Mac Setups: The Quad Display MacBook Pro Setup of a Programmer

Mar 8, 2014 - 21 Comments

Four display panels with a MacBook Pro Retina

This weeks featured Mac setup is the desk of Stephen G., a web programmer with a genuinely awesome quad display configuration. If you’re wondering how this great setup gets used, or if you’re just curious how on earth to drive three additional screens off of a MacBook Pro in a similarly sweet four-panel layout like this, read on to learn much more…

What hardware is used in your Mac setup?

I’m sure others will be curious how to set up a similar configuration, so here are some additional details on the four-panel display setup and how it all ties together.

Monitor mounting

Using the stand I got from Amazon as a base, I used a matching diameter piece of pipe and a sleeve pipe with the same inside diameter to effectively make the stand taller to better accommodate the top row of monitors (both the Lenovos are along the top row). 

The back of a four-display monitor stand

The stand is easily strong enough to handle the additional weight, plus I added some rectangular pieces of aluminum where the base clamps to my IKEA desk for some extra strength.

The monitor mount extension

Monitor wiring & connections

One of the Mac’s ThunderBolt outputs goes to the HP monitor via a Mini DisplayPort to DVI adapter, that monitor runs at full resolution.

The other ThunderBolt output goes into the StarTech Thunderbolt Dock, with the Matrox TripleHead2Go getting signal from the Thunderbolt pass through, as well as power from one the StarTech dock USB ports. 

The Matrox Triplehead Adapter

The Matrox presents both Lenovo monitors as one big 3840×1200 resolution monitor to the MacBook Pro, this allows me to run all three monitors while making the MacBook Pro only think it is running two displays.

Accessories wiring & connections

The StarTech Dock gives me wired network access, handles sound output to my speakers, powers my Toshiba USB hard drive (used for SuperDuper, Time Machine, and extra storage)… Thunderbolt rocks !

The StarTech Dock

The left side USB port on my MacBook Pro is hooked to a powered Belkin 7 port USB hub that holds the dongle for the Logitech keyboard. It also powers the Connectland laptop cooling stand and gives me easy access to hook up a Lightning cable for my iPhone and iPad.

What do you use this great Mac setup for?

I am Web Programmer by trade and needed a lot of real estate and CPU power to have my programming tools open as well as different browsers for cross-browser testing. The setup is also used for others work things like Instant Message, Email, and Google+.

Quad Display MacBook Pro Retina display setup

What are some of your favorite Mac apps?

  • Spotify (favorite app on my Mac):  The best music service ever !  It’s great to be able to find anything I am in the mood for with no fuss
  • Parallels Desktop 9:  This is a must have since I do a lot of SQL Server coding and managing, as well as coding in Visual Studio.  Parallels has done a fantastic job, it is stable and “just works”.
  • Postbox 3.0:  My preferred email client, it does such a great job tying together work and personal gmail accounts
  • Instacast: An expensive but fantastic Podcast app. Listening to stuff like Daily Tech News and The Morning Stream help get me through my day
  • Rogue Amoeba Airfoil:  AirFoil allows me to shoot any audio from my MacBook to anywhere in the house.  It was nice the other night when we threw a party and I had Spotify running here from the desk but the music was playing in the living room, garage, and our outside speaker setup all at once.
  • iStat: A fantastic program to keep tabs on the vitals of your system
  • aText: A text expander app for OS X, see below

Do you have any tips or suggestions you want to share?

If you feel that you are putting any kind of strain on your system, then please buy a decent cooling stand setup, it will be such a long term life saver of your treasured laptop. With the cooling stand I have, I keep my overall temps around 120 degrees F° (according to iStat, another great use for that app) with everything up and running that comprises my usual work day.

On the Mac, you can save yourself time by investing in a decent text expander program like “aText”, it’s such a time saver to be able to wire in a simple phrase to spit out a huge chunk of code or text. I bet I save 5-10 minutes a day of typing because of this excellent program.

Sideview of the Mac setup with four displays

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Posted by: OSXDaily in Mac Setups

21 Comments

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  1. Andrew says:

    Wow and here I am thinking I’m all productive with my MacBook Air driving one additional monitor ;-)

    Is there any lag or slowdown running 3 screens like that? I didn’t know the MacBook Pro Retina video card was that powerful, but this is a really impressive config if there’s no performance hit.

  2. varyform says:

    Man, sell that crap and take a walk :)

    • mattttttt says:

      I am not sure about your situation, but most of us need a job to be able to sustain ourselves due to the financial expectations of living in a modern society. So, selling your workstation is not really a viable option, and instead investing in your workstation to make it as productive as possible is the best we can all do.

  3. Andy Rhine says:

    Two words:
    Kick Ass!

  4. Derek Jones says:

    Nice setup. I currently run a Linux desktop with dual displays and use synergy to control a macbook with an external display – giving me 4 desktops.

    However… it’d be nice to do the same as this setup too. Checked the price on the Matrox and it’s pretty pricey $300+

    Are there any other viable solutions that are cheaper?

    Also I echo the previous comment and Q – how is this for performance?

  5. Edward M. Meshuris says:

    Whenever I hear programmer as someone’s title, I cringe.
    You program your alarm clock, you develop a site.
    Also, four screens doesn’t make you any more productive or a better programmer.

  6. Just buy a 39″ Seiki 4K TV for $499,- and you have 4 HD screens in one.
    Works brilliantly with my 15″ rMBP.

  7. Kyle says:

    Hey man this looks like an awesome setup. I am a web and ios programmer and I own Mac products as well. I am currently in the market for a new laptop probably the MacBook Pro retina late 2013 with the graphics card. I noticed that your only using the MacBook Pro 13 retina late 2013 with iris. Does this result in any frame drops when doing work on those extra monitors? I am asking this because I on,y wanted to get the 15 inch with the graphics card so it can handle all my external monitors.

    Thanks for the advice,

    Kyle

  8. Stephen G says:

    Hey everyone, thanks for the nice comments.

    Andrew: I have no lag to note… here are all screens playing video content (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JjVWV36fXpg)

    Derek: I’m pretty sure Monoprice sells something similar, the main thing is to get an “active” external display adapter as it’s powerful enough to drive multiple monitors at full res

    Kyle: no drops, no lag, no issues…. my main issue initially was heat from the MacBook, but a cooling pad has taken care of that

  9. Sol says:

    This is pretty cool, as a fellow dev, I can respect the need for more screen real estate. I keep thinking about doing something similar, but I find myself working in remote locations a lot, so having an amazing setup like this at home reminds me of those guys who buy amazing cars just to leave them in the garage. For me, I need a way to have that much screen real estate while sitting at a Starbucks or Panera.

  10. Stephen G says:

    I’m working off this setup 10 hrs a day, this setup is no weekend show car :-)

  11. Tony says:

    You can do this without the matrox with the 15 inch MacBook Pro retina. I run 3 monitors + the built in LCD. I connect monitors to each of the thunderbolt ports and the hdmi port. I don’t think the gpu of the 13 can handle more than 3 displays.

  12. Shoan says:

    I have seen complaints that making a window full screen will span all the available displays instead of maximising in just that window. Is that true?

  13. Stephen G says:

    The top of the line 15″ handles all three outputs, all the other Retina models only handle two and I wanted the 13″ model (better to travel with), hence my need for the Matrox piece…. an advantage I had was that I already had the Matrox from using it with my previous MB

  14. jojo says:

    I’ve got a similar setup:

    1 x 24 inch Lenovo monitor
    1 x 40 inch Seiki 4k monitor
    1 x 15 inch Macbook Pro late 2013

  15. Miguel A. says:

    Hi,
    Could you post the model and branch of the mousepad that appears in the photo? Is it comfortable besides precise?

  16. Jack says:

    Would it be possible to use 2 matrox triplehead2go’s to drive monitors? (Macbook pro with the lid down)

    • Stephen G says:

      Miguel: I got this mousepad at Office Depot for ~ $15 (brand Allsop). it is very nice one, quiet and works well

      Jack: I’m not sure if two will work at the same time, i don’t really see “why not”, but at some point the sheer number of pixels might become an issue. I would think that running that much screen real estate with the lid closed is more than likely going to introduce some serious heat issues

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