DualHead2Go by Matrox

According to a survey by Jon Peddie Research (as referenced in a recent New York Times article), adding a second monitor to your work station will increase your productivity by 20 to 30 percent. If you already have a dual monitor setup you are either nodding along in agreement or saying to yourself, “only 30%?” The fact is, having two side-by-side monitors makes a lot of daily easier.

Setting up dual monitors takes a little work and a little money. You’ll need two video out ports (and, obviously, two monitors). Windows and many other operating systems support dual monitors by default. Unfortunately, just because your operating system supports multiple monitors doesn’t mean your programs will by default. To simplify the entire process, Matrox has released their external DualHead2Go box.

Simply explained, the DualHead2Go has one input and two outputs. Connecting the DualHead2Go couldn’t be simpler; simply connect the box to your computer’s video card via an included cable, and connect your monitors to the box’s two output ports.

There are advantages to using an external dual monitor solution like the DualHead2Go over simply adding a second video card to your PC. One advantage is, through the use of a KVM system, you can use the DualHead2Go on multiple machines at once. Another advantage to the DualHead2Go is that both the video cards are identical. If you were to add a second videocard to your PC chances are it would not be identical to the first one (especially if it’s onboard) which can lead to resolution and performance differences. One final advantage is that Windows sees the box as one videocard instead of two. If you run dual video cards, Windows will see two separate monitors (1280×1024, and another 1280×1024, for example). Instead of two separate entities, Windows sees the Matrox box as one giant 2560×1024 monitor. That simplifies a lot of things. The two disadvantages I can see with using an external dual monitor solution is the price ($150, which isn’t astronomical but higher than a cheap videocard), and installation complexity. Read on.

Matrox’s DualHead2Go is billed as a plug and play solution, which it’s not. We delivered three DualHead2Go to three different computer experts, and the average installation time was around two hours. This included a lot of troubleshooting in getting the product to work through a KVM. If you are not sharing the box between multiple systems, except significantly less installation times.

Along with the video connections, the DualHead2Go also connects to your PC via a USB cable. The documentation claims that the USB cable is only used for power, but that cable became the source of our troubleshooting problems for a couple of hours. To configure the DualHead2Go, you must install the included PowerDesk SE software. We could not get the software to run unless the USB cable was directly connected to the computer we were installing the software on. In other words, in a multiple-system environment, you must either directly plug the USB cable into each machine when installing and configuring the software, or you need a KVM system that shares USB connections among all the connected machines. Fortunately, the software is only needed to install and configure the unit. Once your video display has been configured, the software no longer needs to run (and it won’t, if the USB cable is disconnected). This took an hour or so of troubleshooting to figure out.

On two of the three systems I tried the Matrox DualHead2Go on, it worked as advertised. Using the onboard videocard of a Dell 260 I was able to get 2048×768 (1024×2 width). Using an added on PCI card, I was able to get 2560×1024 (1280×2 width). While the card supported more, the KVM limited me to this resolution. My laptop (a Dell 620) also ran 2560×1024 with no problems. The third system, a Dell 490 running Windows 2003 Server, would not work at all. The software gives a DDraw error upon installation. The software does not implicitly say 2003 is supported, even though the website does. Repeated Googling for the error only returns dead links to Matrox’s now defunct website. I was not able to determine if the problem was due to the hardware or Windows Server 2003. Downloading the latest version of the PowerDesk software from Matrox’s website did not help.

On the two systems the PowerDesk SE software did install on, the Matrox DualHead2Go unit worked as advertised. Both systems are now running at 2560×1024. The DualHead2Go is available in both analog and digital models. I purchased the digital version, and the video quality is great. I have not tried any graphically-intense games yet, but normal day-to-day operations work beautifully. If nothing else, leaving my e-mail open in monitor B while working in monitor A is incredibly convenient.

For those with more desk space than common sense, Matrox now offers the TripleHead2Go for connecting three monitors to your computer or laptop, offering a 3840×1024 resolution.

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