Win8 and NV Surround Guide: Working vs. Gaming Modes

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Here follows a list of actions that I took to setup and use working (independent/non surround) and gaming (span/surround) modes under: Windows 8; NVIDIA Surround 2D; and a single NVIDIA graphics card (of the right type) driving 3 (DVI) monitors.

The terms "working (independent/non surround)" and "gaming (span/surround)" modes are not official (there seems to be no standard terms), they are my own.

I'm going to write under the assumption that readers haven't used Nvidia surround before (either by being new to multi-monitor setups or coming from Matrox TripleHead2Go) and are unfamiliar with Windows 8 (Win 8).

Verify that your NVIDIA graphics card can support 2D surround, as a single card.

The configurations and usage in this article was tested against a single NVIDIA graphics card driving 3 monitors. Only Nvidia cards 6xx or higher are able, as a single card, to drive 2, 3, or 4 monitors in gaming (span/surround) mode. SLI configurations with earlier cards (or SLI with 6xx cards) might be configurable and usable as this article describes but this has not been tested.

"SLI" is an NVIDIA technology that allows two or more NVIDIA graphics cards to be joined together to drive multiple monitors in gaming (span/surround) mode. Some people prefer to use SLI configurations (with two or more cards) for performance reasons in gaming. However, frequently SLI brings with it extra configuration problems and troubleshooting. I've never used SLI and, given that a single card can now support multiple screens in gaming (span/surround) modes, I'm unlikely to ever want to.

To verify your NVIDIA Card can support 2D surround, as a single card:


For my brand new setup I'm using:

I have come from a setup that uses 3 screens with Matrox TripleHead2Go Digital (TH2G), under Win XP, two graphics cards (not in SLI), with two DVI switchboxes.

This post counts as a partial answer to my earlier post Nvidia Surround 2D. Can we live under one mode (stretched)? The short answer to that question is: No, we can't live under one mode (if you have requirements like mine), but switching between working and gaming modes is relatively trivial and far easier than under a TripleHead2Go setup.

Windows 8 generates hate for fucking with the Start Menu, amongst other things. However valid you think that hate is it is clear that Windows 8 has great multi-monitor support out of the box (at last). Win 8 multi-monitor features also play nicely with NVIDIA (I can't speak to AMD/Eyefinity).

Setting Up a Basic Working & Gaming Modes

Setup working (independent/non surround) mode, with 3 independent screens:

Setup gaming (span/surround) mode, with 1 virtual screen that stretches across 3 monitors:

There is one problem, however, the monitors are identified with a different number sequence depending on whether you go through Screen Resolution V through Nvidia Control Panel. I've raised this issue at Nvidia Forums > Inconsistent display (monitor) identities.

Until this is sorted out: First cable and order your monitors 1, 2, 3 (left to right) by using windows desktop right click > Screen Resolution. Then when using Nvidia Control Panel > Configure Surround, PhysX > Span displays with Surround (tick) > Configure ... setup your screens according to order the wizard specifies (For me it is 1, 3, 2).

Switching Between Working & Gaming Modes

This is mind bogglingly easy. Setup your modes as above. Then:

In my old TH2G setup I had to go through a lengthy and flaky 16 click process entailing all sorts of dancing with Matrox PowerDesk, NVIDIA Software and two DVI hardware switches. Sometimes reboots where required for the mode switching to take.

Under the previous NVIDIA Drivers, 306.97, the Windows Key + P mode switching did not persist between computer reboots. 310.70 seems to have fixed this issue under normal use. However with the 310.70 drivers the Window Key + P mode switching intermittently does not persist if you have a rare case like me. I intentionally use a DVI hardware switch to feed one of my monitors to my old rig, in effect making my Win 8/Surround setup only see two monitors (which it automatically adjust to).

As this is a rare case I'm happy to go through the surround configuration wizard when I want to restore the easy gaming v working Window Key + P mode switching. Compared to the old way of doing things, with TripleHead2Go, it is no big deal. Details at at Nvidia Forums > Switching between Surround and "Standard" in a non painful way?

Can You Move the Win8 "Start Screen" to the Center Screen?

Yes. Windows 8 has a start screen, called by Microsoft "Start" (formerly "Metro") that replaces the windows start menu (in my view this is an improvement).

In gaming (span/surround) mode this is not an issue. You have one being task bar spanned over your monitors and Start will open across all the monitors.

In working (independent/non surround) mode Start will open on only one monitor. It is not a matter of setting which monitor Start belongs to and forever expecting it to appear on that monitor. Rather, Start will appear on whatever monitor you want, as you want it, by hovering over the bottom left corner (or the right hand side Start Charm) of the desired monitor. For example if I hover over the bottom left corner of monitor 1, Start will appear on monitor 1. If I then hover over the bottom left corner of monitor 2, Start will appear on monitor 2.

If I use the windows key to open Start (this is still in working (independent/non surround) mode) then Start will appear on the monitor on which Start last opened.

Update: The keyboard can also be used to change the monitor on which start appears: Open start (Windows Key); Press Windows Key + (Page Up | Page Down). Windows Key + Shift + (Page Up | Page Down) ... scrolls Start when it is open.

In short Start roves where you want it to.

I like this very much although I still wish there was a start button (on each of the monitors) to press. Aiming for a corner, ensuring your don't overshoot it into the next screen, and hovering I find unnecessarily taxing.

Designate a Main Monitor

In gaming (span/surround) mode there is one big task bar that spans all of your monitors. The clock and notification icons are on the far right. Any apps that you've pinned to the taskbar are at the far left. That is, under gaming (span/surround) mode this one virtual monitor will be the "main" monitor.

In working (independent/non surround) mode there is an independent task bar on each monitor (it is glorious to have this feature natively). Your main monitor will show the clock, notification icons, and pinned taskbar apps.

What happens on the non main taskbars is up to you. You decide through a procedure I list in the next section. You designate the main monitor like this:

The main monitor designation also has the effect of running single monitor games on that monitor.

Setup Non-Main Monitor Taskbars so They Only Reference Their Respective Monitor

The other options for this setting are: "All Taskbars"; and "Main tasbar and taskbar where window is open".

An Easy Way to Instantly Move Windows to Another Monitor (In Work Mode).

Keyboard shortcuts. We are introducing new keyboard shortcuts that build on the shortcuts from Windows 7. Win+Pg Up or Win+Pg Dn moves Metro style apps across monitors. Win+Arrow and Win+Shift+Arrow continue to work on desktop apps as they did in Windows 7, by snapping and moving desktop windows across monitors.

--Steven Sinofsky, 2012-05-22, MSDN Blogs > Building Windows 8 > Enhancing Windows 8 for multiple monitors.

I've confirmed this to work for desktop apps. I may not ever use Metro apps.

Update: The keyboard can also be used to change the monitor on which start appears: Open start (Windows Key); Press Windows Key + (Page Up | Page Down). Windows Key + Shift + (Page Up | Page Down) ... scrolls Start when it is open.

Ultramon installs a button next to the "minimize, maximize and close buttons" which drops down and allows you to select a destination monitor with a mouse. I'd prefer to use that technique. However I'm not sure I'd like to pay the performance cost of installing Ultramon as a memory resident program for this feature only.

Pro-Tip: Use the Win8 native Win Key + Shift + Arrow combination.

In Gaming Mode, How Do I Maximize an Application to a Single Window?

For Win8, wait for NVIDIA to update their drivers. NVIDIA might solve this beyond 310.70 as they have officially advised us they are working on the problem. See Win 8 Surround - Maximize to Single Monitor.

Installing Matrox PowerDesk (and setting the relevant settings) did not help me with this. In the meantime if I want to maximize windows to a single screen I switch to working (independent/non surround) mode.

Resizing Windows to Custom Sizes.

I use Gridmove (Donationware), with my own custom grids. Essentially I have two custom grids that are coded to provide identical functionality in working (independent/non surround) V gaming (span/surround) modes. Each time I switch modes I change the Gridmove custom grid (a "template" in GridMove parlance).

There is a small problem that makes this solution difficult. Displays are identified with a different number sequence depending on whether you go through Windows Screen Resolution V Nvidia Control Panel. Worse, within NVIDIA Control Panel there seems to be display identity inconsistencies.

I mentioned this problem above under "Setting Up a Basic Working and Gaming Modes". I've detailed this in the NVIDIA Forums at Inconsistent display (monitor) identities.

I've worked around this problem by recoding my grids to cope with an out of sequence monitor identity (1, 3, 2) from the GridMove point of view. However, this means my grids are not portable. For example your system might identify monitors as 1, 2, 3, or Satan knows what. In other words I'm not going to publish these Grids until this issue is sorted out.


Despite some remaining quirks and problems Windows 8 with NVIDIA Surround plays quite well together. With a single modern NVIDIA card we can now drive three monitors at fast frame rates. An awesome thing.

Upgrading to Windows 8 might be a take it or leave it affair for most users. However, for multi-monitor users there are compelling reasons to upgrade. A Win 8/NVIDIA solution is superior to the TripleHead2Go if you need to switch between working (independent/non surround) and gaming (span/surround) modes. The TH2Go can be left behind.

Update 2013-02-02 16:24 UTC:

Updated 2013-04-26 13:09 UTC