PC Questions: Connect Three Displays, Replace Drive, Old Game Consoles

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As I wrote last week, it's a pretty simple matter to add a second monitor to your PC. But what about a third? That might require a little more doing.

See, while many desktop video cards offer dual VGA or DVI outputs, it's rare to find one that has three of them. A few squeeze in VGA, DVI, and HDMI, but that would require at least one HDMI monitor. Reader Dave, who asked about this possibility, has three monitors with VGA and DVI inputs only.

You have a few options, Dave. First, you can install a second video card--assuming your desktop has an available expansion slot. Ideally, the second card should be the same make as the first, but that's not mandatory. You can get a reasonably powerful video card for as little as $30.

Next, consider a USB adapter. Search for "USB to DVI" or "USB to VGA" and you'll find plenty of plug-and-play products that provide a standard monitor input. Prices start at around $50, and graphics performance isn't always great (so this isn't the best choice if you're looking to play games across all three monitors).

One last option is to repurpose a spare laptop or even desktop, using software like MaxiVista to add its screen to your primary system. MaxiVista sells for $40.

Replace Motherboard or Get New PC?

A reader by the awesome name of Rick told me the motherboard died in his eMachines T2893 desktop. His question: where to find a replacement, or, better yet, an upgrade?

A quick Google search (ahem) revealed a motherboard replacement, complete with CPU and fan, for $109.95. That's not a bad price, but based on what I've learned about the T2893, I think it's time to consider a different kind of upgrade. Namely, an entirely new system.

According to the specs I found on eMachines' Web site, I'm guessing your T2893 is 7-10 years old. It has a Celeron processor, 512MB of RAM, and an 80GB hard drive. Your actual configuration may vary, or perhaps you've upgraded certain components over the years, but trust me when I say this: it's time for a new (or at least newer) PC.

It's not that replacing a motherboard is terribly difficult (though it can be if you're not accustomed to monkeying around inside a PC case). But when you're done, you'll be left with the same slow, out-of-date machine you have now.

My advice: look for deals on refurbished desktops. I've seen some nicely equipped systems that include Windows 7 for as low as $279. If you don't mind used gear, you might find an even better deal on eBay or Craigslist.

There are other considerations, of course, but I'd think twice about putting time and money into a system as old as yours.

Connect an Old Game Console to Your PC

Reader Keith wants to squeeze some extra life from his old Sony PlayStation and PlayStation 2 systems, noting that many of his games "don't have comparable versions for PCs." His desktop has a Hauppauge TV tuner card, so he wants to know if he can connect either console and "play these games on my computer."

Very interesting question, Keith! My initial reaction is to wonder why you don't just plug the consoles into your TV like you did back in the day. That's certainly the most straightforward solution.

In any case, let's address your specific question. Although it's possible to connect a game console to a PC, you wouldn't actually be playing the games "on your computer." Rather, you'd simply be routing the console's video output to your monitor, effectively using the latter in place of a TV.

There are a few potential obstacles here. The good news is that your particular TV tuner can accommodate your consoles' composite audio/video connections, which is half the battle.

However, those consoles were designed to pair with CRT televisions, which offered a maximum output resolution of 640 by 480. Your monitor undoubtedly runs at a much higher resolution. It's hard to know how your games will end up looking, but I'll bet my lunch they won't run at a satisfactory size or aspect ratio.

There might also be some lag between controller actions and what you see on the screen. And let's not forget the audio, which poses its own set of potential problems.

Bottom line: computers--and especially computer monitors--aren't a good match for older game consoles. Newer consoles with HDMI outputs pair pretty well with newer monitors (those that have HDMI inputs and built-in speakers), but even then you're bypassing the PC entirely.

If you've got a hassle that needs solving, send it my way. I can't promise a response, but I'll definitely read every e-mail I get--and do my best to address at least some of them in the PCWorld Hassle-Free PC blog . My 411: hasslefree@pcworld.com . You can also sign up to have the Hassle-Free PC newsletter e-mailed to you each week .

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