Buying 3rd monitor, help me choose hardware to support it


Jan 2, 2013
I am an Architect that needs to have a large monitor for AutoCAD reasons. I also use it extensively for gaming. (see details below) I'm about to purchase the following monitor, and want to configure it to be my primary monitor. I currently have 2 22" 1680x1050 monitors, and want to turn them sideways and mount on either side of the large monitor.

Dell UltraSharp U3011 30" Black 7ms IPS-Panel Height, Swivel Adjustable Widescreen LCD Monitor 370 cd/m2 DC 100,000:1 (1000:1)

Here's the problem:
Currently, my single video card has 3 ports, D-Sub, DVI, and HDMI, but I'm afraid it's underpowered and runs hot for what i have now and won't be able to handle the full setup.
Option A: High end video card with 3 ports. $400-500 range
Option B: 2 Medium-high end video cards with 2 ports each in SLI setup. $200-250 range
Option C: any other configuration that will work that I haven't thought of.

What I need from you is advice on which cards would work best and what do I need to support it?

1) Is 2 SLI Moderate cards better for this than 1 high end card (assuming same price range) or not?
2) What am I going to need to look for for motherboard/CPU/Power supply support of configuration?
3) What is better for quality output? HDMI, DVI, Display Port, Composite Video, D-Sub
4) What cards deliver maximum performance when needed, but can still support 3 outputs? Only 1 needs to be Powerful though if that makes a difference.
5) What else am I missing?

APPROXIMATE PURCHASE DATE: this month hopefully BUDGET RANGE: $500 after monitor (not set in stone)

USAGE FROM MOST TO LEAST IMPORTANT: AutoCAD (Architect), followed by Gaming (Skyrim, Minecraft, Civilization V, UT GOTYE), followed by home theater/movies

CURRENT GPU AND POWER SUPPLY: I currently have 2 22" monitors running at 1680x1050 with:
Graphics Card: SPARKLE SX98GP1024D3-NM GeForce 9800 GTX+ 1GB 256-bit GDDR3 PCI Express 2.0 x16 HDCP Ready SLI Support Video Card

Power Supply: Antec EarthWatts EA650 650W Continuous Power ATX12V Ver.2.2 / EPS12V version 2.91 SLI Certified CrossFire Ready 80 PLUS Certified Active PFC "compatible with Core i7/Core i5" Power Supply

CPU: Intel Core 2 Quad Q9550 Yorkfield 2.83GHz LGA 775 95W Quad-Core Desktop Processor BX80569Q9550

MoBo: EVGA 132-CK-NF79-A1 LGA 775 NVIDIA nForce 790i Ultra SLI ATX Intel Motherboard

Memory: OCZ Reaper HPC Edition 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600 (PC3 12800) Low Voltage Desktop Memory Model OCZ3RPR1600C8LV4GK

Case/Cooling setup probably needs work - recently running into cooling issues when playing Skyrim on high settings. (although it might just be hard on the GPU too)


PARTS PREFERENCES: Do not like ATI - want NVIDIA only graphics cards please - CPU i7 maybe


MONITOR RESOLUTION: 2x 1680x1050 - Adding 1 2560x1600 30"

ADDITIONAL COMMENTS: Want to be able to run programs like AutoCAD on the large monitor and use programs like photo viewers and MS Excel on smaller monitors for everyday use. While gaming, I want the option to disable the secondary monitors to help lock the cursor on the center screen, Easily if possible - maybe even something that could be automatic. Some games have more of a problem with that than others. I would also like to have the FULL SLI power for games like Skyrim when desired, but still have secondary monitors available if possible.

Windows 7 64bit Ultimate


According to NVIDIA's website:
How many monitors are supported when running in SLI mode?

With GeForce R180 drivers (or later), standard SLI configurations for 2-way, 3-Way, and quad SLI support a maximum of two monitors. Additional monitors (up to 6 monitors total enabled) may be enabled by using either a motherboard GPU and/or a PhysX capable graphics card (GeForce 8 series or higher with at least 256MB of memory) that does not have the same GPU as those that are SLI enabled.

Can I add a 3rd graphics card in my 2-way SLI enabled PC to connect more monitors?
Yes, you can add an additional graphics card to your PC to connect two additional monitors. The additional graphics card must have a GPU that is different from your SLI GPUs and must be NVIDIA PhysX capable (GeForce 8 series and higher with at least 256MB of memory). For example, two GeForce GTX 2XX GPUs in SLI and a GeForce 9XXX GT is a supported configuration.

Which sounds like I could have 1 High end card primary, and use my current card as secondary for monitors 2 and 3. Does this sound right?


SLI has 2 modes the first is pure SLI, in this mode you can only have 2 monitors and it is intended for games. It is not very useful for any thing else. The second is “Surround” to use surround all 3 monitors must be the same resolution so that wont really work for you. Another note about surround is it tricks your computer into thinking all 3 monitors are one giant screen with a weird resolution. Due to these limitations SLI is off the table however there is no good reason not use to cards both stand alone.

I see 2 simple things to do.
Spend like $50 and Just get a second card. Keep your existing card and get a cheap card like a HD6450 to run the second and 3rd screen. Keep the main screen on your existing card.

Option 2 is to get a nice card like a HD7850 – 7870 around $200 or GTX660 or 670, $300-$400. All of those cards will allow you to run all 3 screens off one card. You can play games on the main screen and have productivity apps running the second 2 screens. You can run aGTX670 or something like the for the main screen and your old card for the other 2 screens.

I commonly game on my main screen while running core temp, afterburner, and steam friends on the extra screens. All 4 of the cards listed above will easily run all 3 screens while gaming at nice settings.
I run 2 gtx470s in SLI, it works well enough but always getting new drivers to play new games is a pain. Having to manually switch between SLI and Surround is a pain. Many people complain of micro stutter, I saw it on my 750i board but I don’t see it on the z77. For these reasons I would get 1 high end card.

Your mother board and CPU will work just fine for this project. PSU will be fine for 1 high end card but might struggle to power 2 cards.

At the resolutions you are talking about you won’t see any difference in any of the digital outputs. I would just use whatever cables are on hand. HDMI is nice if you want to use the speakers in your monitors. If you get a AMD card with a bunch of ports make sure you have the correct dongles and adapters to run your monitors. Different brand and model cards can do different outputs.

This is an easy and fun task. Just get a big video card and have fun!.. I have been running 4 monitors for like 10 years now.