The journey from a 2003 monitor to dual 2017 monitors.
Dual Ultra HD Monitors Summary
I am able to drive dual Dell P2415Q monitors from five different computers, with some cable switching and with manual selection of inputs.
The interaction is not perfect; it can be hard to get both monitors to display at 60Hz.
I am using the second monitor in vertical (portrait / 90° rotation) mode; all of the systems support this.
Use dual ports to drive dual monitors rather than trying to do Multi-Stream Transport.
- MacBook Pro (Retina, 13-inch, Early 2015) - lid-closed operation - mini DisplayPort to DisplayPort, mini DisplayPort to DisplayPort - 1920x1080 at 60Hz (synthetic resolution; HiDPI/Retina; actually 3840x2160)
- Mac mini (Mid 2011) - AMD Radeon HD 6630M - mini DisplayPort to DisplayPort, HDMI - 1920x1080 at 60Hz (actual resolution) - had to do a lot of restarts to get both monitors at 60Hz - unfortunately HDMI output is a bit fuzzy
- Mac mini (Late 2009; OS X 10.11.6) - mini DisplayPort to HDMI (using Belkin converter), mini DVI to DVI plus DVI to HDMI cable - 1920x1080 at 60Hz (actual resolution)
- HP 9180 (Windows 10) - NVIDIA GeForce GTS 250 - DVI to HDMI, DVI to HDMI - by default it will drive 3840x2160 at 30Hz with 200% scale (a HiDPI mode) - will drive 1920x1080 at 60Hz (actual resolution) but a bit fuzzy
- Lenovo ThinkPad T540p Type 20BF (Windows 7) - lid-closed operation - if you're using just the laptop, you need a converter to split the single available mini DisplayPort - use the Lenovo 4X90L13971 Mini-DisplayPort to [Female] DisplayPort Adapter plus the Lenovo 0B47092 DisplayPort to Dual DisplayPort Adapter - 1920x1080 at 60Hz (actual resolution) - trying to drive a higher resolution (3840x2160) led to odd results
The basic advice is: have a recent computer (or at least a computer with a recent graphics card) and connect to a 24" professional-grade Ultra HD display over DisplayPort.
As I ended up using HDMI from several computers anyway, I'm using a Yunzuo 4x1 HDMI switch to reduce the amount of cable switching I have to do.
Dell UltraSharp 2000FP
I have a Dell UltraSharp 2000FP LCD monitor from 2003. It's not a Full HD or Ultra HD monitor.
It's 20.1" with a native resolution of 1600x1200 at 60 Hz, and four inputs:
- VGA - 15 pin HD D-Sub (HD-15)
- DVI-D - 24+1 pin digital DVI
- S-video input - 4 pin mini-DIN
- composite video input - RCA
I only use it through VGA and DVI-D.
It still works great, very sharp, except it seems like the backlight is failing.
Monitors in 2017
I was wondering what the current generation of monitors looks like.
It seems that, 14 years on, resolutions haven't shifted a huge amount.
Display connectors have changed, and there are ridiculous levels of complexity about what computers will drive what monitor at what resolution with what connector.
The mainstream resolution is Full HD, 1920x1080. A lot of these panels are basically just TV panels.
The next level up is Ultra HD, which is double the resolution, 3840x2160.
There are various levels of 4K and 5K above that.
I looked at a 27" Full HD panel, the Samsung SF350 (model sometimes listed as S27F350).
It has HDMI and VGA inputs. It comes with a VGA cable, but no HDMI cable. It has a really weird tiny push button joystick controller thing on the back. No front panel controls. Very cheap plastic construction. Panel height, which is fixed, is too low for good ergonomics; you'd have to put it up on a box or stack of books or something to get it at the right height.
1920x1080 at 27" is too wide.
Plus which it is so wide and so thin and so thinly supported in the centre that typing will cause the monitor to shake/wobble, which is unacceptable.
It also has the very unfortunate "shiny black plastic" trend, with that shiny plastic inevitably covered by yet another layer of "protective" plastic for shipping. Shiny black plastic is impractical, and when layered with more plastic, it's impractical and overpackaged.
I could only see using this as a TV/video panel, not as a computer monitor.
The 24" Dell P2415Q Ultra HD panel is built much more as a computer monitor.
It has one (full) DisplayPort input and one Mini DisplayPort input, as well as one (full) DisplayPort output (for chaining monitors). It also has an HDMI input.
It also has four USB (USB 3.0 SS) ports, with a special USB connector in order to make it a USB hub.
It has a sturdy stand, with base rotation, height adjustment, and panel rotation (so that you can choose to have the panel in landscape or portrait mode).
The native resolution is Ultra HD 3840x2160 at 60 Hz.
It comes with a Mini DisplayPort to DisplayPort cable, and with a USB connector cable (plugs into your computer's USB port, ideally USB 3.0 SS).
It does not come with an HDMI cable or a Mini DisplayPort to Mini DisplayPort cable.
You might think that you could just get a DisplayPort connector and away you go, but it turns out to be way more complicated than that.
Driving an Ultra HD Monitor
It turns out that to drive an Ultra HD monitor in the simplest way, you need DisplayPort 1.2 output, with Single-Stream Transport (SST).
A Mac ThunderBolt 2 port is, it turns out, also a Mini DisplayPort output. (A Mini DisplayPort is not a Thunderbolt 2 port though.)
Note that, just because it wasn't already complicated enough, a ThunderBolt 3 port (USB-C port) has a completely different form factor, and is thus not a plug-compatible DisplayPort.
To get 3840x2160 at 60Hz (which is the minimum you would want for computer use), you need a relatively recent spec of Mac. You can't do it with a Mac mini 2014 or earlier (and at the time of this writing, there is no more recent Mac mini).
SIDEBAR: You cannot drive a Mac Thunderbolt display from a non-Mac DisplayPort or Mini DisplayPort. Mac Thunderbolt 2 displays will only take Thunderbolt 2 connections. END SIDEBAR
This is what Apple says you'll need to do 3840x2160 at 60Hz with Thunderbolt / Mini DisplayPort using SST:
With OS X Yosemite v10.10.3 and later, most SST 4K (3840 x 2160) displays are supported at 60Hz on these Mac computers:
- MacBook Pro (Retina, 13-inch, Early 2015) and later
- MacBook Pro (Retina, 15-inch, Mid 2014) and later
- Mac Pro (Late 2013)
- iMac (27-inch, Late 2013) and later
- MacBook Air (Early 2015)
Chaining Multiple Monitors with DisplayPort Multi-Stream Transport
DisplayPort Multi-Stream Transport (MST), as best I can understand, is a way to drive multiple monitors from a chained DisplayPort connection (the Dell P2415Q has a DisplayPort out port for this purpose).
This is what Apple says you'll need...
These Mac computers support MST displays at 60Hz:
- MacBook Pro (Retina, 15-inch, Late 2013) and later
- MacBook Pro (Retina, 13-inch, Early 2015) and later
- Mac Pro (Late 2013)
- iMac (Retina 5K, 27-inch, Late 2014) and later
If you use a 60Hz MST display with the MacBook Pro (Retina, 15-inch, Mid 2015) with AMD Radeon R9 M370X graphics card or iMac (Retina 5K, 27-inch, Late 2014), only one additional Thunderbolt display is supported.
You'll probably also need to enable Multi-Stream Transport mode in your monitor's settings. I did a few MST experiments with the Dell P2415Q monitors but I couldn't get it to work. The only result I got was that the second monitor would mirror what was on the first monitor.
MST with MacBook Pro and two Dell P2414Q Monitors
I didn't test; it's easier just to drive the two monitors directly with the two available mini DisplayPort ports.
Mac HiDPI - No Ultra HD for You
So you might think, ok no problem, I have the right spec of Mac, I'll plug it in and enjoy 3840x2160 at 60Hz.
Well no. Mac OS X 10 will automatically do something called HiDPI, which means... well it's kind of confusing.
Basically it will use four display pixels for each available pixel, for "smoothness". So your available default resolution will be 1920x1080 at 60Hz (but ooh, such smooth pixels). You have to go into System Preferences -> Display and select "Scaled", but in OS X 10.13 it won't even let you select from a list of resolutions, it just has a range of resolution types. And (on my MacBook Pro 13" Early 2015 at least), that range of resolutions doesn't give you 3840x2160 at 60Hz as an option, which is kind of bizarre. You can't even use the display at its native resolution if you want to, at least through the System Preferences.
I have to say, it is pretty weird to pay for 3840x2160 at 60Hz and then have the Mac serve it up to you as HiDPI 1920x1080 at 60Hz.
See below for how to get all resolutions displayed.
OS X 10.12 Sierra / 10.13 High Sierra Display OPTIONS
If you want to see a full resolution list in OS X 10.12, or a traditional resolution-based list at all in OS X 10.13 you must hold down the option key when clicking the Scaled radio button. Only then will the interface show you all the available display resolutions. When you do that, you can select 3840x2160 at 60Hz. Yes, that makes for very small text at the default settings, but it does give you the full display resolution the device is capable of.
HDMI is Confusing
HDMI was basically made to drive Full HD 1920x1080 television panels. HD TV is super complicated so I won't get into details of refresh rates.
The short of it (as best I understand from Wikipedia) is:
HDMI 1.3 & 1.4 can drive 1920 × 1080 (1080p) at 60Hz and 120Hz.
HDMI 2.0 can drive 3840 × 2160 (Ultra HD, "4k") at 60Hz.
All I'm going to say about cables is that if you want to use HDMI for an Ultra HD monitor, buy a regular High-Speed cable (without Ethernet) and see if it works. Don't pay some premium price for some gold-plated super fancy cable. There's a whole bunch of cable mysticism out there, but digital is digital. Either the cable works or it doesn't.
Basically every computer I tested would drive the SF350 at 1920x1080, 60Hz over VGA or HDMI, including through various adapters.
From computers that were capable, I was able to drive the P2415Q at 3840x2160 at 60Hz over DisplayPort or Mini DisplayPort. So use DisplayPort if you can.
There was no difference in resolutions available when accessing the P2415Q through its DisplayPort or Mini DisplayPort connectors. (You have to manually switch the input, using the front panel controls.)
The maximum display resolution at which the Mac Mini (Mid 2011) would display over DisplayPort with a refresh rate of ~60Hz (59.88Hz) was 2560x1440.
MacBook Pro (Retina, 13-inch, Early 2015) - henceforth MBP
- MBP will drive the SF350 over HDMI at 1920x1080 at 60Hz
- MBP will drive the P2415Q using Mini DisplayPort to DisplayPort at HiDPI 1920x1080 (i.e. synthetic resolution, actually 3840x2160) at 60Hz. When using DisplayPort, it may try to send the audio to the P2415Q, even though the P2415Q has no internal speakers (it only has line audio out, for a sound bar).
- If set to Scaled - More Space (maximum) it says "looks like" 3008x1692 at 60Hz. It is not possible to choose 3840x2160 in the Display Preferences unless you hold down the Option key when clicking Scaled.
- With the full resolution list displayed (using the Option key), you can select and use 3840x2160 at 60Hz.
- MBP using the built-in HDMI would only drive the P2415Q at 3840x2160 at 30Hz
Mac mini (Late 2009) - henceforth mini2009
- mini2009 will drive the SF350 using an Apple Mini DVI to VGA adapter at 1920x1080 at 60Hz
- mini2009 will drive the SF350 using an Apple Mini DisplayPort to VGA adapter at 1920x1080 at 60Hz
- mini2009 will drive the SF350 using a Belkin Mini DisplayPort to HDMI adapter at 1920x1080 at 60Hz
(for some reason this also made the OS think it was a television)
Mac mini (Mid 2011) - henceforth mini2011
- mini2011 will drive the SF350 over (built-in) HDMI at 1920x1080 at 60Hz
- mini2011 will drive the SF350 using an Apple Mini DisplayPort to VGA adapter at 1920x1080 at 60Hz
- mini2011 will drive the P2415Q using Mini DisplayPort to DisplayPort at HiDPI resolution of 1920x1080 (i.e. synthetic resolution, actual resolution is 3840x2160) but only at 30Hz
- Using the Option key with the Scaled Display setting, there was no full-resolution 60Hz option. For 3840x2160 the maximum refresh was 30Hz. I had to select 2560x1440 (low resolution) in order to get a 59.88Hz refresh rate. The default offered for 1080p was 24Hz, but 60Hz was an option. If 1920x1080 was selected, as a HiDPI resolution that is actually 3840x2160, the max refresh was back to 30Hz.
- mini2011 will drive the P2415Q using built-in HDMI at 1600x900 at 60Hz or 1080p (1920x1080) at 60Hz. It doesn't look like it offers HiDPI resolutions over HDMI.
ThinkPad T540p Type 20BF - henceforth ThinkPad
- ThinkPad will drive the SF350 over VGA at 1920x1080 at 60Hz
- ThinkPad will drive the SF350 using a Belkin Mini DisplayPort to HDMI adapter at 1920x1080 but it insists the frequency is 59Hz
- ThinkPad will drive the P2415Q using the Lenovo 4X90L13971 Mini-DisplayPort to [Female] DisplayPort Adapter plus the Lenovo 0B47092 DisplayPort to Dual DisplayPort Adapter - both screens 1920x1080 at 60Hz
I don't have compatibility tests for every possible Dell P2415Q scenario but you get the general idea.