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Matrix Orbital's MX2 LCD display

The littlest LCD that could

Manufacturer Matrix Orbital
Model MX2
Price (street) US$99
Availability Now

WHEN I FIRST SAW Matrix Orbital's MX2 LCD display screen, I wasn't quite sure what to make of it. The MX2 integrates an LCD display and small keypad into a simple 5.25" drive bay insert that connects to a system using a simple USB port. It's certainly a novel device, but I began to wonder what anyone might actually want to use one for. What might one even want to display on a small, external display? Sure, there are case modders who will buy anything that adds an LCD display and buttons to a case's exterior, but would the MX2 have any practical uses beyond merely looking cool?

After several weeks of testing and fiddling, I'm quite happy to report that it does. On the strength of its software and plug-in support for popular applications like mIRC, Winamp, and Motherboard Monitor, the MX2 manages to be as functional as it is unique. That says a lot, since the MX2 is really quite unique. Join me as I explore the MX2's capabilities. There might be something that this neat little display can do for you.

The hardware
At the very least, an LCD display is the kind of product that should be popular among case modders and those looking to add a nice aesthetic touch to their PCs, so looks matter. Since the MX2 fits in a 5.25" drive bay, it has the potential to blend in seamlessly with a case's external appearance or stand out like a sore thumb.

The MX2 all dressed up in black

Just how good the MX2 looks in a case will really depend on that case's color scheme. Matrix Orbital offers the above MX2 drive bay insert in black or beige, but there's nothing stopping users from painting around the LCD screen to match the border with different case colors. The keys on the MX2's face are actually under the display's outer skin, so painting over the keypads requires no extra effort. Painters will, however, want to ensure that that no paint gets on the LCD's display screen.

In addition to keypad versions of the MX2, Matrix Orbital also offers keyless versions of the drive bay insert in black and bare aluminum. They keyless MX2 retails for the same price as keypad-sporting MX2, so I'm not sure why anyone would opt for the less functional keyless display. However, the bare aluminum bay insert option may entice those looking to integrate the display into an aluminum case.

To provide one more level of aesthetic customization, Matrix Orbital also offers the MX2 with a number of different screen color options. Models are available with inverse displays on red, blue, or yellow backgrounds, and with gray/white or yellow/green text on a black background.

The MX2's screen itself is a two-line, 20 character, backlit LCD display protected by a Lexan faceplate that should easily hold up to even mildly abusive treatment. The display is bright enough to be clearly read in the dark and clear enough to be read easily at off-center viewing angles, though the display's text coloring changes slightly at more extreme angles.

Plugs in with a simple USB cable

At the rear of the MX2, there's not much to see. The device attaches to a system with a USB cable, which provides both the data and power interface for the display. The use of a standard USB cable means that users will have to get the cable outside the case to plug it into an external USB port, but that should be easy enough to do by poking a hole in the rear of the case or even removing a PCI backplate cover.

The MX2's use of an external USB port doesn't allow for completely clean internal cable routing, but it makes it quite easy to use the MX2 as an external display. As-is, the display really isn't appropriate for external environments without an enclosure of some kind, but the addition of even a simple enclosure will let users place the display as far away from a system as a USB cable will reach.

Easy to mount, too

Those who do elect to mount the MX2 internally will find the installation process to be an easy one. The bay insert screws into any 5.25" drive bay with a couple of screws on each side, which even work with the 5.25" drive rails included in Antec and Chenming cases. The whole operation takes only minutes, and it really can't get much easier than that.