Mac mini dual monitors using DualHead2Go

EDIT: Further information is available in this post

When we first set up the office here in NYC, we made an early decision to go with Apple products for development. Now don’t get me wrong, I love Apple, indeed I am a recent inductee into the Apple Fan Club. However, I have noticed a few… insufficiencies with the platform, many of which have little to do with the company itself. For example, the lack of a good time management system (apologies to iBiz).

Aside from my minor grievances on the software grounds, I have been a pretty happy customer. Except for one thing. The total lack of upgradability in the Mac Mini.

Now, I’m not retarded. I understand that the target market for the mini is not expected to have a 300GB drive, or 4GB of ram in the system. Hell, they’re not expected to do one damn thing to it. I understand all this, but it still frustrates me that not only is it difficult to perform many of these upgrades, some of them are downright impossible.

Or are they?

One of the things that dissatisfied me most about using a mini day in and day out was the inability to drive dual monitors. Up until extremely recently, there was simply no way to achieve a very wide display. But then my own personal Christmas came, and I discovered the Matrox dualHead2Go. Many many posts and reviews have discussed this device since it came out. But what is it?

Simply put, this box acts as a splitter for a VGA signal. It effectively takes one VGA input, and splits each horizontal line in half, and feeds one half to one VGA output, and the other half to the (you guessed it) other VGA output. Unfortunately, according to Matrox, it’s only supported under Windows. Well, I’m happy to say that this jigger works great under OSX too.

Dual Screen Mac Mini using Matrox DualHead2Go

Required Hardware:
1x Matrox DualHead2Go
2x Monitor capable of 1024×768 or 1280×1024

For my particular setup, I went with the Westinghouse 17″ 1280×1024 monitors, since I already had one. I picked up a second one for $190 on eBay, bringing my total outlay on monitors to $390. Add in the $170 on the dualHead2Go, and the total cost for hardware comes to $560, or about $300 less than Dell’s 24inch widescreen. The total resolution on the dual screen monitor comes to 2560×1024, or 2,621,440 pixels, vs. Dell’s at 1920×1200, or 2,304,000. While it would be nice to have all that space on one monitor, those savings are significant, at about a one third discount for the dual screen, or 50% increase to merge them into one screen.

once you receive all the hardware, you simply plug it up in the (somewhat) natural way, mini to dualhead2go, out to two monitors. I added the custom resolution to the system using the SwitchResX tool, which has a free 15 day trial, and then costs $15. This process is fairly painless. You simply open up the SwitchRes control, and in the Resolutions tab hit Custom, then New. Put in 2560 for Horizontal, and 1024 for Vertical, hit Ok, and you’re good to go! Shut down your mini, then hook up the Matrox box, restart, and you should be putting along in dualscreen mode.

Caveats, Warnings, Et cetera: This system does have it’s downsides. For one, the system thinks it’s driving one big monitor, which means it’ll pop crap up in the middle of the screen, effectively splitting all dialog boxes and popups across the two monitors. Also, since the Matrox box is dealing with relatively high frequency signals, your monitors (as mine did) may have a difficult time syncing to the VGA signal. This means you may have to manually adjust the width and sync settings on your monitors. This has the additional negative that it can be extremely difficult for your monitors (particularly LCDs) to sync one pixel of incoming signal to one pixel of output, meaning that the output will be a little blurry as it averages the signal across two or more pixels of output.

However, to me these tradeoffs are more than worth it. As many already know, once you operate with dual screens, it is almost painful to go back. I’m very pleased with it.

Dual Screen Mac Mini using Matrox DualHead2Go
Dual Screen Mac Mini using Matrox DualHead2Go

EDIT: Further information is available in this post

6 Responses to “Mac mini dual monitors using DualHead2Go”

  1. Mark says:

    Even though this post is rather old by now I would just like to say that this method still works like a charm! Cheers /Mark

  2. Couldn’t you just use a DVI to dual VGA cord? It seems like this would be simpler and cheaper, but I havent tried. you can see the cord here http://amzn.to/DVI2VGA

  3. Scott P. says:

    The older Mac MIni’s do not have DualLink DVI and max resolution of 1920 by 1200, so a traditional splitter wouldn’t work. Also the Amazon item just provides VGA mirroring, not actual splitting.

  4. [...] tahu, bahwa Mac Mini hanya ada satu output DVI saja. Tapi coba cek artikel mengenai cara supaya Mac Mini bisa menggunakan dua monitor sekaligus. Keren juga, saya jadi tergiur untuk mencari perangkat [...]

  5. Zach says:

    The software update, “SwitchresX” link doesn’t work anymore does anyone know of another site where I can upload the system data?

  6. [...] in questione mostra sul proprio sito il risultato ottenuto affiancando due monitor da 1280×1024 ottiene una risoluzione complessiva [...]