Upgrading from an old quad display solution in 2020

Hi,

First, congratulations on the nice products. I landed here based because every time I searched something related to docks on YouTube a nice video from Plugable appeared in the results with some different option.

Here comes to my questions and I hope to receive some advice on which products to buy, if I need more than one, then no problem.

I’m currently running a 3 external displays on my old ThinkPad computer. I purchased this almost 10 years back because running multiple setups at that time was far more complicated than today. No USB to display or thunderbolt but I run then natively.

The computer runs Nvidia Optimus. This means it supports basically 2 displays on the integrated Intel video card and an additional 2 on the Nvidia card.

I run basically 4 displays these ways. That means the built-in computer display, and 3 external full HD monitors. I purchased an expensive docking station back then in order to accomplish it.

It basically connects every external display to a different port, one to DisplayPort, one with DVI and one to an old VGA port. So the docking station runs all 3 external monitors.

I’m not 100% happy about this setup because 2 equal monitors don’t have exactly match the same colors as one, same monitor models, all monitors have all ports, that includes VGA, Display Port and HDMI but for some reason I’m limited to that setup. I assume the color difference is because one is DVI and the other DisplayPort. Putting both of them on HDMI or DisplayPort does not work. I tried different combination and only that one displays all of them.

And don’t get me started on the VGA one. Its horrible. I barely use it because text is hard to read. Again, I’m not sure if this is a limitation on the dock but if I connect VGA directly to the laptop text is much better than with the dock.

Now fast forwarding. I’m looking to buy a new computer and as such I want to improve my existing setup to something better.

First. I want all of them to be digital. No VGA anymore or DVI. Ideally I would like all of them to be connected by HDMI with at least 60 refresh rate on full HD.

But I also want to expand this setup. I’m running this for years and I have 2 or 3 extra spare monitors. I want to upgrade to a quad display setup.

That means 4 external monitors. I’m ok with not having the build in laptop display anymore if I can run 4 external monitors fine. But ideally I would like to still use the laptop display plus external monitors. So while technically I now run 4 displays (but only 3 external), I like to run 5 displays with the laptop or 4 external.

Now, I also want to upgrade at least 1 display to 4K, in a perfect world 2 displays to 4K and keep the others at full HD since I’m aware no system can actually work with quad 4K displays and run smooth. (keep reading since I was under the impression it was not possible but it seems it is…)

I started researching and it seems I’m better off buying a system that comes with Thunderbolt 3 since it allows far more bandwidth transfers 40 Gbit than regular USB C ports. It seems this is popular with Mac users, but TB3 can only run tops dual 4K displays. TB3 will help but alone on its own I still need to add something else.

Now for my surprise, I found out a quad display dock that supports four monitors running at 4K and 60 hertz refresh rate. It seems this is unique, it’s from targus, I was not able to find anything else in that category. And it’s not even using thunderbolt but just USB C. I started doing my research, and I was not able to find how that was possible since they confirmed it’s not TB3 and but one reviewer on Amazon claims you need it for better performance.

Well, it seems they use the same technology that most other docks use, called DisplayLink. It basically compressed the images on the computers and then the dock uncompresses them back to the displays. This seems a software solution and the general suggestions is that this will not work with old computers or video or gaming on all four displays as its way to taxing for any system.

Now, I don’t mind, I want monitors for web surfing and coding, and maybe just 1 display with a YouTube video from time to time. It seems something like this would work for me as I don’t need high refresh rates on every monitor but this is still a software solution that relies on the system doing all the work. After my research it seems even moving the mouse hits CPU fast and it seems this is not a native display solution like just connecting an external monitor to a laptop.

Now, thanks to plugable and YouTube I found out that now there is also a new technology called Alt mode on which this technology passes the data directly to the monitor with USB without taxing the system.

In an ideal world I don’t want to be taxing my CPU and GPU for this. I’m planning to buy either a new Dell G5 or G7. Both seem to come with new USB C ports, display ports and alt mode. The models are G5 5500 or 7700. They also have thunderbolt 3.

Plugable seems to only have 3 display dock solutions, but also the USB to alt mode adapter and of course thunderbolt ones. Now I’m very confused on how or what I should buy. If I can avoid the DisplayLink solution, the better, if not I would like to limit it to as few monitors as possible.

Now, should I maybe connect dual displays with Thunderbolt 3, then one with the Display Port and one with the USB alt mode adapter? Or maybe should I buy a triple display dock solution with DisplayLink and then use the extra USB port or thunderbolt 3 for the additional monitor?

Just to make sure I will get the latest i7 chip and a proper nvidia card, in case I have to use the DisplayLink compression solution. It seems Windows 10 has native drives now for this and the solution is far better with decent machines than it was in the past years. It also seems that Intel integrated cards now actually support triple display on its own vs the two in the past. I assume all of those machines also come with Intel cards integrated plus the Nvidia one. I assume a new machine from 2020 should be able to handle this but the question is how and with what. My question is more about what to buy from plugable. Maybe run a thunderbolt dock with another display port cable? Or maybe just a USB dock with a thunderbolt cable?

I’m aware that it’s not possible to run all on 4 K displays unless I get that DisplayLink software only solution but that would be such as waste if I can already have 2 or 3 displays natively without running on softwware. Note, I’m willing to use DisplayLink docks, but I just want to get the best possible performance here. I’m not sure what to combine in terms of cable and docks. Maybe 2 docks?

Hi Weit,

Thanks for posting!

Firstly, thanks for the awesome detail here. It’s clear you’ve done your research!

The main thing I take away is that you are looking to drive 4 external monitors (and the laptop screen), but you would prefer to stay away from USB graphics solutions such as DisplayLink.

At this time, it’s not possible to drive four monitors all through a Thunderbolt 3 (or USB-C) connection while making use of the native graphics processor of the computer. We’ve accomplished this setup before with the newer MacBook Pro 16" (see this video), but this involved using two of the MacBook Pro’s Thunderbolt 3 ports (one on each side). To speak more about this, Apple carefully designed this machine to route the discrete GPU through to both sides of the MacBook such that each side of the system supports up to two displays.

I’m not sure of any Windows laptop system that can do this at this time. You may want to consider a desktop computer instead, with a PCIe graphics card capable of driving 4 monitors if performance is a big factor for you.

Otherwise, if you’re willing to accept DisplayLink graphics, then I would say the best we can do is use one of our dual display Thunderbolt 3 docks, while combining two of our USB 3.0 graphics adapters (based on DisplayLink) to achieve a total of four external monitors (two powered natively by the system GPU, two powered through DisplayLink).

Based off your needs (“web surfing and coding, and maybe just 1 display with a YouTube video”), DisplayLink graphics would actually work quite well, so while I understand your hesitation towards its performance compromises, it may not be a terrible solution for you.

One thing I want to note is that we do not have those two Dell systems in our tests labs to confirm Thunderbolt 3 compatibility with our docks.

I hope this makes sense! I’d be happy to go into specifics of which Thunderbolt dock might be best for you, dock feature set, max resolution, etc., but I’d first like to hear back from you regarding your thoughts and feelings about all this.

Thank you!

Mitchell

Hello Mitchell and thank you very much for replying. I’m not against DisplayLink technology, in fact, I assume I’m the perfect customer for this solution since my screens rarely changes and they are mostly text.

My question was rather how to achieve the best possible native solution before going the DisplayLink boat to keep my load down. Since I’m getting a computer with a decent video card why not use that as well. My point is that even if it only takes 20% CPU on the processor (just making up some number), if I can save 10% by hooking two displays natively and let the GPU video card do its magic, that means my computer CPU will be free to do other tasks. Seems a waste to tax the CPU if I can have the video cards do their proper job. Now, I completely understand the limits of video cards as well and I was already expecting to probably must use a combination of different technologies which is perfectly fine. I would like the video cards to be used as much as possible and then just offload the rest with DisplayLink.

Based on your advice I should then probably get one thunderbolt dock for 2 displays and one DispayLink dock for the other 2. Seems great. Does this mean my computer will only process with software drive 2 monitors as the ones on thunderbolt will use the video card natively?

Any specific models you can suggest for my purchases? Price is not important here but rather performance. I would rather pay more and get better performance than try the cheap out and then end up with something limited.

Thanks for getting back to me.

With a Thunderbolt 3 dock with two USB 3.0 graphics adapters, then the two monitors connected to the video outputs on the dock will be driven by the system GPU, where the other two would be powered through DisplayLink (so GPU + CPU will be used to render these screens).

Before recommending a specific model, could you let me know the make and model of the four monitors you wish to connect? This helps me know their max resolution and available video ports so that I can make sure connectivity is not a problem to the dock.

Thank you!

Mitchell

Sure, I have 3 Lenovo’s LI2323s and a Samsung which I can’t remember the model right now. I have then other older Samsung which I don’t use. Not a particular fan since they are all rather older models.

I’m planning on replacing all monitors eventually with Dell or Samsung one’s. At least one or maybe even two 4K. And other two I will keep as full HD. I also spinned around the idea of using a full HD TV instead as one big monitor but I think that is just overkill since I prefer smaller separated displays on which I segregate work instead of one huge one.

My only requirement is proper refresh rate, IPS or nice quality colors (I also do some casual graphic design), VESA mount and of course have the proper ports for the docks like HDMI, DisplayPort or others required. I purchased those Lenovo almost 5 years back because they had almost every port. I’m open to suggestions for new monitors of course if there is a particular model that I would benefit, I don’t mind putting them on my order list for the future.

I just checked and you also have triple display ports available with displaylink. Would that also work? One directly connected to 1 monitor and other 3 with the USB dock? I’m just asking, I have no issues buying 2 docking stations if that will result in better performance but just curious as it seems on Amazon there also 3 triple display docks from Plugable, like UD-ULTC4K.

Note that I don’t need 4K on all monitors as I said on my original post only 1 or maximum 2 in some future, but I assume (please correct me if I’m wrong) that even if I use full HD monitors on a dock, buying one that is already rated for 4K will give me better results. I’m trying to oversize of course instead of maxing out the internal specs of what ever dock I go with. Right now I don’t even have any 4K display at all so this would not be an issue but I don’t want to buy a new dock for example next year when I upgrade one display to a 4K one.

Thanks for the information.

Our UD-ULTC4K dock would also be an option for three monitors, and then you are free to connect another monitor directly to a video output on the computer. There are a few things to note with our UD-ULTC4K dock however:

  1. The “HDMI 4K” on the dock supports HDMI 1.4 , which allows for resolutions up to 4K 30Hz. This output is powered through Alt Mode (not DisplayLink).
  2. The two DisplayPort++ ports on the dock support 4K 60Hz, and are powered through DisplayLink graphics
  3. You mentioned nice quality colors and issues with your current setup with color/quality mismatch. At the moment I’m not sure if our products would deliver different results, as I’m not sure if this is related to the DVI vs. DP port being used on the monitors.
  4. These Lenovo LI2323 monitors only have HDMI, DVI, and VGA inputs. You would need a DP to HDMI adapter if you plan to use these monitors with the UD-ULTC4K dock.

We do offer a 30-day no-hassle return policy fufilled by Amazon (FBA) if you do end up running into any issues.

Thank you!

Mitchell

I see. Well, yes, I would prefer 60hz if possible since its easier on the eyes while working with text.

The no display port on the monitors is not a problem as I plan to replace them anyway. I will make sure my next monitors have DisplayPort besides HDMI.

An alternative option would be Thunderbolt 3 dock.

You could consider our Plugable TBT3-UDV docking station: https://plugable.com/products/tbt3-udv/

This dock supports a single DisplayPort (or HDMI with the included adapter) at up to 4K 60Hz. A second 4K 60Hz display can be driven through the downstream Thunderbolt 3 port with the use of a USB-C to HDMI or USB-C to DP cable.

As a reminder, we haven’t tested the Dell systems you raised earlier so we can’t confirm this Thunderbolt 3 dock is fully compatible.

We then offer USB 3.0 4K graphics adapters (HDMI version, DisplayPort version) based on DisplayLink in which you could use to drive extra displays. However, they support 4K 30Hz.

Thanks!

Mitchell

Thank you, I will check them out. About compatibility. If this helps, I finally purchased the Dell G7 7590 it comes with thunderbolt and usb alt mode and from the description they say it supports two 4K displays.

Here is the link:
https://www.dell.com/support/manuals/us/en/04/g-series-15-7590-laptop/g7-15-setup-and-specifications/set-up-your-dell-g7-7590

Thanks for the specific model.

It does appear to have a Thunderbolt 3 port (assuming you purchased the variant that includes the NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060, RTX 2070 Max-Q, or RTX 2080 Max-Q).

One thing to note – this computer ships with a hefty 130W (or 180W) power adapter, which will most likely mean that our docks will not be able to charge this computer. Our docks comply with the USB-C Power Delivery specification which outlines that no more than 100W of power can be passed to the host.

Thanks!

Mitchell

Yes, purchased the one with RTX 2080.

I don’t need to power the machine trough the dock. I’m fine with having to connect it to the power brick.

What about this dock?
https://www.amazon.com/Plugable-Charging-Specific-Thunderbolt-DisplayPort/dp/B0779K9DG2/ref=sr_1_7?dchild=1&keywords=thunderbolt+dock+triple+display&qid=1596397326&sr=8-7

Can you correct me if I’m wrong? The HDMI port on this is native (assuming the laptop supports alt mode) and the 2 other are DisplayLink technology?

Is that correct? I’m actually willing to go just with 3 external displays now that I see this is far more complicated than expected.

The only problem with that model is that it claims to be 30 Hz refresh rate but for 4K. What about full hd 1920x180?

I could maybe use 1 full HD display native with full performance and two 4K displays with displaylink using this port? Would it then support 60 or more hertz refresh rate on that single native output?

The problem with going with something only display link, I could just get the targus quad display is that as I mentioned before, I want to have at least 1 or 2 monitors with full native performance. That means being able to output the max nvidia card performance on at least 1 monitor if nothing else works but better if its two. I don’t care if the rest use displaylink but having all of them with displaylink means I would basically never use the expensive video card since maybe I forgot to mention it but I also need to do some video editing from time to time. What is the point of getting an expensive machine if then all monitors will suffer from performance because of the video compression.

The laptop is arriving soon and I would like to make a decision already about the dock/docks or adaptors to buy this week, so I could use them when the machine arrives.

The machine is advertised as supporting 2 x 4K displays with thunderbolt. If this is correct I would need something for that and then one for the full HD displays using displaylink technology.

Our UD-ULTC4K dock does indeed drive three displays, where the HDMI 4K port is driven through USB-C Alt Mode and the two DisplayPort++ outputs are driven through DisplayLink graphics.

Since the HDMI 4K port is based on the HDMI 1.4 specification, 4K 30Hz is the maximum resolution and refresh rate combination possible. A 1920x1080 screen connected to the HDMI 4K port however refreshes at 60Hz.

While a Thunderbolt 3 solution or USB-C/DisplayLink-based solution is ultimately up to you, if you have any questions about our products in this kind of configuration, please let me know.

Thanks!

Mitchell

Is it possible the machine comes without Alt Mode? Is there a way to check this?

The reason I ask is that I’m confused about one thing. On the Dell site it says that USB C mode Alt mode comes if the systems runs less than Nvidia RTX card. But if it comes with an Nvidia RTX its advertised as thunderbolt and supports 2 x 4K displays. I’m not sure if they mean that also comes with Alt mode+TB or if its a different mode. But the higher setup which is the one I purchased, comes with Thunderbolt instead for the USB C Alt mode that is advertised on less powerful Nvidia cards.

It’s very clear from your YouTube video here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pr0ig8gUYZE

That this method seems better than displaylink for my main displays. But it also mentions and warns that your system has to support the mode. How can I check if that dock is compatible? If you watch the whole video he even mentions the following:
"if you want to add additional monitors after this, you have to switch now to adding some displaylink monitors…"

Now, if you check this video:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VGdvtQS0Cp8

This is precisly what I want. Basically 2 docks for 4 displays.

One using Thunderbolt and one display link.

Nobody at Dell is able to tell me how the cards are wired to the ports (HDMI, or Thunderbolt or DisplayPort). Hence, I have no idea what ports are connected directly to video cards or if a Thunderbolt Dock will even work since the machine has to be wired to support 2 display with Thunderbolt for a dock to work. But I do know that they advertise this machine as supporting two display running at 4K. I guess this means connecting them to the ports, not necessarily thunderbolt.

I guess all I can do is just test. Just purchased this product on Amazon this:
UD-6950H

Just to make sure I also purchased premium HDMI 2.0 cables to avoid any issues while testing

This is of course a display link dock (it will work). And I will use it to connect my full HD monitors (two).

I then will test if I can run additional monitors directly on the HDMI port or DisplayPort and if that works, I guess they are native. Otherwise, I will buy an extra thunderbolt dock and see if that works. No idea what will or not work because of the following I found out. Keep reading if someone has this machine or is wondering on getting a quad setup for any other system…

I cannot really know what will or not work until I get the machine because it seems some Dell G7s are configured with Nvidia G-sync which means the card is directly connected to the display but others are not and use Nvidia Optimus (most it seems). Strangely on the Dell forums some people that purchased this for gaming complained that they are not G-Sync laptops and run optimus and they wanted the opposite, gamers want to disable optimus and have the video card connected directly tot the display to get the best performance but in my case I actually need the optimus to support multiple displays. I know Optimus will work because that is how my current ThinkPad works, being able to drive some monitors to the Intel card and others to the Nvidia one. I’m not very tech on this but if the system is not using this mode, then you cannot use both cards at the same time.

I guess I will have to wait and see what comes in the box and how they wired the video card.

Just to be safe I will try the following scenarios:

Option A)

1. Connect the displaylink dock (2 displays to dock)
2. Connect 2 additional displays directly to the laptops port HDMI and DP.

Option B)

1. Connect the displaylink dock (2 displays to dock)
2. Connect a TB dock to the laptop (2 displays to second dock)

I’m sure this third option C will not work: (or maybe it does, since Intel card is supposed to support 2 displays and Nvidia 4). But I guess the system would never be able to handle 4 displays natively.

Option C)

1. Connect a TB dock to the laptop (2 displays to dock)
2. Connect 2 additional displays directly to the laptops port HDMI and DP.

A Thunderbolt 3 port will support Alt Mode by definition of the port specification. However, it is up to the manufacturer of the computer whether or not one or two displays are supported through a Thunderbolt 3 port.

I suspect that your listed option of A will work. Option B will work if the Dell computer supports two displays via its Thunderbolt 3 port (otherwise, you’ll only be able to run one display through a TBT3 dock). I’m not sure if option C will work.

Thanks!

Mitchell

UPDATE SUCCESS:

The solution works !!!

One monitor to HDMI, one to DisplayPort. That equals 2 monitors. They both are detected as running on the Nvidia card. The laptop display tells me its running on the Intel card.

I then run another 2 additional monitors with the Plugable Dock which is very nice.

Total: 5 displays.

The information on the Dell site is not entirely correct for my system, it seems the configurations are different and this is why I was initially confused. The thunderbolt port is on the side, not on the back. Instead, the DisplayPort is on the back and its right next to the HDMI port which makes sense because it means both are wired to the Nvidia card. I’m sure the Intel card could additionally pull another display but not sure how that would work since there not other ports left. And officially the laptop only advertises to be able to run 2 external displays.

As for the DisplayLink monitors running from the Plugable dock, I was concerned about performance and I want to inform everyone this is not an issue to be concerned with any new system. Unless you have an old i3 I don’t think its even noticeable. At least with this system, it rarely uses 1-1.5% CPU. The performance is amazing. There was no need to install any drivers as Windows 10 ships with them since several versions back. YouTube runs absolutely fine on full HD at the same time on both displays and it will then spike to around 4% CPU at that time. Memory consumption is tiny. Other process on the computer already use more on idle without doing anything. Performance is great, even colors match on monitors. While DisplayLink is not advertised for gaming, I expect this could work for some gaming but I didn’t test it and that was not my main concern.

The only minor drawback is the night light function on Windows does not seem to apply to the DisplayLink monitors, not a major issue but I’m very happy with how this dock works.

I will definitely buy some other docks for other setups I have at the office. Thank you Plugable!

1 Like

Thanks so much for your update!

One note regarding Night Light – DisplayLink has a knowledge base article that speaks to enabling Night Light on DisplayLink-powered screens through a Windows registry change.

If you haven’t worked in the Windows registry before, I would strongly recommend creating a system restore point or backing up your current registry using a Microsoft guide. While we haven’t seen any negative effects as a result of this change, there are other settings in the registry that if changed can create problems so I’d like to be transparent about that.

Thanks!

Mitchell

Hi,

Yes, I did read that link before posting my last reply since I searched the issue and the results pointed to that same link.

While that registry hack works, I wonder why this is not pushed to the driver or Windows update as its 2 years old already. This is what stops me from applying it. There must be a reason it’s still not supported natively on the existing windows driver.

Certainly a fair question. Given that we aren’t authors of the DisplayLink driver, unfortunately this is something I can’t answer. You may want to reach out to DisplayLink directly if you want to inquire further.

There’s been a lot of history behind Night Light and Flux implementation for DisplayLink which you can find here if you haven’t seen it already: https://support.displaylink.com/forums/287786-displaylink-feature-suggestions/suggestions/9480393-support-f-lux-and-night-light-on-windows#{toggle_previous_statuses}

Mitchell