• Technology 30.12.2010

    After years, or maybe it could have been days of thinking about it, I’ve finally entered the world of multi-monitor gaming. Three monitors to be exact.  This was all kicked off by some bargain priced 20inch monitors from Bestbuy for an astonishing $98 each. An awesome deal by any measure. Unfortunately, the rest of the project wasn’t so cheap as chips.

    I’ve already enjoyed hours of gaming on this new setup, but I’m going to take a bit of a break to go over what I’ve learned, and share with those who might want to try something similar.

    First, let’s identify the two options you have for multi-monitor setups. You really only have two choices from a consumer standpoint. You can choose ATI, or NVIDIA.

    Also, you’re going to need to run Windows 7.  You could do it in Vista, but why are you still running Vista when 7 is out? Why?

    ATI uses AMD’s Eyefinity technology. Yes, it’s technically AMD’s technology since they purchased ATI. This also leads to another technical consideration. If you’re going to go the ATI route, you should choose an AMD motherboard with Crossfire support.  You could probably go the Intel route, but chances are it probably won’t be optimal.  Eyefinity allows you to set up to six monitors to create one contiguous space. For that, you’re going to need at least a Radeon HD 5000 series or 6000 series.  A single Radeon HD 5000/6000 series will run up to three monitors, but with a quirk. There are only two DVI ports on those cards, and the third monitor needs to be connected to the active display port, which means you’ll most likely have to buy an active display adapter for the third LCD monitor.  You need to do this even if you Crossfire two 5000/6000 series cards, as the second card outputs will not function when you activate Eyefinity with three monitors. For six monitor support you will need their super duper donkey priced card which I won’t even get into.

    NVIDIA uses a software solution to span graphics over multiple monitors, where as ATI uses a hardware solution. And in true NVIDIA fashion, they chose to use brute processing force to make their software solution work. I actually prefer the NVIDIA solution because you don’t have to deal with the adaptive display port adapter. If you SLI two cards together, you simply use two DVI connectors on card one, and one DVI connector on card two. Now note that the caveat for NVIDIA is that you can only have a maximum of three displays for gaming. You could have more if you’re just simply spanning your desktop, but for gaming purposes… three monitors.  And since NVIDIA decided to go to bed with Intel, your best solution for an SLI board is one with an NVIDIA northbridge supporting an Intel processor.  And there is another reason I prefer the NVIDIA solution. Dollar for dollar, it’s more powerful.

    That being said I ended up with an AMD processor with an AMD motherboard with an NVIDIA northbridge supporting SLI.  Why did I go this route? Simple. I was already running an AMD processor and wasn’t planning to buy an Intel i7.

    I then had to upgrade my power supply as you will need lots of power.  I purchased a 750watt power supply but in retrospect, I probably should have purchased a 1000watt supply. The main reason I didn’t was mostly because the thought of a 1000watt power supply scares me.  It’s not rational, but I don’t judge what you’re afraid of (mostly).

    Now the cards. For my setup I chose two NVIDIA GTX460 cards.  These cards only have 768MB of onboard DDR5 RAM, as opposed to 1gig, but they were only $169 each and I would be running two of them.

    If you’ve installed everything properly into your system you should be rewarded with an NVIDIA control panel that will show options for SLI, PhysX, and Surround. What you’ll want to do is span your display with Surround.  NVIDIA has two flavors of Surround- 2D and 3D. What I’m using is 2D Surround. 3D Surround does that fancy 3D stuff that requires those spiffy 3D glasses. I won’t be using those as you really need three NVIDIA cards for optimal 3D surround performance.

    Sorry for the blurry photo, but you get the idea. NVIDIA also has a function where you align a graphic to take into account your monitor bezels.

    One you’ve got all your drivers and screen resolutions setup properly, you can fire up a game that hopefully will play nice with NVIDIA 2D Surround.  I tried a few so far and they seem to work pretty well. What you will have to do is fiddle with some config files to fix your FOV (field of view) as it will most likely be skewed.  But in the end, I think you’ll find that wrapping three monitors around your field of view is very immersive. Below I was able to run Battlefield Bad Company 2 in 2D Surround.

    And then I tried World of Warcraft in 2D Surround.  As you can see, you need to fiddle with the FOV to correct your new view but I promise you, with three monitors you will be rewarded with some pretty stunning panoramic vistas of Azeroth.

    I also tried LOMAC which seems to run ok,  and I say this only because it didn’t seem to support my maximum resolution over three monitors.

    You’ll definitely have to find new desktop wallpapers or most likely make your own as I’m pretty sure you won’t find anything that’s 4992×900 or around that territory.  You can tell that this screen is contiguous as the command bar spans the bottom of all three monitors. If you were just extending your desktop you would only see the command bar only on the primary screen.

    Here I’m booting up AION which works pretty well with 2D surround as long as you adjust your FOV.

    A shot of AION in game.

    And another.

    I know it’s hard to make things out but believe me when I say it looks amazing. It’s so amazing that there is no way I can go back to single monitor gaming. Not really single monitor gaming but more specifically I don’t think I can do without seeing my games in this panoramic view.  I could have gotten a much larger single monitor for the same cost, and then only had to deal with one powerful video card, but I just don’t think you get the same impression with something spanning across your field of view. It’s a different way of looking at games, and for me, it’s a bit of an indulgence. In the end you don’t need to play like this, but damn it sure is nice.

    Posted by Otakukon @ 7:43 pm

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kurou: i was in awe when i saw these pics. such exelent focus! i was the guy with the face mask [...]

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