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How DisplayPort multi-streaming delivers new levels of multi-monitor madness

Michael Brown | April 22, 2013
DisplayPort 1.2's multi-streaming feature lets you rock four monitors—from a laptop, no less!

Since the HP monitor was smaller than the other two, I put it in the center of my field of view and arranged the Dells on either side. I moved the notebook off to one side (with a USB mouse and keyboard plugged in), and used it to park windows--such as my appointment calendar--that weren't my current focus. I found that having my Windows desktop arrayed across three independent monitors was a tremendous boon to my productivity. I almost never had to waste precious time resizing windows as I multitasked, and I had only to swivel my head when an email or chat window commanded my primary focus.

When I switched over to playing games, however, I turned the notebook's 15.6-inch display off, because it was too disproportionate to the other three screens. Though I could have added a fourth large display to the mix, doing so would have left a bezel in the middle of my view. That wasn't an issue when I was in a productivity environment, because I never spanned a single application window across more than one display.

The gaming experience

Playing games on three midsize displays is mind blowing. Newer titles, including Crysis 3 and Bioshock Infinite, support the unusual resolutions that such arrays require. In this case, I ran both of them at 5760 by 1080 pixels (1080 being the lowest common denominator in terms of height of the three monitors I was using). The games filled my entire field of view, immersing me in their environments like nothing I've ever experienced short of wearing a head-mounted display--but without the inconvenience of having my noggin tethered to my computer. Using three identical displays would have yielded an even better experience because I could have hidden the bezels on the left and right monitors more effectively behind the one in the center. (Samsung once designed and built monitors--the company's model MD230--specifically for this application, but it no longer manufactures them.)

Though I had to dial down Crysis 3's visual effects to 'medium' to render the game playable, I turned on antialiasing and cranked Bioshock's texture detail and texture filtering settings to 'ultra' and had a perfectly enjoyable experience. The game's built-in benchmark produced an average frame rate of 26 frames per second at those settings, with a maximum of 48 fps and a minimum of 7 fps. Twitch gamers will grouse that anything less than 60 fps is an unacceptable level of performance, but you can get close to that magic number by reducing the demands on the GPU at the expense of the game's stunning visuals.

Reality check

Making the most of DisplayPort 1.2 and its multistreaming feature entails a significant investment. DisplayPort is a common feature on business-oriented laptops and desktops, but you won't find it on a typical all-in-one PC. However, AMD and Nvidia have jumped on the DisplayPort bandwagon in a big way. You'll find multistreaming DisplayPort connectors on all video cards based on AMD's Radeon 7000 series and Radeon 8000 series GPUs (as well as on most cards based on its Radeon 6000 series chips), and on all video cards based on Nvidia's GeForce 600 series and Quadro series processors. Intel's upcoming Haswell series CPUs will support multistreaming DisplayPort, too.

 

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