HP USB Graphics Adapter Review

HP USB Graphics Adapter

Ah the HP USB Graphics Adapter… Let me first mention how delighted I am to have found something like this exists. Here’s the thing: I have an HP EliteBook 8740w that I will have to return in the long term and unfortunately for me, and since beggars can’t be choosers, the one I have here has the older generation Nvidia Quadro FX3800M graphics. And as I recently discovered… well, actually I knew it was gonna happen but I was just wishfully hoping it wouldn’t be the case… that the Quadro FX3800M does not support more than two displays at any one time.

So I found out about adapters that use the Display Link interface. The DisplayLink certified display comes under all sorts of different names, from the HP USB Graphics Adapter to Kensington Multi-Display Adapter, but regardless of name, they basically do the same thing: USB connector at one end, DVI port on the other, and it allows you to hook up an additional monitor to your computer. This really helps if you have just one external monitor port on your computer and/or have a graphics card that cannot support more than two displays at one time (typically, you need an AMD/ATI 5000-series graphics card or higher, or Nvidia mid 2010 model graphics card or newer)… you can finally add a third monitor to your laptop or basic desktop setup, or even six, if you have enough USB ports and CPU horsepower.

HP USB Graphics Adapter with adapter for VGA

I got the HP USB Graphics Adapter so I could pair the EliteBook 8740w with 2 additional monitors, in addition to its own built-in display, and also (on separate occasions) hook up the HP EliteBook 2530p to 2 external displays, while turning the built-in screen off and using the notebook as a ‘keyboard and touchpad’ only base.

HP USB Graphics Adapter box

The name HP USB Graphics Adapter is a little confusing… it’s just a DVI to USB adapter. From the name, I would think some unfamiliar users may think this is a USB adapter to connect external graphics cards – so before you jump for joy and drop $50 on this, it’s NOT.

HP USB Graphics Adapter in the box contents

The HP USB Graphics Adapter arrived in a tiny cardboard box with the USB-DVI main adapter itself, a VGA to DVI connector (for those who have monitors that don’t support DVI and convenience of not having to dig up that DVI cable from your original monitor box) and USB connector to connect the adapter to your computer’s USB port, along with a CD and setup guide you’re 99% unlikely to need/use.

HP Graphics Adapter vs EliteBook touchpad

The adapter itself works well and the adapter is compact enough to stow in your notebook bag. It’s also plain black and low profile, instead of the cheesy silver/bulky/just weird designs of other adapters. I plugged the monitor and notebook to the adapter and Windows 7 began downloading and automatically installing the DisplayLink driver. Everything works out of the box with no intervention needed by users to set the thing up. I noticed little (only when opening programs and running heavy tasks at the same time) to lag on the connected ‘extra’ screen, even with the ‘ancient’ 1.86 GHz Core2Duo of the EliteBook 2530p driving a main display at 1920 x 1200 resolution and display connected via this adapter at 1680 x 1050 resolution. You can also apparently use more than one adapter (if you buy a handful) to connect more than just 1 additional display to your setup.

One big letdown, caused by both my blind assumption (moral of the story: never assume things!) and real lack of information (by both HP and shopping websites), is the adapter supports external monitor resolutions only up to 1920 x 1080. You can check out Display Link’s official site for various brands of adapters and supported maximum resolutions.

HP EliteBook with 2 external monitors, one via DisplayLink (Kensington brand adapter shown)

The verdict is the HP DisplayLink certified USB Graphics Adapter is a fast and easy solution to hook up an extra monitor at up to 1920 x 1080 resolution – great if you wanna play some 16:9 ratio widescreen movie on a separate display while doing something else on your other monitors. If you own a 1920 x 1200 resolution monitor (such as the HP ZR24W, LP2475w and 24 inch HP DreamColor display), or have an even rarer 2048 x 1152 display, I would suggest getting another adapter that does higher resolutions instead. Also keep in mind, the graphics adapter is also not a solution/alternative to Eyefinity or Nvidia multi-display, as the computer detects the monitor as a ‘separate’ display, and not blend all your displays into one huge desktop – in short, that’s a big no for multi-monitor gaming.

What’s hot:

  • Suitable if you have a widescreen monitor that’s 1920 x 1080 resolution or lower
  • Fast and easy setup (2 minutes auto driver installation, no user setup needed)
  • Compact and low profile design
  • Multiple adapters can be used together, as long as you have enough USB ports (I think I read on a couple of tech forums that 6 is the limit, but don’t quote me on that)

What’s not:

  • A little pricey for an adapter ($50)
  • Doesn’t support resolutions beyond 1920 x 1080
  • Doesn’t replace a modern graphics card with Eyefinity/Surround Vision native support for multi-monitors
    -Adapters don’t ‘merge’ all monitors into one giant desktop (this con applies to all Display Link adapters at the moment, regardless of brand)

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7 Comments

  1. Chema June 15, 2011 Reply

    Hi Brad, what’s the reason to return your 8740w? Aren’t you happy with it? Financial crisis perhaps?

    Do you remember me? 🙂 Finally I purchased a fully-loaded 8740w (i7-840QM, DC2 screen, 8G RAM, FirePro M7820, 256G SDD and 500G HDD) and I have suffered very much with it due to workmanship blemishes and even with operating issues. 3 replacements, 3 repairs (one of them for a brand-new system) and 4-5 months with issues 🙁 Finally, I’ve just received today my (new) 8740w repaired and I’m happy with it at last. But it has been a pain in the ass absolutely:

    – Uncalibrated DreamColor screen
    – Unstuck aluminum cover on the lid
    – Scratches on the finish
    – Depressed buttons on the pointstick
    – Keyboard bad assembled
    – Faulty screen with no image when system is on for a few minutes
    – SSD (Crucial C300 256G shipped by HP) DIED.

    As if that wasn’t enough, the Support team has been unresponsive, arrogant and they even threatened me on several occassions with order cancelling for the last replacement.

    I’m sorry for being off-topic, but it’s surprising you have to return your 8740w. I thought you were happy with it. It’s a great machine, no doubt, but it’s a shame the quality control in China and worse the support people.

    Regards,
    Chema

  2. Brad S | June 15, 2011 Reply

    Hi Chema, of course I remember you! Congratulations on your purchase, though I’m sorry to hear that you’re not having a good time with your 8740w. Perhaps my wording wasn’t very good there, I am not returning my 8740w right now… but maybe in a year or two’s time, since my 8740w unit is a company unit (I did not actually have to pay for it, but I don’t “own” it either), so I will have to give it back in the long term (and hopefully get something new and cool when that happens… I’m wishing for something Ivy Bridge ;).

    The HP in your location must have gotten a bad batch of 8740w’s, or maybe just bad luck, since all those issues and having to go through so many repairs and replacements sounds horrible. My 8740w is decent (I’ve got the i7 Extreme Edition, 16 GB RAM, Quadro FX3800M, DreamColor, aftermarket Intel 256 GB SSD) but I can relate to your frustration since I have gone through a similar experience with a Canon IXUS camera I owned: many repairs, replacement and then arrogant customer support.

    I am enjoying my 8740w so far but it is not flawless:
    -Keyboard – I’m not sure if your keyboard is the standard or backlit version, or how you would define ‘badly assembled’, but I have the backlit model and the keyboard feels ‘squishy’, like it’s lacking reinforcement/skeleton underneath. Older 8730w had much firmer keyboard
    -Also no brightness control for keyboard backlight (only on/off)
    -Touchpad/button DuraFinish starting to show minor wear – my left click buttons are showing slight wear marks already after ~6 months of light usage. I know folks who had older 8730w units show touchpad wear only after 2 years of heavy use.
    -I suspect one of my memory sticks has gone bad, I get random bluescreens. Fans also spin to the max with blank screen/cannot start once in a while, and the lights flash to indicate a memory error. Which reminds me I really need to find my screwdriver and find out which RAM unit is rotten

    Some pleasant things I have noticed, however, include much better heat control (8730w will roast your fingers around pointing stick area when running heavy duty tasks for hours, 8740w is always ‘cool’), smoother lid opening action, wonderful screen (mine was nice when I received it, better when calibrated).

    I would suggest escalating your case (even after your notebook has been replaced/repaired) so the HP folks in your region know of the negative experience in their batch of products and customer service. Especially the part about threatening to cancel replacement, I don’t think anyone would find that acceptable.

  3. Chema June 15, 2011 Reply

    Dear Brad,

    My case was finally escalated to the top level and my case manager was arrogant, unresponsive and was the person who threatened me with cancelling the order of my 2nd replacement. In addition he silenced all the support team in order not to say anything about any shipping date (yes, it’s hard, but true). So he was the last person in the hierarchy to solve customer problems, I guess. Even I wrote a complaint to a consumer organization in Spain, and my lawyer pushed them hard in order to fullfill with the replacement. For this, I had to sign a legal agreement between HP and me, via e-mail and postal mail. The worse part is they don’t acknowledge their errors, they always claimed the customer was not satisfied with the product and I should to do a full refund instead and search for another laptop of another brand.

    Now, after 4-5 months with issues, fights with the technical support and Customer Care, letters from the customer organization… I have an almost perfect 8740w. It was an horrible experience. Keep in mind I had to finally repair my laptop on their labs rather than my home (I have on site warranty), since they only could guarantee a 100% perfect repair on this way. The screen was my worst nightmare. First screen had the bezel bent, second screen died after 1 week of use, with no image or multicolor image. The third had the aluminum cover unstuck and it was lacking the original DC sticker (I thought it was another customer refund). The fourth had the right hinge bad assembled. The fifth screen (from the brand new replacement) had the hinge even worse, the screen uncalibrated in MDA and the left side of the lid bent or crooked towards up (yes, you can imagine it). I have had a LOOOOOT of patience, much more than many in my opinion. The 6th screen (swapped with the old one in the last replacement) is perfect, thanks godness.

    But why do I have to suffer all these issues? and why the unpolite behavior of HP’s people? Come on! The customer is the only person affected, they aren’t!!

    Regarding the keyboard. The keyboard of my 1st replacement was bad assembled with several bumps. I know I can reseat it, but hey, I don’t pay a thing to fix it myself.
    I know the bad quality of the backlit keyboard, now I have the normal keyboard, rock-solid without flex, and I’m waiting a new revision of the backlit keyboard. A rep from USA told me new units come with a reviewed backlit keyboard with almost no flex. That would be nice for the spare part, but neither technical support nor spare part support for EMEA know anything about it. So I will have to buy a spare part and discover it myself.

    The good part is the new replacement has a more comfortable touchpad and touchstick. I feel the quality of the buttons for the touchpad and touchstick better, I think they could resist wear better. The new keyboard is awesome, with an enhanced point stick, with more room around the keys.

    But in short, I’m hating HP. And it’s really a SHAME, because the 8740w DC2 screen is the best I’ve ever seen, with a very accurate sRGB mode (important when you are not using color managed apps if you don’t want to see oversaturated colors). And of course, is the last one with the 16:10 aspect ratio. That’s unvaluable.

  4. Brad S | June 15, 2011 Reply

    I’m sorry to hear that. That sounds like a very problematic case that you had there, and it’s a shame (and terrible irony) that escalating the case was one of the main factors that lead to the rude treatment you received. And quite unacceptable since I would imagine you paid at least a couple of thousand Euros for your notebook.

    Yes, and I don’t believe there’s much that we can do about that 16:10 to 16:9 switch, except get external monitors

  5. Chema June 16, 2011 Reply

    My 8740w cost me 4041€, that is, about $5300. You can imagine my frustration. But the important thing is my case has been successfully closed and now I’m happy. But all of those issues were a pain for me. Believe me, I was standing HP only for the DreamColor screen: IPS and 16:10. Both factors are unique in the world.

    Thank you for your feedback.

  6. ETB September 29, 2011 Reply

    I’m sorry, but you do know what Displaylink do right?
    The name on the product is not misleading at all. There is a graphics chip(however small) in the adapter that lets you use an extra monitor WITHOUT going through your internal GPU. It is in fact an external(however small) graphics card with ports for connecting your monitor of choice to your laptop/pc. The only sad thing here is the low bandwidth of the USB 2.0 standard, but now there is a USB 3.0 adapter coming with DisplayLink certification, and THAT will indeed be something!

  7. Sebastjan January 29, 2013 Reply

    I know this is a HP fanside and I unfortunatly do no have a HP laptop but still.
    Does anybody know if this adapter will work with my Think Pad.
    Or is it just for HP laptops.

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