Wednesday, May 6 2009

Samsung U70 mini monitor

[Update 5/20: the beta driver broke under MacOS X 10.5.7. A reinstall briefly worked, but then stopped. This tip fixed it for me.]

[Update: one additional negative added]

Samsung’s been adding DisplayLink USB monitor support to their digital picture frames for a while, but none of those work with a Mac. DisplayLink has a reference driver, but Samsung added their own protocol for determining whether it should come up as a monitor or a flash drive when plugged in, which requires their driver.

Most of the other USB mini-monitors are either insanely overpriced, in very limited supply, or both. Samsung is slowly rolling out a dedicated mini-monitor, the U70, and DisplayLink’s latest MacOS X reference driver supports it. Sadly, the only importer I’ve found it at is geekstuff4u, which charges nearly twice what Amazon Japan does.

Amazon Japan won’t ship gadgets to the US, but I set up my Tenso reshipping account for just this sort of thing. Since someone else at work also wanted one, I ordered two. Tenso ships EMS, which charges by weight at a fairly steep rate, so they’re still overpriced, but a full $70 cheaper than geekstuff4u. That’s $70 each.

When Samsung brings them to the US for real, they’ll probably run about $90, but as a toy-loving early-adopting technogeek, my per-unit total came to $112 (including sales tax, free shipping to Tenso, and international shipping and handling).

Pros: compact 7” widescreen LCD display (800x480), decent brightness and color, works in portrait or landscape modes, great Mac support, runs on USB power (optional second USB plug if your machine doesn’t put out enough power with just one). Works great for video, chat clients, Photoshop palettes, status windows, etc.

Cons: picture-frame-style stand is not particularly stable in landscape mode (press photos are mildly deceptive about this…), no supplied carrying case.

I happened to have a little padded case that’s just the right size to transport it, so my only real complaint is about the stand, and I can solve that by using the Kensington security slot on the back as the mounting point for a second leg.

Is it worth it? Yes, if you want a little extra screen space that doesn’t require a power cord. I’ll find it extremely useful for running Photoshop and Aperture on my laptop. Large external displays are nice, but for some reason I never like using one with the laptop. I like the small side display, though.

[Update] Another con I just noticed: significantly higher CPU use when you watch video on it. Dragging an h264 DVD-rip from the main display to the little Samsung chews up a full core on my 2.93GHz Core 2 Duo. On the main display, QuickTime uses 20% of a core and WindowServer another 4%; on the U70, QuickTime uses 100%, WindowServer uses 20%, and DisplayLinkManager yet another 20%. This causes the fans to spin up to about 4800rpm, increasing the noise significantly.