Simplifying Multi-Monitor Connectivity

Alban Rampon
Simplifying Multi-Monitor Connectivity

Unnecessary complexities permeate today’s multi-monitor connectivity market. Amongst a sea of competing technologies, protocols, and brands, it can be challenging for IT professionals and consumers to determine which devices are compatible with which external displays, which docking stations meet their needs, and what hardware they need.

Navigating Multi-Monitor Connectivity

It seems like revisions of connection protocols enter the marketplace every year, and their complexities are not as simple as they appear on the surface. Each new technology comes with different speed versions and support for different protocols, which largely depend on variations in their setup’s underlying cable and graphics capabilities. Unfortunately, just because something says “USB-C” on it does not necessarily mean that it will support all functions advertised with USB-C.

The result? End users and IT professionals need to meticulously match interface revisions and bandwidth requirements to ensure a working setup for themselves and their organizations. Where choice should be getting better year after year, it seems like the confusion is only getting worse.

Couple this confusion with the constantly evolving demands of the modern workplace, and the issues are manifold. Shifts towards remote work and the widespread embrace of a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy mean that workers need the ability to “plug in” from anywhere.

As an IT professional, it’s your job to ensure that all the hardware and software in your company’s network is interoperable. As an end user, you must ensure that your setup allows you to be productive no matter where you are. All these demands considered, you can imagine the highway of interoperability filling up fast. How can you navigate the market complexities to find a working solution for you and your organization?

Dispelling the confusion and regaining consumer confidence necessitates interface technologies that are flexible, scalable, and hardware-agnostic. Among other solutions, DisplayLink holds significant promise.

GPU-Dependent versus GPU-Agnostic

In multi-monitor connectivity, devices predominantly fall into two distinct categories: GPU-dependent and GPU-agnostic.

GPU-dependent devices, such as those leveraging USB-C DisplayPort Alternate Mode or Thunderbolt interfaces, require direct interaction with a computer’s Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) to function. This direct link means the display’s performance and capabilities tie in to the GPU’s specifications and limitations.

On the other hand, GPU-agnostic devices, like those incorporating DisplayLink technology, operate independently of the computer’s GPU while still benefiting from each GPU generation performance uplift. They use a combination of hardware and software to process video signals, making them more flexible in terms of compatibility and scalability.

The distinction between these two categories underpins many of the challenges faced in the marketplace.

Managing Bandwith Limitations

One of the primary shortcomings of GPU-dependent technologies is their inherent bandwidth limitations. Like a congested road with buses representing data packets, these technologies require high bandwidth to ensure smooth and efficient data transfer.

However, bandwidth is often a finite resource, constrained by the interface’s capabilities and the GPU’s processing power. This limitation becomes particularly evident as display resolutions and refresh rates continue to increase, demanding faster transmission of larger amounts of data.

To further confound matters, GPU-dependent devices typically do not support dynamic compression. Without the closed-loop ability to compare the network requirements against the available bandwidth, these systems cannot optimize their compression to meet the current needs of the network. The absence of dynamic compression exacerbates the bandwidth limitations, as the full, uncompressed data must be transmitted. This requires more “road space” and potentially leads to congestion (i.e. data bottlenecks).

Ultimately, this bandwidth limitation leads to a lack of flexibility and scalability in GPU-dependent systems. Manufacturers often require users to purchase specific devices known to be interoperable with one another, limiting consumer choice and complicating the upgrade process.

For instance, if an individual wishes to upgrade their monitor to a higher resolution or add additional displays, they might find that their current computer lacks the necessary bandwidth to support multi-monitor connectivity. Instead, they’re forced to also upgrade the GPU and interfacing technology. Or, if an IT professional wants to deploy a new connectivity solution, they may find that it won’t work with all of the company’s computer platforms. To force interoperability will likely require costly upgrades.

In either case, what should have been a simple upgrade has turned into a costly and complex solution.

When GPU-Dependent is Better

Despite certain limitations, GPU-dependent devices like Thunderbolt can offer several advantages over GPU-agnostic alternatives.

For example, their direct access to the computer’s GPU enables higher performance for graphics-intensive tasks. This direct link ensures that multi-monitor setups can leverage the full power and connectivity of the GPU’s processing capabilities. It provides the speed and efficiency required for rendering complex graphics and videos. GPU-dependent technologies may be the preferred choice in applications like gaming, where precision and graphic fidelity are paramount.

Similarly, technologies like NVIDIA’s G-SYNC and AMD’s FreeSync, which synchronize the display’s refresh rate with the GPU’s output for smoother visuals, require direct GPU communication. GPU-dependent devices can leverage these synchronization technologies to eliminate screen tearing and reduce stuttering, providing a more fluid visual experience.  

So, for those in need of extremely high-fidelity, compute-intensive graphics, GPU-dependent solutions like Thunderbolt may be the way to go. This includes professional high-end content, video creators, and computer-aided design (CAD) users. For everyone else, the flexibility of GPU-agnostic technologies is hard to beat.

Among the GPU-agnostic technologies on the market, DisplayLink offers certain unique features that make it stand out.

At the heart of DisplayLink’s approach is the synergy between hardware and software components. Of particular use is a specialized chipset embedded within the docking station and sophisticated software installed on the host device. The chipset converts video data into a format that can be transmitted over standard interfaces like USB or Wi-Fi. The software residing on the host computer works in tandem with the chipset. In effect, it manages the compression and decompression of video data to optimize transmission efficiency and maintain high-quality visuals.

One of the defining features of DisplayLink technology is its single-cable solution. This approach allows for separate links between the dock and computer, dock and display, and even between multiple displays. At the same time, it only requires one cable to connect between the computer and the docking station. Such versatility reduces cable clutter and enhances the user experience by simplifying setup and configuration.

Going deeper, DisplayLink offers an intelligent bandwidth management system that leverages dynamic compression. The system continuously monitors the available bandwidth and the bandwidth requirements of the connected devices.

Based on this ongoing assessment, it dynamically adjusts its compression algorithms to optimize data transfer. GPU-dependent technologies are also now using some compression at higher resolution/refresh rates, but they are not dynamic or content-aware. This translates to inefficient use of bandwidth. 

DisplayLink simplifies the lives of IT managers and end users by offering a truly universal solution.

Because it uses industry-standard protocols like USB and Wi-Fi, DisplayLink is functionally compatible with any device made in the last decade or more. GPU agnostic solutions aren’t tied to USB-C, don’t require Thunderbolt, and don’t need DisplayPort over USB or Alternate Mode capabilities.

As such, end users don’t need to meticulously compare hardware for multi-monitor connectivity anymore. They can rest assured that any hardware will be compatible with the system at large. It also means that DisplayLink technology is compatible and can go through standard USB hubs, unlike GPU-dependent technology.

And, regardless of what hardware you bring into your multi-monitor setup, DisplayLink offers consistency in the user experience. Whether you connect an old PC or a new Mac, your screen will light up as you expect. At home, where IT can’t help you, this greatly reduces the likelihood of issues. In the enterprise, this means fewer IT support calls.

Along the same vein, DisplayLink offers a more scalable solution than what’s possible with GPU-dependent technologies. Unlike the GPU-dependent “on/off” compression approach, DisplayLink offers complete flexibility by providing many different compression capabilities that can easily switch in or out at any time to meet the changing circumstances and user loads.

Because it offers dynamic compression based on the available bandwidth and needs, it can adapt to a changing setup. For example, if a user wanted to add six or eight monitors to their computer, that would be entirely possible through DisplayLink. In contrast, a GPU-dependent solution would be limited by bandwidth availability. 

The GPU-agnostic technology also empowers otherwise limited setups with new functions. For instance, users of MacBooks, traditionally restricted to a single additional display, can leverage DisplayLink to quickly set up dual displays. For the IT manager, the software component of the system on the host device allows for updates in the field. This enables rapid resolution of issues before they impact the user experience.

Overall, GPU-agnostic technologies like DisplayLink should give IT professionals and end-users peace of mind that they get what’s advertised and that their multi-monitor connectivity will be future-proof and scale to their needs. 


Navigating the complexities of modern multi-monitor connectivity can be daunting for both IT professionals and end users. The landscape is flooded with myriad protocols, standards, and interfaces, making it increasingly challenging to ensure compatibility and optimal performance. 

In the end, GPU-agnostic technologies like DisplayLink address the immediate challenges of display connectivity and anticipate the future needs of users. For enterprise IT managers and end users, adopting GPU-agnostic technologies means investing in a solution that promises ease of use, reliability, and peace of mind from knowing that their display technology is ready to meet current and future demands.

Alban Rampon
Alban Rampon
Alban Rampon is a Senior Product Manager at Synaptics Incorporated, based in Cambridgeshire, England. He is responsible for developing universal docking stations and accessories, focusing on enhancing both functionality and user experience.
Alban Rampon is a Senior Product Manager at Synaptics Incorporated, based in Cambridgeshire, England. He is responsible for developing universal docking stations and accessories, focusing on enhancing both functionality and user experience.