Inside the host PC is an x1 PCI Express card which sends all the graphical data down the fibre optic cable to the Extio box. As far as the PC is concerned, it’s communicating directly with the graphics card and isn’t even aware that the user is up to 250m away. The interface card can also be connected via an Express Card slot, or even a PCI slot, where a bridge chip is needed to transpose the PCI data to PCIe before it’s sent up the fibre cable.
Matrox has set the 250m limit because that’s the point at which the PC may recognise a delay between it sending the graphic data and the graphics chip acknowledging receipt. So this isn’t a replacement for IP based remote access, but then IP based remote access isn’t a completely seamless experience for the end user either.
The Extio box measures 300 x 145 x 25mm (WxDxH), which makes it far smaller than even the tiniest PC. At the rear is a connector for the external power supply, and four DVI ports for connecting up your four desktop monitors. Next to the DVI inputs you’ll find the port for the fibre optic cable that connects the Extio to its host PC. Finally at the rear are two USB ports for hooking up a keyboard and mouse, along with a line-out port for your speakers. On the front there’s the power switch, four more USB ports and an audio complement comprising headphone, microphone and line-in sockets.
With all of the graphic rendering being done by the Extio box, it really does feel as if your keyboard and mouse are connected directly to the PC – in fact if you didn’t tell an end user any different, that’s exactly what they’d think.
Even if you’re not obsessed with data security, the fact that the Extio is a completely silent solution will make it potentially attractive in environments where noise is an issue. Recording studios for example could use high powered PCs without having to put up with the constant drone of cooling fans – an Extio installation would give you all the power of a high-end workstation, while the noisy hardware whirs away in a soundproof room in another part of the building.
Another thing that the Extio has going for it is the fact that Matrox is good at multi-monitor configurations, very good in fact. You can configure the Extio to create four discrete desktops on your four displays, or you can stretch your desktop across them all. I hooked up four Eizo 1,600 x 1,200 displays, creating a total desktop area of 6,400 x 1,200, which is pretty impressive to say the least. But even with the desktop stretched across all the displays, you can apply some pretty neat options via the Matrox tools. For example, if you want to maximise a window, rather than it expanding to the whole, massive desktop area, it will expand to fill a single screen – it’s even smart enough to fill the screen that’s displaying the most pixels at the time.