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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  • zdw - Friday, January 11, 2013 - link

    Any idea if those Lenovo Displayport to Dual Displayport adapters will work with most any system?

    I know a lot of Mac users who want that functionality.
    Reply
  • DanNeely - Friday, January 11, 2013 - link

    More generally, are these two port MST hubs, or something else? Reply
  • repoman27 - Friday, January 11, 2013 - link

    They are not MST hubs. They are DP 1.1a based and should work with most any system. Several other vendors such as Dell and Matrox have had similar offerings for quite some time. They appear as a single larger display to the host system and then split the image and re-drive portions of it to the connected displays. Reply
  • SunLord - Friday, January 11, 2013 - link

    I'm pretty sure this isn't an MST hub and more like the Zotac dp to dual HDMI adapter . If it was an MST hub it wouldn't be limited to 1080p max per monitor but support up 2560x1600 at least Reply
  • Arnulf - Friday, January 11, 2013 - link

    I thought "collage" refers to Intel's graphics drivers as a whole, more specifically to how they appear to be cobbled together from various pieces of scrap and then tossed away and later recycled in yet another collage. Reply
  • powerarmour - Friday, January 11, 2013 - link

    Touché...

    If only they'd put similar effort into making sure their drivers were more compatible with D3D/OGL in general, instead of the rare few folks that will be using 4K capable display outputs in the first place.
    Reply
  • frogger4 - Friday, January 11, 2013 - link

    Wouldn't it be perhaps easier to just get a Radeon HD 7750 for ~$100, and not have to worry about the whole adapter and driver mess, since an eyefinity setup like that is supported right out of the box. It's cool that this will now be possible with intel integrated, but that seems like it could be more trouble than its worth compared to the alternative. Reply
  • ImSpartacus - Friday, January 11, 2013 - link

    Yes, I want to know why this is better than Eyefinity. Reply
  • Guspaz - Friday, January 11, 2013 - link

    Because it does't require a discrete graphics card to do so, and Intel's iGPU supports hardware 4k decoding, while most discrete graphics cards don't yet. I know for nVidia, only the high-end stuff like the 670+ claims 4K support. Reply
  • repoman27 - Friday, January 11, 2013 - link

    Last I checked AMD's 4K decode was broken, but the ability to drive 2x2 displays was there. NVIDIA can handle decode with Kepler, but can't output to more than 3 displays in a single large surface configuration.

    I would think this would work on any IVB motherboard that had at least 1 DisplayPort and 1 dual-link DVI output; there doesn't seem to be any need for Thunderbolt.
    Reply

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