
    i.ebayimg.com/…/s-l1000.jpg
    media.nbb-cdn.de/…/thinkpad_usb3.0_dock_0A33971_3.jpg
    Hope this helps

    Like

  14. I have a Lenovo Yoga Pro 3 with a ThinkPad USB 3.0 dock connected to two Dell P2412H monitors via the DVI ports on the back of the dock. I use all three monitors (Yoga display plus two external Dells) at one time. All three monitors are set to the “recommended” resolutions (Yoga is 3200×1800 and the two Dells are both 1980×1080). The problem I am having is performance on my external monitors for everyday word processing and spreadsheets. When I am using Word or Excel on the external monitors, the mouse drags, the typing lags (i.e. it is 5-7 characters behind what I am typing), scrolling is painfully slow, etc. I can move the same document to my Yoga monitor without closing (just drag and drop) and the performance issues go away.

    Before you ask, all of my drivers are updated, Lenovo tech support is helpless, and I am about to throw away this computer and get a new one. Was hoping someone here had an idea to solve this.

    Thank you,

    Like

    1. Hi Mark,

      Please follow-up with the DisplayLink folks for support:
      http://support.displaylink.com/

      DisplayLink makes the chipset inside your dock.

      DisplayLink is MUCH better than Lenovo tech support. If you haven’t downloaded the latest driver directly from the DisplayLink site, do that first. It is typically newer than the Lenovo/HP/Dell drivers. You can also join their forum and post log files using their troubleshooter tool. I bet they can help you get to the bottom of it.

      Like

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