Review: Matrox DualHead2Go

This palm-sized box can turn your laptop display into multiple clones for easier presentation viewing, let you use multiple screens for applications, or give you panoramas as large as 2560

February 13, 2006

5 Min Read
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One of the compromises of portable computing is screen size. The most portable laptops sport 13- to 15-inch LCD panels that can make us squint our eyes to take in all we try to fill them with. Move to a larger screen size and suddenly a very comfortable lightweight portable becomes an uneasy luggable.

It doesn't need to be that way. If you happen to have a couple of spare displays (LCD or CRT) and Matrox Graphics' DualHead2Go module, you can snatch the video from your portable's external monitor output and create panoramas as large as 2560 x 1024. With all this visual real estate you can create expansive work screens or partitioned space for separate tasks.

The Matrox DualHead2Go drives two displays from a laptop through a palm-sized external box.

Before You Start
The DualHead2Go isn't just a monitor extension cable or video splitter box. It's a complex piece of electronics in a palm-sized box that accepts your portable's analog video output and from it extrapolates the data it needs to create a custom resolution for the dual displays. To do that effectively, it needs to know what to expect from your graphics subsystem so it can interpret that information correctly. This means the DualHead2Go doesn't work with everything.

Unless you like to gamble, it's easiest just to check Matrox' compatibility list first. New portables are added to it as they pass compatibility tests. And although the DuaHead2Go was designed with a laptop in mind, don't be surprised to see a few motherboards with integrated graphics systems included. If your portable or desktop system isn't on the list, you can also run the Matrox DualHead2Go System Compatibility Tool. It should tell you just as certainly whether or not the DH2G will work.

Installation

Matrox long ago learned the art of the easy install. The software drivers go on first with a minimum of questions, none more difficult than "Ok?" That done, it's simply a matter of physically connecting the DH2G box to your portable on one side and then attaching your monitors to it on the other, literally. The hardware has four connectors -- one for the input from your laptop, two for the outputs to the dual monitors, and one for external power.

It wasn't easy to find a nit to pick with the hardware layer, but I did manage to come up with one, small, detail that I'd prefer to see changed. Labels on the output side of the DH2G box indicate connecting points for "Output 1" and "Output 2" and that's counterintuitive to the actual monitor orientation, which is left and right. At the risk of over-simplification, I'd suggest that "left" and "right" might be better labels.

Once all the connections are made, just power up the displays and your notebook. You'll see multiple images immediately — although they may not be those you want. In my case, it was the full image on the portable's screen and a copy of the left side of the portable's display on each of the two external displays. It was interesting, but hardly utilitarian. It was also my fault. I'd forgotten that I needed to switch the portable into external display mode.

That done, and after a few deft settings changes in the Matrox PowerDesk software, I can honestly report that the resulting 2560 x 1024 view is truly impressive and also has the potential to be horribly frustrating — although not by any of Matrox' doing.If you're giving a presentation and want to spread your screens around, you can clone what appears on your portable's display onto each of the other two external monitors, producing three views of the original for maximum attention with minimum over-the-shoulder viewing. That's a slam-dunk. Alternately, you can keep your workspace on one of the external displays having the second as a task area for pop-ups or another app. This too is flawless. It's only when you go for that full 2560x1024 resolution that you'll probably notice something for the first time that you see every day — a bezel.

Judging the Gap
All monitors, whether CRTs or LCDs, have a bezel. It's that strip of real estate that surrounds the outside of glass or panel. My 15-inch IBM LCD displays have a 1.25 inch bezel. My 19-inch Viewsonic displays have a 1-inch bezel. Depending on which I used as external monitors for the DH2G, there's a blank spot of between 2 and 2.5 inches in the middle of that 2560x1024 view.

Matrox doesn't really care. As your cursor disappears from the right side of the left screen, it simultaneously reappears on the left side of the right screen (and vice versa). From an application standpoint, that bezel doesn't exist. Visually, however, it can be very distracting. The worst offender, in my opinion, is video. Play a DVD to take advantage of your new widescreen capabilities and you could end up with the tip of an actor's nose showing up two inches way from his face with the bezel interposing itself between the otherwise contiguous body parts. It's not unendurable, but it's not pretty either.

Although the DualHead2Go itself is relatively inexpensive it does impose a hardware penalty on you. If you don't have two extra monitors lying around, you'll need to buy them. (And if you're using the DH2G for presentations, you'll also need to either lug them around with you or hope that your client has a pair to spare.)

On the other hand, the DualHead2Go is easy to recommend for an expanded desktop if you're doing presentations, most typical applications, and even graphics when the image you're attempting to work with is being overwhelmed by toolboxes and "helpful" pop-ups. Just be aware that it's not a panacea. Depending on the type of external monitors you have or buy, that "bezel-gap" will annoy you at times, especially if you try to work outside of the DH2G's intended environment. Still, the DualHead2Go is one the more resourceful solutions I've seen to the problems of an otherwise cramped display area.

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