3 monitors on a desktop - which video card?

I'm building a custom AMD-based desktop computer. I need to connect 3 monitors to it. It is for office use, not for gaming, so I'd like to keep the cost of the graphics card down as much as possible.

1) What video card / hardware should I get for this computer so that it supports 3 monitors? Anything special on the motherboard I need to be concerned about?

2) Can you use the onboard graphics on the motherboard in at the same time as a discrete graphics card, in order to get support for 3 monitors? Does this actually work?


For Q2... please only answer if you are *sure* - if you've actually done it before. There seems to be mixed opinions on the Internet and my personal experience has always been that the onboard graphics are disabled when a discrete card is present.


Thanks for the insights.
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Frosty555Asked:
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jamietonerCommented:
I have built many systems specifically for multi-monitor use.
1) There are several cards that support 3 monitors natively but are usually more expensive than just running 2 inexpensive dual headed cards. But this also depends on what slots are available on the motherboard. I have yet to much with ATI's eyefinity as the active displayport adapters aren't cheap, and so far the cost of a card that supports eyefinity plus 1 or 2 active adapters is more than quad head card and much more than just running 2 dual head cards(i can get dual head cards for $50 or less). Do you want dvi or vga connections?
2) most integrated cards do not work with add-in cards but I'd need to know the hardware configuration to know for sure. Usually I just assume that the integrated will be disabled.
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ITguy565Commented:
Here is a good article that addresses the 3 monitor question in your post.

http://www.tomshardware.com/forum/325685-33-display-graphics-card

There are many cards on the market that can do what you are asking.

As for your second question..

It depends on the motherboard. I have seen some that will allow it and I have seen some that do not allow it. Granted the only boards I have seen that allow for this type of functionality were older boards. I haven't seen one in the past 5 years that have allowed for the type of functionality.
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Frosty555Author Commented:
Hi guys,

Thanks for the advice - I guess the best way to go about this is to get 2x dual head cards then.

But... does this mean I need to put them in some kind of crossfire / SLI setup and ensure the motherboard has those capabilities, get the appropriate ribbon cable to bridge the cards etc? Or can you just put two video cards into the two PCI-E ports on a compatible motherboard and Windows will just happily use both cards independently?
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sjklein42Commented:
Answering (2) first, the on-board video shares the same "slot" as the AGP card, if any.  So inserting an AGP video card disables the on-board video.

1) If you have two free PCI slots, the easiest and probably cheapest way to get three monitors is to add two PCI video cards and use the onboard AGP video for the third monitor.  You can use any old PCI video card (as long as you can find a driver) and Windows sorts it all out.

There is no good reason to get two-headed video cards unless you get a good deal on them, or don't have enough free slots.

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jamietonerCommented:
You DO NOT need a sli or crossfire setup those are for increasing gpu power not multiple monitors so sli/crossfire support isn't needed. Just make sure the board has 2 pci-e 16x(1.0, 2.0, 3.0 doesn't matter here) slots. 2 inexpensive dual head video card will be just fine for office apps. There are quad headed cards but they cost much more than 2 separate cards. The 2 cards don't have to be identical but it's best if they both use the same drivers. If you post what outputs(dvi, vga hdmi, etc) you want I can suggest a couple cards.

Sjklien, you seem to be stuck in the past, AGP is dead(replaced by pci express), AGP hasn't been used in a long while and we are talking about a new machine, also standard pci video cards will not run windows 7 aero effects and they are getting hard to find. And almost all modern pci-e video cards are dual headed.
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Frosty555Author Commented:
Hi Jamietoner,

I'm flexible on the monitors. Ideally if everything used DVI that would be good. The monitors I'm looking at which are on sale only have DVI input. I'm not picky though - if it is more cost effective to get monitors that support VGA input and use VGA on one or two of them that's fine.

I was looking at this card:

http://canadacomputers.com/product_info.php?cPath=43_557_559&item_id=036279


I'm curious though - a lot of video cards have multiple outputs, e.g. this one:

http://canadacomputers.com/product_info.php?cPath=43_557_559&item_id=042032

It has 3 outputs - DVI, HDMI and VGA. I'm assuming I can't use all three of them at the same time. How do you tell how many simultaneous displays a video card can support?
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jamietonerCommented:
The gt 440 would work great, another option is this and you can use a hdmi to dvi cable for 1 of the monitors.
http://www.newegg.ca/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16814130608
Just because the card has more than 2 possible outputs doesn't mean it support more than 2 displays at once, that gt 439 only supports 2 monitors. Most only support 2, if they support more they will usually say in the specs.
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jamietonerCommented:
You would still need 2 of the 8400gs's.
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Rob KnightConsultantCommented:
Hi,

Go for something like an AMD Radeon Eyefinity FLex - this will support 3 monitors without DisplayPort adapters using DVI - you can use DVI to HDMI if the monitors are HDMI.

FLex cards are available in 6450, 6770 and other variants:

http://www.legitreviews.com/news/12000/

http://www.sapphiretech.com/presentation/product/?cid=1&gid=3&sgid=643&pid=355&psn=&lid=1&leg=0

http://www.expertreviews.co.uk/graphics-cards/1287103/sapphire-radeon-hd-6770-flex

Regards,


RobMobility





Alternatively, if you are building a custom PC with 3 new monitors, go for DisplayPort and then you can use any AMD card with at least 3 DP outs.

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Frosty555Author Commented:
The EyeFinity flex definitely looks to be designed to do exactly what I need. A bit pricy though.
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