Mini w/ dual monitors part deux

Edit: A couple people have reported problems using the dualhead2go with different types of monitors. I’m looking further into the problem. Check the comments for more details.

After being dugg on our article about the dual head mac mini, there were several good questions pointed out on various sites. Most of these centered around things like DVI support, crap on my desk, software I am running, and the capabilities of the system under such a load. This post is aimed at answering those questions.

1) From zwitl at digg.com:

I dont understand these guys: they get the most limited and less upgradable of all macs (wich are known for ages to have a limited upgrade path, with various models with soldered cpus and complex to open cases). And yet, they go to extreme means to do things a slightly superior model can do out of the box. In this case, it’s completely stupid: do dual display with only one VGA output and find an expensive way to split the signal over two screens, but then
- Since the OS thinks its driving one move monitor, every popup and windows appeir in the middle of both screens.
- Signal sync is hard to acheive and produce blur, a problem you can’t have with DVI.
- Need a third party app to set the proper resolution.
- Add a lot of clutters on the desk, while having a iMac integrated into the screen driving a second monitor is a so easy and clean.

At the end, you lose the point of having a mini (small and simple) and get that ugly setup:
a white mac mini, a black microsoft mouse, two ugly grey 17″ lcd, a black microsoft mouse and a beige keyboard.

Next: add an external videocard because the mini is unable to handle that resolution?

These are valid points. The reason we bought this particular mac, and not one that might have more upgradability is simple: 1st, Scott and I just went full time with Firefall Pro 5 months ago. As part of our startup cost, we had to purchase enough computer equipment for four full time employees, plus a server. We picked up the minis at $500 a piece, plus gigantor 22″ CRT’s for a combined cost of around $800 per computer. Throw in extraneous software and peripherals and the price came to a level $900. This is $400 less than the cheapest current iMac, which would have been a 17″ monitor, and thus a drastic reduction in resolution.

Now no one is saying that we had the expectation of being able to upgrade the minis from the factory. At most, we intended to double the RAM, and maybe, just maybe, upgrade to a faster/larger HDD, be it through firewire or a replacement of the internal. And no one is saying that this particular solution to the dual screen output is completely ideal. But I will say this: it works, reliably and well. A cost comparison between this solution and using an iMac with two monitors comes out to $1170 vs. $1550, maintaining a significant margin.

With regard to the comment about the imac with a second monitor being “a so easy and clean,” I personally feel that it is much less strain on the eyes to have two monitors which are exactly the same, vs. an Imac and a second totally disparate monitor, since Apple produces nothing in terms of standalone monitors that really matches it. And upgrading to an iMack also solves none of the lack of an upgrade path problem. To solve that, you need to move up to a G5 tower, which, as you may have guessed, costs a fair amount more.

2) Wouldn’t DVI provide a cleaner output by avoiding the blurryness caused by sync difficulties?

Indeed it would. However, there is nothing on the market which provides this type of split capability via DVI. perhaps in a year or two, there will be, and that will completely nullify this solution.

3) Wow, your HCI is cluttered.

You could certainly say that, although I would say it’s just right. I have two Westinghouse 17″ LCD’s, an Apple Extended ADB keyboard, a Microsoft optical mouse, a pair of headphones, and a mini. Also pictured is an ipod 5G. This set up was completely iterative. Originally it was simply a mini and a Phillips 22″ CRT running at a breathtaking (and blinding) 1920×1440. We had also originally purchased sets of MS keyboards and mice, as they were cheap, and completely functional. The first swap was the ADB keyboard for the MS keyboard, since, as Scott said, I like “clicky” keyboards. They remind me of the Sun 386i I was weaned on. Then came the monitor upgrade. The reason I used Westinghouse as opposed to a prettier brand was because I had one sitting in a closet at home, and I like it when things match. the LCD quality on them is completely acceptable to me, as is the price / resolution, at $200 for 1280×1024. This of course, doesn’t mean you couldn’t use a more classical mac mix of hardware. This is what makes me happy.

4) Your mini’s back must be on the verge of breaking from all those pretty pixels.

Yeah, it does seem to groan more often set up like this than with a lower overall resolution. Growl really sets it off, among other things. However, it’s only the flashy chrome crap that contributes nothing overall to the user interface that takes a hit. In general use, it’s extremely responsive, as if it was running half the resolution. There were some thoughts floating around the intarweb about external video cards. The only thing I have seen on this front is the Tritton SEE2 USB to SVGA adapter which is not Apple compatible, and is in my opinion a vastly inferior solution. Perhaps if it ran on FireWire things would be different, but as it stands, this is the best solution imho.

There was also a question about running a setup like this with quad monitors. Yes, that should definitely work, using a dual output videocard, and using one dualHead2Go on head output. However, if the computer is at all upgradeable, I would strongly recommend simply using 2 dual head monitors, or four single head monitors, or some combination thereof. You’ll spend much less money, and get better speed on 3d apps and whatnot.

Questions were also asked about compatibility with other Apple products. As near as I can tell, the dualHead2Go should be compatible with any mac, provided that it has at least 32MB of VRAM. This pretty much constitutes any modern system, from the iBook or Mini on up. The output is limited to either 2048×768 or 2560×1024, which means that whatever monitors you use should be natively able to display 1024×768 or 1280×1024, but other than that, there are no limitations.

5) Isn’t this unusable for any sort of fullscreen app?

Actually, no. The dualHead2Go will automatically switch from split screen to mirror mode if the resolution is changed to 1280×1024. This means you just need to set the game or app to display at that resolution, and everything will be hunky dory, with the output mirroring on both monitors, instead of splitting across them.

6) Tell me about that wonderful thing you have on your monitor.

The background image is from 9xmedia.com. They have a small, but beautiful collection for dual screen and triple screen outputs. The translucent looking thing is the object inspector from the nightly build of Webkit, an infinitely useful tool comparable to Firefox’s DOM inspector, only in my opinion more useful, even though it’s only half complete.

The final thing people asked was about how to center the dock. The best thing I have found for this is the tinkertool. It will let you bind the dock across the bottom on the left or right side. This will keep it on one screen. I tried it that way for a couple days, but reverted to centered across the bottom and decided to simply make the dock larger to increase the readability. I have it hidden most of the time anyway, so it doesn’t effect me too much.

I think that about does it. Any further question, just let me know.

Edit: A couple people have reported problems using the dualhead2go with different types of monitors. I’m looking further into the problem. Check the comments for more details.

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