Forget Choosing Between 4K or 3×1: Enter NVIDIA’s Surround 4K

Posted on October 18, 2013 9:30 AM by Rob Williams

One of the best experiences as a tech enthusiast is witnessing the progression of certain technologies, such as displays. As a gamer, though, there are some forms of progression that don’t get me quite as excited as others. Take 4K, for example, one of the most in-your-face buzzwords this year.

You might be asking, “How on earth does this dolt not appreciate 4K?” – the truth: I do. However, with AMD and NVIDIA talking so much about it as of late, I felt like both of them forgot about another technology that I greatly appreciate: Multi-monitor. Remember a couple of years ago? It’s all either company could talk about, and I’d like to think that it’s for good reason.

ASUS PQ321QE 4K 3x1

A 4K resolution is the equivalent of 1080p x 4, or 3840×2160 to be precise, and it shares the same aspect ratio of 16:9. As such, while any game running at 4K is going to be noticeably crisper, what you see on the screen is going to remain 1:1; in gist, you don’t see more of the game, you just see a crisper game.

Compare this to 3×1, where three monitors work in tandem to display up to 300% of the scene (certain games are more like 250% due to how the side displays render for peripheral vision). Regardless of the game, I appreciate being able to see more of the world, and for that reason, I have a far greater interest in 3×1 than I do 4K.

There’s just one compromise, and I’m sure it’s obvious: 4K 3×1.

At its press event being held in Montreal, NVIDIA announced just that. Say it with me: Dayum!

Let’s put this into perspective:

(Actual Size) – Credit: Jamie Fletcher / Techgage

Just a couple of years ago, 2560×1600 seemed like a monster resolution (and to be fair, it still is), but compared to 4K, it’s paltry: 4.2 megapixels vs. 8.3 megapixels. Introduce 4K 3×1 into the mix? We’re talking a ridiculous 24.9 megapixels.

If what we might as well call 25 megapixels doesn’t have the oomph required to get the point across, consider this: The final resolution is 11520×2160. It strikes me as rather significant to see a resolution break through the 10K pixel width.

NVIDIA GeForce Titan 01

It goes without saying that such a mammoth resolution is going to require a mammoth GPU setup – I’d imagine quad GPUs are not going to be entirely uncommon for those blessed enough to own 3x 4K displays. And in truth, most of today’s games are likely unable to run at truly desirable levels even still – bear in mind that at this point, we’re talking 1080p x 12. It’s almost mind-boggling to think about.

What’s not mind-boggling is the fact that I want such a setup, and I know I’m not alone.

  • Kayden

    Being a current 3×1 owner all I can say is “GIMMIE!”. Okay, it’s gonna have to wait a while but I would like to get my paws on this at some point.

    • Rob Williams

      It’s exciting times. With all this 4K talk, I am glad that NVIDIA hasn’t forgotten about 3×1.

      • klepp0906

        Haven’t forgot but u wouldn’t know given the state of the drivers. I still can’t get my 3 1440p working properly. Lockup every time I enable surround and I still can’t get bezel correction without a blue screen. To be fair, the last drivers worked ok with surround, they just disabled my SLI instead so I had 4 titans doing 30fps on 4680×2560 lol.

  • CharonPDX

    Yeah, call me when all 3 are in 3D at 120 Hz. :-P

    • Rob Williams

      No joke, I hear that!

  • Jay Jardin

    I had to skip on upgrading my video cards because the GTX 780 only has 3GB of vram, I can’t play on 3 screens with only 3GB unless is tetris.

    After 8 years of gaming with NVidia surround I got myself a 4k monitor. A single 4k monitor provides higher resolution than three monitors (portrait mode for max peripheral vision). One monitor also works faster and is compatible with all games instead of some (in my experience the NVidia surround software slows games down and makes a lot of them crash on start up).

    I read this story and laugh because neither NVidia or AMD have any video cards that can do something like this. I am currently running 2 GTX 680 4GB and they can’t do over 25 fps on a single 4k monitor much less three (metro last light). The nvida surrounds software is cool but what we need is stronger GPU’s not more software.

    If you are going to play with very low settings play use your phone instead.

    • Jamie Fletcher

      It gets worse when you look into the hardware requirements further, such as the fact that HDMI 1.4 can only deliver 30Hz refresh at 4K resolution. Even the upgrade to HDMI 2.0 will only allow 60Hz, if you want 3D, well, you are back to 30Hz again. You know what works now and doesn’t need an update? DisplayPort, but I guess that’s too simple. The cards may actually be able to push out more, but are limited by the display standard, is all I am saying.

      • Mikael

        Displayport can drive 4k@60fps.

        • Jay Jardin

          Mikael is correct. On another note the video cards do not have the power to deliver more than 30fps on 3 screens or 4k in many gaming titles. It has been like that since the gtx 290. tried two gtx 470 then two 570 then two 580 now two 680 On high settings and greedy game titles. After all those years and money I do not know what 120hz looks like. The video cards can’t deliver the power. Forget about 60 fps and do not dream of 120 fps unless you are playing team fortress and other low res titles.

          • Jamie Fletcher

            It might be worth disabling Anti-Aliasing at those resolutions, the cards should be able to handle it, but I guess at that point, you are not running the game on ‘full’. NVIDIA was more than likely showcasing the above setup with 3-way SLI on Titans, with lower quality settings. Since I have not seen 4K myself, I don’t know if you can get away with no AA. Years back, I was told repeatedly that you don’t need AA for 1080p… but I still see ‘jaggies’ clear as day, so I’ll wait and see before I start believing people yelling “you don’t need AA for 4K!”.

            6GB of RAM on the GPU might be the limiting factor here (or 3GB, depending on the card), with these resolutions anyway.

          • Jay Jardin

            I can tell the difference between no AA and AA enabled on 4k. Also I have never seen any game on high settings exceed 4gb of vram. crysis 3, metro last light, dead space 3, tom raider all of them less than 4gb on 4k resolution. I took some pictures yesterday of skyrim on three different resolutions 1920/2500/4k. Here is an odd thing, on 4k not only it looks sharper but one plant had flowers and the other two resolutions did not. I expected 4k to give me more detail but that was ridiculous.

          • Rob Williams

            Hmm, that flower example is interesting. I don’t really understand why that’d be the case. It’s not as though the game was designed with 4K in mind.

          • Jay Jardin

            I can share the screenshots if you like. I would like to make a correction. I just used 4096mb of VRAM running Crysis 3.

          • Rob Williams

            Sure, if the shots are easy enough for you to upload, I wouldn’t mind having a look. I hope to do some testing like this down the road. It’ll be interesting to see how developers actually go out of their way to support 4K.

          • Jay Jardin

            The plant with the flowers is at the end of the stairs. Ignore color I had to photoshop the original 20mb screenshot into a smaller file size or imgur wouldnt take it.


          • Rob Williams

            Cheers! Do the flowers look good close up though? Meaning… does the 4K res actually make them look better up close? I just find it odd that there’d be more detail when the developer clearly didn’t target 4K as a resolution (it didn’t even cater to multi-monitor users).

          • Jay Jardin

            I think it is the resolution tricking me into higher detail. I am unable to play at 4k since my monitor stops at 31hz. I just couldnt resist getting rid of my 3 monitor setup for an even higher single resolution monitor. (portrait)

          • Rob Williams

            I’m actually the opposite, as this post might allude to. I prefer 3×1 for gaming over single display, simply because it reveals much more of the actual game world. The crispness of higher res is nice, however.

            As for the 30Hz issue… that’s painful. I actually find it quite humorous that AMD and NVIDIA are harping so much on 4K gaming when no one will want to play it at 30Hz.

            NVIDIA told me that its support for 4K will drive displays at 60Hz, but I am not sure if that’s all 4K displays or only upcoming ones.

          • Jay Jardin

            I started playing 3 screens on 2005 because of your same reasons. About 3 years later I realized that our peripheral vision is more of a circle than it is a rectangle so i moved all my monitors to portrait mode. Once 4k came to be the resolution / amount of world I could see was higher than my 3 monitors combined (3600×1920 surround vs 3840×2160). Hence why 4k is a much better answer than 3 1080p monitors. The first thing I noticed playing 4k is how much less it takes from the video card once they do not have to use the surround software. I could swear I get an extra 10 fps at a higher resolution just by not running nvidia surround. I am implying that if you really love more of the game world 4k would do it.

          • Rob Williams

            “Hence why 4k is a much better answer than 3 1080p monitors.”

            I am not sure I can agree with that. 1080p is 16:9; 3840×2160 is also 16:9. Therefore, the exact same image is seen on the screen @ 4K – it’s just higher resolution.

            On 3×1, I often physically move my head to look at the left and right display; otherwise I am just happy that my peripheral vision is overwhelmed with game rather than wall or the rest of my desk ;-)

            I wrote an article a few years ago to show exact differences between 16:9 and 3×1:


            I understand your “About 3 years later I realized that our peripheral vision is more of a circle than it is a rectangle so i moved all my monitors to portrait mode.” comment though, and agree. I still like it though. I don’t like portrait because bezels are bad enough… that only brings them closer together.

          • Jay Jardin

            Thanks for your new article link. This was the reason why I started my higher resolution quest (pricey) and I ran into a wall. FOV Many games cared not about my 3 monitors and would display the same amount of content as if it was a single 1080p display i.e. borderlands 2, payday, (I cant remember more but it was the bulk of them and BECAUSE I WAS ON PORTRAIT MODE, DUH!). That point goes to you.

            I would like to counter your bezel argument with this. When you get home from driving do you remember seeing the metal bezels on your windshield or even the wiper? My brain did a hell of a photoshop job because i do not remember mine. Also some games like skyrim have a sky too beautiful to cut off just so my ears can stare at wasted pixels (maybe 24″ x 3 was too much). 3 screens did come in handy playing counter strike, oh boy. My conclusion is that if you are playing competitive FPS 3 screens landscape are a most, all settings low enough to do 120fps. For the rest of the time 4k is the way to go as soon as asia thinks its ok to ship the native 60hz to our countries.

          • Rob Williams

            It’s interesting you bring up Borderlands 2, because I noticed the other night just how poor it can look on 3×1, but I do know it CAN look good. Take a look at the screenshot here:


            That looks totally fine 3×1… yet on my PC the other day, the side displays were stupid stretched. I gotta look into the reasons behind that soon. As for PAYDAY 2, I thought that looked good as well, but I will have to take another look at that as well.

            I understand your bezel argument, and really, it could apply to landscape mode as well. Some people say they couldn’t use 3×1 because of the bezels, but I try to assure them that they simply disappear after a while. With portrait though, the bezels are so much closer… I’d have to actually use it to understand it better, I suppose. At this same NVIDIA event, the company has Assassin’s Creed IV running in portrait mode at the back (in 4K Surround), so it might be that I’m one of the few who would prefer landscape.

          • Jay Jardin

            I was wrong about the FOV, it was almost the same because by using my monitors on portrait I made the resolution almost 16:9. Hence why I wrote “That point goes to you”. Maybe I am just going to get another 2 4k monitors and do surround again. I doubt it because in order for them to be usable outside of gaming the size is at least 36″ sweet spot 39″ and I have a huge desk but not big enough for 3 4k monitors that size and smaller is not going to do for me. Oh and as I mentioned earlier 4 titan video cards trying to pull x3 4k monitors would give you as much fps as crysis 3 on your phone. About 5. I am always unwilling to pay thousands to play in low settings.

          • Rob Williams

            Apologies for the slow response. I agree on running games in 4K Surround. It’s a nice idea, but AC IV running at 24 megapixel was not that smooth, and I believe that PC had 2x TITAN in it. Also, game support for 3×1 in general is a little rough… I couldn’t imagine what the situation would be like trying to get most 3×1 games running at 3×1 4K… something just tells me that there are going to be issues.

          • klepp0906

            i use over 4kgb vram playing wow maxed out. i didnt read “all” the posts in this thread so i musta missed something. Care to till me in on the point?

          • Rob Williams

            I wasn’t referring to VRAM, but the simple fact that a lot of games are not optimized for 3×1 resolution, much less 3×1 @ 4K. It could work just the same, it’s hard to say without being able to actually test that kind of resolution across a bunch of games.

            Are you running 4K Surround, or am I misunderstanding? If not, how do you cap 4GB VRAM with WoW? I’ve never heard of that game being quite so demanding.

          • Danny!

            I’m assuming scaleable LOD. The more pixels an object fills up, the more detail it will need.

        • Jamie Fletcher

          That was my point – and what I said, DisplayPort can while HDMI can’t, HDMI 2.0 can match it, but isn’t available on consumer electronics yet.

  • Ruxconk

    Gimme 4k @ 120hz please.

    • klepp0906

      Most rigs cant manage 4k at 60hz, wth are u gonna do w 120? Lol

      • Ruxconk

        If you don’t understand why you would want 120hz then you won’t understand my reply.

        • klepp0906

          Uh… Ok? lol

        • Rob Williams

          I think he meant to say that it’s going to be hard enough to run games @ 60Hz, so 120Hz is just out of this world (you’d need to render 120 frames per second instead of 60 for perfect synchronization).

          • klepp0906

            ^ disappointing you had to explain that to someone chastising me for my ability to “understand” things lol.

        • klepp0906

          your kidding right? i mean if your the next generation of human and you really can enjoy (read:tell) the difference between 60 and 120hz… more power to you. Problem is, anyone with half a brain knows th eonyl way your getting 4k@120hz is on low.

          Not sure about you but i spent 10k on my pc so my games look good.. not so i can rub my penis on my control panel under display where it says 120hz.

          Unless your just daydreaming. Then… i want to be able to fly but im not going to post it as its pointless.

          Or did i misunderstand? /sigh kids

  • cr0ft

    2560×1600 is a “monster resolution” only in some circumstances. There are circumstances when it is woefully inadequate. However, the same is true for 4K, that too is woefully inadequate in some circumstances – it all depends on screen size vs that resolution. Pixels as such are nice, but the real killer data that I think matters at this point is PPI. A 2560×1600 at 30 inches is a brutally low 100 PPI, and even the 3840×2160 Asus is a rather pathetic 139 PPI. Eyestrain and high graininess is what they both offer compared even to a lowly Nexus 7 with well beyond 300 PPI.

    I will be properly impressed when we have proper screens, and proper screens to me means having that same 31.5 inches per screen at a resolution of 7680×4320 pixels, or a fairly acceptable 279 PPI – or, of course, something beyond even that at an even higher sharpness.

    • Matyas Homer

      But doesn’t distance from the screen matter? According to, a 30in 2560×1600 screen becomes retinal at 34in away. Which is about how far I am from my display right now.

      • cr0ft

        I have serious reservations about the claims on that site. Perhaps it is true in the absolute sense – ie, that you can’t distinguish the pixels themselves – but that’s a far cry from being unable to see that a higher pixel density dramatically improves the quality of text and images.

        If I prop up my Nexus 7 gen 2 next to my 100 ppi computer screen and show same size text on both, the smoothness and crispness of the Nexus text at the same physical size is absolutely dramatically better even 80-90 cm from the screens.

        • Rob Williams

          That second example could even apply to the gen 1 Nexus 7. Even on -that-, I can zoom in far to text and still see no jaggies, while that wouldn’t be the case on my PC’s display.

          And I agree. It kind of reminds me of the argument that people can’t tell the difference between 60 FPS and 120 FPS… sure you can. Your eyes might not be able to see all 120 frames, but what you CAN see is going to appear smoother.

    • klepp0906

      logic – sound. numbers – not so much

    • Eyes

      Lets just ask for a pixel density equivalent to the human eye. 200,000 PPI. That should do the trick

  • HisDivineOrder

    Instead of racing to 4K, I’d prefer they give us the 1440p/1600p 120hz IPS monitors we could all really use today.

    4K’s great for tomorrow, but man today is sucking a lot more than it should.

  • joe

    that was one bloody pointless article…:/

    • Rob Williams

      Honest to God, I swore I cleaned up the blood first…

  • klepp0906

    Anyone have any fps numbers on 4k surround? I’m about to purchase my #4 & 5 1440p which I believe will lead me to a similar resolution and I’m trying to determine if it will cripple my rig to the point of not being worth it.

    I know nvidia did it at CES but I’ve seen nothing about framerate :(

    • Rob Williams

      The bigger issue might be getting games to support that kind of resolution without issue. Without question though, you’ll need a beefy GPU setup, but given your monitor setup, I have doubts you are oblivious to that ;-) Even with $1,000 worth of GPUs (SLI), you’ll need to degrade settings a lot to get truly playable settings at 18 megapixel.

      • klepp0906

        Yea that’s true. I never even thought of that. I play at 4680×2560 now and I only play mmos currently but in wow for example I’m maxed at 60 fps with everything in game and NVCP @ max. Same with ffxiv. (4 gtx titans) If adding 2 more screens is going to cause me to have to turn everything way down, then it’s not going to be worth it. I’m not rich, this was my first PC in 7 years and I plan on it lasting a loooong time so if I start getting to the point where today’s games are crippling it…

        Seems their isn’t much in the way of cold hard numbers out there for now. What I do know is adding resolutions past a certain point cost less and less relative to the prior jump persay.

        Thank you for the reply, and if anyone has 4 k surround or 5×1 1440p – I’m all ears :)

        • Rob Williams

          If you have 4x TITAN, you are going to largely be fine. You might have to turn down some detail, but it’s not going to be as hardcore as if you only had dual-GPUs. At that resolution you can be thankful you have cards with so much memory.

          To be honest, I am not even sure NVIDIA would have numbers for something like that, but I’ll touch-base with them and see. I do know they might have numbers for 4K x 3, but that’s not directly comparable.

  • Jerick

    Do either surround or eyefinity allow 4 x 1080P in a 2×2 grouping (essentialy 4k by way of 4 monitors?)

    • Rob Williams

      If the card itself supports 4 displays, 2×2 should be no problem at all. It’s not a configuration I’ve personally run, but you can generally orient them any way you want.

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