A Cheaper Way to 4K: Intel’s Collage Driver

If you heard my recent rant on Podcast 13, my main beef was with the state of monitors to the end user.  With 5 inch 1080p screens becoming the norm, finding a monitor that could show above 1920x1080 in anything less than 27” was quite rare.  An idea thrown around in the Podcast was to place four 1080p 10” tablet screens in a 2x2 arrangement and sell it as a monitor, even if consistency between panels was an issue – this would give 4K in 20”, a form factor that Panasonic showcased at CES with a tablet (albeit with a single substrate).  Thus the only way to get 4K on a home system would be to rig up four small 1080p monitors (small being 20”) and connect them to an applicable graphics setup.

One of the goals of Intel’s HD graphics via a processor is to support 4K resolutions. As part of the CES showcase, Gigabyte demonstrated how they can support 4K via the Intel graphics solution on their motherboards that use two Thunderbolt ports.

Back at Computex 2012 Gigabyte gave us a look at their dual Thunderbolt-enabled motherboard range, and we reviewed the Z77X-UP4 TH soon after.  Each of the Thunderbolt ports complies with the DisplayPort 1.1a standard, giving support for 2K from each.  It has taken since then for Intel to release a driver capable of splitting a 4K stream into separate 2K streams, and Gigabyte put the system together for journalists to see.

The driver supports a number of 4K resolutions, including 3840x2400 (1200p in 2x2), 3840x2160 (1080p in 2x2), 7680x1200 (1200p in 1x4) and 7680x1080 (1080p in 1x4) with variations therein.  In order to support this, the end user needs four DisplayPort enabled monitors, two DisplayPort to Dual DisplayPort adapters, the relevant cables, and if needed, a monitor stand.  A ball park figure for this setup could be around $1400 for cheap displays, making it a relatively simple way to enable 4K using HD Graphics only.

There are a few caveats.  Firstly, the collage driver from Intel is not on final release as of yet, but expected to go live in the next month.  When it does, Gigabyte will have a version on their website for each of their boards.  Another caveat is the infancy of the driver – there is no bezel correction on the version that Gigabyte used, and it is unknown if it will be supported at release.  The final caveat is compatibility – in Gigabyte’s testing of the few DisplayPort to Dual DisplayPort adapters they could acquire in Taiwan, only the one from Lenovo worked for them.  There is a possibility that many more do work, but they are as-of-yet untested.  Also, the one from Lenovo is only rated to 3840x2160, meaning 1200p monitors are off the table in that setup.

Stewart Haston from Gigabyte Marketing explains how it is put together:

As a ballpark figure, I put together what a simple monitor setup would cost to support this display:

Four 1080p DP monitors: ~$250 for 21.5”
Two Lenovo DP to 2xDP Adapters: Part #0B47092 ($80 each)
Two mDP to DP Adapters: $10 each
Quad Monitor Stand: $300

Monitor Setup cost: $1480

As for the system to power it, any compatible motherboard and HD4000 graphics combination with memory, case, storage and power supply.  The following is almost the bare minimum, though with memory cheap I went for a dual channel setup, and on the storage side I went for an mSATA SSD as the motherboard chosen supports it.

GA-Z77X-UP4 TH: $185
i3-3225: $148
2x4GB DDR3-1333: $39
300W Bronze PSU: $40
Generic Case: $25+
Crucial m4 64GB mSATA SSD: $70

System Setup Cost: $507

Total cost: $1480 + $507 = $1987

A couple more points to note.  ASRock have released a dual thunderbolt motherboard as well (the ASRock Z77 Extreme6/TB4) so it should work on that.  Also, this setup is using DisplayPort 1.1a – DisplayPort 1.2 should be able to support 4K over a single cable when it is released with the Redwood Ridge Thunderbolt controller.  DisplayPort 1.2 should be able to be daisy chained if monitors have dual DP 1.2 support, but a DisplayPort to Quad DisplayPort device might need to be invented to get around problematic daisy chaining.

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  • powerarmour - Friday, January 11, 2013 - link

    My GTX 650 seems to decode 4K test video fine, so I assume all Kepler hardware does.
  • nathanddrews - Friday, January 11, 2013 - link

    All Kepler GPUs support 4K.
  • Kevin G - Friday, January 11, 2013 - link

    The advantage of this technology would for mobile devices or small form factor devices where adding GPU isn't an option for 4k resolution.

    Then again, this is for Thunderbolt which could be used to add an external PCI-e chassis. You'd be limited to 4 PCI-e lanes of bandwidth but for most workloads this wouldn't be an issue.

    It is kinda odd that this is appearing first on traditional desktop motherboards where such functionality would be better served by just getting a discrete card.
  • vicbee - Friday, January 11, 2013 - link

    Am I the only one puzzled by the apple to oranges comparison here?!? Putting monitors next to each others is in no way equivalent to a single display, 4k or not. Am I the only one bothered by the 3 to 4" crossing the screen??
  • Death666Angel - Friday, January 11, 2013 - link

    Nope. To me, this is just Intel's take on Eyefinity, so they are a couple years late. Comparing single monitor setups (which is what 4k to me means... one monitor with a vertical resolution of around 4k pixel) to a multi-monitor setup is just weird.
  • mfenn - Friday, January 11, 2013 - link

    Agree. This is nothing new, AMD and Nvidia been able to do this for years.
  • RamarC - Friday, January 11, 2013 - link

    Panasonic showed a 20" 4K win8 tablet CES. so a 20" 4K monitor should be ready by late summer.
  • DanNeely - Friday, January 11, 2013 - link

    Depends on the price; has anything on that leaked yet?

    Also there's no guarantee that just because it's available in a giant tablet/all in one that we'll be able to get it as a stand alone display without paying a gouge tax. ex The handful of 15" standalone capacitive touchscreen monitors are priced only just below a low end 15" touchscreen laptop.

    Also, I'd really like something in the 30-35" range to replace my current 2560x1600 main monitor.
  • Paulman - Friday, January 11, 2013 - link

    There's Ian, for you... he's like Panasonic: just slightly ahead of our time...
  • Death666Angel - Friday, January 11, 2013 - link

    That's DR. Ian Cutress. :D

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