Blog: Secrets from the Chef

Hooking up two monitors to Macbook or turning an old iMac into a Firewire monitor

Denis KortunovAuthor: Denis Kortunov
28 July 2009

I do graphic design on a notebook. This is hustle-free if you hook up your notebook to a 24-inch screen. But once I realized that one big screen was not enough. I wanted yet another monitor. But my notebook is equipped with just one monitor extension port and external video cards for macs are rather rare. So it happens that I found a deserted iMac G5 with a 20-inch screen in our office. I have fiddled with the hardware a bit and came up with the following kind of desktop:

Well, hooking up a 24-inch Benq was not a problem — it is connected to the mini-dvi port of the notebook. And the iMac joined the bunch through the firewire. Care to know how this worked? Read on!

Despite the fact that the iMac is a full-fledged computer, I was interested only in the screen. I wanted to end up with a unified desktop so that I could drag objects with a single mouse across all three monitors. Very handy.

I found an application called ScreenRecycler, which allows setting up connections between two machines using VNC (supports various platforms) for the purpose of using the other computer’s screen. There is a similar program called Synergy but it appeared to me as way too complicated for I am just a designer. I installed client and server applications on both computers and it worked:

Unfortunately the virtual screen was too slow. Really, exchanging data between the computers via the wifi is not the fastest way. Thank God macbooks are equipped with firewire ports. I connected computers with a firewire cable and turned wifi off on the iMac. That sped up things a lot.

Now I had to set up the location of monitors in MacOS. My setup looks like this:

This configuration worked on my desk for two weeks straight in a row. Although I had to buy a $30 ScreenRecycler license, but still there is a free Synergy out there. I have icq and gtalk on the notebook’s screen, a mail client and a client’s brief on the virtual screen and the main monitor is inhabited by Photoshop and Illustrator. Very convenient!

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