External Monitor Solution for Your Laptop

One of the things that I’ve missed greatly since moving to using a laptop as my primary machine just over 3 years ago is the ability to run multiple monitors. My old tower machine had a pretty hefty video card (for the time) in it that had both DVI and VGA connectors built in.  At the time, I ran twin Dell 17″ LCDs off that card and loved the advantages that having twice the screen space gave me.

That all changed when I bought a Dell 17″ laptop and started using that as my primary machine.  While you can leave the laptop open and use the internal LCD screen with an external monitor attached to the monitor connector, that configuration has never suited me well. I have this “condition” that things I deal with on a regular basis need to be symetrical (my wife thinks I should be in therapy for it, I think it’s just a matter of wanting things to look “right”), so having a laptop open next to an external monitor just never appealed to me.

About 18 months ago, our entire household converted to various models of Apple computers. I have been running an external monitor from the DVI connector built into my Macbook Pro since then. All the while, I have been searching for some sort of solution to let me run 2 (or more) external monitors from my laptop.  I was excited about the announcement of the ViDock unit from VillageTronic until I found out the Mac version was $499.

In continuing to search this topic last week, I ran across this device that connects an external monitor via USB 2.0. After reading all the reviews, test results and opinions that I could find, I decided to take a chance on one. At $129 for the version that supports the higher resolution, it’s a lot less to invest in something if it turned out not to work as advertised.

The unit arrived yesterday afternoon (Tuesday) and I immediately ripped the box open.  I had already downloaded the Mac drivers for it so I ran the install program which forced a reboot at the end of the installation process. Once I had logged back in, I connected the cables to the unit and plugged it into my USB hub. Within a couple of seconds, the second external monitor was working. All I had to do was make a couple of adjustments in the Displays Preference Pane to arrange them as they are arranged on the desk and put the dock back onto the display hooked directly to my DVI port and I was done.

So now, I have my Macbook Pro driving a Samsung 22″ LCD from the built-in DVI port and a Dell 20″ LCD from the USB adapter (and yes I’m champing at the bit to purchase a second Samsung 22″ so that both monitors are the same and everything is symetrical).

I have noticed that the performance of the USB adapter is not as good as the built in card, but that is to be expected due to the bandwidth limitations of USB 2.0. For instance dragging windows has a noticeable “choppiness” to it on the USB monitor vs the built-in one.  For this reason alone, I decided to discontinue my use of Leopard’s Spaces function.  The way I’m using it now is that I have my Eclipse coding environment set up on the USB driven monitor taking up the entire screen.  There isn’t much motion that happens on that screen other than scrolling code up and down or opening the various panels that I use in Eclipse, so the performance is more than adequate to handle that.

The folks that were testing these had 5 of them hooked up to a mediocre Dell Inspiron 9400 driving 5 separate external monitors with the same kinds of results that I’ve noted here.  If this continues to work well, I may purchase one or two more and run 3 or 4 screens off of this thing.  I had contemplated purchasing a Mac Pro for the desk to get multi-screen capability. This solution saved me over $3,000 so I’m definitely glad that I ran across this link last week.

Leave a Comment