Asus AGP-V7100/2VIDReview date: 13 October 2000. Last modified 03-Dec-2011.
Multiple monitor computing is nifty. Windows 98, ME and 2000 all let you install more than one video adapter and connect more than one monitor, and arrange the screens as you like. You can then stretch your Windows desktop over the different monitors and quite easily have different program windows on different screens.
Web browser on one screen, word processor on another. Windowed game on one screen, e-mail program on another. Stock prices on one screen, more stock prices on another, yet more stock prices on a third, list of islands currently for sale on a fourth. Heck, you can even have a DVD playing back on one screen and the boss-impressing software of your choice on the other. It's up to you.
You can tell Windows exactly where the monitors are in relation to each other, so your desktop flows over the two of them appropriately. And you can use that old 15 inch screen with your shiny new 19 incher and set both displays to a resolution that suits them - well, you can in Win98 and WinME, anyway; Win2000's a bit more limited, as I'll explain in a moment.
The simple way to do multi-monitors is with a single multi-output video card. One card, more than one video connector. Multi-output cards suitable for ordinary PCs have been around for some time, but they always used to use low quality video chipsets, and be alarmingly expensive. Four years ago, you could drop $AU900 for a twin-output card using a pair of S3 Trio 64V+ chipsets, with a mere 1Mb of RAM for each one.
The 64V+ was a pretty unexciting chipset even then, and with that much memory could only manage 800 by 600 in 16 bit colour. 1024 by 768 could be done in 256 colour, and 1280 by 1024 in crummy old 16 colour mode. Upgrading to 2Mb of RAM for each output, to jack up the possible colours for each resolution by one notch, took the price for the card alone to $AU980. Which is more than $AU1100 in today's dollars.
The sheer degree of uselessness of the Trio 64V+ for 3D games, by the way, is difficult to describe. Its 2D speed was tolerable, at least.
That was then, this is now. Say hello to the dual-output GeForce2 MX.
32Mb of video memory, shared between the two outputs when you're using them both at once. 32 bit colour up to monster resolutions, on each screen, with better-than-acceptable refresh rates. In 1600 by 1200, 32 bit, the 32Mb MX can manage 100Hz - if your monitor can.
It's fast, too. The MX has 2D speed that's almost certainly faster than you need, and 3D speed that's... well, that may well be faster than you need as well.
I've checked out GeForce2 MX cards before (see my reviews here, here and here). I like 'em. Video adapters based on this chipset are, quite simply, the best value high performance PC consumer video cards on the market today. In the resolutions in which most people play 3D games - or ought to, because their monitor can't clearly display anything higher - the GeForce2 MX performs about as well as the GeForce DDR, which was the fastest consumer 3D accelerated graphics card you could get before Nvidia released the GeForce2 GTS chipset.
You can still buy GeForce DDR boards, but you won't find one for much less than $AU500. Full GeForce2 GTS cards cost more than $AU600. But your basic GeForce2 MX card costs not much more than $AU300.
The first GeForce2 MX video card I got was Asus' AGP-V7100/T, with an RGB (VGA monitor) and a TV output. Its problem was, and is, that it's too expensive; it still sells for almost $AU370, while other MX cards with the same features, like the Leadtek WinFast GeForce2 MX, cost less than $AU325.
Here, though, is the AGP-V7100/2VID, the twin-monitor-connector version of the V7100. It only costs $AU374, delivered. Since you're getting two video cards in one, that's not a bad deal at all.
Asus can't quite decide what this video card's called. I think they actually want it to be the AGP-V7100/2VID, spelled vee-eye-dee at the end. That's what it's called on the specs page here. But on the box, and in the manual, and on the sticker on the card itself, it's called the AGP-V7100/2V1D, with a vee-one-dee at the end. That doesn't make a lot of sense, though, so I'll use the "vid" name.
It's things like this that drive inventory handlers to drink.
The other contender
Nvidia's dual-output video technology is called TwinView. It works with any multi-connector MX card, including ones like the V7100/T that only have an RGB and a TV output. If you stretch your desktop over the two screens, you can do work on the monitor while you play a DVD on the TV.
Matrox has a longer-established line of dual-output cards, with the Multi-Monitor version of the Millennium G200, and the newer, faster "DualHead" versions of the Millennium G400 and G450.
The two G4x0 models perform the same; the 450's just a more advanced, cheaper to make and less power-hungry version of the 400.
Unfortunately for Matrox, though, the G4x0 cards just aren't all that fast, for the money.
Their 2D speed is fine, of course - only the cheapest current graphics cards have less 2D performance than the vast majority of users need. And many users, not all of them mad one-eyed Matrox patriots, report that the 2D image quality of the Matrox boards is noticeably superior, too. The Nvidia-based boards are good, but various people judge the Matrox ones to be better.
But G4x0 3D speed is nothing worth writing home about. In realistic resolutions - 800 by 600 to 1280 by 960 - the G4x0's perform more or less like Nvidia's old Riva TNT2 chipset, although with better rendering quality.
There's a higher-performance, faster-clocked variant of the G400 called the G400 MAX; it performs pretty much like Nvidia's TNT2 Ultra, which is also a higher-clocked but otherwise identical version of a cheaper chipset.
This speed's not rubbish; for the casual gamer these days a G400's fine. It certainly beats the pants off the crummy chipsets in old-style multi-output boards.
But TNT2 Ultras can be had for little more than $AU200 these days. TNT2 Model 64 cards, a bit slower than the non-MAX G4x0s, are under $AU175.
And the 32Mb G400 DualHead will set you back $AU355 or so. That's only about $AU20 cheaper than the AGP-V7100/2VID.
There's not much DualHead can do that TwinView can't, with current driver versions.
MX cards with a TV output can only run that TV output at 800 by 600, at most, if you want to use both outputs simultaneously. Since TVs have a hard time displaying even 640 by 480 clearly, you wouldn't think this would be a problem, but since Windows 2000 requires multi-monitors run from single-chip video cards to all run the same resolution, this leaves you with an 800 by 600 desktop on the primary monitor.
Matrox G4x0 cards with a TV output can run it at whatever resolution you want, which gets around this problem. Of course, for Windows 98 and ME users, it's not a problem in the first place.
There are various other modes, though, that both systems support. Clone mode, where both monitors show the same thing. This is handy for presentations - one output drives the projector, the other one an ordinary monitor.
And as of the current driver version, both TwinView and DualHead cards can also show a zoomed view of one monitor's display on the other screen. TwinView cards used to be unable to do this.
The main advantage DualHead used to have over TwinView was that it, ahem, worked. TwinView was flaky with the original, v5.22, release of Nvidia's "Detonator 3" drivers, and with the various card manufacturers' drivers based on the 5.22 package. The v6.18 drivers that followed were better, and the v6.31 drivers that came out a few days ago (get them here) seem to have fixed all of the serious problems.
At a glance, you wouldn't think the V7100/2VID was actually a twin-monitor card. Well, not a twin-ordinary-monitor card, anyway. This is because only one of its output connectors is a plain 15 pin D-sub RGB VGA-type socket, as seen on every other ordinary video card in recent memory.
The other connector's a Digital Visual Interface (DVI) socket, made for flat panel LCD monitors.
There's a neat explanation of DVI on this page on Dell's site. In essence, it's a digital interface made to allow truly digital displays, like LCD panels, to be fed data directly from the video card, without analogue conversion.
Most LCD panels have a regular RGB connector, but that's not an elegant solution. The video card turns perfectly good digital data into the analogue signal that a normal Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) monitor needs, and then the LCD has to turn it back into digital again to display the image on its nice neat pixel matrix. DVI keeps it digital all the way.
Now, this is all very well if one of your monitors is equipped with a DVI input, but most people want to use two plain CRTs, with VGA plugs.
Fortunately, to do that, you just plug in the DVI-to-RGB adapter that comes with the V7100/2VID.
The DVI-to-RGB adapter would be a pretty amazing piece of technology, if it was turning the digital monitor signal into analogue. But it isn't.
Here's a close-up of the DVI connector. The 24 square pinholes on its left hand side are for the digital signal. Only 12 of them are used for normal "single link" DVI; single link's good for 1600 by 1200 on an LCD panel, or even 1920 by 1080 HDTV resolution, so it's all that's likely to be needed for a while.
The other pinholes on the right hand side of the connector, though, provide an ordinary RGB signal. So the adapter's just a pinout converter, nothing more.
Not all DVI connectors have the RGB pins. The ones that do are called DVI-I; ones without are DVI-D. DVI-D plugs work in either kind of socket, but DVI-I plugs can only be plugged into DVI-I sockets.
None of the DVI stuff is likely to matter to most people buying a V7100/2VID; they'll just install the card, screw the adapter on and be happy with their twin CRTs. I was.
Well, I was happy until I tried it with Windows 2000, anyway.
Multiple outputs? What multiple outputs?
I had a single output card on my hands, as far as 2000 was concerned.
Now, when 2000 DOES let you use dual monitors from a single-chipset card like a DualHead or a TwinView, it does it by making a "virtual desktop" that's double-width, and displays on both monitors - which is why they both end up displaying the same resolution and refresh rate, as they've both got half of the one 1600 by 600 (say) screen.
This is about as elegant as it sounds. You can change the monitor positioning for vertical or horizontal spanning, but that's it.
As the article on the subject at Game Basement here points out, this means that even if you can get multi-monitors working from a DualHead or TwinView-type card, you might as well go for a pair of regular video cards instead so you can get proper separate settings.
I just gave up. The heck with it.
This problem is the source of a lot of confusion, since everyone with a DualHead or TwinView card (that has managed to make Win2000 work with it at all) insists that you can only use identical resolutions on the two screens. While everyone that's just installed a pair of regular single-output cards, or a true dual-chipset PCI card that looks to the computer like two cards (it is, apparently, technically impossible to make a true dual-chipset AGP card), insists that you can pick any resolution you like.
Well, they're both right.
Installing the V7100/2VID in Windows 98, on the other hand, is just like installing any other video card, and so is the driver installation process. Unlike old-fashioned multi-output cards, TwinView boards do not make Windows think it has multiple physical video cards installed, that all need drivers. You do one install, and then you can turn on multi-monitor mode at will.
The Asus drivers for the V7100/2VID are based on Nvidia's v6.18 Detonator drivers. I ignored them completely and installed the new v6.31 Detonators instead.
The rest of the V7100's software bundle is the same as you get with the other V7100s to date. There's the main driver disc, and also the cheerfully brutal first person shooter Soldier Of Fortune, ASUSDVD 2000 for DVD playback (on systems with a DVD-ROM drive), and E-Color's 3Deep gamma correction software.
In use, the V7100/2VID seems to work as well as any other multi-monitor card, with the current drivers.
The high refresh rate capability of the MX chipset - and of pretty much every other graphics chipset on the market today, of course - is particularly important for multi-monitor computing. This is because the further a screen gets from the centre of your field of view, the more noticeable flicker becomes. Peripheral vision has poor resolution but faster response than central vision, and a low-refresh-rate screen that's a bit annoying to stare at is really annoying to have hovering around the edge of your view.
Run everything at 85Hz or better, and this problem goes away.
If you're just playing games, there's not much point getting a TwinView card, because few games support it, and you may actually need to disable the second monitor to stop OpenGL games from getting confused. You'd think it'd be a natural for rear views and status displays and suchlike, but so few gamers have more than one monitor that developers just don't care about it.
If a game can run in a resizable window on the desktop, you can stretch that window over all of your monitors. But playing a game with a great big monitor divide down the middle of the screen probably isn't your idea of fun.
For productivity purposes, though, TwinView is brilliant. And when you do want to play a game, you can just ignore the second monitor and play as normal, with all the speed of a regular MX card.
Which is a lot of speed. If you don't have at least a 19 inch monitor, there's really not much advantage to getting a GeForce2 GTS card for twice as much money.
Consider. A pair of brand new 17 inch screens will cost you less than 20% more than a single 19 incher - we're talking about $AU1000 versus about $AU850. But two 17s have about 60% more screen area for your Windows desktop.
If you've already got a 15 incher and you upgrade to, say, an $AU850 19 incher, keeping the old screen and using the sub-$AU400 V7100/2VID to drive 'em both, you'll have 30% more screen area than a $AU2000 21 incher delivers.
OK, so you can't use all of that screen for games. But if that doesn't matter too much to you, and you've got the space for more than one display, multi-monitors are a rather enticing option.
With the 6.31 driver release, TwinView is no longer the buggy poor cousin to DualHead, and the much better 3D performance of the Nvidia-based cards tips the balance in their favour for most users.
The darn thing didn't work in Win2000 for me, and unless there's a major architectural change to the NT-based OS then cards like this are never going to work that well in it. But for Win98 or ME, it's brilliant.
This system is easy to set up, easy to use, bloomin' useful and, let's not forget, awfully good for impressing your friends.