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Surface Pro Running Four Screens– My New Personal Workstation

Posted by Keith Elder | Posted in Technology, Windows | Posted on 14-08-2013

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No One Believes Me

The other day on Twitter I mentioned I had my Surface Pro running four screens (technically 5 if you count the screen of the Surface itself) and that it was my new workstation. Then I got this tweet from Eric:

 

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I swear this is not Big Foot, it does exist so let’s get that done and out of the way.

The Proof

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Tada! I will note this configuration isn’t new. As a matter of fact I’ve had this setup with four screens since 2009 as noted in this article that also discusses what is holding up the screens.

In the picture above you’ll notice one single cord plugged into the Surface in the USB 3.0 slot that runs in behind a speaker and into a Plugable USB 3.0 docking station. The docking station is the secret and provides all of the magic. What’s running on the Surface is TweetDeck (top left), Skype (top right), playing full screen Youtube video (bottom left) and Outlook 2013 (bottom right). The screen on the Surface is just showing the standard desktop.

UPDATE

FIrst of all thanks for the interests in this article. My Twitter feed @keithelder has been blowing up with questions all day. For the many of you asking about lag I recorded a quick video so you can see everything working live.

This should answer those questions about lag.

UPDATE 10:30 PM

I created another video. This time because there seems to be a lot of misinformation in people’s heads about the Surface in general and especially the Pro. Look folks, this thing is a full blown Windows PC. But it has a touch screen and is also a tablet. Someone wanted me to push it a little further than doing just one video. So here is a video of the Surface Pro streaming FOUR YouTube videos at the same time full screen while also downloading Visual Studio 2012, and running Tweet Deck, Outlook 2013, Skype, Chrome, IE, Live Writer and Adobe Audition. I think it was also washing dishes at the same time I can’t remember. The point is this little itty bitty device isn’t slow. It is a full blown PC packed into a tiny form factor so don’t let what you may have read in media previously fool you.

Four YouTube videos streamed over USB 3.0 Docking Station

Another thing I should point out is the performance rating of the Surface Pro. People keep asking me if it can run Visual Studio. The answer is yes yes yes yes. I just installed it. Don’t take my word for it though. Compare performance information with your existing development machines and see how you stack up against the Surface Pro. Don’t get me wrong, there are way faster computers out there. It just that not many people realize what this device is really capable of. I just can’t wait to see what they do with the Surface Pro 2!

SurfacePro-PerfIndex

UPDATE 8/15/2013 5:25 PM

More questions have come in as this story continues to spread.

@RockyLhotka asked this a bit ago:

Hey @keithelder does your multi-mon setup run Netflix? I found the DL drivers weren’t signed, so couldn’t play DRMed content?

Rocky is talking about the Display Link drivers that the hard you’ll read about below uses. To answer Rocky’s question the answer is Netflix works without a single problem. I ran Netflix in the browser and then installed the Netflix app from Windows Store and ran that. They both work without a problem. Matter of fact I was watching the Netflix video while playing Angry Birds Star Wars which is combining desktop apps while also running Windows Store apps at the same time. It is getting crazy!

The Setup

I know. Your mind is blown. Full screen Youtube playing with four screens all from one USB 3.0 cable!? Answer. Yes. And it also provides sound, mouse, keyboard and has a HD video cam plugged into it.

Here is a closer pic of the Plugable Docking Station:

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The docking station is just one of the pieces to the puzzle. It has a DVI port in the back of it so one of the screens is plugged directly into the DVI port. That leaves three other screens to go. For that piece of the puzzle all we need is a converter to go from DVI or VGA to USB 3.0. Just so happens Plugable also has the answer to this as well with their UGA-3000 product.

UPDATE 8/16/2013 4:53 PM

@Plugable just as of a few minutes ago drop a brand new docking station, the 3900 model that supports dual monitor support with one DVI and one HDMI. If you are going to get one, this may serve you better than the one I have.

http://plugable.com/2013/08/16/new-plugable-usb-3-0-universal-docking-station-with-dual-monitor-support 

Note the new unit is regular $129 but if you use Amazon promotion code 63P25IGM at checkout it is only $109!

The USB 3.0 UGA adapter will work with anything you have. It works with VGA, DVI and HDMI and includes the adapters in the box. They even support resolutions up to 2048×1152 (which I’m no where close to).

There are two USB 3.0 ports on the front of the docking station so I plugged the other big screen on the bottom plus one of the screens up top into the front USB 3.0 ports. That leaves one of the smaller screens plugged into a USB 2.0 port in the back. I thought I may notice a difference in the screens up top since one was plugged into USB 2.0 but honestly I can’t tell you which screen is plugged into which. To my eye there is no difference.

Let’s recap. To make this work get a Plugable USB 3.0 Docking Station for $99 (or something similar). Then pickup as many UGA-3000 adapters as you need. All total you’ll be in for about $250 if you have four screens which is the cost of a typical docking station.

Side Benefits

A side benefit has come out of my efforts to get multiple screens working with the Surface Pro and that is my Dell notebook I found out has USB 3.0 on it. While I had a Dell docking station for it running two screens, I think we all agree that four is better than two! I’m now using the Plugable Docking Station on the Dell at work which gives me four screens to work with as well. A whole new level of productivity at work has opened up.

Switching between the Dell and the Surface is dead simple. There is only one cable to plug / unplug. Everything runs off of the one USB 3.0 cable. Let me just go ahead and say this: USB 3.0…. I love you.

So Long Gigantic Desktop

In the article I mentioned at the beginning I stated my four screen setup isn’t new. In that article is the picture below of a custom gigantic desktop sitting besides the four screens.

That desktop now sits below the desk collecting dust. As a matter of fact I’m loaning it out to a buddy of mine who’s computer died. I’d rather it get used than sit in my floor. It is still a great machine but it doesn’t travel very well. The Surface Pro has plenty of power in all honesty to do anything I really need at the moment.

I blogged after Windows 8 was announced in September 2011 about the up and coming hardware revolution and how Windows 8 was a transformer OS. The Surface Pro is just the tip of the iceberg and I don’t see me buying a desktop ever again. If I can’t take whatever I buy with me it is useless in today’s world as far as I’m concerned.

I can’t predict the future but I assure you the Surface Pro isn’t going to last forever as my workstation as I’m just waiting on the new line of Ultrabooks to come out with better battery life and slimmer design. Whatever I wind up with will have USB 3.0 and it will be running these four screens. Being able to just unplug and go is super powerful. Moving from workstation to tablet with touch and then back is great. So far I’m enjoying the ride.

The next time you are looking for a new machine don’t leave Ultrabooks or the Surface Pro off your list. As long as it has USB 3.0 you’ve got something that can transform into a workstation and then to a tablet. Best of both worlds in my opinion and Windows 8.1 plus the new line of Intel processors is going to make it even better.

So long gigantic desktop… you’ve served me well.

Predicting The Future in Technology

Posted by Keith Elder | Posted in Technology | Posted on 21-02-2011

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Information Week recently ran an article on the “12 Worst Tech Predictions Of All Time”. It was an OK read, nothing earth shattering but it did get me to thinking about where we are today and where we might be in the future.

It is so hard to predict the future when it comes to technology and I for one can see how some of those on that list said what they said. From their perspective at that time I’m sure it seemed pretty obvious to them.

The thing is we cannot predict things in technology because there are too many out of band inventions that help propel another invention forward. Let’s take the car for example. It has been around for awhile and is the second largest transaction a family purchases (unless they buy a boat).

imageDo you think someone 100 years ago would have been able to predict that a car would pull up to a restaurant and automatically check in on Four Square? No. Why? Obviously a lot of things hadn’t been invented including the Internet, satellites in space, cell phones, 3G networks, etc. Even today not all cars do this, it is very cutting edge for a car to do this even today but it is coming.  Now why this is coming I don’t know. I think it is asking for trouble because if your car checks in on Four Square you are essentially telling organized crime you aren’t home so you can get robbed but I digress.

Here’s another car example. I’m sure someone thought about putting a telephone in a car for a very long time. I can remember when I stepped foot in my wife’s 1993 Grand Prix for the first time it had a built-in cell phone. It was huge and mounted in the floor. I can remember us driving around town and when she’d pull up to a red light I’d pretend like I answered the phone and was conducting business. People would always stare. Today it is common place. Back then though it wasn’t the norm to say the least. The truth is she never talked on it though because it was so expensive.

imageFast forward to today (18 years later) and she doesn’t even need a phone in her car because she always has one with her. The new car I purchased in December for Christmas for her has Bluetooth. When someone calls her cell phone she answers in the car by merely pressing a button and she is able to talk hands free in the car.

Think for a second of all the things that had to be invented in order for her to simply press a button in her car and receive a phone call. How is someone supposed to predict this? First off the computer chip, memory, LEDs, lithium batteries, LCD displays, Bluetooth, cell phone towers, cell phones, and the list goes on. You get the idea. That one simple press of a button to answer a phone call requires an immense amount of technology when it is broken down. It would be an interesting study to see how many patents there are when answering a phone call in a car today hands free.

My point? Predicting the future, especially when it comes to technology, is tough because there are so many things that have to be invented before we get to the next step. For example where is my flying car? We’ve been waiting on this for a long time but we just aren’t there yet because we are missing some major inventions in order to convert it from science fiction to reality. And just in case you were curious you can buy a flying car today, but it isn’t near as cool as the one in the Jetsons.

I believe when trying to come up with the next big idea or predict what is going to happen a few years out we have to take a serious look at what is already around us and use that to create, think out of the box and invent.

Robert Kearns did this in 1964 when he created the intermittent windshield wiper. Surely you’ve seen one before, they are on most automobiles since 1969. What Robert did wasn’t amazing, or ground breaking or earth shattering to create a windshield wiper. He got the idea from how an eye lid worked. Robert had to defend his patent and wound up suing the car companies (and won).

The great story about Robert is during his trial he asked his son to go find the book “The Tale of Two Cities”. It starts out like this:

IT WAS the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness…

The lawyers for the motor companies were arguing that Robert didn’t have any grounds for his invention because he used existing parts. Robert argued this was a classic book and Charles Dickens didn’t invent any of the words in the book. The words were already existing words yet all the author did was rearrange them to make them work. That is essentially what he did to create the intermittent windshield wiper.  Robert merely rearranged existing components to create his invention thus changing the lives of anyone to step into a car during a rain storm since.

What a great lesson Robert teaches us as this is a way of possibly predicting the future or even better yet, coming up with that next great idea. It is simply a matter of rearranging the existing parts.

While I don’t have the answer for predicting the future I think this is one important aspect of being able to see where things *might* progress.  Just by looking around us we can see things being created or invented all the time. A lot of these inventions were created for a particular purpose but when applied or rearranged in a different manner we could have something great.

So if you want to predict the future in technology or create the next big thing look around at all the things we already have and then think about how to rearrange them to make them work in extraordinary ways. That my friends will be the future.