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Product Review: Matrox DualHead2Go DP Edition

In one of our first hardware product reviews in quite some time, Architosh put Matrox’s DualHead2Go DP Edition GXM multi-monitor solutions through its paces, configuring the unit to dual 20-inch Apple Cinema Displays and powering the unit off a 2009 MacBook with Nvidia graphics. This very in-depth reviews walks through the installation and discusses configuration items when concerned with CAD and 3D professionals.

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Enjoying the Matrox DualHead2Go

Once everything is setup you can truly enjoy the use of multiple monitors. Stretching out on two to three large external displays–whether Apple Cinema units or units by others–while working is truly enjoyable. One must remember too that your laptop display also adds to the real-estate, beyond the supported maximum resolutions supported and shared across multiple GXM units.

Because the Mac operating system places its application menu bars at the top of your display space–unlike Windows–one must decide where to put it: on the laptop display or spread across the attached external units?

07 - Display Preference Panes.

07 – Display Preference Panes.

08 - Display preference options.

08 – Display preference options.

In the image above we have two Display preference panels. One says Color LCD and controls the MacBook display. The way the Mac OS handles displays each display gets its own control panel. So the second Display preference panel is for the Matrox GXM. From here you power and control the displays attached through the Matrox GXM. (see image 07). There is an important button on the MacBook’s display preference pane called Gather Windows. Hitting this brings the GXM’s display preferences window to the same display controlling the Color LCD preferences.

On the MacBook’s display preference pane you can select the Arrangement button and set your location for the menu bar (by dragging it from one blue box to the other). (see image 08) Blue boxes represent the built-in LCD display and a larger one for the whole of the attached display space. You can also drag the smaller blue box around the larger one to determine how the large display expands from the laptop display space.

09 – With attached dual or triple displays a Mac user can really stretch out an application, opening up multiple files and working on items side-by-side. In this example I have two models going in AutoDesSys’s excellent bonzai 3D application.

The benefits of  using multiple large displays becomes obvious within a few days of working with them. At first one must become accustomed to the vast canvass of screen real estate and get used to some nuances of such a configuration. As in the example above a user should ideally place the Mac menu bar on the attached GXM unit side where your main large applications will exist. The MacBook’s display then gains a bit more headroom and makes a nice place to use web browsers and email–programs that typically contain all their necessary controls within the interface anyway.

10 – AutoCAD and Vectorworks side by side.

11 – CAD or 3D on the left, business apps on the right.

With two or three attached displays a Mac user can run two CAD or 3D programs side by side as in the image above. We loaded the new Autodesk AutoCAD for Mac on the left and the venerable Nemetschek Vectorworks on the right. (see image 10) In such an arrangement however the Mac menu bar does cluster itself to the left attached monitor only. It would be a really neat trick if the menu bar could move between the displays based on the active application but it doesn’t. It doesn’t take too much effort to lay out palettes and application windows to work this way and the benefits can be many.

If on the other hand what you really want your extra monitor space for is non-CAD or non-3D applications then that too is very productive. Having calendar, email, database or other business applications open while working on CAD/3D applications is very useful. And this setup isn’t just useful for CAD or 3D professionals, it is darn useful to anybody who needs to “look and read” from one window while working in another. That would include web and graphic designers and even journalist professionals like us writing this review!

Closing Comments and Recomendations

Before we write our recommendations we want to summarize some key points. The Matrox GXM unit we tested was for dual monitor setup expansion beyond the main laptop’s LCD display. You can also use these products to expand off of an iMac or even a Mac tower. Though in the case of the latter there is no build-in display.

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Apple Displays act differently than non-Apple displays and you will have more control options with the Matrox GXM software when you have non-Apple gear plugged in, as we noted above. The unit is designed to be easy to use but it is strongly recommended that users shut-down and restart between hooking up the Matrox GXM. When the unit is working properly a green light glows from it. If an orange light glows and stays on there may be an initialization issue or not enough power going to the unit from the USB port.

We think this hardware is excellent and Matrox has good tech support. We would, however, like to see better setup materials that explain some key items we talked about here in the review, such as the fact that Apple displays act slightly differently than non-Apple displays. These are minor items that the company can improve on in the future. Matrox has done an excellent job with this unit and its sister triple head unit works identically. If expanded screen real estate has been on your wish list the Matrox DualHead2Go DP Edition or its sister TripleHead unit are excellent choices to make this happen.

Pros: Good looking and space efficient hardware is built very well and comes with high-quality cables; Matrox PowerDesk for Mac installs with native Apple installer and the software is simple to work once learned. Unit is smart and can work automatically between Apple and non-Apple displays, configures itself to highest available resolution supported by displays.

Cons: Many of the nuances of the software discussed in this review should be brought to the attention of the new user in its setup guides; Matrox can do better with included setup materals.

Advice: For CAD or 3D professionals the Matrox GXM units offer an excellent choice for expanding your screen real estate; the GXM supports build in (4 rows, recall) resolutions so you can move your laptop between two locations with differing resolution capacities (home versus office, etc). We experienced no issues with the unit but we do recommend our own review to help with setup.

Cost: The unit tested goes for 229.USD and its triple-head sister goes for 329.USD. The Mini DisplayPort to DisplayPort adaptor cable is not included. Refer to the Matrox website for detailed system requirements and the latest compatibility information.

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Reader Comments

  1. Posted by:
    amonle
    November 29, 2010 01:24 pm EST

    Gosh, well I’ve seen the matrox advert on your site for a while and I had a look at it because on the surface it appears to be just what I need. Reading your review would have ‘confirmed’ it for me.
    But BUYER BEWARE. This device is a complete non-starter for me because it does not support the currently shipping apple cinema displays (27in) – not even the last generation (24in).
    Matrox website: “Supports a maximum resolution of 3840×1200 (2x 1920×1200); displays attached to DualHead2Go must run at the same resolution”
    … therefore the setup described in the review – 2x 20in displays is as good as it gets. Unfortunately Apple stopped selling those displays almost 2 years ago.
    1920 x 1200 is really not that much. A 17in macbook pro can do that on its own.
    The DualHead2Go unfortunately is an outdated product – not worth 4.5/5

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Anthony Frausto, Anthony Frausto. Anthony Frausto said: We have a new feature product review on Matrox's DualHead2Go DP Edition graphics expansion module–multi display for A…http://lnkd.in/Tmud42 […]

  3. Posted by:
    amonle
    December 2, 2010 08:42 am EST

    I wonder why my comment has not been approved?

  4. amonie,
    Your comment(s) were merely sitting in moderation, nothing more. Busy times this month! As for your comments above, this is a really good observation and I have brought this to the attention of Matrox and am awaiting a comment on this issue. As for the Cinema Display limits mentioned in the review and max resolution? Ideally this product works best with non-Apple displays (larger than 20-inch) where resolution options are supported. Apple displays lock to just the one resolution of that display, even though you can typically scale down resolutions on Apple Cinema Displays. Do you really feel that 3840x wide is limiting coming off a laptop?

  5. Amonie,
    Just wanted to clarify some items related to your post. Spoke to Matrox about these issues you have raised. It is true that Apple’s display scenario is extremely limiting at the moment; you can only get one monitor…the 27-inch Cinema Display. That unit is $1000 and has a max resolution of 2560×1440 (its default). If you are looking for double that resolution (5120×1440) across two of these babies boy are you ambitious! Sounds dreamy but at two grand…sounds rich for CAD?

    A better scenario and one I should have emphasized more in the review is to NOT use Apple Cinema Displays unless you have older ones like I do. Instead, a Dell UltraSharp 24-inch (U2410) with IPS technology is not only physically much larger than my twin 20-inch units but offers 1920×1200 pixels across each screen and will maximize the Matrox GXM unit reviewed. And it will do so for $800 less than buying two 27-inch Cinema Displays. Two of these units means nearly 2000 pixels for each application running off the Matrox GXM unit displays plus you still have your laptop’s display for other applications.

  6. Also, Matrox says the last generation (2008) Cinema Displays 24-inch does indeed support the 1920×1200 resolution. Apple concurs. http://support.apple.com/kb/SP502

    To clarify for readers the Cinema Displays that will work nicely with the product reviewed would be two of either of these:

    2008 – Apple Cinema Display – 24-inch (2x1920x1200)
    http://support.apple.com/kb/SP502
    2004 – 20 and 23-inch Apple Cinema Displays (2x1680x1050 {tested setup} or 2x1920x1200 in the 23-inch)
    http://support.apple.com/kb/SP79
    This last product uses DVI so the other GXM units referenced should support this.

    This is not a guarantee by Architosh. Our understanding of the spec literature tells us these units should be supported. Inquire directly with Matrox for exact product support coverage.

    Again, for increased flexibility we recommend non Apple Displays which will give you choices in your resolution settings with the GXM units.

    Dell and Eizo (http://www.eizo.com) are good recommendations for monitors for your Macs. We hope that Apple will improve its monitor options in the future.

  7. Posted by:
    amonle
    December 5, 2010 09:21 am EST

    Thanks for the clarification

Comments are closed.

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