Introduction

While notebook hardware has steadily improved over the years, outside of the recent MacBook Pro with Retina Display there haven't really been any moves forward in improving desktop real estate in some time. In fact, for productivity-oriented users this continues to be a major reason for sticking with a desktop setup (if not a desktop system): more monitors, more space to work in. This fact of life has resulted in a bit of a niche market in the form of small, USB-powered screens.

We've tested both of GeChic's OnLap monitors and found that while they were flawed in their own ways, they were still able to expand useful work space without incurring too much of an inconvenience in terms of size or power requirements. Yet GeChic's screens need an HDMI or D-SUB port in addition to a USB 2.0 port for power, and if for one reason or another your notebook doesn't offer one of these, you're out of luck. Enter solutions based off of DisplayLink's USB technology, which are able to add another screen driven entirely over USB. Solutions like the screen we have on hand today, Toshiba's catchily-named 14" USB Mobile LCD Monitor. Here's the spec sheet:

Toshiba 14" USB Mobile LCD Monitor Specifications
Model PA3923U-2LC3
Cabinet Color Matte Black
Screen Size 14"
Native Resolution 1366 x 768
Display Colors 256000
Brightness 220 cd/m2 (Claimed)
Contrast Ratio 400:1 (Claimed)
Response Time 16ms
Connectivity USB 2.0
User Controls Power Button, Brightness Up, Brightness Down
Dimensions 13.4" x 9.4" x 0.6" (WxHxD)
(340mm x 239mm x 15.2mm)
Weight 2.8 lbs (1.27kg)
Pricing Online starting at $170

Unlike the GeChic OnLap monitors we've reviewed here and here, which benefited from being driven off of the notebook's GPU, Toshiba's 14" monitor leverages DisplayLink's USB technology (which Jarred outlined here back in 2008). While DisplayLink has USB 3.0-based solutions slowly making their way to market, Toshiba's monitor still uses USB 2.0. Most of the remaining specifications are pretty weak, but this is a laptop designed primarily for office work as opposed to anything that demands color accuracy.

How Does it Work?

As a quick and dirty primer, DisplayLink basically uses on-the-fly compression as needed to stream data over USB to the DisplayLink-enabled monitor. What's important to note is that this means there's no GPU, dedicated or integrated, directly feeding the monitor, and as a result most of the heavy lifting has to be done by the CPU. That also means that gaming is mostly out of the question. Toshiba's monitor wasn't even exposed as an option for any of the games in our notebook testing suite.

I did try to run Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012 windowed and then drag the window over to the Toshiba monitor, and it did seem to be running well, but when I tried to maximize it, both screens were basically caught in a flickering loop. The only way I was able to break the system out of the loop was to shut it down completely.

Nearest I can tell, DisplayLink's technology seems to present itself as a virtual monitor driven by the GPU, and then takes that data and funnels it through the USB connection to the external screen. It's impressive that it works at all, but remember that the funnelling requires on-the-fly CPU-based compression, and you'll see what that means later on.

Setup, by the way, is incredibly easy. While Toshiba includes a driver disc with their monitor, there's a driver readily available for download on Windows Update for Windows 7 as well. Plug the monitor in and let the drivers auto-install, and you're ready to go.

Screen Quality and Performance
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  • themossie - Wednesday, June 27, 2012 - link

    For a cheapie laptop monitor with HDMI in, grab a Motorola Atrix Lapdock or Bionic Lapdock for ~$60, a Micro HDMI cable and a Micro HDMI female to female adapter (http://www.ebay.com/itm/280761232832) for $5... works great, and has lots of other uses!

    Only downside is weight, ~2.5 lbs.

    More details at http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=1...
    Reply
  • jacobdrj - Wednesday, June 27, 2012 - link

    AOC has had similar products on the market for a while now, for a decent price. How does this compare to it? Does it change orientation via accelerometer? Matte or Gloss? Reply
  • Shadowmaster625 - Wednesday, June 27, 2012 - link

    Instead of spending $200 for a monitor, why not spend $79 for something that runs off AC power, and $20 for a power inverter, and $20 for a battery, and clump them all together.... lol seriously or just by a monitor that runs off DC. If you need a 2nd monitor that chances are you have either 120V AC or 12V DC power available. Reply
  • PrinceGaz - Wednesday, June 27, 2012 - link

    My thoughts exactly.

    This monitor seems to serve one purpose, a purpose which requires all of the following to be true:

    a) you have no source of power for it other than your laptop computer

    b) despite having no other source of power, you do have the space and a good reason to want to use a second display even though the laptop's battery will be drained rather more quickly

    c) packing a short HDMI or VGA cable with your laptop and your additional display which you are already carrying with you, is impractical for some strange reason

    d) you don't want to do anything particularly demanding with your second display, as doing so may well cause the system to crash or become unstable

    I'm struggling to think of any scenario whatsoever which satisfies all of the above criteria.
    Reply
  • euler007 - Wednesday, June 27, 2012 - link

    Looks like a good idea, Apple should patent it. Reply
  • Display Alliance - Wednesday, June 27, 2012 - link

    http://www.displayalliance.com/news-categories/201... Reply
  • Einy0 - Wednesday, June 27, 2012 - link

    Just a word USB - VGA Trigger devices suck crap. I can tell you from experience the are awful to deal with. Reply
  • anac6767 - Thursday, June 28, 2012 - link

    Could you guys agree to not suck off Apple for just ONE article? In the first friggin' paragraph you wrote:
    "While notebook hardware has steadily improved over the years, outside of the recent MacBook Pro with Retina Display there haven't really been any moves forward in improving desktop real estate in some time."

    and then:
    "This fact of life has resulted in a bit of a niche market in the form of small, USB-powered screens."

    OK, so your take is that Apple is (somehow out of the dozens of OEMs) the only company innovating in laptop displays. And yet this ENTIRE MARKET of USB-screens has somehow come to exist without Apple's blessing. Tip: not everything needs to be described in "Apples" guys, like some sort of ridiculous fantasy computing metric. Excellent laptop screens have existed since the beginning and are simply not advertised because manufacturers don't want to bind a panel to a model. This should change.

    Oh, and one of you has got it right with that x120e I see pictured in the article (refered to a an Acer for some reason). THAT is a terrific computing value at under $400 (I paid $325 for mine) and yet you couldn't be bothered to give it a shout out. Apple's what gets the clicks, right?
    Reply
  • killerb255 - Thursday, June 28, 2012 - link

    Server troubleshooting, especially one that doesn't have a monitor.

    ...still not sure if that would justify the price tag of one of these things, though...
    Reply
  • abirdie4me - Friday, June 29, 2012 - link

    I've been using the Toshiba usb monitor for a couple years, it is perfect for my needs. I'm a consultant and travel weekly, I just throw it in my laptop bag and take it everywhere I go. It works great as an extra screen to display my email or to compare documents side by side. I've had no issues with the DisplayLink software, just installed it on both XP and Windows 7 and it simply worked. Highly recommend this monitor if you only need it for office work. Reply

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