June 26, 2002

Affordable multi display workstation

Paul Tyutin writes: "Multi display workstations are the ultimate solution for sysadmins, traders, graphic designers, sofware developers, geeks and power users of all trades. Nowadays, you do not need a corporate budget to build one of these. A high-tech system may be built with affordable computer parts, readily available at any computer store or on-line.

Here, a detailed explaination on how to set up a multi lcd display workstation will be provided. The cost of the displays and video cards does not exceed $1350.00.

The focus of this article is building a superb three lcd monitor display system on a modest budget.

For the wealthy impatient, just go to http://www.9xmedia.com and get one of their ready built system, for the rest, read on please...

To begin, list your existing system/parts on ebay while you shop for best deals on your new hardware.

Finding the motherboard, cpu, hard drives, memory, computer case is all at your discresion, however, faster, bigger and better is beneficial - you are building a high-end system.

Most motherboards on the market will not have 3 AGP slots for your video cards, so you are limited in your choice of such devices. You will have to use PCI video cards. In this configuration three M64-32 PCI 4X/2X 32MB graphic accelerator video cards are used. Purchased at FRY'S electronics at $59.99 each.

The choice in lcd monitors was made based on price/quality and most important the small width of monitor frame on its sides. This is important, since the side frames obscure the view of streched application windows. The SHARP LL-T115V1 model at $399.99 each was used in our configuration.

The operating system used to power the system we showcase is RedHat, to run Windows application we use netraverse's win4lin. However, one should use his/her favorite distribution such as Debian, SuSe etc.

Provided you have installed linux on systems before, you will get the new system up and running in no time. After the install, only the main video card will be operating in console mode. The other 2 displays will not detect any signals. You may work here or, better yet, ssh into your machine and work from another workstation from a graphical environment.

Here are the steps needed be taken to set up the X-Windows system:

Make backups of the XF86Config and XF86Config-4 files

Scan the PCI bus using the XFree86 -scanpci command.

Record the output on a piece of paper and start editing the XF86config-4 file by looking at the provided expample file here .

Make note of the Section "Monitor" part:

Section "Monitor"
     Identifier "LL-T15V1-3" #use LL-T15V1-1 , LL-T15V1-2, LL-T15V1-3 per each Section
     VendorName "Sharp"
     ModelName "LL-T1V1"
     HorizSync 22 - 62
     VertRefresh 50 - 75
     Option "dpms"

And the "Device" section:

Section "Device"
     Identifier "TNT-1" #use TNT-1, TNT-2, TNT-3 respectfully
     Driver "nv"
     BoardName "Unknown"
     VideoRam 32768
     Option "backingstore"
     Option "hw cursor" "off"
     BusID "PCI:0:13:0" #this is where you use the output of the Xfree86 -scanpci program

Afer these modifications are made, alter the Section "Screen" like this:

Section "Screen"
     Identifier "Display 1" #make changes here per each monitor
     Device "TNT-1" #make changes here
     Monitor "LL-T15V1-1" #make changes here
     DefaultDepth 24
     SubSection "Display"
         Depth 24
         Modes "1024x768"

And finally the "ServerLayout" should look something like this:

Section "ServerLayout"
     Identifier "Dual-head"
     Screen "Display 1" LeftOf "Display 2"
     Screen "Display 2"
     Screen "Display 3" RightOf "Display 2"
     Option "Xinerama" "on"
     InputDevice "Mouse0" "CorePointer"
     InputDevice "Keyboard0" "CoreKeyboard"

Double check everything and attempt to start X from a user account.

From here, you are on your own. We wish everyone the best of luck!

Sunbirds technical staff (P.T.).

How to build and configure a high-end multi display system with affordable computer parts:


By Paul Tyutin
Russian Sunbirds, Inc.
3780 Hancock Street Suite E
San Diego, CA 92110

Tel. 619-220-7172
Fax. 619-220-71750

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