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I'm looking at building a new PC and one of my primary requirements is to be able to run triple monitors. I'd appreciate some advice about motherboards and cards I can use for this, in the mid / upper mid range.

I'm intending to run Ubuntu on it with Parallels Desktop so I can load multiple virtual windows machines, and I'm intending to throw a significant amount of processing power and memory at it.

I've been considering going for a Mac Pro as I've had good experiences of Parallels for Mac on that, but with the price of a suitably upgraded Mac Pro well in excess of £2000 I'm considering alternatives.

Although I've regularly built my own machines for the past few years I am not a hardware geek, so specific advice would be appreciated.

EDIT: Thanks for answers so far. I certainly want to use a motherboard with twin PCI-Express16 slots so I can maximum performance on all screens, and I was certainly thinking on a quad core and at least 4Gb memory (I can afford to go up to $2000 on this, although I'd prefer to keep it to $1700 if possible).

I also have windows licences available (as a registered Windows developer), although I run Ubuntu on one of my workstations and I'm quite comfortable with that. Are there any advantages to using either Windows or Ubuntu as the native OS ?

Any specific motherboard/graphics card/cpu recommendations?

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closed as off topic by nhinkle May 6 '13 at 21:05

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Trust me on this: do not get a Mac. There are much cheaper hardware alternatives to what you're asking for. –  Breakthrough Sep 10 '09 at 20:28
Yah, I would only get a mac if you wanted to have os x with this setup. –  Troggy Sep 10 '09 at 20:35
Which things do you want to run on 3 monitors? Are you thinking 1 monitor per Windows VM, or do you want the Windows VMs to be able to span monitors? The host OS, of course, will have 3 monitors, but the client viewers for most hypervisors don't have very good multi-monitor support. The VMware Viewer, for instance, doesn't maximize across multiple monitors. I use Windows' Remote Desktop client to use 2 monitors with my Windows VMs, but it's very tedious unless you use WinSplit Revolution or something similar to tile your windows onto the separate screens. –  rob Sep 10 '09 at 21:03
You're probably better off using Windows or Linux as your host OS and VMWare Workstation for your virtual machines. –  davr Sep 10 '09 at 23:02
I have to agree with davr with this one. If you're comfortable, I'd also recommend you try other virtualization software, like VirtualBox - not that it's better, but just to see what else is "out there". –  Breakthrough Sep 11 '09 at 10:54

6 Answers 6

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Depending on what you want, you can simply throw a bunch of video cards together and use software to make them function as you'd wish.

Unless you need significantly more processing power, I'd say a couple of Nvidia GeForce 9800GT's (each with 2x DVI ports) would be more than enough. Just make sure the motherboard has at least 2 PCIe slots. An advantage to using the same video cards is that you can use SLI to get a nice grapics performance boost.

The video card you choose can be anything, so long as it has enough outputs. And as mentioned above, try to match it to take advantage of SLI/Crossfire. This also will impact the motherboard you choose, as will the processor.

If money is an important consideration, then you may wish to use a single PCIe video card which is somewhat powerful, to run the first two monitors, and then a more "low-end" PCI video card for the third monitor.

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Any particular motherboard recommendations? –  user2630 Sep 11 '09 at 11:00
@cruachan: I use an eVGA 750i FTW motherboard - and I'm really happy with it. It's compatible with DDR2-1066, and uses a socket LGA775 for Intel Core 2 Duo processors. It has two PCIe slots, so you can only do double SLI (I personally think triple SLI is overkill)... I don't think the motherboard is available anymore - everyone is transitioning to DDR3 and the new i7 processors. You might want to look into compatible hardware with those technologies if you're going for high-end. –  Breakthrough Sep 11 '09 at 11:52

As someone already mentioned, it might make more sense to build or buy a PC instead of a Mac, unless you really want Mac OS X as your host OS.

If you're running Windows or Linux as your host OS, you would use a different hypervisor instead of Parallels, but most hypervisors are pretty comparable in terms of features. Freely-available Linux hypervisors include VirtualBox, VMware Server, and XEN. Windows hypervisors include VirtualBox, VMware, and VirtualPC/VirtualServer. You probably don't want to use a bare-metal hypervisor (e.g., VMware ESX, XenServer, Hyper-V).

You can use any two PCIe cards with dual outputs, as long as your motherboard has two PCIe x16 slots (PCIe slots can be x16, x4, or x1--x16, of course, is the longest one). You might as well get two of the same type of card, since you're building this new.

Some motherboards with onboard video also allow you to still use the onboard graphics even when you plug a PCIe card into the PCIe x16 slot.

You don't need high-powered graphics cards, but you should invest in lots of RAM, as well as a fast dual- or quad-core CPU. The more cores you have, the more responsive your apps will be when running many guest OSes.

EDIT: I just ran across another topic where someone said Vista does not support heterogeneous video adapers--so if you end up installing Vista as your host OS, you will need to install two similar cards which use the same driver.

Also, remember that you technically need to have a separate Windows license for each installation of Windows. You'll have to activate each installation separately, and each one will have different activation codes since the virtual hardware (disk ID, network card's MAC address, etc.) will be different for each VM.

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What you want is a Matrox Parhelia video card. Some models support 4 monitors natively.

Matrox has learned some lessons, as they provide Linux drivers for most of their graphics cards.

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Since I wrote this, ATi's 5xxx cards supporting EyeFinity have been released. Despite previous poor Linux support, AMD/ATi has improved and may be the better choice now. –  kmarsh Nov 19 '09 at 16:54

You could go for a simple solution such as the Matrox TripleHead2Go.

Windows/Mac supported.

It plugs into a USB port and gives you three graphics ports in return. There are different flavours of the hardware such as analogue or digital, depending on whether you have VGA or DVI respectively. All the information is in the link.

alt text

A couple of my clients use it and say it works flawlessly. It is really easy to install and manage.

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the problem with Matrox: no Linux drivers. they just didn't learn their lesson, did they? back in the days, when Matrox was the dominant power in the GPU business, they refused to provide drivers for IBM OS/2 Warp, arrogantly telling customers to ask IBM for support. as they say: pride goeth before the fall :) –  Molly7244 Sep 10 '09 at 20:41
Yeah I deleted my answer after reading the question a second time, but just re-added it. It looks like Ubuntu is to be run INSIDE Parallels (which I thought was Mac-based) correct me if I'm wrong and I'll go sulk in the corner + delete my silly answer :p –  Kez Sep 10 '09 at 20:42
@Molly Yeah but.. look where OS/2 is now. –  snicker Nov 25 '09 at 20:50

Simply pop in two video cards, preferably ones that use the same video driver. I've got three screens on this box.

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you don't really need massive graphics power for what you have in mind. Virtual Computers usually emulate some S3 GPU. a mainboard with onboard graphics and PCIe expansion slot for a graphics card with dual output out should suffice for your 3 monitors. spend money on processing power (hardware assisted virtualization is a keyword) and plenty memory.

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