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I have two ASUS VN289H monitors. Each monitor has one VGA/D-Sub and two HDMI inputs. I am currently using one M-M VGA cable and one DVI to HDMI cable to power this dual-screen setup.

I am upgrading to a Surface Pro 3 with docking station. The docking station has a Mini DisplayPort and USB ports.

I would like to run a tri-screen setup: the two monitors as the primary and secondary displays, and the Surface Pro as the third display. What is the best way to configure this setup? Is it possible to accomplish this without purchasing an expensive hub?

Thanks so much,

--HB

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If using multiple monitors with the Surface Pro 3 is all you care about, then I would suggest getting one of those "expensive" Display Port MST hubs (they are really not that expensive). You can use it with other devices.

The docking station for Surface Pro 3 however is more versatile. So if you want extra USB ports, a nice stand, and so on, then the docking station is probably your best choice. But it is limited to that particular device. You may or may not... be able to use it with Surface Pro 4 once it's released. Most likely... if they follow the footsteps of Apple... you will have to invest in a new docking station.

With the docking station, you connect one monitor to the Surface Pro 3, and the second monitor to the docking station. With a Display Port hub, you connect the hub to the Surface Pro 3, one monitor to the hub, and the second monitor to the hub.

Solution 1

Surface Pro 3:miniDP
                |-------miniDP-to-HDMI------VN289H:HDMI
Docking Station:miniDP
                |-------miniDP-to-HDMI------VN289H:HDMI

Solution 2

Surface Pro 3:miniDP
                |-------Hub:miniDP---miniDP-to-HDMI----VN289H:HDMI
                |
                |-------Hub:miniDP---miniDP-to-HDMI----VN289H:HDMI

Even though you have double HDMI ports on each monitor, I don't think you can daisy-chain them. The second port is usually for one additional signal source, not for repeating the first signal received on the first port. I think only some Display Port equipped monitors are capable of daisy-chaining. (I might be wrong about that. Some HDMI monitors may be able to do that as well.)

I would not recommend using one of those USB based extenders for external monitors. It piggybacks your CPU, and these extenders tend to have technical limitations like low color depth.

  • The USB docks don't have low colour depth issues, I've used them a lot. They are great for standard office use and the USB3 versions happily drive 2 decent monitors with no noticeable lag. That applies to watching video too, even HD is fine. But I wouldn't expect to be able to run HD games. Just be aware of the limitations. – Julian Knight Jun 23 '15 at 9:10
  • Well, that may depend on make and model. Things like USB 2 vs. USB 3. As you said, depending on what you want to use it for, it may be okay. But it is not ideal, in any case. – Samir Jun 23 '15 at 11:14
  • Perhaps if it had more expensive components, like... a dedicated GPU, CPU, RAM, and so on... then it would make a great extender and you would be able to play games with it in HD. But then I would not consider it as an "accessory", but rather a new device in its own right. I imagine people would be more reluctant to buy this new "accessory". – Samir Jun 23 '15 at 11:21
  • Thanks. Most of the hubs I found are $90 and up. Not too expensive but more than I am looking to spend at the moment. You are correct that the monitors cannot be daisy chained by HDMI (or at least these monitors can't). It is HDMI input only. – hbcobra Jun 24 '15 at 23:28
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I have had no joy trying to get my Surface Pro 3 to drive 3 monitors. The best I've been able to do is the internal screen and 2 external. One direct from the on-surface mini-dp and 1 from the docking station.

At home I also drive 2 externals. One from the on-surface mini-dp and one from a USB docking station.

What you might be able to do is to add an external USB dock (I strongly recommend a USB3 dock if you can afford one) to the Surface dock. That might allow 3 monitors but I couldn't guarantee it.

USB external graphics can also be reasonably heavy on CPU as well so be prepared for that. Though I've not had any problems like that on the i5's and i7's I've used.

  • Yep, USB external gfx isn't ideal for large monitors, especially two. Was running a Belkin USB 3.0 Dual Video Docking Stand with single 27inch monitor and noticed lag in mouse movements which start to play with your head. – Papa Jun 23 '15 at 0:33
  • Thanks. A friend gave me a MDP to DVI converter, and I then used a DVI to HDMI cable for that. For the other, I scrounged a USB to VGA converter. So far I have not noticed a delay in the USB to VGA conversion. – hbcobra Jun 24 '15 at 23:26
  • Displaylink drivers over USB2 can be slow, especially with large monitors. With a decently powerful PC (i5/4GB+ RAM) I've successfully used 2 monitors (19") on a USB2 hub along with an internal laptop screen and a 24" via the laptop's DisplayPort. That was a Lenovo Thinkpad Yoga. Only a tiny bit laggy on the USB connected monitors. A single 19" on an old USB2 hub on my Surface Pro 3 is absolutely fine. – Julian Knight Jun 24 '15 at 23:32

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