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I recently needed to start using a third screen on my desktop, and the built-in Intel video will only handle two.

For that purpose, I pulled an old ATI 4350 out of the closet. I barely ever used this card because it was very noisy, so I took the fan off and attached the north bridge heatsink from an old motherboard. It now runs at ~55°C with a little air flowing over it from a case fan. I'm curious as to how long it will last that way, but since it supposedly can tolerate 120°C (and in fact reached that when I first put the card in, with no fan and no heatsink) hopefully long enough. But I'm curious what I could have done without this not-very-ideal option.

I don't need this screen for much -- no 3D, no video playback, mostly just generic GUI content such as viewing documentation. I have an HD monitor attached, so I do want 1920x1080 resolution, which I think requires ~16 MiB of video memory, since 1920 * 1080 * 3 (bytes/pixel) * 2 (double buffer) / 1048576 ~= 12 MiB, and I'm aware of embedded platforms that will display HD with 16 MiB of video RAM.

I was surprised looking around that there doesn't seem to be anything out there to meet this kind of need; the lowest end cards I could find are still on a par with the 4350 (thankfully, there are more fanless options now) with 1/2 GB of video memory and 3D acceleration, and a $40-50 CND price tag.

One of my concerns about these cards is power consumption. I don't have a watt meter, but the fact that the 4350 idles at 55°C whilst keeping 20g of aluminum very warm too implies it uses an excess of energy for my purposes. My PSU is fine, I just don't like pointless waste.

Have I missed something? Is there anything more basic than this around? Like a low power1 $20 card you can attach a single HD monitor to?

To clarify further

Andy has already mentioned a bottom end 3D card. I'm aware of these, they are cheap and plentiful and there's nothing wrong with them, but I don't need to see a list of more of them here. I'm looking for something more specialized in the sense that it can't be a purely integrated chipset, since it's for adding a third screen to a mobo that already has this, but totally basic. I am sure it is possible to make, e.g., a 64 MB PCI card with a GPU that doesn't require any cooling or heatsink at all, and consumes <= 5 watts. But I suspect no one has bothered to do so.


1. Less than 5 watts would be great; less than 15 is okay.

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Have I missed something? Is there anything more basic than this around? Like a low power1 $20 card you can attach a single HD monitor to?

Yes. As Dan has pointed out in his answer, a USB video adaptor fits all of your needs exactly.

For instance, let's compare the Flashmen USB 3.0 to HDMI 1080P Video Adaptor to your requirements:

I recently needed to start using a third screen on my desktop

Adapters like this will run a third monitor.

I barely ever used this card because it was very noisy

They have no fans or moving parts, should not produce any detectable noise.

I don't need this screen for much -- no 3D, no video playback, mostly just generic GUI content such as viewing documentation.

They don't usually have much hardware acceleration, but the drivers do typically support video playback at 30 frames per second full screen. Some of the better USB adapters support minimal 3D using the computer's processor for the hard work.

This is important because you might be surprised how many programs, such as CAD or even web browsers and document viewers use 3D.

I have an HD monitor attached, so I do want 1920x1080 resolution

These HDMI adapters will almost always support 1080p.

One of my concerns about these cards is power consumption. ... Less than 5 watts would be great; less than 15 is okay.

These are under 5W.

it can't be a purely integrated chipset

They don't use computer memory as video memory, and are not "integrated".

a low power1 $20 card you can attach a single HD monitor to?

The one I listed at the top is often for sale right around $20. It's not a great piece of hardware, but if you have a price limit of $20 and are ok with the requirements (windows 7, 8, or 10) and fiddling around a little with the drivers, then it exactly fits your requirements.

If you need something more specialized, then of course you're going to have to compromise some of your requirements, but at the moment it appears to meet your needs.

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A USB graphics adapter would hit lower power levels (USB2 generally tops out at 5W per port, 3 can go significantly higher but doesn't have to); but the USB2 versions don't perform well with video or rapidly changing interfaces due to low bandwidth. USB3 ones are supposed to be better in that regard; but if your computer is old enough that the IGP only does 2 displays (the last few generations of Intel CPUs have supported 3 displays) I'm guessing you probably don't have any USB3 ports.

I don't think you're going to find what you're looking for. The margins in $40 cards are already so low as to be nearly non-existent, so there's no compelling reason for OEMs to go lower.

Also, unless you're using either a really old OS or a version of linux with a very light weight windows manager, I think you're also underestimating how low you can go on vram. To improve performance modern OSes (eg Windows from Vista forward) generally cache copies of every open window even if it's currently hidden (so that if you bring it forward it displays instantly instead of having to wait for a redraw first). IIRC this data is stored in VRAM, so you'd need more than just enough for double buffering.

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  • I have USB 3.0 ports, lol -- it is not an old, or cheap, computer, I just don't play video games and don't see the need for a 50W graphics card. I will double check the CPU (ivy bridge) WRT # of monitors. A display port adapter is a decent option WRT the power saving. WRT mem, I meant more that 1/2 GB is very excessive for basic desktop use, not that I want only 16 MB. WRT margins, that's malarkey -- – goldilocks Nov 3 '15 at 23:07
  • -- if a bunch of nobodies can get famous for selling a complete 256 MB SoC board with GPU (RPi A+) for $25 (still), it is absolute B.S. that AMD could not sell a simple PCI board (based on, e.g., the ES1000, which they sell as integrated, but not after market) for less than that. It would cost them $5, they could sell it for $10, distributors for $20. The reason they don't do this, I am sure, is because they do not want to compete with themselves, and they know I or anyone else will be happy to pay $40 anyway considering it's for a system that's $1000+ (so who cares, right?). – goldilocks Nov 3 '15 at 23:07
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    A USB video adapter was going to be my suggestion. It's about as convenient and easy to use as you can get, and handles HD just fine. – rob Nov 4 '15 at 5:25
  • You were right -- the onboard graphics (3rd gen, Intel HD 4000) should support 3 displays. I think I got into my head wrongly because (sheepish grin) I don't have a displayport or DVI-D cable here (there are 4 different jacks, the VGA and HDMI are taken) whereas I had the old card and a monitor. Doesn't invalidate the question, of course. This answer does help me to understand why there isn't the market I thought there should be -- presumably walking into a computer store would have got me there too. Using a multiheaded adapter, either USB or displayport, is probably the sanest solution. – goldilocks Nov 4 '15 at 15:15
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    I would just like to point out that even though Intel has claimed triple monitor support for the past few generations of their CPUs, you will be hard-pressed to find a motherboard which implemented triple-monitor support from the iGPU. The odds are heavily against you in terms of having a motherboard which supports triple-monitors on the iGPU. If you are running Haswell or later then your chances of getting triple-monitor do go up slightly... – MonkeyZeus Nov 4 '15 at 15:34
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I have a low end Radeon card in one of my closet machines. If you are getting a new one, I'd recommend the Radeon HD 5450. It is $30.

Radeon HD 5450

It has support for HDMI, DVI and HDMI output. It also has 1 GB of memory and has a PCI Express interface. It is also fanless.

It's not going to run high end video or play the newest games at max settings, but it will run a high definition monitor without a problem.


Update: For next generation (6xxx) of the same graphics adapter, go with Radeon HD 6450.

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  • This is a decent suggestion (+1) although it is not really what I had in mind -- I'm already aware of the bottom end 3D cards (a 5450 based card on newegg.ca is still >= $40). I've clarified the question by introducing the issue of power consumption. I am sure it is possible to make a 16 MB card with a GPU that requires no cooling or heatsink at all (think tablets). – goldilocks Nov 3 '15 at 16:31
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    @delicateLatticeworkFever even the GPU on a tablet will have more than 16MB of ram (but shared with the main memory) - that combined with the fact that there aren't any ram chips that small means you won't find anything (or you will only find very old chips, which consume more power than a newer chip with 16x the capacity) – user2813274 Nov 3 '15 at 21:42
  • @user2813274 I meant WRT not requiring massive power draw and cooling; I used the 16MB figure just to indicate that you don't need 512 to run an HD display, but excellent point about available RAM chips. The other video card in my closet was a relatively antique S3 virge w (!) 4 MB (I think you are very wrong about it consuming anywhere close to the power the card above does, BTW). Once intel started making onboard video standard, I guess the bottom dropped out of basic workstation oriented cards, which is why no wants to bother with them now. – goldilocks Nov 3 '15 at 23:15
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You're going to end up getting something older. Pricerange though... hard to match.

I can think of something that would tick off most of the boxes - a Matrox P690 (I was thinking the G550, but no WDDM drivers)

enter image description here

PCIe x1 (hey, you don't need more than that)

list price is about usd $250 (yeah, not easy) but you can get it significantly cheaper. Lowest I've seen is 70 usd. Its a niche card. Did I say economies of scale? That isn't helping here at all. Its an uncommon, specialised card.

128mb of ram, 2 DVI ports, handles somewhat better than 1080p. Out of your price range, somewhat unless you find a fantastic deal. Runs on anything vaguely modern.

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  • Wow, now that is irony. Good to at least know someone makes such a thing. The existence of the USB or multihead displayport adapters made me realize why this would be such a niche market. – goldilocks Nov 4 '15 at 15:18
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I can recommend an application called Synergy http://synergy-project.org/

You can have a bunch of disparate computers connect to a single master over your local ethernet, and that master's keyboard and mouse signals go back the other way. I think the limit is three rows of 5, so 15 computers. Each can have multimonitors of their own.

Essentially you can have a "Single console" with Windows, Macintosh and Linux computers working seamlessly. Naturally you can't drag windows between computers, but you can copy and paste text fine.

The benefits... I get to use linux locally in my windows workplace, bu putting a linux laptop on my desk. At home I have an older imac and linux side by side.

I have no connection with synergy, other than being a paid-up user. There's a "free" version and one-time donation gets you a bit more.

This is a good use for an older laptop or a tablet too.

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    Might not meet OP's power requirements and of course, you need spare machines. – Journeyman Geek Nov 4 '15 at 22:49
  • True - however the second machine can be completely turned off when not needed, saving all the power. Most geeks will have some device laying about spare... I use a 9" Eee netbook from ~7 years ago.. – Criggie Nov 4 '15 at 22:52

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