How to set up three monitors for super ultrawide gaming

How to setup three monitors header

Curved monitors like the Acer Predator Z35p and AOC AG352UCG are all well and good for making you feel more immersed in a game, what with those ultrawide edges supposedly wrapping themselves closer round your eyeballs like some kind of pixelated caress on your peripheral vision, but let’s face it. Curved monitors are hideously expensive and any bend they do possess is often so tiny that you’d be forgiven for thinking you’ve actually bought a flat screen by mistake.

No, the only way to get truly suckered into a game is to go multi-monitor. I’m not talking two monitors, either. I’m talking about creating a THREE-sided boxed-in bezel palace that shuts off all notion of the outside world. Here, there are only games stretching, quite literally, as far as the eye can see. And I’m going to tell you how to set it all up in five easy steps.

Step One: Don’t try and fit three 27in monitors on a desk that can barely hold two of them without one hanging dangerously off the edge.

Okay, the real Step One: The first thing you need to do is make sure you’ve got a graphics card with enough outputs on the back to support three monitors. Doesn’t matter what combination of ports you’ve got. As long as you’ve got three or more and your graphics card supports more than two displays, then you’re good to go. My Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070Ti, for example, has three DisplayPorts, one HDMI and one DVI-D, and for the purposes of this experiment I used two DP and one HDMI.

Step Two: Buy/scrounge/cobble together three monitors and connect them up to your PC. It doesn’t matter if they’re all the same screen or a different make – you just need three of them. If you need some help deciding what screen to buy, then have a gander at our best monitor list and buying guide.

Step Three: Once you’ve acquired and arranged your displays, preferably not hanging off the edge of your desk, then it’s time for the fun bit – setting them up. If you’re running Windows 7 or Windows 8, just right click anywhere on your desktop and select Screen Resolution. Windows 10 users, on the other hand, will need to right click and choose Display Settings. Once there, you’ll need to arrange each monitor correctly. Click Identify and a big number will pop up on each screen.

Click to expand…

Make sure they match the order that’s shown in the Display Settings menu and drag and drop them into place if not. Windows 10 will save any changes automatically, but Windows 7 and 8 peeps will need to click Apply for anything to take effect.

Next, you’ll want to select ‘Extend these displays’ in the Multiple Displays option. I’d also recommend making your central screen your main display, as this is where your shortcuts will be placed. You can, of course, make a different one your main display if you prefer.

Step Four: So now we’re all set up for using three monitors for everyday use, it’s time to configure them for gaming. This is done through your Nvidia or AMD control panel.

For Nvidia graphics cards, you need to enable Surround. To do this, find the 3D Settings option on the left hand menu and select ‘Configure Surround, PhysX’. Tick the box that says ‘Span displays with Surround’ and hit Configure. You’ll probably need to close some programs before you do so, but once that’s done you’ll be taken to the Surround Setup screen.

Click to expand

A bit like the Windows display settings, you’ll need to make sure the monitors are all in the correct order. Select 1×3 in the Topology box, and then tick the boxes in the Display menu underneath to match the numbers being displayed onscreen. Check the resolution’s as high as it can go in the Resolution box, and make sure your refresh rate is set to 60Hz (or higher if all three of your monitors support higher refresh rates). Then click Apply.

For AMD owners, you’ll need to enable Eyefinity. Open up AMD Radeon Settings and click the Eyefinity tab along the top menu.

Now, Quick Setup is fine if your monitors all have the same resolution, but you’ll need to use the Advanced Setup if your monitors are different. In my case, I had two 2560×1440 monitors and one 3840×2160 one and Quick Setup doesn’t take into account 4K scaling, so I had a giant black bar across my 4K screen from 2560 pixels down. For what it’s worth, Nvidia’s Surround software just gets on with it and handles it all automatically, negating the need for the faff that’s about to ensue.

In Advanced Setup, select 3×1 in the layout option and hit Next. Then it will ask you what orientation you’d like, but unless you want to throw any vertical monitors into the mix, just hit Next. Now it’s arrangement time. Here, you’ll need to click Start Arrangement and select which box corresponds to the location of the monitor that’s currently highlighted in blue. Hit next.

Now you’ve got to align them, which is the fiddly part. The Align All tool is quite handy, as this repositions everything automatically, but you can faff around with it manually if you really want to. Those with different monitor resolutions will have to ignore the numbers, as they simply don’t match up. For sake of argument, I used the tool to have my two smaller outer monitors aligned in the middle of the 4K one. Once that’s done, you’ll need to decide how your desktop’s going to be shown onscreen.

I picked the Fill option here, as it was the only one that brought my 4K monitor in line with my two 1440p ones without cutting anything off. Yes, you lose some of the top and bottom resolution of the 4K monitor (essentially making it a third 1440p monitor), but that’s the price you pay for ultrawide gaming on different monitor resolutions.

Step Five: Once that’s all done, congratulations! You’re ready for some incredi-widescreen gaming, like playing Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age in an aspect ratio no one ever asked for or really needs.

Final Fantasy XII on three monitors

Fancy playing Final Fantasy XII across three monitors? Well, now you can!

You’ll need to configure the resolution for each game you play (not all games support three-monitor setups, but the WSGF has a pretty extensive list of those that do), but otherwise you’re pretty much good to go. You may also want to fiddle with the field of view setting if you can, as low fields of view can make everything feel a bit too close while higher ones might look too distorted.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that some games will still revert to a single 16:9 screen during cutscenes and pre-rendered video, as these sections were obviously never intended to support this ridiculous kind of aspect ratio.

You may also want to turn off Nvidia Surround or AMD Eyefinity for everyday multi-monitor use as well, as maximizing any given window will see it hogging your entire three-screen setup rather than just a single monitor. Wallpapers and such will also stretch across the entire display area with Surround and Eyefinity turned on, whereas you’ll get three separate desktop backgrounds when they’re disabled.

Otherwise, enjoy your new multi-monitor setup and happy gaming.

26 Comments

  1. JimDiGritz says:

    “Yes, you loose some of the top” – just no. No.

  2. Premium User Badge

    Drib says:

    This is the kind of thing that always seems like a really neat idea until I start thinking about all the niggling little problems it’ll cause, like.. the entire last paragraph here.

    But man, it does sound neat.

    • Halk says:

      That’s what a program like DisplayFusion is for.

    • grimbelch says:

      I run an nVidia Surround setup on 3 monitors. If you maximize a window in a particular monitor, the default behavior is to maximize the window *to that monitor*.

      For some reason, it seems like if you recently switched from normal triple monitor to Surround, when you maximize a window it *will* stretch across all three. But if you reboot and it goes straight into Surround, it does the behavior from my first paragraph. This appears to be a bug or maybe a limitation in Windows display code.

      That is, unless you’re switching between Surround and normal 3 monitor regularly, the Surround setup is exactly what you want: a full canvas of display where maximizing a window maximizes to just one monitor.

    • pack.wolf says:

      I ran a tripple monitor setup for a while and I can confirm that after the initial ‘this is so cool’ the limited usefulness and many small and sometimes very annoying issues plus all the extra configuration effort to get games look and play reasonably is just not worth it.
      Two monitors is annoying because of the bezel right in the middle.
      21:9 is probably the best solution available right now, although I would definitely prefer at least a little wider. Shame it’s still so expensive for above-1080p monitors.

      • Stromko says:

        I did this as well with three monitors. I actually bought all three monitors so they’d match up perfectly in terms of not just resolution but color and brightness, they all had narrow bezel, and so they’d have the mix of connectors I’d need to use them with my ATI card and eyefinity.

        Using them all as one display was a complete disaster for gaming. Most 3D titles, even the ones that support the extremely high and wide resolution you’re using, massively stretch the sides of the image. Adjusting Field of View was to no avail. The center of the image looked fine but the side monitors were useless in this configuration and just distracting since objects would seem to be much closer than they were. From searching around on the net, some people figured that Eyefinity was trying to simulate peripheral vision (seems dumb as a non-optional feature, as I already have peripheral vision so this just doubles up on the distortion), but a more likely explanation is that either the graphics cards or the games couldn’t or weren’t designed to fill in all the pixels for three side-by-side 1080p displays.

        I wanted to try them in vertical side-by-side configuration (so the display would be 1920 pixels high and 1080×3 wide), but the monitors I’d bought for this whole extravagance didn’t have rotate-able stands and didn’t support standard VESA mounts that did, so, after driving myself literally nuts trying to figure out some kind of frankensteinian solution I just gave up on that whole single display multi-monitor dream.

        I used 3 monitors for a few years as separate displays for extra desktop space to facilitate multitasking, but I’ve cut it down to 2 to regain some desk space and I don’t miss it. I do worry about neck strain more since I’m predominantly glancing off to my left side rather than both, but I just have to remember to move anything I’m looking at for long periods to my center screen.

    • Ragnar says:

      The entire last paragraph is unnecessary worrisome.

      For Nvidia, you can configure the apps to maximize onto a single screen, or toggle Surround on and off with a keyboard shortcut.

      For AMD, you can configure the games to launch Eyefinity when they start and turn it off afterwards, or toggle Eyefinity on and off with a mouse click.

      I’ve been running triple-screen for years, and even on underpowered graphics cards it’s fantastic.

  3. Wut The Melon says:

    Actually, with regards to step one, I don’t know if this has changed, but it DOES matter which inputs you have. My HD5850 (yeah, it’s been a while since I got it), for example, has enough outputs, but can only power three or more monitors if at least one of them is (active) displayport – using a displayport to HDMI cable, I can only have two screens on at any one time.

  4. Ghostwise says:

    Aren’t there little optical sleeves you can put on the bezels, nowadays ? Vague memory here since I don’t multi-monitor, but that was fairly recent.

    • ikehaiku says:

      Yeah, there were shown at CES iirc
      (bit of diggin later) : from ASUS, the “Bezel-free Kit.”

    • Ragnar says:

      The bezels are really a non-issue. You look at the center monitor, and the side monitors provide peripheral vision. The bezel is like the A-pillar in a car or the window pane dividers on a window – you forget it’s there unless you’re actively looking for it.

  5. Skid says:

    While it’s cool to see you mention Triple-wide setups, and even mention WSGF (a site I’m an admin at), this is incorrect: “You may also want to turn off Nvidia Surround or AMD Eyefinity for everyday multi-monitor use as well, as maximizing any given window will see it hogging your entire three-screen setup rather than just a single monitor.”

    NVIDIA and I’m fairly sure AMD both provide ways to maximise to only one screen, in NVIDIA it’s under the Menu -> Desktop -> Surround Display.

    Otherwise good guide.

    Edit: Also worth mentioning, you can set a keyboard shortcut to swap between Single monitor display (Maximise 3D Performance Mode) and Surround Mode.

    • Ragnar says:

      I don’t think AMD has something like that yet, but enabling and disabling Eyefinity is a single mouse click so it’s not too inconvenient.

      And thanks for all your work on WSGF!

  6. Asami says:

    Now we need an article on using SMP to correct for the angle of the displays, or did Nvidia never deliver on that?

  7. Case says:

    And if you spend all that money and go through all that effort to set up a triple monitor rig, unless you put the monitors flat, side-by-side instead of mounting the side monitors at an angle, you’ll soon find out that apart from a very few exceptions, any game that shows you a 3D world will give you an image that’s horribly stretched on both of the side monitors (which might even make you feel nausea if you’re sensitive to this) instead of a properly adjusted view, since barely any games offer the support necessary for that and when you run them on a triple screen setup, they will simply stretch the image across all three of the screens as if it was one big ultrawide flat screen…

    • Ragnar says:

      The image on the side monitors will be stretched regardless because of the nature of how games project the view from a single viewpoint. It’s not too bad because you’re mostly just looking at the center screen and using the side monitors for peripheral vision.

      Setting the monitors flat won’t help anything. You would need the games to add support for multiple viewpoints, which so far is only found in a few simulators.

  8. icarussc says:

    Katharine, are you using Banner Saga wallpaper on that setup?! That’s practically enough to convince me to go buy two more monitors, right there …

  9. HotSoapyBeard says:

    If I did this, I think my wife would leave me.

  10. Risingson says:

    I remember that, back when it was a cool niche, flight/combat sims supported multiple monitors so you could fly an F14 from each of the seats, or enjoy a even larger virtual cockpit. And it was cool. As with everything that involved flight sims. Before it was a matter of GET OUT OF MY LAWN YOU NON REALISTIC PHYSICS MILLENNIAL and such.

  11. geisler says:

    I went from a tri-monitor setup to a 34 inch 3440×1440 Ultrawide, never going back. My desk finally has some space to work with again, my workflow hasn’t suffered, and in my opinion at an arms length viewing distance, this monitor offers more than enough peripheral vision for sim gaming without making it a stretched out mess (if the game supports 21:9, which almost all sims do). Also, it has no bezels.

  12. MajorLag says:

    There are quite a lot of replacement monitor stands out there to free up your desk space: link to amazon.com

    I have a tiny computer desk and use something like the above with my triple monitor setup. It works great.

  13. geldonyetich says:

    I recommend skipping multimonitor and going straight to VR. You can’t beat that level of immersion. Plus, you can do some really nerdy things like use a virtual desktop to make a virtual multimonitor setup.

    Of course, one big coveat here is some multimonitor compatible games are not VR compatible, but I think you’ll find that applies in reverse to others.

    Another consideration is that the screen door effect on current VR hardware really isn’t acceptable for viewing anything other than polygons. Well, then, sit back and wait until it is!

    • Ragnar says:

      I tried VR, and went back to multi-monitor.

      VR definitely gave great immersion, but has too many downsides.

      The list of VR supported games is tiny, while I can play everything from Batman to Dishonored to Dark Souls to Dragon Age in multi-monitor. FPS, RPG, Action, Hack & Slash, Racing – they all work well. Most games support it, and modders add support to those that don’t.

      Then there are the downsides of current VR goggles.

      The screen door effect and low resolution is really noticable in games not made for VR. Reading street signs in Euro Truck Sim is frustrating, and the whole game looks much worse.

      Wearing googles on my face is unpleasant and annoying when I’m not actively moving around. I don’t notice them when flailing in SuperHot, but I wanted them off half-way through a Euto Truck Sim delivery.

      The performance requirements are surprisingly higher. Despite the lower resolution, I had to lower settings to get acceptable VR performance.

      VR racing made me nauseous after 2-3 laps. That’s obviously personal to me, but I was fine playing The Climb and Lone Echo for hours, while I had to stop after 5-6 minutes of Project Cars.

      Then there are the other niggling annoyances of VR, like having to put the goggles on and being tethered to the PC by a cable and cut off from the outside world. And I’ll take bezels any day over tracking towers that I have to find room for on my desk, and that are easily bumped and then require repositioning or running the tracking setup again.

      I think VR is great for room scale games, if you have the room, and I think it will be great for driving and flight sims with better displays (like the Vive Pro) provided they don’t make you nauseous. But for everyday gaming, productivity, and a nausea free experience (unless I play Virginia), I’ll take multi-monitor any day.

  14. bahay says:

    i have a GeForce GTX 1050 card . When i add the third monitor they all start flashing in turn . I’m connecting display port to vga , hdmi to vga and dvi to vga. Any combination of the 2 works fine , when i add the third they continually flick between each other as if fighting for control . remove any of the monitors and the display on the remaining 2 returns to normal . Any thoughts gratefully received.