Friday, July 22, 2011

How I'm gonna plug my new Mac Mini into my old monitors

Whew, this was complicated :) I finally figured out how I am going to plug in my soon-to-be-purchased Mac Mini into my 2 monitors.

The problem started when I realized my fancy Dell UltraSharp 2208 WFP monitors that I bought with my Dell XPS 603i at the end of 2008 sadly have a huge amount of USB connections (why, Dell, why?!?!!) but a distinct lack of video input ports. I was fleeced by the input switch on the front that these puppies had like 3 HDMI cable inputs, dual DVIs, maybe a couple of VGAs, a whole party back there! Turns out they are as scarce as a lake in the middle of the California desert.

Check this out:
A gazillion useless USB ports, and nary a video input port to spare

Are you can see there isn't much. There are 2 extra USB ports on the bottom and 2 on the side which are just wonderful but how bout an HDMI, Dell??!??! No wonder these were such a good deal when I bought 'em. :)

Anyway I love these monitors and there is no point in replacing them. But now that I'm ready to buy a Mac Mini, I need to figure out how to connect the new Mac Mini and it's crazy ports to the existing monitors despite their lack of ports.

Option 1 is to buy one of these:
Startech Dual DVI KVM switch
This is a Startech Dual-monitor DVI KVM switch, which would allow me to plug both the Dell desktop and the Mac Mini into each monitor's single DVI input (man I wish they had 2!) and press a button on the keyboard to switch the signal. Pretty nice, but these KVMs are always flaky and this particular one costs like $260. No thank you.

So the next plan, what if I switch my Dell to output to the unused VGA inputs on my monitor? Will that even work? As it turns out, yes. My NVIDIA video card has 2 DVI outputs, but you can use a handy adapter that converts the plug to a VGA, and then use a VGA cable to connect to the monitor. I have no idea where the Digital to Analog conversion is happening, I guess the adapter must be doing it for me. So that's good, but for some reason I have only 1 adapter and 1 VGA cable in my tool drawer. Maybe I gave the other one away. I tested it and it works.

The next question is, what does the Mac Mini output to?

Well, this is an interesting one. The Mac Mini 2010 could no longer convert to VGA, or so I hear. But with Mac Mini 2011 has the fancy new Thunderbolt port which is now able to output to good 'ol VGA. So my predicament is solved, the Mac will plug into the 2 VGA ports? Well, no. The Mac Mini looks like this:

Mac Mini ports
Here we have an HDMI cable (which is digital ONLY) and the fancy new Thunderbolt cable. So here is one constraint, the HDMI must plug into a Digital cable, and that's that. So I have to use a DVI port on one of the monitors for one of the Mac Mini screens. Mac Mini comes with only one single adapter, the HDMI to DVI adapter, but no cable. So I'll steal the one from my Dell computer now and plug into the adapter. Done and done. For monitor 2 from the Mac Mini, it must start with Thunderbolt, but can go to either DVI or VGA. Here's the fun part that makes it so I don't have to buy almost any new cables... I can go Thunderbolt to VGA. Monoprice even has a Thunderbolt to VGA cable so I don't need to buy Apple's $29 adapter AND a new VGA to VGA cable.
Thank you, Monoprice!
Ok, so now I'm all set. The only weird thing is that each computer will be plugging into one DVI port on one monitor and one VGA port on the other. A little weird, but I saved myself $260 from buying a silly dual-DVI adapter and I'm re-using all my existing cables so I don't need to buy a bunch more. Sweet.

Here's the final Setup.

Current setup
Dell XPS 630i
NVidia card DVI output 1 -> Monitor 1 DVI input
NVidia card DVI output 2 -> Monitor 2 DVI input

New plan when Mac Mini arrives
Dell XPS 630i
NVidia card DVI output 1 -> DVI-to-VGA Adapter (have already from Dell) ->  VGA Cable (have already from Dell) -> Monitor 1 VGA input
NVidia card DVI output 2 -> Monitor 2 DVI input

Mac Mini
HDMI -> HDMI-to-DVI converter (supplied by Apple) -> DVI cable (taken from my NVidia card) -> Monitor 1 DVI input
Thunderbolt -> Monoprice 6 ft Thunderbolt-to-VGA Cable (to purchase from Monoprice) -> Monitor 2 VGA input

I'll also probably get one of these so I can easily share USB ports, keyboard and mouse and speakers:
KVM switch for keyboard, mouse (via USB Hub) and audio. I won't use the monitor connections
That should round it out. So I really just need to buy this simple switch and one cable from Monoprice and I should be all set!

Excitinnnnng, and I'm also glad I don't need to buy 50 new cables or replace my monitors.

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