3-monitor Windows 98/2000 PC
Three Monitors on a Budget
In 2002, I was running dual monitors with the Matrox G400MAX DualHead. In 2003, I added a Matrox single-monitor video card, which enabled me to run a third monitor under Win98 and 2000 Professional. In late 2003, I upgraded my primary card to an ATI Radeon 8500 for better 3D performance, which can also run dual monitors, and the Matrox PCI card still handles the third monitor. Here's the upgraded configuration, with new Shuttle AK31 ver2.0 motherboard and CPUFSB overclocking.
The Matrox Millennium I PCI single-monitor card, in conjunction with the ATI Radeon 8500 dual-monitor card, gives a "poor man's" three monitors. For the side monitors, I use two 15" monitors I got at the University of Nevada, Reno surplus sale for $20 a piece, and for the center monitor I use an Iiyama 19".
As you can see in the above photograph, it works quite well. My computer is the tower on the left; the computers and VCR under the monitors are non-operational and used only as supports.
Originally, I tried a Diamond Stealth 3D 2000 for my third monitor; however, it does not work under Win2K in multi-monitor mode, as Windows 2000 considers it to be legacy hardware, and I doubt Windows XP Professional would even recognize it (it says error 10 in the Device Manager). It will allegedly run if it is set as the primary display adapter, but I didn't test this, because 3D games will only run full-screen on the primary display adapter, and the Diamond S3D 2000 is terrible for 3D acceleration.
I figured a Matrox Millennium classic 4MB WRAM PCI card might do better for the third monitor (also manufactured in 1996), since Matrox Millenniums have always emphasized multiple monitors. So I removed the Diamond S3D 2000 and dropped the Millennium into its place. When I booted up, Windows 2000 (originally) and Windows XP (more recently) detected the Matrox Millennium right away and automatically installed it; I just had to go into the Display Settings and enable the third monitor.
So, I now have three monitors running under Windows XP, courtesy of an ATI Radeon 8500 64MB DDR AGP dual-monitor for the center and left-hand monitor, and a Matrox Millennium classic PCI for the right-hand monitor.
Disclaimer: the composite panoramic picture doesn't do the screen quality justice
This picture is a bit out of date, as I'm using slightly newer 15" monitors on the sides now, but the functionality is exactly the same. The center monitor is an Iiyama VisionMaster 450Pro 19" (18.0" visible, Trinitron-type tube) running at 1280x1024@100hz, and is by far the best monitor of the bunch, with excellent color and contrast, and decent sharpness (at 1600x1200, text gets a little fuzzy). I'm currently using a ADI Microscan 3 15" monitor (rebadged as a Micron) on the left at 1024x768@85hz (ADI monitors are nice because they support high resolutions and refresh rates). The right monitor is a Gateway-branded 15" EV500, which is also running at 1024x768@85hz. Both side monitors actually only have about 13.8" visible display area.
Not only is this computer good for gaming during semester breaks (I'm currently a college student), it is also of use for Web design (open an HTML editor on one screen and the site one's working on on another screen, and if you're feeling bored, Winamp visualizations on the third monitor).
I also use it for data mining and research on the web (three browser windows open, one on each monitor, each with multiple tabs - contrast and compare between articles), photographic retouching (using Paint Shop Pro 6 - scan on one monitor, retouch on another), and a little bit of 3D modelling in Caligari trueSpace 4.3 (I used to do more 3D when I could still afford to have a world in Active Worlds). And, of course, some word processing, spread sheets, and programming (refer to sample code and programming errata on the side monitors and the program you're working on with the main screen).
That concludes the triple monitor section of my article. Please read on for details on the overclocked Shuttle AK31 rev2.0 (KT266 chipset) motherboard, or e-mail me with your multiple monitor questions/stories.
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About the Computer (Addendum)
(Click here if you need to see the old Matrox G400 configuration)
This CPU is the newer Thoroughbred 'B' design, with the low-power 0.13-micron 1.65V core. New green packaging design that's impossible to unlock, as far as I'm concerned (pictures coming soon). Week 0332. 133MHz default bus at 12.5x multiplier; overclocked to 1.73GHz at a 150MHz FSB using CPUFSB once WinXP has booted.
This heatsink is aluminum with a copper base, and works fairly well on a Shuttle AK31 motherboard. I put a low-noise PCToys 80mm ball-bearing 20dbA 27CFM fan on top of it, and used Arctic Silver 5 thermal compound. CPU runs at 120 degrees F (100% load) when the case is at 84 degrees F. This heatsink is discontinued, but I got it on eBay.
VIA KT266 chipset (original), 1xAGP 4x slot, 6xPCI slots, 2xUDMA-100 connectors, flaky onboard USB 1.1 (doesn't even work when the FSB is overclocked, so I disable it and use an add-in card instead - see below). Shuttle was successful with revision 2 of their motherboard; memory bandwidth is within 5% of VIA's revised KT266A chipset, and closer to KT333 performance levels when overclocked to 150MHz (effectively 300MHz) memory.
Note: the board does not POST at 150MHz FSB, so I POST it at a default of 133MHz, and set up CPUFSB to load up and bump the speed to 150MHz when Windows XP starts. This brings the CPU up from 1.53GHz (1800+) to 1.73GHz (faster memory, so it measures out like a 2200+ or 2300+ in 3DMark and SiSoft Sandra) in Windows, and runs perfectly 24/7 at 100% CPU load (under Folding@Home with SSE).
This functions perfectly at the 37.5MHz PCI bus speed obtained when the motherboard is soft overclocked to 150MHz FSB. Four ports, too. Shares an IRQ with my video card, but doesn't seem to impact performance appreciably in 3DMark '03.
One 512MB "Value Select" DIMM, with a rated latency of 2.5 cycles at 166MHz. I run it at 2-3-3-6 at 150MHz (I bought faster RAM than I needed so I could set the timings more aggressively). Default voltage.
Primary video card. 64MB DDR memory at 275MHz, overclockable to 300MHz (600MHz effective if you go by DDR marketing-speak). 275MHz core (small heatsink, not particularly overclockable - may upgrade later). Runs Battlefield 1942 multiplayer effectively at 800x600 (however, I have to change my sound settings - see sound card for details).
Secondary video card. 4MB WRAM memory. 32-bit PCI interface. No 3D acceleration whatsoever; specifically for 2D work. Fine for Windows XP.
Ultra160/m SCSI hard disk drive, 10,000RPM rotational speed. Operating on a 40MB/sec interface, which doesn't slow it down perceptibly, because its sustained transfer rate is only around 20-30MB/sec (primary benefit is very low seek times), and SCSI interfaces are very efficient.
Fluid bearings, 8MB onboard buffer, extremely high performance (on a par with my older RAID 0 array below). Reasonably quiet and cool, which is more than I can say for my SCSI Atlas :)
ATA-66 interfaces, 7200RPM rotational speeds. Connected to a Promise FastTrak100 PCI RAID controller on one channel (they aren't fast enough to saturate the bandwidth, and it saves cabling) and striped in a 60GB RAID 0 array.
50-pin SCSI interface, slot loading mechanism. Also functions as 40X CD-ROM. Fast, quiet, and reliable. Reads scratched discs well.
ATA-33 IDE interface, tray loading. 2MB buffer, no buffer underrun protection (no problem - just don't run CPU intensive tasks when burning CD-R's at 8X).
Because floppy drives are useful for making boot disks, and giving people small files.
PCI, 40MB/sec on the 68-pin UltraSCSI interface (for HDD), 20MB/sec on the 50-pin interface (for DVD-ROM). My only regret is that only two out of the three interfaces can be used simultaneously (the second-generation 2940U2W solves this problem, and runs at up to 80MB/sec Ultra2 SCSI).
PCI, revision 2.0. 4 LEDs.
The very earliest SoundBlaster Live!, it uses the EMU10K1 chip, and has very high CPU utilization if you enable hardware audio acceleration in Battlefield 1942. I've gotten better results disabling hardware audio acceleration and only using 12-16 channels. An Audigy 2 has lower CPU utilization (a mere 10% instead of 25% for this card, as tested and compared in 3DMark 2003).
This case has been rigged with Akasa Paxmate black foam sound dampening material throughout and three PCToys 80mm 20dBA low-noise ball-bearing case fans (1x front, 2x rear). The 20-decibel fans make a huge impact in the sound level (I can barely hear if it's on if I'm more than three feet from it). The sound dampening material only helped slightly - I think it reduces a bit of buzz and resonance in the side panels, or maybe I'm imagining things; at least it looks neat inside. What a difference a good case makes - it's roomy, well-designed, easy to get into and a pleasure to work in. The way I have it set up, one intake and three exhaust (if you count the power supply) fans result in negative air pressure, which I've found always keeps components running cooler (especially hard drives). It also allows for cool air to come in the bottom front and hot air to be exhausted out the top rear.
Purchased for $25 on eBay, the Turbo-Cool has tighter power regulation than Antec or Enermax power supplies, and even heavier construction. I replaced the noisy Nidec fan in the power supply (warning, very dangerous - high voltages even when unplugged) with a slower and quieter PCToys 20dBA 80mm BB exhaust fan - the air coming out of the power supply is warmer, but it's within safety tolerances.
4-buttons (including scroll wheel), dual optical sensors. It actually doesn't track twice as fast, like I originally thought, but switches between the two optical sensors, depending on which one has the best view of the mousing surface. This is supposed to improve accuracy; in practice, I had to gently scuff a new Ratpadz black mousing surface with some steel wool to make it a little less shiny (the difference is hardly perceptible, but the mouse can tell) before it would track properly. And it does "jiggle" the mouse pointer a little bit (by about one pixel), when sitting still by itself, as it constantly adjusts between the two optical sensors. Still, aside from the fact that my screen saver doesn't come on sometimes, I like the shape and feel of the mouse, and it does track well. No cleaning required, either. Maybe someday I'll switch over to the Logitech MouseMan MX500 or MX700 (which has one optical sensor and I hear is very good), but for the time being I'm satisfied.
Computer Software (Primary Apps)
I kind of preferred Windows 2000, actually (I don't like the way XP looks - it's less flexible in appearance, and I particularly don't like how XP offloads programs like my web browser onto the hard disk when I haven't used it for a while - Win2K didn't seem to have that problem). But no serious problems.
A great HTML text editor, it colors the tags differently so they stand out from the content and each other, making it easier to work with than Notepad, has multiple levels of undo and redo (very useful), and works well. It's a very speedy, well-written program, and I've never had it crash, either. Plus, it's freeware. You can get it from www.Evrsoft.com. I used it to maintain Wireball.com and TerranRobotics.com.
I used to use Corel WordPerfect 9, but it was a pain converting back and forth between Word and WordPerfect (partially Microsoft's fault, of course), and Quattro Pro was unreliable in its calculations - Excel is a great improvement.
This 3D modelling application works quite well for modelling, and isn't too hard to learn, especially if you have a good book (such as the Caligari trueSpace 2 Bible). Not nearly as easy to animate in as Lightwave, but it is a nice upgrade from trueSpace 3. It usually takes me a while (partly due to having to convert to the proprietary RenderWare .RWX format), but I can make objects for Active Worlds in it.
My preferred Web browser. It supports nearly all if not all the Websites that IE does, behaves solidly and predictably when loading pages, works well for Web design, and supports tabbed browsing (which is quite convenient - I frequently have a three browser windows open on my three monitors, each with two or three Websites on tabs in each Window). I also like the way it handles my bookmarks - the old Netscape 4.7 style. I just wish it gave me the option to add the bookmarks at the top of a category instead of the bottom, like Netscape 4.7 used to. It also has a Recall extension available for it, that reloads all the websites you were browsing when you crashed (it happens about once a week to me).
I learned back on Paint Shop Pro 3, and I've liked it ever since. It's great for photographic and image retouching, supports all the file formats I've ever encountered, and just runs well. I suppose Adobe Photoshop might be more powerful for original art, but I haven't learnt Photoshop yet.
Software DVD decoder, it works great for me. Sharp image quality, good sound. I used to use this back on a 450MHz AMD K6-2 with good results.
I used to use version 2.x because it was smaller and more streamlined than version 3, but the new version 5 performs really well and doesn't use much more memory. Plus, it still supports the System Shock 2 skin I prefer.
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