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Extend Your PC Display Over the Network with MaxiVista 4

By Joe Moran

Price: $39.95 Standard, $49.95 Professional, $99.95 Mirror Pro

Pros: Extends desktop to one or more secondary PCs via network link; compatible with native Windows Vista/Windows 7 graphics drivers

Cons: Aero effects disabled while program runs; Windows Media Player 12 doesn't play video on extended displays

When we first reviewed Bartels Media's MaxiVista utility a little over a year ago, we found it to be a handy way to (among other things) extend a PC's desktop to another system's monitor courtesy of a network connection. 

But the innovative program had an Achilles heel in its lack of support for native Vista graphics drivers, which meant that the only way to extend the desktop of a Vista system was to burden it with antiquated XP drivers. The just-released MaxiVista v4 addresses this major limitation, and is compatible with standard graphics drivers for 32- and 64-bit Windows Vista, or for that matter, Windows 7. (There are still a few caveats, which we'll talk about in a moment.)

MaxiVista v4 is available in three versions—Standard ($39.95), which offers screen extension to a single secondary system, Professional ($49.95), which includes remote control and clipboard synchronization features as well as support for up to three secondary displays, and Mirror Pro ($99.95), which adds the ability to mirror a desktop as well as extend it. You can download a limited-feature trial version of MaxiVista—no mirroring, and only one extended screen—that's good for 14 days or 50 program launches. 

Installation

We put MaxiVista v4 through its paces with a pair of systems—one a notebook running Windows 7 Home Premium (final code) and the other a desktop with Windows Vista Home Premium. For our tests, we used the Windows 7 notebook as the primary system so we could extend its Windows desktop to the desktop's larger display without having to make any physical connection between notebook and monitor. The notebook was linked to the network via Wi-Fi, while the desktop used a wired Ethernet connection.

MaxiVista consists of two separate components: a "server" program for the primary system, and a viewer for the secondary system that will host the extended desktop. Setting up the server component on our primary PC was straightforward—it automatically installs a display driver that mimics a physical graphics adapter but routes its output across the network. The server software also spits out a viewer application that you copy to and run on the secondary system. (The viewer does not require installation.) 

Once the MaxiVista server and viewer were running on our respective test systems, the former automatically established a link with the latter without any configuration other than acknowledging a couple of software firewall warnings to create exceptions for the programs. Then a couple of clicks of MaxiVista's tray icon on the primary PC supplemented its 1280 x 800 LCD display with an extended desktop at the native resolution of the secondary PC's 24-inch display, which in our case was 1900 x 1200.

Extended Desktop Configuration

MaxiVista's configuration options (which are myriad) are easily accessible via the primary PC's tray icon. From there you can choose another resolution from a long list provided. These include portrait modes, handy when the secondary monitor is capable of rotating (or happens to be a notebook sitting on its side). MaxiVista includes a monitor arrangement setting that lets you properly orient your extended display relative to the primary one, just as you would in a standard dual-monitor setup. Speaking of: If your secondary system has dual monitors (as ours did) you can choose which display to use. You can also use both, though that requires running two separate copies of the viewer program. (When you install the MaxiVista server, you specify how many extended displays you want to use and the program will generate the appropriate number of viewer programs.)

One of the things we like about MaxiVista's extended display is that it doesn't preclude normal use of the secondary system. If you want to use the secondary system while it's hosting an extended desktop, a click of its mouse will hide the window, and a click of the viewer's tray icon will summon it back. 

Performance

MaxiVista's extended desktop isn't quite a substitute for a physically connected monitor when it comes to graphics-intensive software (e.g. games), because DirectX and OpenGL aren't supported. Also, Windows Vista/7's transparent Aero effects are disabled while MaxiVista is running, though they return as soon as the program is shut down. On the other hand, when it comes to general-purpose PC tasks and applications, performance (in the form of cursor responsiveness and draw speed) is equivalent to that of the primary display. 

MaxiVista includes a tool that optimizes parameters like network packet size and graphics compression for high-traffic content like video. Our extended display played video (local or from the Web) at a lethargic frame rate prior to running the optimization tool, but afterward, it played quite well. Interestingly enough, however, Windows Media Player 12—which is exclusive to Windows 7—refused to play any video on the extended display, though it worked normally on the primary display. (By contrast, Apple's QuickTime player ran equally well on both.)

Remote Control and Clipboard Synchronization

When you're not using a PC as an extended display, you can manipulate it with MaxiVista Professional's remote control feature. This isn't VNC-style remote control (it doesn't display a remote desktop window on your system), but rather a software substitute for a hardware KVM switch, making it easier to use several adjacent computers without having to switch between input devices. While remote control is active, anything put in the clipboard of the primary PC is synchronized to the other, or vice-versa. With v4 we were able to easily transfer files via the clipboard sync, something we never managed successfully with the prior version.

Aside from the Windows Media Player issue, we did encounter a few other annoyances while using MaxiVista. For example, running the server program triggers irksome UAC alerts on Vista/7 systems, and the mouse cursor would occasionally go AWOL briefly while traveling between desktops. There were also a handful instances when the MaxiVista stopped working, a condition which was remedied by shutting down and restarting the server (just the program, not the whole system).

The Bottom Line

Minor annoyances and lack of Aero support notwithstanding, MaxiVista v4 is an excellent way to temporarily borrow an extra system's display real estate without having to deal with making (and breaking) physical connections. Although we think the Mirror Pro is too expensive for the extra capability it offers, either the Standard or Professional versions are worth the cost for the convenience and flexibility they provide (even if each is $10 more expensive than it's v3 counterpart).


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