Important notice – With the release of Windows 10, the new version of Aster V7 has been published. Text written below is meant for the previous version of the program designed for older versions of Windows.
One computer, two monitors, two keyboards, two mice… and two players are simultaneously having fun, each of them playing a different game. Impossible under Windows? Useless? Keep reading.
If you need to use one Windows PC by several users (each on his/her “own desktop” – let’s call it a “workplace”) at the same time and for all of them to be possible to work simultaneously and independently try “multiseat” software SoftXpand or ASTER V7. If you are using Windows 8 or 8.1, you do with ASTER V7 (developers of SoftXpand states that support for Windows 8 will be announced (TBA = To Be Announced)).
- Of course, it is possible to install SoftXpand under Windows 8 (using compatibility mode), but after rebooting PC the “blue screen” with an error message appears (thankfully is easy to solve the problem by returning to a previous restore point – but it is better not to even install it 🙂 ).
Both of this software are charged, luckily both also offer a free trial, so you can try them before you decide if it is worth buying it. The trial version of the ASTER V7 is for 30 days and during this period unlimited. SoftXpand trial is for twenty days and will restart your workstation every hour (without any notice) – which is undoubtedly good to have in mind while testing :-).
Because I am running Windows 8.1 on my PC, the following information focuses on ASTER V7 (software allows creating up to six independent workplaces; however, the following text presumes using only two of them). For installation and basic setup, you can use this quick start guide right from developers.
Besides some “multiseat” software, it is also necessary to have extra monitors, keyboards and mice. If you have a sufficiently powerful graphics card, you can share it for all workplaces. In the program settings, you choose the number of workplaces, then you can arrange your input devices (assign a specific keyboard and mouse for every workplace ), and you can select as well the sound source (one workplace will play sounds from the speakers, while another will be using source from HDMI cable, etc.)
Experience with playing and usual work
While using ASTER V7, you may encounter some problems (according to the users, some of them can be caused by the version of the operating system – whether you are running 32 or 64 bit Windows).
What to expect when you run several workplaces on a single graphics card:
- For smooth playing (and working) on all workplaces, you will usually need to run the game in “windowed mode“. To ensure a better visual experience you can hide edges of the window – games often offer the option “borderless window” (or “windowed fullscreen”, etc.). When you try to run the game in the standard “fullscreen mode” you may encounter image flickering on all workplaces followed by blackening the screen (usually you can solve this situation by pressing Ctrl + Alt + Delete, opening Task Manager and shutting the fullscreen application down).
- To prevent this issue, switch the game’s setting from ”fullscreen” to “windowed” even before starting other workplaces (for some titles it is necessary to temporarily disable ASTER V7 (thus also restarts PC) and only then it is possible to change the video settings without problem).
- Experienced users can manually edit *.ini file of the game (or adjust the settings using a tool such as GeForce Experience) and change the graphics options independently of whether other users have already signed up.
- Most new games offer the above mentioned “borderless window mode”, for older titles may be available only “windowed mode” when the edges of the window are visible. But it can be easily fixed by various programs.
- A simple and extremely effective is, for example, Borderless Gaming.
- Not all games should be run in “borderless window mode” (e.g., for Assassin’s Creed Unity you may encounter deformation (flattening) of the image) – to avoid this issue use an ordinary “windowed mode” and then use, e.g., Borderless Gaming to hide the window edges (see pictures below).
- The first is “borderless window mode”, the second “windowed mode”:
- In the ASTER V7 settings, you can choose a style of mouse pointer under the “Video” tab – for gaming, you might select “hardware driven pointer”, while for everyday work, “software driven pointer” is more suited.
And what about gamepad?
- If you are using a gamepad as a controller, you will probably be surprised by the fact that you can not choose which workplace will actively use a gamepad. In other words – if you have a game that supports control via gamepad running on both workplaces, you will control both games with this one gamepad at the same time. As you can imagine… it sucks :-). On the other hand, some players may use it (or rather abuse it?), e.g., while playing MMO games (but this behavior is usually punished).
- Developers of ASTER V7 plan to add better support for gamepads “in future versions of Aster“.
- If the game supports turning gamepad off for good, then there won’t be any problems (of course, if one of the users accepts a keyboard and mouse). So far, however, there are unsolvable situations where games do not allow simply turning gamepad off, and the game sets gamepad as the active device at the moment when it detects that you have started using a gamepad (it does not matter that it is being used on the second workplace by another game).
Google Chrome browser
- When you log in with the same account under multiple workplaces (for whatever reasons – and yes, it is possible and could be useful), you will find that you can not run Google Chrome on the second (third, etc.) workplace. Fixing this issue is straightforward.
- Alongside install another browser (eg., Google Chrome Canary if you prefer something from Google, or any other).
- Or create a new desktop shortcut, which will force Chrome to run another instance at the same time (the tip is taken from this blog).
- The trick is to force Chrome to create an additional user profile. You just edit shortcut’s properties and add the “Target” to the very end of the line “ ––user-data-dir=D:\Chrome\next_instance” (without quotes, disk directory and folder choose anyone you want).
- The picture shows how the modified shortcut should look like:
- Important notice – developers of ASTER V7 remind that you have to disable ASTER V7 before you run system maintenance tasks, install new graphics cards or update video drivers.