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XSPC LCD

Introduction

Dual screens are now almost common place in the gaming world due to graphics cards having two outputs; each screen having millions of pixels always doing exactly what you tell them. It’s strange to think that a display capable of displaying a mere 20×4 characters is so appealing.

The Display

Details from the XSPC site:

– HD44780 Controller
– Connects to PC Parallel port
– Power : 4pin Molex
– Cable length – 1.1m

– Available in 20×4 and 16×2 sizes (Characters,Lines)
– 20×4 Dimensions: 98mmx60mmx22mm
– 16×2 Dimensions: 80mmx36mmx22mm

Available in Blue/Black, Blue/White and Green/Black

On a side note, if you were wondering, the HD44780 controller is an industrial standard interface chip. There are many sites on the internet telling you on how you can interface with this chip. There are, fortunately, also lots of sites giving away free, open-source programs to run these displays.

Packaging

If you’re a fan of complex box designs and innovative packing solutions; you’ll be disappointed. You simply get a white corrugated box with a slicker telling you the colour choice of the display inside. It’s also worth pointing out that you don’t get a mount with your display; you have to buy it separately. This is probably because this display is aimed at case modders, who are more than likely going to cut a hole in their case, rather than buying a mount from XSPC.

Whilst the packaging is a little lack lustre, it does what it’s meant to do, and that is to keep its contents from harm. On opening the box I was greeted by a red bubble wrapped surprise and a huge spider like network of cables.

On closer inspection, the cable was simply a parallel cable, plus a molex pass-thru power cable and one the other end; the pin plug. Inside the red bubble wrap was the display. It had a small, thin piece of plastic covering the face to protect it from harm. I took it off straight away


The units itself is fairly weighty and is heavy enough to give an impression of quality. The PCB on the back has blobs of black that cover the silicon chips underneath. The pins where you connect the cable are at the top and look a little bit fragile; once the cable is installed, all is well.


Installation

It was just a case of plugging in the parallel plug, then connecting the molex power cable and then the pin plug on the LCD module itself. Incidentally, you have to plug the power cable in the right end of the molex pass-thru cable otherwise it doesn’t receive power which I thought was odd, but not a problem. Plugging in the pin plug was also a problem because you can put it in one of two ways. Only one way works, but plugging it in the wrong way doesn’t harm the display.

Installing the power cable was easier for me as I have huge gapping holes at the back of my case where I removed things I shouldn’t have. For others passing the molex connecter back into their case maybe a problem. Taking out an expansion blanking plate allows the cable to go in. It would have been nice for XSPC to provide a blanking plate that has a hole to allow the cable to go through.

As there is no software supplied with the module, you have to download an interface program from the internet. I choose LCD Smartie because it’s free and well designed. You also have to install port95nt so that LCD Smartie can ‘talk’ to your display. Its available from the Smartie LCD site, do a Google for it.

One little problem with this display is its interfacing port choice. Because it uses a parallel port instead of the smaller more efficient USB plug, its possible compatibility is reduced. Many gamer/enthusiast motherboards (e.g. DFI boards) nowadays are phasing out legacy parallel and serial ports, meaning that this device would be useless to them. The screens possible shelf life is greatly affected by this as a result.

To attach it to the in PC mount, you have to slide it into the hole (which is a tight squeeze) and then fold over the aluminium fingers. You better make sure that you get this right because these fingers will snap off after a few tries. I found that the display wasn’t held in perfectly but it sufficed.


In use

The display is bright and the colour contrast is easy on the eyes. I found that the display was rather slow, especially when scrolling. This is a very minor problem and seemed to go away with time.

The viewing angle of the display is rather small but this is not a huge problem if you don’t slouch when you use your PC. I do, and I found myself moving the display about.


The display did have minor ghosting vertically and none horizontally. The vertical ghosting is unnoticeable unless you are looking for it.

I really loved the things that you can make the display do. This is more a review of LCD Smartie, but anyway. Being able to show the temperatures of either MDM or SmartFan were really cool. As was have a separate screen showing CPU usage, Winamp song name and the time. I found all of these things really useful. You can make the display show one thing when Winamp is playing and another when it isn’t. Displaying RSS feeds is also possible. If all of this isn’t enough, there are constantly more and more plug-ins being made available for LCD Smartie on the internet.




I got the case mounting bracket which is pretty cool and takes up two 5½” mounting bays. The bay mount is made of folded, brushed aluminium. It’s a little weak but you’re not likely to break it unless you are really mad.

It also has a really nice XSPC logo that you will be glad to show off to everyone.

If you are wondering which one to get; the bay mount or desk mount, I suggest that you pick the desk mount. I made the wrong decision and now I have had to make a cardboard version which is SLIGHTY less eye pleasing…

Conclusion

This should really be a definite buy for anyone who thinks that their PC is complete. Not only does it display anything that you like, but it also looks pretty sharp when installed.

ProsCons
Very bright backlightVertical ghosting
Good contrast displayNo software provided
Good stylingHave to buy mount separetely
Effective software available
Damn cool!
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