Macbook Pro i7 with Multiple Monitors

One of the more interesting struggles I’ve been facing lately when I bought my first MacBook Pro i7 (unibody / mid 2010 / model type 6,1) is that I couldn’t figure out how to extend my laptop to my two external monitors I use on my PC. As a PC guy I looked at that mini display port on the side of the Mac and said “Is that for hard drive? That must be what this FireWire business is all about..”. I actually had to look up online or the electronic manual what that port was for.

For the longest time, I’ve had two Samsung monitors (24″/21″) connected via DVI cables to the graphics card on my PC (dual DVI ports – NVidia 8800 GTS) and as a programmer it’s almost a outright necessity to have not only a large monitor but multiple ones. Sometimes you just need to put things side-by-side to make your work easier. You loose a train of thought if you have to juggle windows – at least for me.

I’ve done a lot of googling and the one awesome blog posting I’ve found is a great one by Danny Sullivan (http://daggle.com/macbook-pro-multimonitor-4-monitors-at-once-1577). He has a great set up. I’m really glad that I read his posting to save me the trouble of buying those expensive Matrox units he bought to know I didn’t need them.

Up until reading his posting I hadn’t even known that you could essentially use these new USB to DVI (as well as VGA/HDMI) adapters to extend your desktop to monitors via USB alone.

After reading his post and all the follow up comments I did end up buying the Diamond BVU195 USB-to-DVI video adapters. It may have been a few dollars more than the Pluggable or other models but I just inherently trusted the Diamond name better. Plus I believe all these comparable products are using the same DisplayLink chipset anyway so the driver is coming from DisplayLink. I also got a nice Cyberpower 7 port USB hub that had great reviews.

After receiving my products, I went to the DisplayLink site to download the latest Mac OSX beta driver for the BVU195. At the time of writing this I’m using the 1.6 beta 3 version.

Before installing the driver, it’s worth noting that you should disable the Automatic Graphic switching from your “Energy Saver” part of your System Preferences and reboot the computer. If you install the driver before disabling, you may end up with some strange video results post install or after a reboot (especially if you try to put the computer to sleep and wake it up). In my case I made an external monitor my main screen complete with menu and dock and my display went wonky with no visible way to correct. I had to hard power the MB and hold down SHIFT key on reboot for safe mode so I could uninstall the driver, disable Automatic Graphic Switching, reboot, then reinstall (word to the wise).

After the driver install and reboot it was a breeze to adjust the monitors via the System Preferences / Displays. I could easily adjust each monitor to the desired resolution the monitor could handle. I get nice 1920 x 1200 on my MB and 24″ Samsung. While still in “Displays”, to make my external monitor my main one, I dragged the menu bar from the MB onto my external monitor. My laptop and two external monitors are side-by-side on the Displays “Arrangement” tab. As soon as I moved my menu to my middle 24″ monitor, my Dock appeared there as well. My dock settings are set to “bottom”.

System Preferences > Displays
System Preferences > Displays

All-in-all things are pretty good. One area that I’ve had a problem with is wanting to close the lid on my Mac and still use my two external monitors. Each time I do this the Mac goes to sleep and my two external monitors turn off. I can visually see that the green lights go out on the Diamond adapters so it’s loosing a connection from the Mac too. I use an external Extended Apple keyboard (USB) and a Logitech V470 bluetooth mouse. If I send a wake up event via keyboard or mouse, the Mac will wake up, but immediately go back to sleep. I thought maybe this was a System Preference setting but after messing with the Sleep settings, nothing worked. I eventually read online that the Mac will only stay awake if it can detect that you have a monitor plugged into your Mini Display port. I’ve tested this out by swapping one of my monitors to use the Mini Display port adapter instead of the Diamond. It does work and the two external monitors will stay on after the lid is closed and you wake up the mac (even with bluetooth mouse).

One thing is for sure, I need to figure out what to do with my Mac once I close the lid. I just can’t wait for HengeDocks to put into production their 17″ model docking station. Those docking stations look very attractive and perfect for my desk arrangement.

Maybe once I clean up my desk some more I’ll post some pictures of my setup.

5 Replies to “Macbook Pro i7 with Multiple Monitors”

  1. Question: once installed, can you turn on auto-graphics switching? Or does it always have to be off?

    When on battery power away from my monitors, I like to use the integrated intel graphics instead of the nvidia gpu, in order to save power.

  2. My experience is that it always has to be off (unchecked). If you switch it back on you could have some adverse affects. In my case, I noticed that once the computer went to sleep the screen may not wake up and then on reboots none of the displays would work correctly. Worse yet that the driver would then be corrupt meaning you couldn’t do a safe boot and then shut off automatic graphic switching expecting to save yourself. In my case, I had to do a safe boot, uninstall the driver, boot back up, then reinstall making sure I had automatic graphic switching turned off.

    I’d probably not recommend using multiple monitors when on batteries alone. It might be worthwhile to use a docking station and an extra power supply if you can swing it. I wrote about my Hendgedocks dock and love it.

    1. @Grey Hat Brat,
      Thanks for the tip for the Insomniax app. It might be useful to someone else. I just upgraded to Lion so this app may not work for me. Also, related to your other question, I find having at least one good monitor connected via the mini display port to offer the best video performance. The video quality on the Diamond BVU 195 is pretty good but if you were to watch high quality HD video from a DVD or file you may notice some lags. The same is true for any video games. The higher the resolution of the monitor and content, the more noticeable the lag will be. I will say that for normal ‘youtube’ style video watching, it’s ok. You can generally do about 90% of what you’d normally do, its just the higher quality frame rate of video/gaming that will produce some lag and seemingly choppy playback.

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