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Linux graphics hardware/software question for 4 or 6 display setup

post #1 of 9
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I'm looking to build a new desktop machine and need some advice. It'll be used for general purpose stuff (email, web, watching videos, etc.), but it will also be heavily used for software development. I'll describe how I'd like to use this machine further below, but my main question is basically a hardware/software compatibility question and recommendations on what kind of setup would be best. Basically, what graphics cards? what displays? (I would guess that would depend on the output of the graphics cars; DVI, HDMI, display-port, etc.) I'm looking for either a 4 or 6 monitor display setup in a 2 (high) x 3 (wide) setup or 2 x 2. I'm guessing this leans me towards Eyefinity, so proabably AMD/ATI Radeon family of cards?

More details about how I plan to use such a setup: I currently have 2x 24" displays in a side-by-side setup. when I'm working, I like to throw up several terminals (usually like 12+ or more), development IDEs, a few web pages (reference material, documentation), and these days I'll also have a web browser opened to a cloud computing provider's console; and possible a few of them so I can watch different things in the console as i'm testing my code. as you can imagine, my current 2x 24" display is getting very crowded and I'm constantly moving stuff around or switching virtual desktops. I can only fit 8 terminals on one 24" display and still have them somewhat usable (making the font any smaller makes them hard to use). I can always add more virtual desktops, but it's getting annoying to switch so often and hard when I want to see the output of a debugger on the server side, on the client side, watch what's happening in the AWS console, and have my code editor opened as I'm digging through my code to find out where something is broke, etc.

anyway, i'm about to launch a new business and I want to speed things up for myself so I'm now considering getting either a 4 or 6 display setup and could use your guy's help. the reason i'm posting here is because i have concerns specifically about compatiblity with Linux, as I'll be using Linux (Fedora 20) as my desktop/workstation/dev machine. I don't want to assume I can pick any type of hardware and expect it to work smoothly in Linux, especially with this type of setup. I remember reading a while back that it took a while for AMD to release Eyefinity support for Linux, and although I know it is now supported, I don't know the caveats and don't expect AMD to support the Linux world as well as they do the Windows platforms. I would really like to hear from some Linux users that have a similar multi-display setup and what issues you've run into and what hardware you might recommend. TIA.
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post #2 of 9
Greetings
It is my understanding that both nVidia and ATi support multiple monitors on Linux. I don't use ATi so I only know what I have read but I have experience with nVidia using either Xinerama or TwinView. I lean towards nVidia because they have supported Linux for over 10 years while ATi has just a couple years under it's belt. However, AMD seems to have been the catalyst (pun not quite intended tongue.gif ) for playing a pretty fast catch up game for ATi.

You seem serious about this so I'd like to know more about your experiences and how you've thought this through. I'm sitting in front of a single 27inch monitor at the moment and I can easily imagine having two of them. I'm afraid I can't really imagine 3, 4, or 6 of them however just because of the logistics of the mounting system(s) and desktop layout. Every system I've seen in real life (once I've gotten over the drool factor) when viewed realistically, seems clunky and anything but ergonomic.

I've considered having a 1080p 52inch HDTV for entertainment "alongside" a 24-27 inch hi-res monitor but the key word is "alongside". I haven't come up with a really good way to physically mount these sizes that doesn't scream neck strain or some manner of "more trouble than it is worth".

So I'm wondering if you've seem some layout that looks good (actually useful) to you? I'm also wondering why virtual desktops doesn't solve your crowding issues? It is possible to setup Virtual Desktops that step through each one via a keyboard or mouse click or even the scrollwheel. KDE Activities is designed for exactly this sort of flexibility. So have you considered these alternatives? and if so, what do you view as their shortcomings since you seem settled on so many physical monitors?
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post #4 of 9
Thread Starter 
thanks guys for the replies...

@enorbet2:

I know what you mean about Nvidia vs ATI/AMD. In fact, my current setup is a Nvidia card with dual monitor setup and using the binary driver; it was very easy to setup and works well for what it is... pretty outdated hardware by today's standards. I would like to stick with Nvidia, but I didn't think Nvidia had a solution for 6-display setup? Let me know if I'm wrong about that. I'm not one to "keep up with the jones" so to speak, so I don't upgrade my hardware every year, more like once every 5-7 years / one of the reasons why I'm a heavy Linux user.

I have a dual monitor setup right now, two widescreen 24" that are mounted on an adjustable Ergotron system. I can either replace it completely with a 4 or 6 display mounting system, or buy two separate systems mounting to either my desk or on the wall next to my desk. Although I don't have the hardware yet, I don't think I'll have a problem finding a good way to mount 4 or 6 displays. I don't know about ergonomics about a 4 or 6 display setup, i just know that i often wish I had more displays in front of me; whether it to the side (3x1 setup) or above me titled down (4x4 or 3x2). The idea of a large HDTV is interesting, maybe not 52", but I think that might be a little strange when sitting close to it and trying to see yourself writing code. In a multi-display setup, I think I would have the displays tilted towards me in a way that "wraps" around my field of vision. Anyway.. it's not that I've seen such a setup that would work for me, so I'm doing some research and asking for other people's opinion; like yours which I appreciate.

The reason virtual desktops don't always work is because I'm often watching multiple points of data to see how data is flowing through a system that I'm working on. That's why I often have several terminals open running 'tail -f' on some debug log files of several systems. I might make a code change, push the code out and run it and I want to watch how it is interacting with all the different systems to see how things are working or not working. More importantly, the log messages might point to a line or section of code that I need to troubleshoot, and maybe that section of code is using some function calls of a new library i'm not familiar with yet, and so I like to have a technical reference opened in a browser next to my editor. i might also be editing both the client side code and server side code simultaneously to fix a problem. When i have to flip virtual desktops, it gets annoying... like i might see a message about an error on lines 4978-4989 of file X; I flip over to my editor and jump to line 4978, but then I'm not sure am I looking up to line 4989 or 4998; then I have to flip back. then I'm looking at liine 4989 and see it's a function i'm using that maybe I'm using incorrectly and so I need to revisit the documentation or perhaps fire up a man page in a terminal. along with that, maybe I didn't quite understand the bug report and so I need to have my browser open to the bug report and re-read the details that mentions something about the loop that i'm iterating through on line 4981 of file X doesn't reset the initialization variables so the data is leaking into the next iteration, etc. That's just an example of interaction between two systems, now expand on that and imagine working on a multi-node system and I might be watching an API call out to a message bus, and multiple other systems picking up the broadcast message and launching various jobs that all interact, some reporting data back to the bus that trigger another system to launch a handler function that records the activity into a database and kicks off another job in reaction to the report, etc. Anyway, I don't know if that helps you understand; but in short basically I'm dealing with varying sources of data that reference each other and having to flip back and forth between virtual desktops is just distracting. This is not to say virtual desktops don't work... i do use them where I can. If i'm working on two different parts of code that are independent, then it works. Or, if I'm waiting for a code test procedure to complete, I switch over to my "normal use" virtual desktop and read my emails, browse the web, or continue watching a streaming movie ,etc. As for fast-switching between virtual desktops... already do that; but I find myself switching back and forth because of "oh wait, what was that line of code again?" or "what was the return code of that error message?" or "how is that function used? do I need to type cast the input variable before I pass it? where's that example code snippet again?", etc. Maybe i'm not the sharpest guy around, and maybe there's a better way to work on this kind of project, but it is the way I work and so I'm seeking a way to make it easier for the way i work.

@tom.slick:

thanks for the link... i see that was just from last December, so relatively recent. as far as 4- display systems go, it sounds like Nvidia with binary driver is the way to go and the AMD/ATI stuff is still not mature enough (or i have to makes sure I get a Radeon card with at least 3GB)? is that what I'm to gather from that review? any similar reviews on 6-display systems? I'm not decided yet on 4 or 6 display systems, but it does sound like if I'm going for a 4-display system, the Nvidia stuff is more stable..
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TAIPEI
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post #5 of 9
I run one of these

http://www.amazon.co.uk/VisionTek-7750-DDR5-Express-Graphics/dp/B00C7EPSVS/ref=sr_1_5?s=computers&ie=UTF8&qid=1394459829&sr=1-5&keywords=eyefinity+6

and have it hucked into 6 dp to HDMI adpaeters and it runs 6 screens smile.gif

this is runig on Centos (same as fedroa 13!) using the ati driver ^_^
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Supercomputer ^_^
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post #6 of 9
im using the FOSS AMD driver running 3x displays fine straight from the motherboard of an APU build. One is vga, one is DVI and one is HDMi two are the same resolution the vga monitor is lower resolution. No problems here. what surprised me the most was xfce worked really well and even allowed for separate wallpapers on each monitor! which is just a neat feature. But i have had similar success with gnome3.
post #7 of 9
I'm almost doing the same thing as @phill1978 except it's with an Nvidia card. Using an Nvidia 660ti and the proprietary drivers the only annoying part about it is that i need to use an xorg.conf file which from what i understood isn't used often anymore but it works for me so whatever. I would find a single card that can do 3 or 4 displays and then if you want more just get another one, won't take much from a card since you don't seem to be doing very GPU intensive things. I learn towards Nvidia for Linux mostly because that's what has had the best support over time but AMD seem to catching up now.
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post #8 of 9
Another thing to watch out for is the desktop environment you choose: Unity, Mate, Cinnamon, XFCE, KDE, etc. They all play differently well with multi-monitor setups.

I read somewhere that Mate is supposed to work well with multiple screens, can't say much about the others (I've used Unity only with 2 screens, so not sure how it supports more than that).
post #9 of 9
Just FTR, xorg.conf should never be viewed as an annoyance. If you don't need it, or can't use it to accomplish something you want, great, but it offers more specific control so, far from being an annoyance, it should be viewed simply as More Power (cue Tim Taylor pig grunt) and Freedom. For an example germane to this thread, many monitors, and especially HDTVs, have horrible EDIDs and they don't play nice with X. This can be entirely controlled and made useful via xorg.conf so that any problem child can be whipped into shape.
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