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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  • Paulman - Friday, January 11, 2013 - link

    Sorry, I forgot. He's a REAL doctor, too (PhD). Not one of those MBBS/MD's (physicians) ;)
  • IanCutress - Sunday, January 13, 2013 - link

    Technically D.Phil., but only because Oxford does it a bit differently. :)
  • Ammaross - Friday, January 11, 2013 - link

    If the whole point of the exercise was to toss $1400 out trying to get a 40" 4K monitor setup, the first question is "Why not just get a 4K screen near the 27" mark for near the same price?" and "Why not just run a dual Catleap monitor setup since you want to be cheap anyway?" Just sayin.
  • repoman27 - Friday, January 11, 2013 - link

    The problem is that the LCD display market is bizarre right now, which was Ian's initial beef. There are a million 1920x1080 and a few 1920x1200 panels in the 21-27" range for $100-600, and then you jump up to 2560x1440 at 27 inches or 2560x1600 at 30 inches for $600-$3000 (unless you go the Achieva Shimian or Yamakasi Catleap route). The only 4K displays available are about $10,000, although Sharp has announced the 32" PN-K321 at 3840x2160 which is only supposed to cost a mere $5200 or so.

    In terms of sheer pixels/$, you can get 8.3 MP of IPS goodness for only $580 right now. Pair that with a couple of the Lenovo DisplayPort to Dual-DisplayPort adapters at $80 a pop, $48 worth of cables from MonoPrice and an el-cheapo quad display mounting solution for around $100. You've got yourself a 43" 4K display for $888, so long as you can ignore the bezels running through the middle of the picture.
  • scook9 - Friday, January 11, 2013 - link

    Those DisplayPort adapters look ALOT like the MST hubs that were teased to us when Radeon HD 6000 launched and are still vaporware.

    Does this mean that those are finally going to come to market? If so I consider this a much bigger deal than Intel finally figuring out how to do Eyefinity....
  • Kevin G - Friday, January 11, 2013 - link

    These aren't MST hubs as they'll work with DP 1.1a.

    Though MST hubs likely depart from their vaporware status this year. The components are out there as several monitors have built-in MST hubs for DP chaining now.
  • repoman27 - Friday, January 11, 2013 - link

    I was going to mention that the Dell UltraSharp U2713H and U2913WM have DP 1.2 HBR and MST capabilities. Are there any others yet?
  • erson - Saturday, January 12, 2013 - link

    You can add U2413 to that list.
  • pvdw - Friday, January 11, 2013 - link

    Here's how I'd do it if I had the time.

    1. Strip the bezels.
    2. Cut and join the bezels to create a large bezel for the quad.
    3. Remove the portions of the rear casing that block the LCD panel from adjoining.
    4. Move any electronics that was there.
    5. Create a very thin, clear-lipped bezel for LCD panel touch edge-to-edge. (think clear-plastic keyboard cover type material.

    For this to work you'd need monitors with minimal electronic controls, or ones where they could easily be moved/removed without damaging the structure.

    Now imagine 4x Dell U2412M with hardly visible centre bezels!! Please somebody do it!

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