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You are here: MacNN Forums > Hardware - Troubleshooting and Discussion > Mac Desktops > Mac mini With Three Displays?

Mac mini With Three Displays?
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l008com
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Oct 25, 2012, 01:58 PM
 
VERY first thing I have to say is that USB display adapters don't count! Please don't even suggest them!

The said, I'm interested in replacing my 2006 Mac Pro with one of those new mini's that just came out.
2.6 GHz Quad Core i7 (with hyper threading) should be at least as fast as my 8x2.66GHz Xeon. Probably much faster at most things. Especially with it's turbo boost feature for non-multi threaded tasks.

I currently have two 1080p monitors. I want to upgrade to a third. The AMD 5770 in my Mac Pro has three ports and can easily power three monitors. I don't want to upgrade to a 3rd monitor now, only to have to drop it in the future.

So you are supposed to be able to chain two monitors to a single thunderbolt or minidisplay port. So in theory, you could chain two thunderbolt displays to the thunderbolt port, and another display to the HDMI port.

Questions abound!

Does the intel 4000 graphics have the power to drive 3 monitors? Google results imply yes. Has apple imposed an artificial two-monitor limit on this card? I was very disappointed that they got rid of higher-end graphics in the mini.

If it does work, what are the display option. None of my monitors are thunderbolt monitors. Is there anything like a thunderbolt "hub" that would emulate a thunderbolt daisy-chain, but that I could plug in to thunderbolt-to-dvi adapters into?
     
SierraDragon
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Oct 25, 2012, 02:09 PM
 
Check out Matrox. They probably have presales tech support available.

Good luck!

-Allen
     
l008com  (op)
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Oct 25, 2012, 02:13 PM
 
Hmmm i forgot about their adapters. That could be an option. I wonder if they have any software that an trick the system into treating the one large 3840x1080 display as two separate 1080p displays. Then I could arrange them independently and have the menu bar on one of them, etc. That's something to consider.
     
SierraDragon
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Oct 25, 2012, 03:06 PM
 
Why lose the MP?
     
l008com  (op)
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Oct 25, 2012, 03:35 PM
 
The MP is ancient. It's still hast, but I had to do a pain in the ass hack just to get 10.8 on it. The RAM is relatively slow DDR2. I have a flash boot drive but it's relatively slow SATAII. I have 14 GB of memory. Plenty of room to upgrade but RAM for these machines is super expensive. A mac mini with a 500 MB/sec flash drive and dirt cheap 16 GB DDR3 RAM, plus a processor that turboboosts for processes that don't use all the cores, would likely be a fair bit faster. Plus dollars wise, it would probably be pretty close to an even trade. And also the mini would use significantly less power, which is good on it's own, but also because of that, it would create much less heat, which sucks in the winter but would be great in the summer. I just wish they didn't do away with the discrete graphics option. quad core i7 with discrete graphics would have been such a great mini.
     
Waragainstsleep
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Oct 25, 2012, 04:27 PM
 
Not tempted to see what the rumoured 2013 Mac Pro replacement is going to look like?
I have plenty of more important things to do, if only I could bring myself to do them....
     
l008com  (op)
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Oct 25, 2012, 04:30 PM
 
Since the Mac Pro came out, the base model has cost $2500. Even if they do some crazy redesign and lower the price, I don't think you can reasonably expect it to be less than $2000. Considering that a mini has plenty of raw CPU speed, I'm very unlikely to buy another Mac Pro.
     
P
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Oct 26, 2012, 12:31 AM
 
Originally Posted by l008com View Post
So you are supposed to be able to chain two monitors to a single thunderbolt or minidisplay port.
Supposedly you need a DP hub to do that for mDP, and that one has not yet been delivered. It was supposed to be available this summer, but is now pushed back to "2013" without further clarification. Apple's Thunderbolt display does support daisychaining, however. If I read the details correctly, one should be able to buy one of them and then a TB-to-whatever adapter to daisychain one display from that. HDMI converts to DVI-D without issue, so it does seem possible. Intel supports a max of 3 displays from Ivy Bridge integrated graphics, up from 2 from Sandy Bridge (max res for each display is 2560*1600). Personally I would much rather get an iMac - which has two Thunderbolt ports - and connect the two existing displays to that (with adapters if necessary) and avoid relying on the integrated graphics, but it does seem possible.
The new Mac Pro has up to 30 MB of cache inside the processor itself. That's more than the HD in my first Mac. Somehow I'm still running out of space.
     
l008com  (op)
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Oct 26, 2012, 12:36 AM
 
Based on that, it's seems like a thunderbolt to dual DVI adapter should be relatively easy to make, no?
To be clear, I don't mean thunderbolt-to-dual-LINK-dvi, I mean thunderbolt to two independent DVI connectors. And actually, thunderbolt to dual dual-link dvi should be possible too. If only the mac mini still had discrete graphics. Maybe i'll just buy a 3rd monitor, stick with my pro for another year and hope the next mini update is better (or that it happens at all)
     
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Oct 26, 2012, 06:34 AM
 
If you trust the rumors, the next integrated Intel graphics in the so-called Haswell chip will be significantly improved (40 EU rather than the 16 in Ivy Bridge, everything else doubled, and a backside graphics memory chip to alleviate the memory bandwidth issue) and will likely kill off another level of discrete graphics. It seems very unlikely that the mini gets discrete graphics again - in fact it wouldn't surprise me if there at least is a version of the 15" without discrete graphics next year, and likely no discrete graphics at all come Broadwell in 2014.

Based on that, it's seems like a thunderbolt to dual DVI adapter should be relatively easy to make, no?
Yes and no. One can make such an adapter (and they are in fact available, even if the ones I found cost an arm and a leg), but to drive it would need the GPU to support 3840*1080 which the adapter then would split into 2 times 1920*1080. As I mentioned above, the integrated Intel GPU maxes out at 2560*1440.

Actually splitting the DisplayPort signal into two, for two independent display visible to the OS, is possible in theory and allowed for in the standard, but to do so you'd need that mystical DisplayPort hub which is MIA, and which might possibly arrive in 2013. Maybe.
The new Mac Pro has up to 30 MB of cache inside the processor itself. That's more than the HD in my first Mac. Somehow I'm still running out of space.
     
SierraDragon
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Oct 26, 2012, 07:30 AM
 
Sorry but the engineer in me gets creeped out by the idea of trying to do heavy MP kind of work with a Mini. Not the theoretical CPU speed, but the real work.

IMO Minis are great for the less-demanding types of usages they are built for. However the idea of hotrodding that tiny box offends my engineering sensibilities. Kind of like using a superlight pickup truck with small car tires and a 4-cylinder engine instead of a 3/4 ton pickup truck with truck tires to constantly haul cords of firewood from sea level to the mountains. One can do it, but it is just wrong.

• Having just two RAM slots is flat unacceptable. App and OS RAM demands are growing not constant.

• No room to boost GPU is unacceptable. Even though discreet graphics are improving, app and OS graphics support demands are growing not constant. My desktop setups usually last 5+ years and RAM & GPU upgrades are what allow that extended life cycle. Especially today with crazy-powerful CPUs it is RAM/GPU that end life cycles.

• Entry level pro cameras are now 24 MP and even the point-and-shoots are 16 MP. Heck, even phones capture 8 MP files. The sheer volume of image capturing is increasing exponentially in addition to the file sizes becoming larger. Graphics work is increasing.

• Using a Mini power supply to do tower-level throughput seems a fantasy.

• Heat. Heat. Heat.

I am well aware of the benefits of over-driving a box; I do it every day by forcing a 2011 17" MBP to do MP-level throughput. However that is a necessary evil to achieve mobility. Mobility is huge, justifying all kinds of compromises. However a Mini is just as sessile as a MP so there is no reason to overdrive sensible engineering.

And my guess is that Apple's next MP will be reasonably power efficient, especially when it is not working hard.

-Allen
     
macvette
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Oct 26, 2012, 11:56 AM
 
Another option (not necessarily the best, but it is an option)...

There are Thunderbolt to PCIe expansion chassis available from several companies. It might be possible to drop in a PCIe 2.0 video card into one of these boxes. I personally have not tried this so check with the manufacturer before making a purchase.

Here are a few options:

Other World Computing

Sonnet Technologies

Magma

Make sure you check the height and length of the desired video card before making a purchase. Some of these expansion boxes only support half length cards. Also, the slots might be x8 or x4. Some slots might be x16 physically but only x8 electrically. Do some research to make sure you're getting the right combination of features.

This is not an inexpensive option, but a Mac Mini with an expansion chassis might be less cost overall than an new Mac Pro.


I think the easier route is to go from Thunderbolt to a DVI splitter as mentioned previously. Something like this might do what you need:
http://www.sapphiretech.com/images/p..._Datasheet.pdf
     
   
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