Not for Gamers, But Nifty for Office Work
Plugging a monitor into a USB port? Ha, ha! That’s right up there with mistaking your CD-ROM drive for a cupholder, or getting a “Press Any Key” message and phoning tech support to say you can’t find the Any key. Mistaking a USB for a VGA port! Heh. Well, that’s our laugh for the d —
Wait a second. This product lets you plug a monitor into a USB port. They’re not kidding. You can span your Windows desktop across two monitors without needing a dual-output graphics card or installing a second card. This is kind of weird. This is kind of neat.
No Disguise With That Double Vision
Tritton Technologies says its See2 is the world’s first USB 2.0 to SVGA adapter — a $99 gadget that converts a Windows 2000 or XP system’s USB 2.0 port to a 15-pin VGA port for connecting a spare CRT or analog-interface LCD. Slightly larger than your PC mouse, the plastic dongle needs no external power supply or other connections; it has a handsome transparent top and glowing blue LED, though you probably won’t see it tucked behind your monitor.
Its main catch or drawback is that USB 2.0, though far faster than version 1.1, lacks the bandwidth to rival a real display adapter’s performance; workstation buffs or gamers dreaming of blazing speed on 1,600 by 1,200-pixel monitors can quit reading, because the See2 peaks at XGA (1,024 by 768) resolution with either an 8- or 16-bit color palette (256 or 65,536 colors respectively). It does offer 32-bit true color, but at a ceiling of SVGA (800 by 600) resolution.
Nor does it support demanding high-speed applications such as games or streaming video; the See2 driver doesn’t support Microsoft’s DirectX (though the brief Adobe Acrobat user’s manual says a future upgrade may), and the games and benchmarks we tried to run on a monitor plugged into the device either failed or jumped to our conventionally connected screen at launch.
But that’s perfectly adequate for setting up a dual-display configuration like a fancy business exec’s — keeping your e-mail and/or Web browser always on view on Screen 2 instead of hidden beneath your word processor on Screen 1. Or for stretching a spreadsheet across both, seeing the whole year’s instead of six months’ results at a glance. Or for moving your image editor’s toolbars or palettes to one side to devote your main monitor to working on the actual image.
We tested the Tritton adapter with two Intel-integrated-chipset desktops (one older 865G with Windows 2000 and one newer 915G Express with Windows XP) and one Centrino notebook (Intel 855GM integrated chipset with Win XP). The only glitch in any of the installations was the provided mini-size (8cm) software CD falling through one desktop’s tray- or cupholder-style drive — we had to use a USB flash drive to copy the driver from one of our other PCs.
After you install the driver, you plug your second monitor into the See2 dongle, plug the dongle into your PC, reboot, and start enjoying a wider view — a second screen (without a Windows taskbar) where you can drag (and then, if you like, maximize) application windows, or stretch nonmaximized windows across both screens. Once positioned, most programs “remember” their location on the extended desktop and appear there when relaunched.
We were embarrassed for a moment by trying to move the mouse off the right edge of the screen, since the second monitor was physically to the right of our first, when Windows had placed it on the left. But you can rearrange virtual desktops and set each monitor’s refresh rate with Windows’ Display Properties dialog.
Diagnostic utilities “see” the added graphics adapter as a Magic Control Technology Co. (the Taiwainese OEM manufacturer) device with no frills like DirectDraw or AGP texture acceleration. We weren’t able to maximize a single application window across both screens (which one a program snapped to seemed to depend on which one held more than half of the nonmaximized window), but could resize one until it virtually filled both, and the Print Screen key captured double-wide screen shots.
If you’ve never had the pleasure of a double display, it can take a little getting used to — e.g., missing an application’s “close” box in the top right corner of Screen 1 as your mouse pointer doesn’t stop but moves into Screen 2. But it soon becomes a real convenience and productivity booster, especially if you’re an avid multitasker; the more programs you can glance at without Alt-Tabbing or taskbar-clicking, the more time you save. And as long as you remember it’s for workaday applications rather than wraparound gaming or workstation design, the Tritton adapter is an easy, ingenious invention.
- Simple, clever gadget lets you connect a second (or, for notebook owners, third) monitor to a USB port
- More expensive, with lower resolution and slower performance, than putting a secondary graphics card into a PCI slot