3-Monitor Setup frustration

I've been wrestling with this issue for about two weeks now, and can't seem to find the right hardware to accommodate my goal:  to get a 3-monitor setup going.

I currently have a Sapphire Radeon HD 4300/4500 (PCI-E) series video card install with two monitors running off it.  I am looking to get a third monitor (which I already have) added.

My original plan was to acquire a newer PCI-E card that could support 3 monitors, but seeing prices around $100 + the cost of active DisplayPort cables wasn't very appetizing (this is a work system that I can modify somewhat, so I'm not looking to dump a lot of my own $$$ on it).

I had picked up an HD 5450 that I read could support 3 monitors, but I ended up with the model that didn't - first frustration.  I read a little deeper into it, and found the Sapphire HD 6450 Flex edition that could natively support 3 monitors.  Went to install and discovered that because I have a BTX motherboard (cards go in slot "up-side down"), the heat sink that would normally hang down into the next slot, sticks up into my systems' guts (so I can't use a double-height card for this solution).

Some more reading and I happened across a more "low-brow" approach that I had known about, but didn't really hit me - installing a second, PCI video card (my system has a PCI-E and 2 PCI slots - unused).  I took in an old 256MB Nvidia GeForce FX5500 PCI card I had laying around, and while it "worked", Windows 7 threw fits when I actually did anything on it (complaining about using too much [paraphrased] "assigned memory") and would eventually shift out of Aero mode into a Basic video config.

I thought this might be due to having ATI- and Nvidia- based cards in the same system, so I ran out and picked up a Diamond Stealth Radeon 9650 PCI version and installed - uninstalling the Nvidia drivers and removing the card).  System booted up and I installed the drivers for the 9650 and rebooted.

More issues...  With my BIOS' Video set to "Auto" (detect), the PCI card (with monitor) fires up as the default and once in Windows 7, while Device Manager sees the PCI-E card, the monitors connected to that card aren't recognized.  The ATI/AMD Catalyst software also complains that it can't deal with the older drivers for the 9650.  If I set my BIOS's Video to the other setting (can't remember the actually setting - basically use the PCI-E card and disable the integrated), the PCI-E card and monitors fire up, but Win7 hangs on boot (no BSOD, the Windows logo just eventually freezes, nothing happens, and you can hear the hard drive stop doing anything).

At this point I'm pretty frustrated as this doesn't seem like rocket science, yet I can't seem to get it going.  I have removed the second card and am back to 2 monitors.  What I need is some solid advice from someone who has done this or has pretty thorough knowledge on getting it going, what a good mix of hardware might be, and/or options.

Some points to note are:
- I have one populated PCI-E slot and two empty PCI slots to work with.
- I have a BTX motherboard and cannot use a double-height card.
- The monitors I have are DVI, DVI and Analog (currently using DVI and an HDMI-DVI adapter on the working card to the 2 DVI monitors).
- Windows 7 Pro 32-bit version.
- Don't want to spend a fortune.

If you've made it this far - thanks very much for hanging in there and reading through.  I hope someone out there can help out with this!
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CThomp2005Asked:
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IanThCommented:
amd eyefinety can run 6 monitors from one pc-i card although they are expensive an amd eyefinety for 3 monitors are cheaper
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IanThCommented:
yuo can get usb to dvi adapters but they are slow
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lucifer82Commented:
If all you want is 3rd monitor you can get USB to DVI, however this is not suitable for playing video or games. But it's extra screen you can use for general purpose.
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Kyle DaviesRetail Software SpecialistCommented:
You can look at Matrox cards as i have seen 3 Monitors being used on them and you can get it in ATX form.
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CallandorCommented:
You may be able to do it using a Matrox TripleHead2Go , which will use your existing video card and create a wide extended display, but these aren't cheap.

A PCI-e and PCI card are usually the solution to obtain three displays, but your Win7 OS is too demanding on the video hardware.  If you remove your aero effects, you may be able to accomplish your goal.
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CThomp2005Author Commented:
Thanks very much, everyone, for your responses.

Sorry, but I'll have to rule out the "expensive" suggestions given above.

As for the USB-to-DVI (or VGA) external video cards suggested above, I didn't even realize they made these!  Have just browsed through some sites and while a little pricey, should be within what I'm willing to spend.  I'm hoping to try one of these over the weekend and will write back when I've been able to test.

This will be general purpose - a third extended screen - to show spreadsheets or doc or multiple app windows on - nothing like video or games.

These support Windows 7 "extend" feature (to a third monitor) and will keep Aero enabled?

Thanks again.
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McKnifeCommented:
You should succeed using any low price card with 1x dvi, 1x vga and 1x HDMI port. Most cards below 80 USD have this, maybe even some below 50 USD. Question is: does one of your screens have a hdmi port? Otherwise you would need a converter hdmi to dvi as well.
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CallandorCommented:
Not true - you get two out of three ports enabled; the third will not work.  The only exception is the Radeon Eyefinity or nVidia Quadro cards (expensive).

The USB-DVI cards will allow you to get a third display and extend your desktop on them, but they are only good for static images like office apps.  I do not think they will support aero, due to their low performance (which is why PCI cards don't qualify).  Here's an example of a device that explicitly says it doesn't support aero: http://ca.startech.com/media/products/USB2VGA2/Manuals/USB2VGA2.pdf
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McKnifeCommented:
OK... callandor, if you say it's "not true", you might remember a thread you tried to help me: http://www.experts-exchange.com/Hardware/Laptops_Notebooks/Q_27674285.html - there I had a triple monitor setup and it worked. Maybe now you'll argue "yes, your laptop had two graphic cards (nvidia + intel)" which is correct, but as far as I know, if the graphics hardware on that laptop needs performance, it will use the nvidia optimus technology and switch to the better (nvidia non-quadro) card only. We did that (used 3d-graphics on all displays simultaneously) and no monitor switched off.

I must confess, I did not try using hdmi+vga+dvi at the same time yet, but I think we should be able to google if that's possible.
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CThomp2005Author Commented:
Didn't mean to start a debate... :-)

OK, so to see if this solution would work for me, in general, I ran out and picked up a USB-VGA unit off-the-shelf (the third monitor I'm adding is VGA only; the PCI-E card I have is running the other two monitors using HDMI and DVI)).

Plugged it in and installed, and the third monitor comes up, and is extendable along with the other two!  Shows some serious promise, and is probably going to end up being my solution.

My issue/question at this point...
- When I drag a window into the third monitor, it's like hitting quicksand - sluggish.  Once the windows snaps into place, working with it seems OK (Excel, Access, Word windows). Is this normal, or should it be pretty smooth?
- The third monitor is "washed out" - color-wise - i.e., in Excel and Access (tables/queries) the cell borders aren't there (the cell grids look all white).  I don't know if this is an issue with the monitor or the USB convertor.  I've adjusted all the monitor's settings, but nothing clears this up.  The only option I can find for the card is the color dept which is stuck on 32-bit.

These two points put me on the fence of using this solution.  If it's a poor convertor, then I'm more than willing to try others.

The monitor I have is a 17" widescreen Dell E178WFP.  The convertor I picked up is an Eclipse (made by MadCatz) SEE2 UV150 (USB-VGA only).  It's plugged into a USB block on the back of the system with several other devices.

Any feedback on these issue would be greatly appreciated.  Thanks much!
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IanThCommented:
we said a usb vidio adapter will be slugish and poor quality
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CThomp2005Author Commented:
I see "sluggish/slow" above - which I can live with, but I don't see reference to "poor quality".  If the image from these things is so horrible, why would anyone use it?

I can see not using it for video or anything motion-related, but static screens having light grays completely washed out (?)  I am wondering if anyone has/has seen/has experience with a model/unit where this is not true.  Or if it's going to be like this with all of them.
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IanThCommented:
have you plugged it into usb2 port ?
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IanThCommented:
my comment Posted on 2012-05-11 at 09:38:53ID: 37956009

slow means poor quality and sluggish as far as I am concerned there is not enough throughput this will change with usb 3. It also really depends on the chip set its using that many cheap end manufacturers use cheap components and that leads to poor quality imho

eyefinety uses display port which is low throughput see
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DisplayPort

thats why you can get 6 output eyefinety cards wheres dvi can only do 2
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CThomp2005Author Commented:
I do have it in a USB 2 port.  Would any performance pick up if I, say, install a seperate USB 2.0 PCI card and plug it into that, so the controller isn't handling it along with several other devices?  Or won't that matter?
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IanThCommented:
you other usb stuff is on the pci bus to it may help. you can get usb 3 pci cards

see
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16815158275&nm_mc=OTC-Froogle&cm_mmc=OTC-Froogle-_-Add-On%20Cards-_-STARTECH-_-15158275&AID=10446076&PID=3899435&SID=skim1402X558040X780c3dfd0e09fd4ca7b75661ab23a504

but you will not get full usb 3 as the pci slot will limit this but it will be faster than usb 2
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IanThCommented:
havent you got a pci-e x1 or something better than pci
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CallandorCommented:
McKnife,

You are correct in that the nVidia optimus card is an additional video card, so that is the same as adding another video card.  A laptop with only one video card has no chance of three displays at once - if it works, this would be news to me.
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CThomp2005Author Commented:
IanTh,

Would a USB 3 card make a difference as the external video is only USB 2?

I only have a PCI-E x16 and two PCI slots in this system.  An older Dell model.
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CallandorCommented:
A USB 3.0 port won't make a USB 2.0 device run any faster.
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CThomp2005Author Commented:
To hopefully wrap this up and come to a final conclusion, tomorrow or Tues I will be:

a) taking in and hooking up an older 15" VGA Dell monitor I have to see if the "missing gridlines" issue is a function of the monitor I'm using or the USB-DVI convertor (slow/slugging I can deal with, not seeing gridlines in Excel or Access - not acceptable).

b) taking in a PCI USB 2.0 card I have laying around to see if that boost performance of the convertor and/or help with the missing gridlines at all.  If it does, great.  If not, like I said, I can deal with a sluggish monitor, etc.

Will be back to you no later than Tues with the results and the verdict.

Again, thanks everyone for chipping and and sending some great responses!
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deroodeSystems AdministratorCommented:
In Vista you can use multiple monitors, but they all have to use the same WDDM drivers. You can force the installation of a XPDM display driver, but then you'll lose Aero and other features. AFAIK for Windows 7 the same still holds true:

http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/hardware/gg487363.aspx
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CThomp2005Author Commented:
Just noticed something pretty interesting.  Had a need to remote into my office system to do some work.  My multiple monitors show up here as one very wide image (have to scroll left to right to get the entire 3-monitor view).

The quality/image of the picture on the monitor using the USB-DVI connector appeared quite nice here from home - no missing gridlines, etc.  Looked as good as the other two monitors using DVI off the card.

Does this lend itself to believing the monitor is the most likely culprit for the low-quality picture (missing gridlines), or is this still up in the air (could still be the connector)?
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IanThCommented:
yes remote is really reading the video ram not the monitor or adapter
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CThomp2005Author Commented:
OK. I'm at the point of conclusion.  Took in an old 15" Dell LCD I had laying around and replaced the 17" Dell widescreen with it, and the image is much better.  The Excel and Access gridlines are a little faint, but visible.  Response is a little better than the 17", although the default resolution is a bit low - 1024x768 - I can live with it.

Next, plugged in a PCI USB 2.0 card to see if anything improved, and, not really.  Pretty much the same as connecting into the system's integrated USB.  Switched the monitors back (to the 17") to see if the PCI USB would have any impact, and it didn't - still "invisible" gridlines and very bright and washed out image.

Am leaving the 15" in place for now and keeping the 17" as backup.

I'm going to guess that either the 17" isn't a very good monitor, or it's just that the 15" at 1024x768 doesn't need quite the resources the 17" needed, and shows a better picture (?)

Anyhow, I've gotten to my stopping point.  All responses have been greatly appreciated - thanks everyone!
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CThomp2005Author Commented:
Have to give this one to IanTh - for being the first to mention the USB-DVI convertor (and again, later in the thread, went into a little more detail about the quality of such a device).  This solution fell within the parameters of the issue (cost, available hardware, etc.) and ended up being the solution I use...for now...

Thanks again everyone for your responses!
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IanThCommented:
so it sounds like the 17" is faulty or cr&p
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