Dual Monitor NT4 Hydra Computer - aka the "LG-Scan"
Designed for writing HTML, web research, retouching photos, and 3D work. Hand-assembled from the finest parts, and running at an 83MHZ bus speed. This page covers the details of how it was built, what components were used, how it worked, and answers to frequently asked questions are available at the bottom.
Last updated July 13, 2003
This system was one of the early dual-monitor NT4 systems. Probably still the only NT4-based one on the island (there may now be Windows 98 dual-monitor systems too, though). I built this back around 1997 at the Northern Marianas College out of the best parts I could find, primarily for the purpose of digital photo retouching (we had a high-resolution 2700dpi slide/negative film scanner, and a flatbed scanner for prints). It was funny, because my supervisor kept saying "is ALL of this going into one computer?!"
Originally we were limping along on a 486DX-33MHZ computer with 8MB of RAM running Windows for Workgroups 3.11. For obvious reasons, this system stank for retouching high-resolution photographs, and storage on the small 540MB IDE hard drive was severely limited. We soon decided that we needed a replacement, but it had to be a very powerful replacement. I pored over hardware sites and forums for several weeks, picking out the perfect parts, and built a system that worked well from the start.
However, it got a few upgrades as time went along, most notably an upgrade from a 200MHz to a 333MHz K6 CPU, so these specifications are for the system as it was in early '99, when I left (it was refurbished by Megabyte recently, and is still operating as of mid-2003):
-AMD K6 300MHz Socket 7 CPU (clocked to 333MHz at 83MHz memory bus)
-ASUS P55T2P4 Socket 7 AT motherboard (modified to enable 4.0X to 5.5X multipliers)
-64MB Micron ECC 50ns EDO DRAM
-dual Matrox Millennium II 8MB PCI video cards
-Adaptec 2940UW PCI UltraSCSI controller
-Adaptec "Sparrow" ISA SCSI-2 controller
-two Micropolis Tomahawk 4GB UltraSCSI AV HDs
-dual Samsung SyncMaster 17" monitors
-full-size AT desktop case w/ 200W P/S and open front 80mm intake fan in cut-out
-SoundBlaster 8-bit ISA original
-Smart & Friendly 4X SCSI 7 CD-ROM changer
-3Com 10/100Mbps PCI network card
I picked the motherboard because it was one of the best-performing Socket 7 motherboards of the day, and supported bus speeds up to 83MHZ reliably (unusual back then; 66MHZ was standard). 4 ISA and 4 PCI slots (1 pair shared), and 512K L2 cache topped it off. To run reliably at an 83MHZ bus speed, exceptional (for that day) memory was required. I found many favorable reports of Micron 50ns EDO DRAM working well in 83MHZ bus systems, and went with that. I also picked the ECC (error-checking) variety for extra stability and reliability.
When running at an 83MHZ bus speed, the 1/2 PCI divider ended up with a 41.5MHZ PCI bus speed; 8.5MHZ above specifications. Although most cards handle this speed ok these days, at the time I wanted to make certain I got the best parts for the job, as I had heard horror stories about video and SCSI cards at those speeds. I picked two Matrox Millennium II graphics accelerators for both their excellent stability at the 41.5MHZ PCI bus and their superb 2D graphics quality; important for photo scanning and retouching. For the SCSI adapter, I went with the Adaptec 2940UW Ultra Wide SCSI-3 PCI controller card. As expected, both the video and SCSI cards worked flawlessly.
Since we had the money, we went for the finest hard drives we could buy. We had long known that Micropolis hard drives were exceedingly reliable; friends of ours had ones that had been running for as long as five years. We picked the latest models, the Micropolis Tomahawk 7200-RPM A/V-optimized Ultra Wide SCSI drives (with 2MB audio/video-optimized buffers each). They cost us a lot at the time; $600 each, but they sure were worth it. They always operated flawlessly, and the performance was excellent. I have a similar pair that I bought surplus on my personal computer right now. Unfortunately, Micropolis was bought out and closed back in 1998 by some stupid company that, I presume, wanted the office space or did not like the competition. The crown for top reliability now goes to Quantum. A worthy company, at least.
The two Samsung 17" monitors supported resolutions up to 1280x1024 at a 60hz refresh rate, although we ran them at 1152x864 each at a 70hz refresh rate, because the higher refresh was easier on the eyes. They had come with two defunct Magitronic notebooks.
We used the seperate Adaptec "Sparrow" SCSI adapter because the Polaroid slide scanner noted in the manual that running the scanner on the same SCSI channel as SCSI hard drives could cause drive corruption, and we wanted SCSI hard drives in the system. Two SCSI adapters, a Sparrow for the scanner, and a 2940UW for the hard drives, solved the potential problem.
The Smart & Friendly 7-CD changer (jukebox) performed acceptably, despite only being a 4X, although it took so long to scan through each and every disc the first time you would open Windows Explorer that it nearly drove us mad.
The computer case was left over from the old 486DX we were using previously. It was a very large full-size AT case with five 5.25" rail-equipped drive bays. The rails were kind of annoying, and it was difficult finding three 3.5" caddies for the two hard drives and 3.5" floppy drive. However, it had so much space that we could cram an inordinate amount of hardware in and still have enough space left over for good airflow.
We originally used an SMC network card, which was a pain in the ars to set up under NT4, but it worked fine, even at the 41.5MHZ PCI bus, after I got it installed. I recently replaced it with a 3Com EtherExpress 10/100Mbps PCI network card, which installed a lot more easily, and also worked fine.
Last, and least, the Sound Blaster was just a junker 8-bit we picked out of the really old parts pile. Being an 8-bit, it did not sound good, but it got the job done, and was easy to install on NT4 (which usually does not take very well to any but the most standard sound cards).
After some initial difficulty finding a heatsink/fan combo for the CPU (I had forgotten to order one, not being used to very hot CPUs), I got the system all plugged and wired together, the jumpers on the CPU set correctly, and the RAM installed. I initially POSTed the system with the CPU clocked to the default 200MHZ clock, 66MHZ bus, (this is the first CPU) set up the BIOS, and then ran up against SCSI problems. After a couple of days of study and experimentation, I had learned how to set up and operate SCSI devices, most specifically that the end of each SCSI chain (both internal and external) had to be terminated, each device had to have a unique ID, and that one could not have any extra unconnected cable leading off the end of the chain. The SCSI BIOS setup on the 2940UW SCSI adapter went well, and then I booted with a boot disk equipped with SCSI drivers, partitioned and FAT16-formatted the hard drives (four 2GB partitions with 32KB cluster sizes). Installation of Windows NT4 Workstation went reasonably well, although it was considerably more complex than the Windows 95 custom installation. Finally, I plugged in Service Pack 3, which got the system running considerably smoother than without.
I had obtained a heatsink/fan combo from Computing off of a dead Micron Pentium for the CPU. It performed reasonably well. I guess one would call it a standard-size heatsink/fan combo. I was unfortunately unable to hit 250MHZ at an 83MHZ bus with the AMD K6 200 CPU, like I had been hoping to. But it was a 0.35-micron technology chip. Those really ran hot. Happily, 225MHZ at a 75MHZ bus and 208MHZ at an 83MHZ bus worked perfectly. I opted for the 83MHZ bus, reasoning that due to the nature of my work, working with humongous photographic files, faster memory/video card performance would be more important than faster processor speed.
A little later, I obtained a PC Power & Cooling CPU-Cool Z1 heatsink/fan combo. This was much larger than the Micron heatsink, and kept the CPU cooler. It still did not get me to 250MHZ, but it got the CPU running cooler.
I recently upgraded the CPU in the machine to an AMD K6 300. Being a 0.25-micron CPU, it ran a lot cooler than the old CPU, and at a lower voltage. However, it was first necessary to get the higher multipliers, since my board only went up to a 3.5x CPU multiplier; insufficient at an 83MHZ bus speed to get more than 290.5MHZ - and I did not want to underclock, not even a little bit. Following the instructions on Kalle's ASUS T2P4 motherboard FAQ, I solder-bridged two of the pins on the back of the CPU socket mounting, enabling clock multipliers from 4.0x to 5.5x. Pretty cool :) I managed to scare myself by plugging an LED into the reset connector on the motherboard, which caused it to reboot continuously and momentarily tricked me into thinking the motherboard was dead. I figured that out after a while, at least, and then I was up and running at 333MHZ on an 83MHZ bus. Surprisingly, 375MHZ also POSTed fine, but sixty seconds after logging in to NT, Explorer reported an error and the machine locked up. The CPU just ran somewhat too hot at that speed, despite the powerful PC Power & Cooling Z1 heatsink/fan.
To tell the truth, when I first set up the computer, I only set it up with one video card installed. I had installed NT4, applied Service Pack 3, and even overclocked the computers bus to 83MHZ (41.5MHZ PCI bus) before I put in the second video card. The cards say that they auto-detect the second card and automatically disable VGA on it (they can only display 2-monitor windows). The second monitor remained blank, even once NT4 loaded. I logged in as administrator, went to display properties, and the drivers must have automatically detected the second card, because although NT4 treated it as a single monitor, I had resolution settings for such resolutions as 2048x768 (two monitors side-by-side, each at 1024x768, or a very wide single monitor as far as NT was concerned) or 1024x1536 (two monitors stacked vertically, each at 1024x768, or a very high single monitor, as far as NT was concerned). I set it to 2304x768, tested, and applied the changes without rebooting. It worked perfectly.
Matrox sells a variety of excellent dual- and four-monitor graphics cards, from the Matrox Millennium G450 DualHead, to the G200 Multi-Monitor Quad w/ TV tuner. Available directly from Matrox.
Note - when I installed the old PowerDesk software, it did not like the 41.5MHz PCI bus speed the video cards were running at, and killed the NT4 (Service Pack 3) operating system. So, if you are running at a high PCI bus speed (in excess of 33MHz), you may want to try the PowerDesk software before you have much installed on the system, or back up the disk first. This may not be applicable with more recent versions of PowerDesk.
Nothing particularly unusual here...at least it was not unusual in the early stages. I rigged up a fan in the front bezel of the computer so that it was blowing over the CPU and back towards the cards, a micro fan from a dead laptop on the hard drives to keep them from overheating (7200-RPM SCSI drives run HOT), and had the normal exhaust fan in the AT power supply. But later on, I added a small green slot cover squirrel cage exhaust fan near the video cards, which significantly lowered the overall case temperature. The PC Power & Cooling CPU-Cool Z1 heatsink/fan combo was great for the CPU (runs on 5V).
The really unusual thing I did for cooling near the end was to measure a large fan scavenged from a dead power supply, mark out the required hole in pencil on the front of the case over where the hard drives went, and cut out a square hole with a Dremel Mototool to fit the fan in to. It worked extremely well. After trimming the hole to fit, I used hot-melt glue (glue gun) to secure the power supply fan in, cut power leads from a dead UPS (uninterruptable power supply) long enough that people could pull the cover off the case and unplug the fan from the front bezel (which was part of the cover) before sliding the cover the rest of the way off. It worked terrifically - the inside of the case stayed near room temperature, and the hard drives ran comfortably cool. Plus, it was a lot more reliable than the micro-fan affixed in there with scotch tape. It looked cool. I have not got pictures of it, unfortunately :(
Caligari trueSpace note
I had been having problems with truespace seeing the split between the two monitors as the center of the screen, and the perspective had been centering around that split, making it hard to work (everything leaned in funny ways). I found out that if I switched resolution on the fly to single-monitor mode (1152x864 resolution), which takes about 30 seconds, Caligari trueSpace 3 works perfectly with no problems in single-monitor mode. Since trueSpace wasn't really designed with dual monitors much in mind, it isn't too bad to use in single-monitor mode, and switching back to dual-monitor (2304x864) mode only takes half a minute. I suspect that higher-end 3D modelling/animation programs such as Newtek Lightwave 3D and Kinetix/Autodesk 3D Studio MAX would work better with dual/quad monitors, as they were probably designed with such computers in mind.
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Where can I buy multiple monitor systems?
More companies are offering dual monitor computers these days - Alienware is one to check.
Where can I find additional resources on running multiple monitors under Win98/2000?
The independent site Multi-monitor resources, for Windows 98/2000, has lots of useful info.
Can I run dual monitors with any two cards under NT4?
No, the dual-monitor support for NT4 is a feature of Matrox Millennium, Millennium II, and Millennium G400 graphics cards (plus a very few other brands), and only works with identical cards. On the other hand, Windows 98, 2000, and XP support multiple monitors with different makes of cards (older cards and onboard video may not work, however).
Can I ask you weird questions like "I have a Oaks and ATI video card in my compaq 4840 and it is not possible that the win setup identifies the cards. It recognizes the one card I put in and is not running the second. What can I do to make it work. Additionally I do not know that each card is a dual card."?
No, you have to tell me specifically what brand and model video card you have, and what your computer specifications are like (if relevant). I do not even know if this question is about Windows 98 or NT4. Be descriptive. The more information the better :)
I can't answer questions at this time, due to the large volume of mail I've been getting. You might want to check out the Realtimesoft Multi-Monitor Compatibility Database and add your system if you haven't already.
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