Dual Monitors on Debian Linux with Nvidia N200

Lars turned me on to the benefits of a dual-monitor desktop (and the Kinesis keyboard) in the Collaboraid office, and when I set up my home office I wanted the same. Having wasted more than a few Danish weekends struggling with X driver problems, I determined to do a lot more research. After wasting less than a day or two net, I’ve been working on my dual-monitor setup for almost a month without any problems, so I am documenting it on the internet for anybody else who was equally frustrated at how hard it was to find out what to buy.

The key features of my setup are:

  • Two flat-panel monitors, each with 1600x1200 resolution
  • digital connections from the video card to the monitors
  • Both monitors driven from the same video card
  • the correct video driver for Linux kernel 2.6
  • Excellent performance
The hardware that provides this is: Software:
  • Debian Linux, sid distribution
  • NVidia's binary driver, as per the Debian-nVidia HOWTO. There are two main ways to do multiple monitors in Xwindows; one is to use two or more video cards and have X span them, and the other is to let the video card manage the monitors and present X with a single workspace. In my experience, the second approach works much better.
  • The relevant parts of my XF86Config-4 file are:
    Section "Device"
    	Identifier	"PNY NVS 280"
            BusID           "PCI:1:0:0"
    	Driver		"nvidia"
    
    Option 		"TwinView"
    Option		"SecondMonitorHorizSync" "28-80"
    Option		"SecondMonitorVertRefresh" "43-76"
    Option		"MetaModes" "1600x1200, 1600x1200"
    Option		"TwinViewOrientation" "LeftOf"
    

    EndSection

    Section “Screen” Identifier “Default Screen” Device “PNY NVS 280” Monitor “Generic Monitor” DefaultDepth 24 SubSection “Display” Depth 24 Modes “1600x1200” “1280x1024” “1024x768” “800x600” “640x480” EndSubSection EndSection

  • For high-resolution screen backgrounds at 3200x1200, PlasmaDesign.co.uk., £7
  • The KDE Desktop includes Multiple Monitor support, which ensures that dialog boxes pop up in the middle of a monitor instead of splitting themselves in the middle and lets me maximize windows to just one monitor.
Since I type with the keyboard in my lap, the KellyRest Clamp-on Mouse Platform (US$20) was very helpful in getting the mouse tray close to the keyboard. My desk is an IKEA Ivar shelf unit (US$105 for two sides, five shelves, and a brace), which provides an adjustable monitor shelf, foot rest, and storage shelves above the monitors.