DisplayLink Targus

Posted by Jon Peddie on May 2nd 2012 | Discuss
Categories: Hardware Review
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Video and FPSs across USB with Targus

DisplayLink-based Targus USB to HDMI/DVI adapter. (Source: Jon Peddie Research)
DisplayLink started life as Newnham Research in Cambridge England in 2003 doing thin-client displays. It got the bright idea to provide a wireless connection to projectors from a PC. It was a great idea then, still is—even if it doesn’t yet exist. Sidestepping the radio issues, Newnham moved their video compression scheme to USB and sold the idea to Kensington Computer who put it in a universal docking station. They were the first customer for DisplayLink technology.

In the early introduction of the DisplayLink USB to video devices (consisting of a software compressor and an external hardware decompression and VGA/DVI PHY) the company was criticized for not being able to deliver high bandwidth video for FPS game play and video. It wasn’t their fault—just how much can you do with 488 MHz that you don’t own? Not that they stopped trying mind you, we tested some really clever and aggressive codecs from them, but still it all came up lacking. Then Intel bestowed USB 3.0 upon us all and the world got a little brighter. More bandwidth—a whole lot more 10x, and a lot more power to, up to 5A—what’s not to like?

So DisplayLink set about developing a new set of codecs that could exploit USB 3. Some of the early examples were the portable 17-inch monitors with only a USB cable (we’re still trying to get one of them to test). And, DisplayLink’s other best customer Targus built a docking station that ran everything except the clothes dryer (may need USB 4.0 power for that).

Targus also has a module that has an USB connector, a DVI connector, and an HDMI connector—that’s all, oh, it has a blue LED light to let you know it’s alive and well.

It’s a very difficult and complicated installation. First of all you have get TWO cables (I know, do they think we’re just made of money). Then, and here’s the tricky part— you have to plug the USB cable into the USB port, and the HDMI into the HMDI port. (It’s easier to get it wrong than you might think.)

Once we got the cables in the right holes, loaded the drivers from the CD, and then turned on the monitor (there’s just no end of the work that has to be done), we were treated with a brilliant display; one that could be a clone, or an extended display. It really is a “just works” plug & play set up.

The new chip inside the Targus, DL3, can drive both outs simultaneously.

The tests

We’ve tested a lot of DisplayLink stuff, and all of us (no joke) use DL stuff all day on our production machines. So we went through the usual checks and ho hum, it works.

The test system consisted of a HP Pavilion dv6 laptop with an AMD A8 Llano APU and HD 6620 GPU pushing a 1920 x 1080 screen. Hanging off of that, via the Targus, was the second screen, an HP LP2480zx DreamColor monitor with 1920 x 1200 resolution. (hereafter referred to as the second screen).

Good video, mixed on games

The Targus performed flawlessly on movies. Using CyberLink PowerDVD 10. We ran a DVD movie in two display configurations, with the secondary display as a clone (so the movie showed up on both screens simultaneously) and with the second screen as the main monitor so the movie ran only on it. In both cases the movie ran a solid 24 fps, no hiccups no sound problems.

Then we brought up Deus Ex, a FPS game. Not so good—the screen flickered due to frame drop, and crashed during first try. The game ran at 20 to 23 fps on opening menu, 12-13 fps running the game full screen on the second monitor with the second monitor set as the main monitor. Running the second monitor in clone mode, the main monitor showed 30 fps and the second only 12 fps, and never got past the opening screen while on the main monitor we were able to play the game. But then we found out DisplayLink never said it could—they offer Dx10 support.

DisplayLink is looking at the IT market, not the gaming market and video market. So we’re just beating them up with these tests, but heck, that’s what we do.

We tried another game, Stalker. First on the main monitor, as the main monitor, and the game played at 55-60 fps full screen. We then set the displays to clone mode, and it still played well on the main monitor but the second monitor never caught up. Then we set it so the second monitor was the primary and the game played fine on it. So it seems to be game sensitive. Although upgraded to Dx11 Stalker is an older game. Also, Stalker was run from a CD install, whereas Deus Ex although a CD install is tied into Steam. However, when run on the second screen, Stalker can only be played using static lighting. If Dynamic DX11 lighting is used it stutters too much to be playable. If the game is run on the laptop’s main screen only dynamic Dx11 lighting can be used. So even though they’re not into gaming, you can do it pretty well.

What do we think?

DisplayLink continues to impress. They’re not the only ones in the game, SMSC offers the same kind of capability, but only in embedded OEM chipset solution, and companies like Acer seem to have their own stuff. DisplayLink of course does a lot of OEM business, and if you go to their web page store you can buy products from their OEMs. You can get a Targus directly from them with HDMI/DVI/VGA out ($100), or DVI/VGA out ($80)

We like the bandwidth USB 3.0 brings, and the possibilities it opens up for multiple displays. And, think of how easy it would be to hang a USB to DisplayPort 2.1 off your machine and daisy-chain a few monitors.

We used DisplayLink’s 6.2 driver. In a few weeks 6.3 is comings and even more performance will be squeezed out with dual monitors.

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