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How Realistic Is Multi-Monitor Gaming On A Budget?

Budget Multi-Monitor Gaming: Cheap, Workable And Satisfying

Hardcore PC gamers might assume that budget-oriented graphics hardware is not capable of driving three screens with acceptable performance. After thorough testing, though, I can confidently say that this assumption simply isn't true.

When I set out to write this article, my goal wasn't to pit GeForce against Radeon, but to prove that both are worthy of consideration if you have multiple monitors sitting side-by-side. Both AMD and Nvidia sell cards that can handle triple-display gaming for less than 150 bucks. It wasn't so long ago that a single 19” LCD cost more than three cheap 1080p monitors today, so this is definitely one of those cases where technology improves and gets cheaper over time, putting what was once an ultra-high-end configuration in reach of cost-conscious gamers.

Not only can three displays enhance your gaming experience, but they also improve day to day productivity as well. For example, photo editing is easier than ever before. As I type this article, I have a Web browser open on my left, word processing software in the middle and music/photos/notes open on the right. No more shrinking and expanding windows; I can leave them all open.

In the end, I would call this experiment a definite success. Of course, budget-oriented graphics hardware isn't going to let you enjoy the highest detail settings or resolutions in new and demanding titles, but you definitely have the option to immerse yourself in PC games at a whole new level.

I know that 4K is here, and it's great that Ultra HD displays keep getting more affordable. But in my mind, those extra pixels don't compare to being surrounded. In addition, many games (particularly older titles) don't have a scalable user interface (UI), and are essentially unplayable at 4K because the player's vital information is displayed impractically small. On the other hand, a widescreen 5760x1080 setup allows for a standard-sized UI and fewer pixels to push, resulting in playable performance on budget hardware.

Once you actually experience three monitors in action, you probably won't give them up anytime soon. While I struggled with the decision, now that I've tried it I am never going back. Hopefully I've removed some of the mystique surrounding a multi-monitor setup, and I recommend it without hesitation.

  • AndrewJacksonZA
    Thank you very, very much for this article Jason. I also thought that Eyefinity/Surround was only for the rich. This might be affecting my upgrade decision. :-)
    Reply
  • leeb2013
    Great article. Triple monitor gaming was one of the best things I did, nicely fills your horizontal fov. Shame some recent aaa games still don't support it! 3 2nd hand Samsung monitors, 70 bucks each, R9 290 which is even cheaper now. Get a fairly solid 60fps with low aa and occasionally have to drop the quality settings for these recent poor console ports we're getting.
    Reply
  • CaedenV
    Its neat to see this working so well on a more budget conscious system. I remember back when this tech was first getting started and even on the high-end of the market it seemed much more work than it was worth.

    For my work computer I will never again go back to having less than 2 displays (though the 3rd tends to get significantly less use, it is handy to have at times). When working with lots of office apps and web browsers it is extremely nice to have everything up at once where you can see it. Even at home when doing work at home I tend to use my desktop display as a 2nd for my gutless laptop rather than using the workhorse gaming/editing rig (plus, the laptop can't game... so less distracting).
    But for gaming, I absolutely prefer a single large high-quality monitor to having 3 'normal' sized ones. I mean, if I could afford 3 high-end displays (and the GPU horsepower to drive them) then I would absolutely go for that. But as a general rule of thumb, at a given budget I find that having a single display that is as large and as nice as possible is much more enjoyable than having 3 mediocre displays.
    Reply
  • Grognak
    Nearly $900 before buying the screens and GPU. I guess we have different definitions of "budget". Don't know why you would bother getting multi-monitor with a cheap GPU, too; as your benchmarks show, most games get barely playable FPS, and that's with low settings. It was interesting but it really doesn't convince me that this kind of rig is affordable.
    Reply
  • simon4ok
    I am really interested in knowing how did you manage to connect the monitors to the graphics card? Given that you only had 2 DVIs, HDMI and DisplayPort, which ports did you use for the 3 monitors? And did you convert DVI to HDMI or the other way around? And does that make any difference on these resolutions (1920x1080 per monitor)?
    Reply
  • eldragon0
    wh3resmycar, I'm assuming you mean for a budget system,

    http://i.imgur.com/eAz4LMp.jpg is my build, and I'd never drop below 4 monitors again. Ultra wide is ok for gaming, but productivity, multiple screens are needed.
    Reply
  • damianrobertjones
    @wh3resmycar: Why do you feel the need to insult people? I have an ultrawide Dell U2913wm and, in all honesty, I'd gladly move back to a 3xscreen setup. Work can be done, left alone on its own screen and then... gaming.

    Just because YOU do not see the need for something doesn't make the people that do idiots.
    Reply
  • marciocattini
    Man I'm left wondering whether this article should have included a dual and triple sli/crossfire with the same cards to see if you could achieve a high level of detail...
    I mean 3 radeon 260's and nvidia 750's TI is still pretty cheap compared to a high end card!!
    Reply
  • Sakkura
    You might want to explain why there's no FCAT data, only the highly unreliable benchmark data from Fraps.
    Reply
  • Evolution2001
    I'm not entirely sure why you even need to bother with the AMD's and nVidia's config software. Both Win7 and 8 natively support three monitor setups, and with monitors of different resolution/size.
    I'm at work in my cubicle and I'm currently writing this on a basic HP Probook 6575b which uses the AMD A6-4400M APU (Radeon HD7520G video chipset) connected to HP's docking station. I have (2) Samsung B2230's side by side and an HP P221 hanging on the wall in a portrait orientation.
    Using basic Windows configuration, I have the P221 monitor offset so bottom portion is about 2" above the bottom of the Samsungs, and extends about 10" above. Even though the physical screen of the P221 does not align with the Samsungs, when I drag windows across the monitors, they stay exactly lined up; they don't get that disconnected offset. (I realize it may be hard to visualize).

    The point being is that Windows' native monitor resolution settings will allow you do the basics needed to configure your three monitor setup as well as set things like offset and orientation. I think what throws off most people is that they don't realize that in the screen resolution settings, you can drag your monitors around and reorder and align them as needed.

    One other tip... rather than have your monitors bezels next to each other, find your normal seating position. Now take your outer monitor and move the bezel so it's directly behind the middle monitor's bezel. Effectively you should be able to achieve the visual perception of only a single bezel divide instead of a double-wide.
    Reply