Even at high resolutions, using just one screen can mean not having enough room to fit all your open windows at any one time. Multi-screen desktops remain a handy approach to increasing productivity by spanning your available screen space across two or more displays.
Of course, this option has been available for many years, and most graphics cards have more than one display output, letting you hook up a second screen should you want. The process, however, is far from straightforward in Windows, and often requires a great deal of experimentation.
Enter Sapphire’s Vid-2X. This is a small (114 x 107mm) box that sits on your table, and apparently allows you to quickly plug in two screens and fire up a multi-monitor setup within seconds.
The box itself can be bought in one of two versions – DVI and DisplayPort, the latter for Macintosh and some recent Windows PCs such as Ultrabooks.
In both cases, the outputs for the two monitors are physical DVI connectors, so you’ll have to do a certain amount of conversion if you’re looking to connect a monitor that doesn’t offer DV input.
The choice of DVI or DisplayPort version only becomes significant when you connect the box to the graphics card – if your card doesn’t have a full DisplayPort connector, you’ll need to buy the DVI version of the Vid-2X.
You’ll also need to connect a power source to the Vid-2X, and it takes its power from a USB port, either that on a PC or from an included USB power adaptor.
Both the power and the DVI/DisplayPort cables are fairly short. This doesn’t really matter, since the cables to the screens themselves are the ones that need to be long. We found the DisplayPort cables to be extremely stiff and not always easy to plug in.
Once connected, the box moves speedily into life. A pleasing display lights up and tells you about the signal, resolution and view mode.
Although our two screens both fired up within seconds, we did still have to go into the Windows Control Panel and adjust the resolution settings. Rather than setting separate resolutions for each of the monitors, you instead choose a combined resolution (the maximum is 3840 x 1200) that covers the entire space – you don’t have to go with the highest resolution possible, although doing otherwise could leave you with an unsightly black border on one of your screens.
This works moderately well, although somebody unused to setting up multi-screen systems may still be slightly bewildered by the setup process – we’re slightly disappointed that Sapphire hasn’t managed to make the process slicker and more intuitive.
You can alter several options on the box by flicking switches. The first one controls whether you use it in spanning mode, or whether you mirror to have exactly the same view showing on both screens.
This option is particularly useful for presentations and demonstrations where you want to be able to control what’s on a main screen without having to look directly at it. Laptop users used to having an external screen attached will already be familiar with doing this.
The other switches on the box let you experiment with more technical aspects of the screens, such as the monitor blanking time, or bezel correction. The latter lets you alter the number of pixels displayed so that the desktop image spreads seamlessly across the two screens with no distortions – the image looks as though it carries on behind the frame of the panels.
Bezel correction is a nice feature, but you get limited bezel correction with, for example, AMD’s Eyefinity. Being able to activate these options by flipping a switch is useful, although not everybody will be happy to be faced with a battery of old-fashioned DIP switches.
Generally, we found that applications worked fairly well when used with Sapphire. If you’re viewing spreadsheets, text documents or web browsers, for example, then there’s no noticeable drop in performance. However, you are obviously expecting your computer to work with a larger resolution, and gaming, and other resource-intensive applications, will require you to have some powerful hardware to use the full resolution.