Cheap dongle involved in easy three-way


— 1:47 PM on August 30, 2010

One of the weaknesses of AMD's Eyefinity multi-monitor gaming technology to date has been display support.  The great majority of Radeon HD 5800-series graphics cards will drive three monitors simultaneously, but one of those displays must accept a DisplayPort input, due to limitations in the GPUs' output capabilities.  That restriction has been frustrating because, until very recently, the selection of DisplayPort-capable monitors hasn't been terribly broad.  As a result, AMD has long suggested using an adapter dongle that coverts DisplayPort to DVI.

The trouble with that solution is that the dongles themselves haven't been great.  The best ones can cost over 100 bucks a pop, and the less expensive passive-type adapters have apparently been troublesome, with compatibility issues and the like.  I say "apparently" because our experience with Eyefinity has been limited to monitors with DisplayPort inputs, so we haven't had the particular joy of dealing with the flickering screens or HDCP problems potentially caused by cheap dongles.

Happily, these annoyances may finally be coming to an end, thanks to a new wave of affordable display adapters.  The folks at AMD phoned us up recently to tell us about these dongles and why they should make putting together an Eyefinity system easier than ever.

The products in question are low-cost, active adapters that convert from either DisplayPort or Mini-DisplayPort to DVI.  They support a single DVI link at resolutions up to 1920x1200, and they should be fully compatible with HDCP for Blu-ray movie playback and the like.  The kicker is that the adapters will sell for only $30, making them—and by extension, Eyefinity—a much more reasonable proposition.  Picking up a trio of cheap 1080p displays or re-purposing some older monitors should look much better in light of this development.

In fact, AMD tells us it expects a number of card makers simply to bundle one of these dongles with a Radeon HD 5000-series graphics card, so the package will be triple-DVI-ready out of the box.  Those who only want to grab an adapter by itself should have their choice of options, too.  The dongles should be available early next month from a range of brands—including XFX, Sapphire, PowerColor, Accell, and Wieson—at a host of retailers—including NCIX, Amazon.com, and Micro Center.

We got our hands on a pair of these dongles over the weekend, as pictured above.  We briefly tried out the full-sized DisplayPort-to-DVI adapter by connecting the DisplayPort output on an XFX Radeon HD 5830 to the DVI input on a Dell P2210H monitor, and its operation seemed to be entirely transparent.  The system booted up, detected the display, and set the native 1080p resolution automatically.  We didn't notice any flicker or other visual quirks to the resulting image.  Everything seemed to work as it should, flawlessly, although we've not yet tried playing a Blu-ray disc with HDCP.

Of course, since the dongle only supports a single DVI link, some larger displays won't be compatible.  Connecting this adapter to our Dell 3007WFP-HC produced a fine image—at a maximum resolution of 1280x800.  You'll need a dual-link adapter to use an older 30" monitor like that as the third display in an Eyefinity set.

If your tastes lean more to the expensive side of things, you might be interested to know about another recent development on the Eyefinity display front: the availability to Samsung's ultra-narrow-bezel monitors in three- and six-way pre-back configurations.  Both are now shipping, and you can pick up the MD230X3 triple-monitor setup for just over $1800.  That's three 23" 1080 displays integrated together on a common stand.  If that's not enough megapixels to satisfy your eye-candy addiction, the six-way MD230X6 offers twice as much goodness for about $3500.  Having dealt with wider bezels and non-custom mounts on a six-way Eyefinity rig myself, I can tell you that price premium won't sound so formidable after a while, once you've endured a few display alignment and bezel compensation battles.

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