Having received a PC from MSI with a couple of GeForce GTX 1080’s to mess around with, I immediately set about creating my dream triple monitor setup. Now, I’ve got three 1080p monitors kicking about here just for general use, but I’ve never really had an opportunity to mess around with Nvidia Surround (Nvidia’s own multi-monitor tool) because I didn’t have the necessary graphics hardware to do it justice. Now I do, at least for this week, so I figured I'd take a look at both Surround gaming and the sort of performance hit you can expect when playing a game spread across three screens.
First of all, for those unfamiliar with multi-monitor gaming, let’s talk about the set up. If you’re thinking of investing in a setup like this, the first thing you’re going to want is a graphics card with at least three video outputs (or two if you want to stick to dual-monitor), and the appropriate cables to be able to wire up all them different connections.
In terms of software, for both AMD and Nvidia users all you’ll need is your standard graphics card drivers. AMD has its Eyefinity software, while Nvidia users can access the settings from the Nvidia Control Panel, no GeForce Experience necessary. I’m using a pair of GeForce GTX 1080’s so I’m obviously going the Nvidia route. Opening up the Nvidia Control Panel, underneath the 3D Settings section there’s a tab for ‘Configure SLI, Surround, PhysX. It’s Surround we’re interested in, and it’s a simple case of clicking Configure, picking the monitors you want to use and then applying it.
Once enabled, all three monitors will effectively be treated like a single screen. Open up a website in full screen mode and the actually content will take up about a third of your screen real estate.
In truth, outside of gaming I quickly found GeForce Surround to be a bit of a pain. I couldn’t snap windows to specific halves of screens, and generally it just made using the system a little more troublesome. There’s precious little outside of gaming that has any use for an ultra-wide resolution like 5760 x 1080, so you can get left with a lot of redundant space if you full-screen anything.
Anyway, onto the all important gaming. Handily, for the most part every game I tried auto-detected the resolution, aside from Rise of the Tomb Raider. What I didn’t expect, and I’m showing my naivety on the matter here, is that you’re not getting an ultra-panoramic view. The effect isn’t like an even wider ultrawide monitor. No, instead the two monitors flanking the central screen are for peripheral vision, rather than looking at them directly. In fact, look at them too much and you can quickly begin to feel a little queasy. The perspective is warped, designed to be taken in by the corner of your eye rather than saving you the effort of spinning the camera. It looks fantastic in screenshots, not so great in action.
However, once I’d wrapped my head around that concept I began to appreciate it a little more, after I’d sobbed my way through a few intense moments of disappointment. The trick is to just stare at the centre screen, as you usually would, while the side monitors wrap around and provide greater immersion.
Getting GeForce Surround running in games was a simple process, and there’s also a site which keeps track of all the games that’ll work called WSGF. However, I found some games supported it much better than others. Rocket League for example, which I thought would provide me with a competitive advantage, actually puts the scoreline and the chat in the upper left of the left-hand screen, which is impossible to look at while playing. There was also a few other oddities, such as not being able to view party members on the main screen, just their vehicles.
Then there’s games like Battlefield 1, which as you can see in the benchmarks really struggled in terms of performance. While the likes of The Witcher 3 seem to limit the level of detail on objects not appearing on the centre screen, Battlefield 1 renders the entire view at maximum LOD, absolutely hammering the frame rate. Despite there being 25% less pixels than gaming at 4K, the SLI GTX 1080’s pulled in just 20.5% of the 4K frame rate when playing at 5760 x 1080. At 15 FPS, it was unplayable, while 4K played like a dream at 73 frames per second.
4K vs Triple Monitor Performance Benchmarks - GeForce GTX 1080 SLI, Intel Core i7-7700K, 64GB DDR4 RAM
As you can see, the overall trend is that triple monitor is more demanding than 4K, despite pumping out 25% less pixels. This is due to the 3x wider aspect ratio which requires the GPU to render and compute many more objects simultaneously. In some cases the difference was negligible, however it Battlefield 1 it was absolutely crippling.
Overall I found the experience a little disappointing. GeForce Surround is one of those things which sounds better than it actually is. After witnessing some fairly frequent performance drops compared to 4K gaming, I'd have to say if you want more screen estate then going the ultra widescreen 21:9 route is probably the best option. The peripheral screens on a triple monitor setup just end up being a bit distracting, and actually made me feel ill in some of the more intense games.
Any triple-monitor folks out there in the GD community, how do you find it?