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Dual monitor illustration

Multi-monitor, also called multi-display and multi-head, is the use of multiple physical display devices, such as monitors, televisions, and projectors, in order to increase the area available for computer programs running on a single computer system. Research studies[1][2][3] show that, depending on the type of work, multi-head may increase the productivity by up to 50-70%.


Support for a multi-monitor setup is either achieved by installing multiple graphics cards into one computer or by special display controllers, that have the ability to feed multiple monitors independently with a signal. Monitors supporting DisplayPort allow to drive multiple monitors from only one external clock. DisplayPort version 1.2 supports Multi-Stream Transport; this makes it possible to drive multiple displays on one single DisplayPort connector using a multi-head cable or loop through.

The connection to monitors through interfaces which predate DisplayPort, such as VGA, DVI and HDMI, is also possible. But each analog connection requires its own RAMDAC, and also its own clock.

The device driver usually includes the driver for the display controller; this software needs to support the hardware. Additionally, the device driver should facilitate the configuration of the mode and of the display group. Additional software support may be required; examples are Xinerama and RandR.

Besides the single graphics card solution, there also solutions employing multiple graphics cards in one computer. And then there is the solution to connect multiple computers, e.g. over Gigabit Ethernet/Ethernet to drive a large video wall.[4] Software supporting the latter setup is Maxivista,[citation needed] ScreenRecycler,[citation needed] InputDirector,[citation needed] Synergy, or Xdmx.

The Electronic Visualization Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Chicago installed multi-monitor setup combining 55 LCD monitors which are connected to 32 PCs resulting in display resolution of 17600 × 6000 pixel.[5]

The Institute of Visual Computing at the Bonn-Rhein-Sieg University of Applied Sciences set up a 7 × 5 display video wall resulting in 72 megapixels resolution.[6]

Display modes[edit]

Clone mode[edit]

Since before personal computers existed, video signals have been split with simple Y-adapters to provide duplicate signals to multiple monitors for various reasons. When personal computers came to have video outputs, this naturally carried over—sometimes for presentations, and sometimes to provide a different representation of the same output (for example color alongside the higher resolution monochrome interpretation of the output of an Apple II). Later systems – particularly portable machines with built-in displays—provided built-in redundant outputs for this. Even later systems, in addition to being capable of the discrete modes described below, are able to mimic this "cloning" or "mirroring" behavior (typically defaulting to it upon power-up/reset).

Extended mode[edit]

Extended mode creates one huge virtual display with the added resolution of all participating monitors. Depending on the employed hardware and software, the monitors must be driven all with the same resolution or each monitor can participate with a different resolution.

Both of these modes present the display space to the user as a contiguous area, allowing objects to be moved between, or even straddled across displays as if they are one.


AMD Eyefinity[edit]

Main article: AMD Eyefinity

AMD Eyefinity has been available since September 2009 on various products. One graphics card can support up to six monitors. AMD Catalyst facilitates the configuration on all operating systems that it is available for, at least Microsoft Windows and Linux 32-bit and 64-bit.

Nvidia Surround[edit]

Nvidia Surround has been available since June 2010[7] in the GeForce 200 series or newer. One 200, 400 or 500 series graphics card supports a maximum of two monitors. Nvidia: nView (Windows) / TwinView (FreeBSD, Linux), also multi-card.


Matrox graphics cards have long been the only products available, that support three monitors with one graphics card. Matrox additionally offers the Matrox Graphics eXpansion Modules product line including DualHead2Go and TripleHead2Go names. Software was called Matrox Powerdesk. The Matrox G450[8] can feature four outputs from one graphics card. In 3-monitor output setting, the 3rd monitor can only be used for video playback and cloning of 1 of the first 2 monitor outputs, but not an independent output. Also, when using Windows applications, for example, Internet Explorer, the 2nd output, will cut the edges of a maximized window 1 to a few pixels, making the scroll bar on the right thinner, the Close icon on the upper right smaller to be clicked, which was a bit clumsy.


The Intel product lines Intel GMA and Intel HD and Iris Graphics support multi-monitor set-ups with up to two monitors (dual display). The up-coming Skylake CPUs are going to drop support for VGA and support up to five monitors connected over HDMI, DP or eDP.[9]


Another way to extend the number of displays on one computer is to add displays via USB. Starting in 2006, DisplayLink released several chips for USB support on VGA/DVI/LVDS and other interfaces.[10]


In the office[edit]

Multi-monitor setups in financial market making

Specialized application environments such as CAD, day trading of corporate stocks, and software development are increasingly using six or more monitors on one production system.

In many professions, including graphic design, architecture, communications, accounting, engineering and video editing, the idea of two or more monitors being driven from one machine is not a new one. While in the past, it has meant multiple graphics adapters and specialized software, it was common for engineers to have at least two, if not more, displays to enhance productivity.[11]

Multi-display setups are also very common in investment banks, particularly in market making, where they allow the simultaneous display of several screens of prices as reference data, allowing the trader to keep an eye on the market. Setups of 6 displays (2×3: 2 rows of 3) are common on interest rate trading desks,[citation needed] which involve many numbers, while 8 displays (2×4: 2 rows of 4) are not uncommon. Financial multi-display setups may also incorporate Bloomberg Terminals, or these may be adjunct to the main display.

Now that multi-monitor setups are more budget-friendly,[citation needed] it is not uncommon to see a wide range of business professionals using multiple monitors to increase visual area.[citation needed] This advantage helps promote the concept of a paperless office by increasing the quantity of simultaneous media that can be viewed digitally, although the advantage of viewing two documents simultaneously is also feasible on many larger widescreen monitors.

To save the table space, multiple monitors may be mounted on the shared stand.

Professional audio production[edit]

Digital audio workstation are known to rely on multi-monitor setups to increase the available area for the user interface.

In video gaming[edit]

AMD Eyefinity-driven multi-monitor system for gaming

Multi-monitor gaming/simulation is also becoming more common; however, the hardware expense can be a limiting factor.[12]

List of video games that support multi-monitor set-ups[edit]

The following games support multiple screens inherently:

Other games such as Guild Wars and World of Warcraft can also be made to run in multi-monitor set-ups, with the addition of third party software to enable the ability, or by running the game in windowed mode and resizing the window.[22] A larger list of games that support dual/multi screen modes is available at WSGF.[23]

  • Star Trek: Armada and Star Trek: Armada II (There is an option that appears under Graphics under Display Drivers when a secondary monitor is plugged in. While in battle, the secondary monitor shows a cinema shot of 5(+/-) seconds of any activity at any one place on the map. It continues to cycle through all the action on the map in 5(+/-) second intervals. Although, you have to have the cinema option enabled for it to work.)
  • Supreme Commander 2 has a multi-display for 2 monitors where the second monitor is a map of the battlefield
  • While not official, Minecraft has multiple monitor support because of its ability to drag the screen to any resolution the player wants.

Other uses[edit]

Older uses[edit]

From the mid-1980s through 1990s, a popular configuration for software developers was to employ a general-purpose VGA, EGA, or CGA display for managing the program under development and an independent monochrome Hercules or MDA card driving a second monitor for displaying debugging information. Many DOS debugging applications supported this configuation. It was possible to operate two display cards in this fashion, even with operating systems such as MS-DOS which did not support multi-monitor natively, because the Hercules and MDA cards used a different hardware memory address than conventional graphics cards and could operate concurrently without creating hardware conflicts. Modern hardware is not affected by the limitations of earlier systems like these when running modern operating systems, because the hardware and software are both designed such that the operating system can abstract the various hardware devices from each other and then manage them appropriately. The first Macintosh computer to support multiple monitors was the Macintosh II. The Macintosh SE/30, which had one slot in it, also supported a second monitor which could be color even though the main monitor was monochrome.

Interactive television sometimes coordinates the use of a television screen and a computer display.

Arcade machines[edit]

Arcade games were released in the 1980s and 1990s which used a multi-monitor configuration. The earliest of these is the game TX-1, a 1983 driving game developed by Tatsumi and published by Namco/Atari, which used a cockpit cabinet with 3 19" CRT monitors side-by-side to give a wide viewing area. Its successor, TX-1 V8, released in 1984, also used the same 3 monitor configuration. Tatsumi released Buggy Boy in 1985, in both cockpit 3 monitor and upright single monitor cabinets. Darius from 1986 used an upright cabinet which was around half as wide again than a standard arcade cabinet of the time. It used 3 14" FST (flatter squarer tube) monitors but in this case, 2 monitors were mounted on the left and right with the screens pointing upwards and one was mounted in a box at the centre rear of the cabinet, and using a two way mirror a seamless wide image was obtained. A similar effect was seen in Darius II, also known as Sagaia (which was also released in twin larger monitor format) and The Ninja Warriors. The original 1987 arcade version of Tecmo Bowl also used a dual-monitor setup. In 1990, Galaxian 3 used up to 16 projected screens.

As arcade technology entered the 1990s larger cabinets were being built which in turn also housed larger monitors - such as the 3 28" screen version of Namco's Ridge Racer from 1993. Although large screen technology such as CRT rear projection was beginning to be used more often, multi-monitor games were still occasionally released, such as Sega's F355 Challenge from 1999 which again used 3 28" monitors for the sit-down cockpit version. The most recent use of a multi-monitor setup in arcades occurred with Taito's Dariusburst: Another Chronicle game, released in Japan in December 2010[24] and worldwide the following year.[25] It uses 2 32" LCD screens and an angled mirror to create a seamless widescreen effect.

Developing software for multiple monitor workstations[edit]

Ordinary software does not need special support for multiple screens even if it uses graphic accelerator. At the usual application level multihead is presented just as a single larger monitor spanning over all screens. However some special approaches may increase the multihead performance.

With multiple monitors present, each screen will have its own graphics buffer. One possible scenario for programming is to present to OpenGL or DirectX a continuous, virtual frame buffer in which the OS or graphics driver writes out to each individual buffer. With some graphics cards, its possible to enable a mode called "horizontal span" which accomplishes this. The OpenGL/DirectX programmer then renders to a very large frame buffer for output. In practice, and with recent cards, this mode is being phased out because it does not make very good use of GPU parallelism, and does not support arbitrary arrangements of monitors (they must all be horizontal). A more recent technique uses the wglShareLists feature of OpenGL to share data across multiple GPUs, and then render to each individual monitor's frame buffer.[26]

In Android[edit]

Android supports an additional monitor as of version 4.2[27] but additional software is needed to multi-task/use both at once.[28][29]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ I. Berger(2006). The Virtues of a Second Screen. New York Times.
  2. ^ S.Ross (2003).Two Screens Are Better Than One. Microsoft research.
  3. ^ Z.Davis (2011). Dual Monitors Boost Productivity, User Satisfaction
  4. ^ "Configuring and Running a Large Video Wall using ATI FirePro Graphics" (pdf). Retrieved 2014-07-04. 
  5. ^ "LambdaVision at University of Illinois". 
  6. ^ "HORNET at IVC". 
  8. ^ "Matrox Graphics - Products - Legacy Products - G-Series - G450". 
  9. ^ "Intel Publishes Initial Skylake Linux Graphics Support". 
  10. ^ "DisplayLink launches high-speed USB graphics technology for multi-monitor computing applications" (Press release). DisplayLink. April 11, 2006. Retrieved September 17, 2012. 
  11. ^ Bill Gates. April 7, 2006. How I Work. Fortune.
  12. ^ "When Two Monitors Aren't Enough". PCWorld. 8 March 2012. 
  13. ^ "Criterion Games Burnout Paradise The Ultimate Box on PC". Retrieved 29 July 2010. 
  14. ^ "Clear the Swarm FAQ". Retrieved 29 July 2010. 
  15. ^ "Official DOOM FAQ, Section 9.2". 
  16. ^ "Gran Turismo 6 adds multi-monitor support in latest update". Joystiq. 
  17. ^ Supreme Commander Hardware Performance Guide, AU Game Spot, February 2007
  18. ^ Dual Display Gaming Bigs Up, Toms Hardware, February 2004
  19. ^ "X-Plane 10 Desktop Manual : Configuring a Multi-Monitor Simulator,22 July 2013". Retrieved 29 December 2013. 
  20. ^ "How to run multiple copies of XP10 on one machine (Windows)". Retrieved 8 January 2014. 
  21. ^ "Howto: Take Advantage Of Multiple Graphics Cards/monitors In X-Plane - With A Single Computer! The Linux Way". Retrieved 8 January 2014. 
  22. ^ "MultiMonitor.Net". 
  23. ^ "Master Game List". 
  24. ^ "Dariusburst Another Chronicle Homepage". 株式会社タイトー. 
  25. ^ "Dariusburst Another Chronicle Now Available Worldwide". Arcade Heroes. 
  26. ^ "Hoetzlein, Rama C. Multi-Monitor Rendering in OpenGL". 
  27. ^
  28. ^ "Ixonos Multi-Display for Android". November 8, 2013. 
  29. ^ Ixonos Multi-Display for Android on YouTube