DisplayLink is a new technology that allows you to connect multiple monitors up to one computer without requiring an extra graphics card, This means you can also use it for laptops.

This new innovative technology works by utilising your computer hardware resources such as the CPU and GPU to render more displays over a USB connection. You will find DisplayLink as a stand alone product or integrated in to monitors and external connector devices with Samsung and LG leading the way in this space. With DisplayLink, you can connect up to six monitors to one Windows machine or up to four on an Intel Mac up to a resolution of 1600 x 1200.

I’ve been testing the DisplayLink adapter which will allow you to connect any DVI or VGA adapter. The software for the Mac is currently in Beta however I experienced no problems in getting this up and running. The lightweight install was quick to finish and complete with a restart. After the restart, simply connecting the display up to the adapter and then the USB cable to my MacBook Pro activated the second display. It was really simple and quick and detection was near instant as though it was connecting up via the hardware DVI connector. The image quality was sharp, just as it would be when connecting up via the dedicated DVI connector.

The benefits of DisplayLink are absolutely immense when you consider the applications that this cost-effective technology can be applied to. The idea of multiple displays without the need for complicated and expensive hardware is now a reality. For desktop users it can be quite easy to set up a multi-monitor system by adding on an extra graphics cards. However laptop users have always been limited to just the one extra display. It’s also more feasible for laptop users to have this kind of setup since the hardware is now more mature with dual core processors, dedicated GPU’s and plenty of RAM, there’s no reason why laptops can’t or shouldn’t be able to drive extra displays.

DisplayLink is available for your existing monitors as well as monitors on the market today that carry the DisplayLink logo. I recently tested the LG 206WU as a work setup and was able to connect it up to my Pentium M 2.0GHz with 2GB RAM Dell laptop running Vista whilst operating a seperate 17-inch LCD connected via VGA. Whilst movement of windows and the mouse was jerky, for everyday productivity applications, performance is fine and I was able to drag applications between screens seamlessly.

This is the same on the Mac but video playback was still quite smooth even at full screen. Activity Monitor reports a 10 to 20-percent increase in CPU usage with utilisation peaking at 55-percent. That’s a reasonable overhead considering this is all happening over USB.

DisplayLink as a technology is very promising. It allows for mutli-screen setups on machines that previously couldn’t. Don’t expect DisplayLink to replace the benefits of having a separate graphics card on a desktop machine because it will never offer the same level of performance. An environment that will benefit from DisplayLink technology will fall in to the category of 2D-based applications such as Photoshop, Office and general computer use – areas where a multi-screen set up can have a real impact on the way you work.

2008-06-10 Onwah Tsang

2 comments - why not add yours

  • Sandra says:

    There is another way to set up dual monitors from a laptop (or a desktop without opening the computer) – the DualHead2Go from Matrox. It uses your own system’s GPU, so you avoid the USB performance issues and can enjoy 3D and video, up to 1920×1200 per monitor. There is also a triple screen version, and both are compatible with Mac.

    Posted on 11th June 2008
  • oni says:

    A fair point and good alternative if you want to run up to two external displays.

    The beauty of DisplayLink is that you can add up to six displays via USB – so the main difference I see is the scalability. I’m not as familiar with Matrox products so couldn’t really comment if there is an equivalent.

    For those who are looking to invest in a new multi-screen setup, you will find DisplayLink built-in to monitors from LG and Samsung which simply allows you to plug the monitor in directly via USB without the need for an adapter…I think this is where DisplayLink technology will be most effective as it becomes more widespread in its implementation.

    Posted on 13th June 2008

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