How to enjoy Windows 8 on your Lenovo ThinkPad W520 laptop, with 3 external monitors, and an external keyboard and mouse

Posted by Paul Braren on Dec 9 2012 in
  • HowTo
  • Laptop
  • Productivity
  • This shouldn't have been so difficult, but I'm afraid it was. A lot of trial and error. Cabling, BIOS settings, and drivers. But it works, and works well, if you get all the details just right. This article will help W520 owners that are blessed with a high-end graphics workstation-class laptop. Most of the concepts here also apply to similar models. It's all digital signal cables, for maximum clarity with no artifacts. If you're trying to do a triple-headed monitor with your laptop, you are an extremely rare breed, according to this Microsoft article, Enhancing Windows 8 for multiple monitors, Steven Sinofsky Monday, May 21, 2012, which includes this fascinating little table:

    Number of monitors Desktop PC Laptop PC
    1 85.32% 95.64%
    2 13.48% 4.36%
    3 0.85% 0.00%
    4 0.34% 0.00%

    What if you also want that center/main monitor to have 2560 by 1440 pixels backlit by efficient LEDs, on a gloriously clear and bright IPS display? This article is for you, the power user who needs to be highly productive in their home office. This configuration takes about 225 watts total (laptop + 3 displays). Eventual replacement of my aging CCD-backlit-display with a more efficient LED model will cut down watt burn by about 50, so that'd be 175 watts total. Watching my CyberPower UPS display during heavy load, and I can spike up another 60 watts or so only when the CPU is maxed out, during video rendering, for example. But when I step away, it can all be put to sleep, with smooth suspend/resume, with all 3 monitors picking right back up where you left off, in just a few seconds.

    older photo of previous monitors, will be updated soon to include Nixeus


    Three monitors pictured above, described here from left-to-right: (your results may vary with monitors of different resolutions, and/or different cabling, I’m merely documenting my known-good configuration to increase your chances of repeating my success)

    1. DVI-D to DVI-D 10' cable, attached to DVI-D input on a 1920x1080 monitor. Three monitors pictured above, described here from left-to-right: (your results may vary with monitors of different resolutions, and/or different cabling, I'm merely documenting my known-good configuration to increase your chances of repeating my success) in my case, it's an aging Gateway FPD2485W 24″ Widescreen HD-LCD Flat-Panel 1920×1200 Display that can pivot, pictured in portait mode above
    2. DisplayPort to DisplayPort 1o' cable, attached to DisplayPort input on 2560x1440 monitor (2560x1600 should work too) in my case, it's a new, wonderfull clear and bright and efficient Nixeus NX-VUE27 2560×1440 27″ monitor
    3. DVI-D to HDMI 15' cable, attached to HDMI input on a 1920x1080 monitor in my case, it's a Samsung UN22D5000 22 inch TV/Monitor, with a nice 1080p Component Video input (from my distant TiVo)
    4. ThinkPad W520 with NVIDIA 1000M GPU (2000M option should work as well)
    5. Thinkpad Minidock Plus Series 3 - 170W (the model here, without the power supply, costs considerably less) very handy for the many external USB 2.0 devices you may have hooked up, and for the dock's DVI-D and DisplayPort connections
    6. Lenovo USB 3.0 dock with the USB 3.0 cable it came with, described by me in detail here, and for purchase at Amazon here, or Lenovo here. If you're interested in a 15% discount on any of your Lenovo purchases, contact me here.
    7. Lenovo ThinkPad USB Keyboard with TrackPoint
    8. Mouse (that's up to you, my Microsoft Wireless Laser Mouse 8000 model is no longer made, so remaining units are costly)


    1) Power Cabling:

    If you use a power strip to turn off your monitors and accessories when leaving your office, do not plug the Nixeus monitor into that same strip. Use the power button below the front bezel instead, to lessen the chances of BSODs described in the SYSTEM_THREAD_EXCEPTION_NOT_HANDLED (nvlddmkm.sys) section of my article here.

    Consider the Accell UltraAV B142C-010B DisplayPort to DisplayPort 1.2 Cable with Latches (10 Feet / 3m) cable instead, solves the issue entirely, you can use one power strip if you'd like. It's described in more detail here: If your 2560x1440 monitor needs a cable longer than 6', you may want to go with newer DisplayPort 1.2 cabling

    2) Dock Cabling:

    Pictured below. The captions call-out the important cables, to put into the exact indicated USB outlets. For example, if you wish for the external keyboard to allow Fn+F4 to set your system to sleep, and use Fn to resume. The yellow colored USB port on the back of the W520, or the USB 2.0 ports on the dock, won't allow this.


    3) ThinkPad BIOS settings:

    • In BIOS, use Legacy BIOS mode, not UEFI.
    • On the Config tab, choose Display, then choose Discreet, which is the only GPU mode that'll let you pick "Boot Display Device" "Digital 1 on dock" so that you can see the Lenovo splash screen/BIOS setup screen. Very handy when you power on or reboot (4th monitor, the laptop LCD, won't work in non-Optimus mode)
    • Turn of VT-d feature in BIOS, if you wish to avoid the dreaded, longstanding issue with the NVIDIA 1000M GPU, where Windows 8 would boot, but then hang, when Discreet mode was set. Strange, yes. Easy to figure out? No.
      A walk through of exactly how to configure the BIOS, is demonstrated in this video I've created for you:

    4) ThinkPad Video Driver for Windows 8 (64-bit):

    NVIDIA Optimus Display Driver for Windows 8 (64-bit) - ThinkPad Version: / Released Oct 11 2012, Windows 8 64-bit:

    You'll want to tweak the NVIDIA Control Panel setting "Power management mode" "Prefer maximum performance" setting described in detail here, and seen below here:

    Then click "Apply" and you're all set, no reboot required.

    5) Lenovo USB 3.0 Dock Drivers for Windows 8 (64-bit):

    V10704 Oct. 24 2012 or later from here: Next, disable the "Lenovo USB Ethernet" in Device Manager, especially if you already have an Ethernet connection to your dock. I find it annoying if it's at the top of your NIC list and not attached, so you then cannot get online (all surfing stops working), until you change NIC priority. But it's easier to just disable it.


    6) ThinkPad USB Keyboard with TrackPoint Driver for Windows 8 (64-bit):

    Driver version 1.08 or later here: Be sure your power configuration is "armed" to wake up from your external keyboard. You'll get a feel for how the powercfg.exe commands work in this video: [embed][/embed]

    Feb. 27 2013 Update: Samsung 22" TV:

    Samsung UN22D5000 picture from Amazon

    I went and cut back another 50 watts of power draw (and heat) in my small office, by re-purposing the CCFL backlit Gateway monitor into another home.  I now have 2 identical 22" Samsung UN22D5000NFXZA TV/Monitors, with LED backlighting, using about 28 watts each. No longer sold new, but got one used for just $99. Worked out very nicely, dragging a 1920x1080 window across the larger middle screen, the size of the window being dragged stays the same size all the way. Excellent! And I have a nice component video input, for occasional remote TiVo viewing (using a CAT5 extender), also very nice. There's a catch. The fonts look horrible on this (used) Samsung, at factory defaults. A chunky, scaled mess, even when set to 1920x1080p at 60Hz, at any picture size setting. Not just an overscan issue. Hmm. Reset to factory defaults (by pressing and holding the remote's 'Exit' button for 15 seconds) didn't help. Finding a fix was tough, given the instruction manual doesn't give even the slightest hint at this. Found the fix buried in this customer review by Chris at Amazon, who was talking about an entirely different Samsung TV here:

    Method 1: Use the DVI-PC label. This method will provide perfect 1:1 pixel mapping and the sharpest possible picture from a computer. However, I have discovered the big downside is that in this mode, most the TV's bells and whistles are disabled including "precision dimming" and "auto motion plus" (the polarizing smoothing effect introduced with 120/240hz sets). Losing precision dimming sucks (particularly 4:3 content such as videos and emulated games) because you essentially get glowing bars and generally poor blacks, essentially making this TV in PC mode look like the Samsung C6500. This condition also exists when using the PC-VGA port, you lose most of the control over the set and most processing effects are disabled.

    On my Samsung UN22D5000NFXZA, this meant:

    1. press 'Source' on the remote until HDMI1/DVI is selected
    2. press 'Tools', choose 'Edit Name'
    3. scroll down and select 'DVI PC' and press 'Enter'

    That's it, great picture quality, all done! Hats off to Samsung technical support, who tried valiantly to help me and offered me a discounted service call. Amazing, especially since I'm past my warranty period! But I told them my suspicion was that it was a setting not in the manual, not a hardware issue. So while on hold, I just Google'd my way into my own fix, thanks to Chris, consumer reviewer at Amazon!

    Mar. 12 2013 Update:
    I recently noticed my Windows 8 Metro UI / Modern UI apps opened very slowly, but everything else working fine. RDPing into that same Windows 8 system yielded excellent Metro UI / Modern UI speeds. Found the fix, 'slowturn' has nailed it, a simple IE 10 tweak to just one checkbox, no reboot and no uninstall/re-install of anything needed for me. Strange I know, but it works!

    I also noticed that I can now use NVIDIA Optimus Mode if I choose, shaving about 10-15 watts off of what my W520 laptop draws from the wall. There are some drawbacks, since I can no longer see BIOS screens on external monitor, and there are some visual quirks noticed with tabs on Chrome. Not sure yet if I'll stay in Optimus mode, time/testing will tell. Here's what I did to get it working, once I had noticed that Lenovo and DisplayLink both had new drivers this year:

    1. download and install DisplayLink USB Graphics Software for Windows* 7.1 M1 1 Feb 2013 7.2 M0 3 Apr 2013
    2. reboot
    3. download and install:
      NVIDIA Optimus Display Driver for Windows 8 (64-bit) - ThinkPad Version:
    4. reboot, allow drivers to initialize and function
    5. shutdown
    6. switch BIOS to Optimus mode, allow Windows 8 to boot
    7. Windows will complain the DisplayLink drivers not compatible, reboot again
    8. Now everything should work, triple monitors while in Optimus mode

    Apr. 07, 2013 Update:
    Well, turns out the 7.1 M1 driver was  little buggy, with Chrome tabs not always painting correctly after resuming from sleep (all 3 monitors).

    So far, the new DisplayLink drivers seem stable, Mar 12 2013 update above edited accordingly, 7.2 M0 3 Apr 2013 driver

    Apr. 30 2013 Update:
    Fixed resume-from-sleep issue by going with cabling scheme pictured above, with only one display running off USB 3.0 instead of 2. Perhaps Chrome tabs were messed up after resume due to some strange video memory issue, but the problem is solved, and I'm happy again!


    Sep. 04 2013 Update:
    Here's the configuration I'm currently using, seems to be working well, but with some gotchas.

    1) LogMeIn Mirror Driver
    Right-click, Disable
    to allow remote control (a bit slower), to avoid my LogMeIn Mirror Driver from taking some of my precious 2GB of video memory, as seen in msconfig32 (I found low graphics memory leads to strange transparent windows and other visual anomalies).


    2) Lenovo W520 NVIDIA Optimus Driver
    Installed Lenovo's driver while in Discreet Graphics mode. Reboot, set BIOS to Optimuse mode. Let it finish finding stuff. Now go back and set BIOS to Discreet Graphics Mode and leave system docked for next steps.

    NVIDIA Optimus Display Driver
    Windows 8 64bit
    01 Feb 2013
    274.35 MB

    3) DisplayLink Driver 7.0 M0

    Using the 7.4 M0 DisplayLink driver from their site:

    The unfortunate thing is, I'm still struggling with making sure I'm stable when not at home. What I mean is that I have to change the BIOS GPU type to Optimus when out and about (to ensure no stability issues), and Discreet Graphics when docked/home. Sigh. Still seeking perfection here, but still very much a worthwhile journey...

    Sep 10 2013 Update:
    Windows 8.1 released on Sep 9.
    Using latest DisplayLink Driver 7.4 M0 that states Windows 8.1 compatibility, the upgrade from Windows 8 Pro to Windows 8.1 Pro went fine, triple monitors still working as well. This is good!

    Completed upgrade to Windows 8.1 Pro

    Sep 23 2013 Update:
    I've gone with two Samsung UN22D5000 22 inch TV/Monitors flanking my Nixeus in the middle these days, makes a more consistent experience when dragging apps across, staying at a consistent size. I do still occasionally get some artifacts indicative of running low on video memory under Windows 8, if I haven't rebooted in a few days, and have many dozen tabs open in multiple browsers. Only happens after coming out of suspend. This issue may go away in future DisplayPort driver releases, only time will tell. See also Close look at my Nixeus NX-VUE27 2560×1440 27″ monitor.

    2 22″ 1920×1080 monitors flanking my 2560×1440 main display.