Here’s a quick tip for you power-users out there. Did you know you can run on three different monitors at once? If you are a long-time computer geek like me you might even have an old monitor or two sitting around the house. And if you are also a road-warrior then you might have a MacBook laptop instead of a desktop as your daily workhorse machine. I recently set out on a mission to add a second external flat panel monitor to my MacBook Pro (MBP) so I would have three screens meaning two external monitors plus the native laptop screen. At first I read that this was not possible, that the the MBP Mini DisplayPort would only support a single external monitor. Then I discovered the ViBook USB from Village Tronic and I realized my goal was only $140 away.
I’ve been using this setup for over a year now and it really does work pretty well. The ViBook USB is a small graphics converter “black box” that connects to the DVI input on an extra external monitor and has a long USB cable on the other end. It comes with software drivers that you must install so your additional monitor can be recognized by the operating system as a standard monitor. With the drivers properly installed you just plug in both ends of the the little black box an your Mac immediately recognizes the new monitor just as though it was hanging off of another Mini DisplayPort. There are 1Snow Leopard-ready drivers and even a new (BETA but stable) driver for 64-bit Snow Leopard. Once I got the BETA drivers I was running in 64-bit mode as my default boot sequence.
What’s great about this setup is that your Mac will recognize the USB monitor as though it were a regular monitor. This means that you can run custom color profiles and manage your monitor’s rotation all through the default Displays preference panel. It works in vertical and horizontal modes and in all the resolutions your monitor and your MacBook will support. The only drawback I have found in running this way for a year now is the refresh speed and screen capture utilities. The vertical refresh rate is limited by USB throughput and is not as fast as my other monitors. It is visibly slower to redraw the whole screen like in a video player. It is not painfully slow, only slightly slower, but it is a little slower so I don’t watch full screen videos on it. I do run full screen applications like my Firefox browser window and PowerPoint on it with no performance problems at all. But every screen capture program I have ever tried, including Apple’s built in screen grab utility, do not grab images from the USB monitor. This is more of a software driver problem but it’s still an issue. Other than that, it acts exactly like a regular monitor.
So there you are, a super easy and relatively inexpensive way to run an additional external flat panel monitor. It takes maybe 5 minutes to install and setup and it recognizes all of your display settings. What could be better?