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Adding a second video card to a PC on a Friday night

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With the prices of LCD displays and PC video cards dropping to all time lows it is hard to resist the urge to add more monitors to your system. If you have the real estate, and the extra PCI slots, then it could be well worth the money. This week I will show you how I added a second video card to my PC. This simple set up will be used in support of a four monitor system instead of using an expensive single four monitor video card.

Windows 7 Display Screen

Background

I have always wanted more than two monitors but was unsure of the cost and system requirements for my home PC. I had a old LCD but how would I connect it?

Six months ago I tried connecting the monitor with a USB Video Adapter I ordered from Costco. What a piece of crap. I was so mad (their customer service was great but could not get it working) that I gave up and returned it. At that time I thought I was out of options and gave that extra monitor to my niece.

Since then my existing set up has been two Dell 22” monitors on the stock 256MB ATI Radeon video card. I also bought a Dell 24” widescreen and connected it via HDMI to my cable set top box. I run all the sound through my stereo and the STB is the tuner for the 24”. When I installed the ATI Digital Cable Tuner a few weeks ago I needed to move that 24” display to my PC so I could view Windows Media Center on it. How do I get the third monitor attached to my system? What’s a boy to do?

Solution

I did not know what my options were so I started looking at video cards that supported four monitors. These four monitor cards were very expensive and did not have a lot of memory so I decided to research if I could add just a second video card. I knew that higher end systems had multiple cards, large power requirements and combined graphics options but could I just simply add a second video card and be done with it?

YES!

…and Dell had a sale on the S2409W a few weeks ago for $160 after Bing CB so I purchased a fourth monitor!

Now here comes some important information:

  • I would only try this on a Windows 7 PC
  • My preference is for ATI cards
  • I used two cards of the same series (for example Radeon 4350)
  • I downloaded the ATI Catalyst Control Center first
  • I verified the power requirements and slots before buying the cards
  • I do not game so I am not talking about CrossfireX of SLI here

 

You may like NVIDIA GeForce cards and software, and while most of the same principles apply, you should check it out further before starting.

 

Equipment Needed

  • Windows 7 PC
  • Second video card and matching open PCI slot
  • Third and/or fourth monitor
  • Proper video cables
  • ATI Catalyst Control Center (CCC) software
  • Three Beers (optional but recommended this time)

The ATI CCC program can be downloaded for free at:

http://support.amd.com/us/gpudownload/Pages/index.aspx

Lets set this pig on fire!

Installation

It takes me less than three minutes to change and replace the card in the case. Your mileage will vary of course.

 

 

Mental note: I pulled the original Dell shipped card and ran a ASUS EASH 4350 for a month as a trial. I then bought a PCI x1 HIS 4350 card from Newegg and added it in. The two cards worked great together. Since the second card was working well I replaced the PCI x16 ASUS (which was so big it covered the only other PCI x1 slot) with a Gigabyte 4350. All these cards moving around and Windows 7 got the drivers right each time!

My Dell Studio 540 board has one PCI x16, two PCI x1 and one PCI slot. I chose to move the existing card out of the PCI x16 spot and and get two new cards. Since I only had one PCI x16 spot I had to get the second video card in a PCI x1 configuration. My PCI x1 choices were limited but I found a card at Newegg for $80. Your board will have different slot options!

Video Cards

More information on PCI Express slots can be found at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pci_express

Once the cards were installed and in place I had to bend the top part of the case flange to get the HDMI plug to insert all the way.

Video Card Connectors

I bought DVI-HDMI cards since the two Dell 24” monitors have HDMI connections. I would also suggest dual DVI instead of VGA. Do not use the VGA connections unless you have to. There really is a noticeable difference when you have two monitors side by side.

Windows Set Up

On my first start up after installing the new video card Windows 7 installed the driver for the new device. I love Windows 7. Seriously.

Device Installation

Once Windows 7 is up and running the main monitor is standard definition. The system will require a reboot and should adjust the resolution back to normal after the restart.

Driver Software Installation

After the system restarted I was able to see all four of the monitors. I had an issue in that my two Dell 24” monitors connected over HDMI were not scaled correctly. They viewed the desktop properly but the screen image was not all the way to the edge of the display.

Here is the video of the adjustment:

 

 

Here is the video of what the scaling looked like:

 

You will probably come across this scaling issue in the future. Make a quick note of how the CCC works.

Conclusion

After I got the system up and running I could not get monitor one to recognize the signal. It showed as enabled in Windows but would not auto-recognize. Apparently when I jammed the HDMI cable in the socket I bent some of the pins inside the HDMI cable. Crap. I did not know I could even do that. WTH? Always check your connections first!

Bent HDMI Connector

After replacing the cable and making the final scaling adjustment my system is working great. I can multitask and have more screen real estate then ever before. Look at how a screen capture looks with four monitors!

Four Monitor Screenshot

Both Windows 7 and the ATI CCC allow you to move your screens around so I have mine adjusted as they view from my chair.

If I had not promised my wife that four monitors was enough I would seriously consider trying another PCI x1 video card and running six monitors. I just might have to try it…

See you next Friday night,

Timothy Daleo

Timothy Daleohttp://usingwindowshomeserver.com
Timothy Daleo is a Project Resource Analyst and Oracle Applications Trainer in Pasadena, California. In addition to financial analysis, Tim has been developing training materials since 2003 and supporting direct projects through various auxiliary databases since 2005.

19 COMMENTS

  1. Nice write up Tim. From the video, it looks like the hardest part of putting in the video card was actually putting the side cover back on the PC.

    How does your PC do running applications on 4 monitors when one of them is Media Center? Any stuttering or pauses?

    Great job. I hope you can expand to 6 monitors in the future. Maybe you can get Dell to kick in to help out (showing 6 monitors on one PC may help them sell more monitors!!).

  2. No performance issues with WMC with the video cards.

    All of the equipment is at my own cost so it will be a while before I go with more monitors. You would think I was a Dell poster boy though…

  3. Those CRTs must burn some serious juice. At least all the warmth from the CRTs will keep the room nice and toasty.

  4. I recently upgraded from 2 to 4 monitors. What a difference!. Nice write up. I used 2 nvidia cards. Each card has 2 dvi ports and some sort of s-video looking jack that EVGA uses on their cards. Biggest problem I had was that the 2 new Dell monitors displayed great right away, but the Samsung's both showed "no signal." I fiddled and diddled with the nvidia software and Windows 7 display properties and nothing worked….until I accidentally pressed one of the buttons on the side of one of the Samsung monitors and then display immediately came up (It was set to analog rather than digital, and I had pressed the button which switched them). 😉

    • I never thought to mention checking the monitor before for Auto Detect. Dells default to that setting.

      Glad you are rockin' 7680 x 4320

      Tim

  5. Hello Timithy,

    Noticed you also use a Dell Studio 540… Have you ever tried to configure this machine to Wake on lan?

    I have the same model but could never make it work…

    regards,

    Gilson

  6. Timothy,

    The Studio 540 bios already has a Remote Wake Up setting.

    Shouldn't it be enough? Or is it different from WOL?

  7. By the way, would like to know how you`ve mount the 4 monitors. Are they fixed to the wall? Have you published photos of your setup?

  8. I would not try any other BIOS change outside of the DCCU. Are you using this in conjuction with the AutoExit Add-In?

    I have the 24's hanging on cheapie eBay mounts. I will publish some pictures tomorrow in an article.

    Tim

  9. I have not changed anything in the BIOS, it already had a setting for Remote Wake Up.

    Yes, I`m using AutoExit.

    Thanks, I appreciate your articles very much!

  10. No, I haven't. It says its for the Optiplex, Latitude and Precision series… have you used it with your Studio?

  11. Gilson,

    I will not be attempting to install WOL at this time. Maybe sometime next year I can look into it again. I would suggest looking back at the DCCU.

    Good luck,

    Tim

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