Linux and Multiple Monitors

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Linux and Multiple Monitors

Postposted on Wed Aug 28, 2013 6:56 pm

In short, I'm looking for a desktop environment/distro that doesn't require a bunch of configuration and/or scripting to work reasonably with multiple monitors. I shouldn't have to run commands just to connect or disconnect a laptop from a TV for example. Connecting or disconnecting devices should be dealt with automatically like in Windows, and I shouldn't have to calculate and enter coordinates to position monitors.

I've tried the following:
Lubuntu 11.10, 12.04, 13.04: Love how fast LXDE is, but the lack of reasonable multi-monitor handling in LXDE is not a trivial concern for me.
Xubuntu (forgot which version, probably 12.04) and Kubuntu 12.10: Neither do the job.
OpenSUSE: Never got to test it on multi monitors actually. Plus I'm really not used to the different commands.
Ubuntu 11.10 and 12.04: The only one I know that works nicely. I plug/unplug monitors and they get detected and handled automatically.

I haven't quite messed with any recent GNOME desktop environment, nor MATE/Cinnamon.

Of course, I could keep throwing new distros on flash drives and trying them out in old systems until I'm red in the face, but I'm also curious on others' thoughts/experiences with this. There are a LOT of desktop environments out there (heck, Mint runs on 3 different ones), so it's worth asking, even though you really have to try each and every one to find your preference.

In addition to handling multi-monitors nicely, I'd like one in a Windows-like layout, or easy to configure to said layout with presets. I, like many others, have never been a huge fan of Unity, but I guess if that's all there is that fulfills the easy multi-monitor requirement, I'll go with it.

I don't even need a full taskbar on all screens, although it's nice that Unity does that.

Perhaps there are 3rd party utilities out there that I need to be directed to.
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Re: Linux and Multiple Monitors

Postposted on Wed Aug 28, 2013 7:15 pm

KDE, GNOME 3, and Cinnamon should do close to what you want. Those would have been the first 3 DE I tried personally, you've made some interesting choices with Xu/Lubuntu. Xfce and Lxde are not focused on being user-friendly.
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Re: Linux and Multiple Monitors

Postposted on Wed Aug 28, 2013 7:29 pm

I was mainly searching for performance in LXDE and XFCE, although Xubuntu was just a quick flash drive test, and I gave it up after a session of trying it out. Never had problems with LXDE, but I've only used it for the most basic tasks so far, with anything else I needed being done in the command line. (Such as messing around with servers; I have no problem going CLI with that, but I don't want to have to do any configuration before unplugging a laptop from a monitor/TV/projector, otherwise I have to reboot or restart the x server somehow in order to see the desktop ever again.) Still, it has a lot of stuff that lines up with Windows, making it easier to pick up.

My first experience with Kubuntu wasn't so great, but since I have the disk, I can test it out again. Still, it did not handle multiple display devices as well as I wanted it to. Perhaps it's different in Mint?

May have to switch out the Lubuntu machines with something running GNOME if it works that well. I guess I'll have to give the big three of Mint a shot.
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Re: Linux and Multiple Monitors

Postposted on Wed Aug 28, 2013 7:51 pm

Your luck may be dependent on video hardware. AMD video drivers tend to be less polished than Nvidia or Intel ones in Linux.

If you're running Intel, at one point they had decided that for best performance you needed to run a specified version of the kernel, chosen by Intel from time to time; for example Version X of the Intel driver might work best with kernel 2.6.28, and X+1 with 2.6.33. I don't know if this is still true. Older IGPs had limits WRT maximum resolution across all monitors if you did 3D acceleration, such as (IIRC) 2048x2048 with the GMA 950.

It's been a long while since I've had an Nvidia card (and never with multimonitor on Linux), so I can't help much there.
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Re: Linux and Multiple Monitors

Postposted on Wed Aug 28, 2013 7:54 pm

My Linux box at work runs RHEL+KDE and two monitors and it just worked out of the box, maybe give Fedora or CentOS a try. I did not try hot-swapping while the system was live though. LXDE is meant for older systems and consciously avoids system stuff that's not necessary to make the machine work, if you care enough to run two monitors I'd suggest looking for a more full featured desktop.
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Re: Linux and Multiple Monitors

Postposted on Wed Aug 28, 2013 8:43 pm

My test box has a Core 2 and Radeon 5770.

Linux Mint with Cinnamon is working great! Not only does it handle other monitors the way I need it to, it also snaps/docks windows, Windows 7 style. Looks like I just happened to be stuck in the wrong end on the world of Linux DE's and distros this whole time. Thanks.

I'll have to try out the KDE and GNOME 3 versions eventually, but Cinnamon has been very Windows-user-friendly so far.

As for non-Debian distros, I'm curious as to how well say, games, will work. Most games I hear about on Linux are going right for Ubuntu, which should generally be compatible with similar distros. Either way, I'll also be throwing WINE on there eventually for some of the Windows-only applications I use.

Edit: Forget 2 monitors. My beloved triple-screen setup works out of the box, and I'm still running the OS off the flash drive. Plus, Mint is working with the old wireless NIC in this box, while Lubuntu had issues with it. Awesome distro so far. I think I'm set for now. =) Thanks guys.
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Re: Linux and Multiple Monitors

Postposted on Wed Aug 28, 2013 9:14 pm

It's pretty rare that anyone makes games natively for Linux, at least not the sort of games I play. In theory penguin is as penguin does and any native Linux binary can run on any Linux distro, but in practice the platform is still trapped in dependency hell and without the package manager doing the dirty work it can get very painful very quickly.

AFAIK Wine works about the same across all distros.
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Re: Linux and Multiple Monitors

Postposted on Wed Aug 28, 2013 9:25 pm

Glad to hear Mint seems like it works for you, C-A_99. I sing the praises of Linux Mint frequently. I'm a big fan of Cinnamon (except that expose hot corner that's enabled by default in Mint).
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Re: Linux and Multiple Monitors

Postposted on Wed Aug 28, 2013 10:25 pm

Basically, I have a second box that I'm just keeping around for kicks, where I'm installing Linux. At the moment it'll probably sit as an HTPC or as a second gaming PC when friends are over. However, I don't want to drop more cash on a Windows license for a machine I rarely use. Yes, I almost used "gaming PC" and "Linux" in the same sentence, but dealing with Windows licensing really isn't worth the time/cash right now. At least I can run Valve games, indies, and... SuperTuxKart lol. Plus, I think transitioning to FOSS would be pretty beneficial overall. (Such as the benefit of having every single thing you do be available on a bootable flash drive or external HDD, and not having to deal with software licensing for that.)

In retrospect, not sure why I was so stuck to the Ubuntu name. I haven't quite liked any DE I tried on it that wasn't Unity, but Unity itself has it's own issues. Looks like Mint's a great distro to settle in, but that's also hard to say when I've only used it for about an hour. (Although if I liked it that much after such short usage, why not?)

I tried out both KDE and Cinnamon. Contrary to what I've read, Cinnamon is running faster off the flash drive and doesn't have to wait to load. KDE is also not picking up the super key (Windows icon key) out of the box, while Cinnamon is. I do like all the fancy bells and whistles on KDE though. Both seem to need some setup (I heard only KDE will do it at all) to get the taskbar stretched across all monitors, but I'm used to not having that on Windows. (Never completely liked the apps out there that did that.)

All I know about issues with Intel is that Lubuntu wouldn't work very nicely on an old XP box running a P4 2.8ghz. Forgot which GMA it used, but the results were not pretty; lots of stuttering when dragging windows around. That said, it's not like an ancient Intel GMA is much use anyway, especially on the 512mb of RAM that had to be shared with it. It's about time to toss that box in the local recycling center.
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Re: Linux and Multiple Monitors

Postposted on Wed Aug 28, 2013 11:44 pm

I'm currently running 13.04 on my Linux box (i7-920/GTX 570). I normally run it with a single display but, for you, I just connected a second display (DVI).

I had to access Displays to confirm the setup (just had to disable mirroring) and dual display mode was perfect. Once I did that I unplugged the second display. 13.04 immediately configured itself to single display mode. I then plugged the second monitor back in and 13.04 immediately configured itself to my dual display setup perfectly (it remembered the display position). I'm using the stock 13.04 display drivers at the moment.

I use Ubuntu Tweak to handle hot corners to show Windows/Desktop/Workspace. Ubuntu has offered the Windows Snap functionality for some time now. Overall I prefer how Ubuntu handles multiple displays over Windows 7/8.

I think Unity is bloody fantastic.
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Re: Linux and Multiple Monitors

Postposted on Thu Aug 29, 2013 2:16 am

C-A_99 wrote:Xubuntu (forgot which version, probably 12.04) and Kubuntu 12.10: Neither do the job.
OpenSUSE: Never got to test it on multi monitors actually. Plus I'm really not used to the different commands.


Xfce's display tools are really primitive, and the command line, randr, needs to be used to get the monitors configured. The display configuration tool is the one thing that they really need to work on. Otherwise, it's one of the easiest DE to work with. The small Xfce team has put a lot of thought into it, and it shows.

Suse is kind of an oddball out of the Big 4 distros. It's an excellent desktop distro thought.

C-A_99 wrote: Looks like Mint's a great distro to settle in, but that's also hard to say when I've only used it for about an hour. (Although if I liked it that much after such short usage, why not?)


Cinnamon is a nice window manager. I have a spare laptop at work that I keep Mint on. It's not the speediest thing, but Cinnamon runs rather well and looks good.

The laptop has a Broadcom WNIC, and I didn't want to spend the time getting the drivers running under Fedora.

KDE is also not picking up the super key (Windows icon key) out of the box, while Cinnamon is.


KDE recognizes the Win key, but it doesn't have the key assigned to anything by default.

If you want to try KDE, check out OpenSUSE or Fedora/Korora. Kubuntu is considered to have one of the worst KDE implementations.

NovusBogus wrote:My Linux box at work runs RHEL+KDE and two monitors and it just worked out of the box, maybe give Fedora or CentOS a try.


Fedora handles multiple monitors really well out of the box. It's one of the reason's I've really stuck with Fedora.

I haven't tried RHEL/CentOS/SL outside of a server setting, so I can't really comment on how well they handle it.
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Re: Linux and Multiple Monitors

Postposted on Thu Aug 29, 2013 2:59 am

C-A_99 wrote: Linux Mint with Cinnamon is working great!


For me as well, though I run the "Mate" flavor of Mint. I'm currently running an HP ZR24W plus a Dell U2713HM side by side, with no issues. For 31 days (exactly 1 day past the return window) I had 2 U2713HM's side by side till the second one went bonkers I'm currently doing this via Hazwell's built in graphics (DP + DVI-SL). I initially set the machine up with an Asus Radeon 7550 to drive both big displays at native 2560x1440 via DP + DVI-DL.

"xrandr" is your new best friend, though I really only needed it after the monitor started to go nutz. The built-in "Displays" app handled the set up quite well.
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Re: Linux and Multiple Monitors

Postposted on Thu Aug 29, 2013 8:31 am

Ubuntu 12.04 LTS with Gnome works perfectly for me on my work laptop. I plug a monitor in and can drag windows across between the two screens with no hassles at all.
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Re: Linux and Multiple Monitors

Postposted on Thu Aug 29, 2013 10:28 am

I use Ubuntu 12.04 every day with three monitors hooked up to a Sapphire Flex 6450. I use both Unity and XFCE (Xbuntu desktop package).

Install the propritary driver.
Setup multi-monitor (do not use xenorama, or what ever it's called).
Install your desktop environment of choice (I use Unity for my WGU course work but Xbuntu for TF2)

End User wrote:I think Unity is bloody fantastic.
I agree completely, except when it comes to gaming. I get a few extra FPS in Xbuntu-desktop. However, if you're not running a crappy card like me, you should be fine in Unity. It's so awesome, my wife won't use OS X or Windows any more, and she is far from even being a "power user."

I'm glad you're up and running, though. I LOVE my 3-monitor setup for studying. Book+email+notes+spotify+file mangler+terminal without having to rotate virtual desktops is sooooo nice for productivity.
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Re: Linux and Multiple Monitors

Postposted on Thu Aug 29, 2013 11:12 am

I've been running multiple monitors on Ubuntu since 8.04 LTS (GNOME originally, and now with KDE). Up through 10.04 LTS I needed to set up an xrandr script to run on login to get the monitors positioned correctly, but this no longer seems to be necessary. It still forgets my display settings whenever I re-install the ATI video driver (which happens more often than I'd like since kernel updates tend to bork the driver forcing a re-install), but I can live with that.
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Re: Linux and Multiple Monitors

Postposted on Thu Aug 29, 2013 12:15 pm

If you're using XFCE and playing with multiple monitors/external monitors, etc, and you find the command line randr to be less than optimal, please install and try arandr, it's excellent. I use it with my laptop, as undocked is 1366*768 single, and docked is 1920*1080 externals (dual). You can even use it to export nice little shell scripts with the commands you used, so you can reapply settings quickly in the future. I have docked.sh (undocking reduces monitor count and resolution automatically).
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Re: Linux and Multiple Monitors

Postposted on Thu Aug 29, 2013 3:45 pm

You might find the DISPLAY environment useful. I use it several ways.

I play all video with mplayer, nearly always from the Midnight Commander, and not only can I tell mplayer where to play the video, so can the file association feature in MC.

I can just put

DISPLAY=":0.1"

in the mplayer config and it will throw everything to my TV.

You can also use the bindings in MC to do stuff like:

Open=(DISPLAY=":0.1" nice -n -19 vlc --fullscreen %f >/dev/null 2>&1 &) (The /dev/null stuff just kills off any backtalk. ;)

Although these days the various players are so smart it's almost better to let them set the stuff.
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Re: Linux and Multiple Monitors

Postposted on Thu Aug 29, 2013 4:17 pm

Since I've always been Windows, I'm not too crazy about Unity's layout. Yes, I can move the close/maximize/minimize buttons, but it looks wrong when set in the order I'm used to. I'm also pretty sure that the launcher cannot be moved to the bottom of the screen.

Now, perhaps there are good usability reasons for all of that, but I'm used to what I've always worked with, thus I'll be picking what works for me. Unity seems to be better for those who come from Mac OS.

Looks like XFCE is out of the question for me. I want to be able to just unplug the laptop from the display device when done, not run a script and then unplug it. If I forget to run the script, I'd have to run back up to the display device to plug back in so that I can even access it. (That is, if I'm set to display only, or if something's getting clipped off.) I actually encountered a problem with this one time, where I was giving a presentation for school and had to use the projector, but I unplugged without doing the configurations first, and had to reboot to get the desktop back.

That said, I'll definitely consider Linux Mint on XFCE for those old computers that I want to get running faster. Or perhaps I'm wrong, and some distros' implementation of XFCE DOES handle multiple monitors the way I want it to. (i.e. The way Unity, Mint+KDE, and Mint+Cinammon do. Still haven't tested GNOME 3 nor XFCE on Mint yet, but I intend to soon.)
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Re: Linux and Multiple Monitors

Postposted on Thu Aug 29, 2013 5:41 pm

I don't remember having any problems with dual monitors and Xfce on Gentoo....

But I switched to running Linux in a VirtualBox a year ago because the display wouldn't wake after sleep. The rest of the machine would wake, just not the display. And I'm talking the whole thing, not just the backlight.
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Re: Linux and Multiple Monitors

Postposted on Thu Aug 29, 2013 9:11 pm

I messed around a little tonight getting a second monitor connected to my Fedora 19 laptop which I run Xfce as the DE.

The second monitor was picked up automatically, but it was assumed to be on the right when it was on the left. xrandr worked well, but the OP mentioned a GUI program was wanted. I found arandr, which is a simple GTK+ front end for xrandr, which works well, and I found out that Xfce 4.11+ is supposed to fix the deficiencies in the Display configuration tool. (http://www.webupd8.org/2012/11/how-to-u ... buntu.html) Fedora 19 has Xfce 4.10, so I don't have the new Display tool.

Crunchbang is really nice for absolute speed or light weight. It's based on Debian stable, so an install will be current for a while. Openbox is nice, but it's much more dependent on the user configuring everything.
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Re: Linux and Multiple Monitors

Postposted on Fri Aug 30, 2013 12:39 pm

C-A_99 wrote:Looks like XFCE is out of the question for me. I want to be able to just unplug the laptop from the display device when done, not run a script and then unplug it. If I forget to run the script, I'd have to run back up to the display device to plug back in so that I can even access it. (That is, if I'm set to display only, or if something's getting clipped off.) I actually encountered a problem with this one time, where I was giving a presentation for school and had to use the projector, but I unplugged without doing the configurations first, and had to reboot to get the desktop back.


While I'm not telling you to run XFCE, far from it, I feel obligated to stick up for my pal.

Docking my laptop runs the dual monitor arandr script automagically.

When I have outputs set to my two external monitors and I undock, the built in panel is automatically re-enabled and configured for the correct res/refresh/etc, and all my apps move to the (now only) display.

It's not perfect, but it's a damned sight better than you were thinking.
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Re: Linux and Multiple Monitors

Postposted on Fri Aug 30, 2013 12:46 pm

I have not seen it mentioned, so for Nvidia users the installer will add nvidia-settings to your /usr/bin. It is a GUI interface to your xorg.conf and works quite well.
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Re: Linux and Multiple Monitors

Postposted on Fri Aug 30, 2013 3:11 pm

I use Mint 14 on my work laptop, and one problem I've been having is that occasionally if I have a second display connected (usually an overhead projector in a conference room) full screen programs like Remmina will get "stuck" in that I cannot close them. Rarely, I am able to at least get to my start menu and close them via the process monitor, but usually I end up having to shut down and restart.
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Re: Linux and Multiple Monitors

Postposted on Fri Aug 30, 2013 8:47 pm

cphite wrote:I use Mint 14...


I started off with a Mint 14 installation, but by simply checking a box in Mint 14's Update Manager, it will upgrade itself to Mint 15. I had no issues doing the upgrade, and found that Mate (I think it's version 1.6 now) was a bit more stable/solid/fast. I can't speak for Cinnamon or other desktop managers. That was the first time (for me, at least) that a distro successfully upgraded itself with zero problems/issues.
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