How to get the best performance on Dual Displays from your Thunderbolt 3 MacBook Pro or Windows Laptop

Everyone loves lots of monitors. One of the most neglected points in this retina-happy world is retina’s super clean high resolution displays comes at a cost. This is commonly referred to as the retina tax. One of the more common use cases for modern systems is a dual display configuration. There are plenty of ways to get dual displays from your MacBook Air, MacBook Pro or PC laptop. But what about performance after these displays have been set up?

As with most things in computing, there are better and worse ways to do just about everything.

OWC recently released an extremely versatile product aimed at high efficiency, high performance display augmentation. It takes one Thunderbolt 3 port and, using the dedicated display port support built in to Thunderbolt 3, outputs dual HDMI or Display Port 4K displays at 60fps.

After The summary, I’ll explain why I think OWC’s approach to a dual display is an excellent mix of efficiency and flexibility, then, I’ll try to tackle as many “can this adapter do_____ ?“ questions as I can come up with.

 HDMI & DisplayPort

The adapter comes in two flavors: HDMI and Display port.

The HDMI variety outputs dual 3840x2160 displays at 60fps. The adapter does this with full HDMI 2.0 spec compliance ensuring both displays can do 4K with full HDR.

The Display Port version can also leverages Thunderbolt 3’s ability to interleave display port channels to support either two 4k or one 5K display.

Dual 4K displays output up to 4096 x 2160 @ 60 FPS and 5k is a full 5120 x 2880 @ 60 fps.

Chipsets

OWC Thunderbolt 3 to HDMI Animations multi displays copy.009.png

Now, let’s talk chipsets. The HDMI flavor has two chipsets, and the display port has one.

Both flavors of the adapter use a the same thunderbolt 3 chipset that Intel developed when they designed Thunderbolt 3!

 

In short, that means the most efficient possible conversion from Thunderbolt 3 to display port 1.2 possible. 

 

The HDMI flavor has one more conversion chipset to take the signal and take it from display port to HDMI. OWC did this with the Parade PS 176 hardware converter. https://nerds.link/2IY42rT

The PS 176 is so stable, it was the chipset used by the first VESA certified converters ever made!

It’s also the same chipset Samsung chose to power their Desktop Experience mobile devices.  So if you’ve ever plugged a Samsung phone or tablet into HDMI, you’ve probably used this chipset.

Why do we care about chipsets?

So what's the point of all this information about chipsets?

Assuming:

  1. Computers have finite resources; and
  2. Thunderbolt is, at present, the most efficient I/O in laptops; and
  3. Conversions done with stable hardware require less system resources under load.
 © Nerds Limited

© Nerds Limited

Than we can conclude that greater efficiency between computers and displays mean more system resources dedicated to your tasks and less overhead wasted by substandard methods of conversion.

 

 

 

 In this case, the "&" in that equation is the OWC Thunderbolt 3 converter.

In this case, the "&" in that equation is the OWC Thunderbolt 3 converter.

In this case, the “and” in that equation is the OWC Thunderbolt 3 converter. But don't take my word for it. Let's get on to testing.

Testing

 

Here's what we tested.

 

 

 

The time lapse shown in the YouTube video is a quick run through of all the combinations of the displays we tested. To make things interesting, We did all of these tests without power cycling the Macbook Pro. As you can see, the results were flawless no matter which combination of DVI adapters, resolutions, color gammuts, or pixel densities. Every test was perfect.

 

By now, I think you’re seeing where I’m going with respect to efficiency. When you take rock solid chipsets, put them in a small metal enclosure, make the adapter bus powered, and include an attached Thunderbolt 3 cable, the result is an adapter that takes whatever you throw at it.

Lots of dots are great.. but

Personally, if I want 4 or 5k displays when using my MacBook Pro, I’ll plug LG ultra fine displays directly in and bask in pixel paradise! The real benefit of this adapter for me is the ability to save my laptop’s computing power for rendering.

There are many cases when I want plenty of screen real estate, but I don't need every screen to be high resolution. Using an adapter which emulates HDMI can use precious resources I’d rather not waste when I’m using a multi-track recording interface. Logic Pro x or adobe audition both work wonderfully on dual apple cinema displays which output beautifully at 1680x1050.

Thunderbolt 3 is based on the DisplayPort 1.2 specification and can support up to 2 streams (eight lanes) of DisplayPort 1.2 video bandwidth it does this natively and without

They also take significantly less power to drive, letting me focus my system’s resources towards a faster render or real-time audio plugin.

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