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High resolution multi-monitor setup. What cards for mostly non-gaming

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February 3, 2012 2:36:10 PM



I'm getting a new computer (i7-3930, ASUS P9X79 Pro) and new monitors. The main purpose of the system will be programming and number-crunching. Leisure time use will include HD internet TV and videos. It would be nice to play some F1 or Dirt but, if I can't, it really doesn't matter. Gaming is way down on the priority list.

The plan is to start with two 27" monitors at 2560x1440 and, money permitting, add a centre 30" at 2560x1600. The idea is that the 27"ers will be rotated to get a decent width for browser, file system and output windows and excellent height so I can have plenty of them. The IDE will go on the main screen where extra width matters. I currently have a 20" CRT at 1600x1200 for that purpose although in the new system it would become a satellite and one of the 27s would be the centre piece.

There's a good budget for the system, £1500 for the computer and £1500 for monitors, keyboard, mouse and USB pluggables. Half of that is being provided by my sponsor but running the system will be up to me and I need to keep power costs as low as possible. The machine will be analysing data 24/7.

With that in mind, I'm looking to get whatever graphics card(s) will support the monitors and resolutions for the type of work mentioned and maybe, but only as a bonus, not be too shabby at letting me spin a car around a track - but not suck juice as if peak oil is next millenium.

The current system spec has two 560Ti cards, which I understand will be more than up to all tasks, including heavy gaming, but I've been costing the power to run them and it's looking expensive. If that's the case then I want to downgrade. But that might be my ignorance as I don't know what power draw there would be on cards like those for non-gaming work. Would they be effectively at idle most of the time?

If you're wondering why those cards, it's partly because they fit into the budget and partly because at some stage I may investigate the use of CUDA or OpenCL to speed up analysis. But, as that stage is likely to be months away, it might be better not to bother with high-spec cards and just get what I need for the day-to-day windowing and data presentation. Also, I'm eagerly awaiting news and reviews of Intel's Knight's Corner as that may be an easier path to acceleration.

So the first question is what are the power requirements of high-resolution multi-monitor work of a largely non-graphical nature plus the TV and video?

The second question is about range. What cards would be just sufficient to enable my work? What cards would do that comfortably and also make a bit of gaming feasible? And what cards are heading into more than enough for the work and for decent gaming? I can then pick and choose from the selection available at the system builder (Overclockers UK, ATI and Overclockers UK, nVIDIA).

ps. I'm a wordy bunny, I know. ;-) No apologies for that but thank you for reading, and for any interesting thoughts that you might contribute. :-)
a c 236 U Graphics card
a b 4 Gaming
a b C Monitor
February 3, 2012 3:15:56 PM

1) To run monitors with resolutions greater than 1920 x 1200, you will need graphics cards with dual link dvi outputs. Two dual link outputs for two such monitors.
There are few single cards that can simultaneously drive three dual link dvi monitors.
One seems to be the EVGA 02G-P3-1569-KR GeForce GTX 560 Ti 2Win
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

2) If you are not gaming, most any will do. I use two 2560x1600 monitors. At one time, I used a fanless 7800GS card to drive them. It was not for gaming, but for normal work they did just fine.

3) With modestly priced cards, expect to drive no more than two hi res monitors.

4) My understanding of CUDA is, that a CUDA capable nvidia card with 96 stream processors is about all that can effectively be used. Verify that with your CUDA app specs.
Yes, stronger cards wit more stream processors will do better, but there is rapidly diminishing returns.

5) I suggest that you consider using three identical monitors vs. a large center monitor and two side monitors. With different monitors, you will change sizes as you drag windows from one to the other, and the color tone will be hard to match.

6) If you are partially interested in gaming, at least on one monitor, then make the card driving the larger center monitor stronger, and use a lesser card to drive the side monitors.
Here is a EVGA GT430 which would do fine for the side monitors.:
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

If you want triple monitor gaming, that is an entirely different(and expensive) proposition.
a b U Graphics card
February 3, 2012 3:24:34 PM

Well your gonna need a decent powerful card. two 560 ti's will do ok, but for gaming I recommend the newly released 7970, a 560 ti 2win (Sorry Geo) or if your gonna spend that much money why not just get a 590. If you got the cash. Money can buy just about anything
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February 5, 2012 12:34:37 AM

Thanks, geofelt, that's been useful. :-)

1) [560 Ti 2Win] That dual 560 Ti looks interesting. Unfortunately I'm limited to the single supplier that I posted and they don't have any dual 560 cards.

2), 3) [7800GS] That's useful information. So a couple of 78000GS cards would manage 4 screens of me at up to 2560x1600. Or, as they don't do that one either, a couple of GT 430s or GT 440s (the latter having a version that's silent).

4) [CUDA] Yes, it would depend on the application more than the architecture. I'm no expert but I believe that if a problem has more data points than cores, then it'll readily scale up with bigger cards.

5) [Three screens the same size] It would be ideal, but that ideal is three 30" monitors, which is way above the budget and also beyond desk space! ;-) I understand the problem. Over the last few years I've been using an ever-changing collection of two or three monitors at sizes from 17" to 21". Not only that but different manufacturers and different ages. I don't think I've ever had a web page look the same on any two monitors. ;-)

My workaround is firstly to get windows on the right monitor to start with, which is facilitated by an AutoIt script that positions windows on launch, and secondly, courtesy of AutoHotkey, to use hotkeys to move the active window to a given place on a designated monitor, or use StrokeIt mouse gestures to flick a window to the next monitor, which is mainly of use with browser windows. It works well and if I get a new keyboard with plenty of extra function buttons, could become a doddle.

6) [Two disparate cards] I'm glad you said that. The advice from the supplier, as I was getting the spec and quote together, was that two of the same was advised. I wasn't sure that that had to be the case so it's nice that you've confirmed what I suspected. The GT 430 that you showed me has 2 DVI outputs. The ones available to me have 1 DVI and 1 HDMI (plus 1 VGA) but presumable that doesn't matter as long as i have the right cables?

7) Triple monitor gaming. Lol. One day, maybe. ;-)

One thing that I'm still not understanding, and further reading elsewhere isn't getting me any better understanding, is how to determine what power is being used for the mundane, everyday stuff, browse, edit, compile, test. Is that so humdrum that a card will barely get out of idle? If so then I presumably ought to be choosing a card based on comparisons of idle power? If it's above that level, how can I work it out? How about watching internet TV? Does that suck juice or is that child's play for a card?

Putting it another way, if I get a pair of 560 Ti's, is that pretty much the same as getting a lower spec card, at least until I get them excited with a bit of gaming, or are they guzzling the juice even for the simple stuff?

Thanks for your help.
a c 236 U Graphics card
a b 4 Gaming
a b C Monitor
February 5, 2012 1:28:51 AM

For > 1920 x 1200, you will need dual link dvi outputs, not just dvi. The monitor shoul supply the required dual link dvi cable which is different from a plain dvi output.

The card I have is a XFX 7800gs, which I don't think is made any more.
I used it on a side monitor@2560 x 1600, and a GTX260, as I recall for the gaming monitor.

I also used a cheap 3450 in the same role which worked, but the color tone was crummy.
Whatever card you pick, you need to verify that it will have dual link dvi outputs, and run at a resolution up to 2560 x 1600 or 2560 x 1440.

With windows 7 you can use several different graphics crivers(not so with XP as I recall). It is perhaps a minor advantage to use either Nvidia or amd, but not both so you only need one copy of the driver in ram.

If you were to run sli, then you need two identical monitors, and I don't think sli will run three independent monitors like you want.
The purpose of sli or cf is to apply the power of two cards to a single monitor for gaming, either on one monitor or three.
I am talking about two (or 3 if need be) cards to independently attach the monitors.

Normal desktop work is 2d and not very taxing. Working with motion is a bit more, requiring something like a $50 graphics card, or good integrated graphics.
Neither requires much wattage to do the task. Internet tv is in that category.

When you get into gaming, you have the need for very fast refresh rates, and added power to render highly detailed scripts. That is where a very strong graphics card is required, and, yes, it will consume a fair amountt of watts.

A pair of GTX560ti cards will do the job nicely. They will not work hard until you play intensive 3d games.
February 9, 2012 12:11:12 PM

From what you say about SLI and three monitors, it seems that the choice would be to unplug the side monitors and play SLI'ed on the main one, or keep the side monitors for normal windowing and forego the SLI. Assuming that I've understood that correctly, that's fair enough.

But the big issue for me is the power consumption. I'm very happy to be reassured that the difference in normal-use power consumption from having lesser cards isn't so great that it's worth giving up the 560 Ti's. I probably won't be doing an awful lot of gaming, so that power cost will be acceptable, and a pair of these cards will be excellent for GPU Computing.

Many thanks for your help in coming to a decision, geofelt. :) 
a c 236 U Graphics card
a b 4 Gaming
a b C Monitor
February 9, 2012 1:21:41 PM

Why not buy a cheap card with two dual link dvi outputs to manage the two side monitors. Then the sli gtx560 cards can be applied to the main monitor while gaming.
From a power consumption point of view, I do not think there will be a significant impact.

Perhaps it is possible that you do not have three long pci-e graphics slots to handle a third graphics card.

I think you can insert a X16 card into a X4 or X1 sized slot. Yes, part of the connectors will overhang, but it should still function at a reduced bandwidth which should be sufficient for 2d side monitors.
February 9, 2012 10:01:26 PM

Ah, I didn't know you could fit a long card into a short slot. That's interesting.

Fortunately it wouldn't be a problem here as there are four full length slots; 3 x16s (as x16+x16 or x16+x8+x8) and 1 x8.

If I do that, two graphics cards in the x16s and another in the x8, that's all 40 channels taken up. What happens if then want to add a x1 network card or something? Would a x16 drop to x8?
a c 236 U Graphics card
a b 4 Gaming
a b C Monitor
February 9, 2012 10:34:46 PM

Not to worry.

Even the most powerful graphics cards are not much limited by X8 speeds while 3d gaming.

It should be even less of a problem on a X79 motherboard.
February 10, 2012 12:01:40 AM

Cool. I shall keep your idea in mind. See how much the gaming bug gets me. ;-)

Cheers :D 
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