Posey's Tips & Tricks

Is There a Viable Alternative to Microsoft's Pricey Surface Hub?

If you're willing to do some legwork to set it up, a device similar to a Surface Hub can be yours at a fraction of the cost.

Like so many others, I was captivated when I tried out Surface Hub for the first time. My mind immediately began thinking about all of the various ways that I could make use of such a device. Even so, the Surface Hub came with a sky high price tag that I just couldn't justify.

Fast forward about eight years, and Microsoft has recently announced its third-generation Surface Hub device. The 85-inch Surface Hub 3 for Business costs $22,999.99 and Microsoft has made a 50-inch version available for $9,499.99. Neither device includes a stand or wall mount, but there are options available for an additional cost.

Recently I began working on a project and realized that I needed a Surface Hub or a similar device. However, I really didn't want to spend $10,000 or more for a device and the required accessories. As such, I set out to see if there was a more budget-friendly option that would still meet my needs without making any compromises.

These days, the Surface Hub seems to be all about making the most of Teams meetings. In my case, however, online meetings were not even a consideration. For my project, I needed a large format touch-enabled display that also supported inking through the use of a Surface Pen or a similar device. Additionally, the device absolutely had to run Windows.

As I researched my options, I found that there are quite a few "digital whiteboards" available at a price that is far lower than that of the Surface Hub. The problem is that nearly all such devices run an Android operating system as opposed to Windows.

Ultimately, I came up with a hybrid solution that fully meets all of my requirements and does so at roughly a third of the cost of a 50-inch Surface Hub and its supporting hardware.

My solution was to adopt the 55-inch ViewSonic ViewBoard. I found a package deal that allowed me to get the device, a mobile display mount and a Wi-Fi card, all for about $2,800 (after taxes and shipping).

As previously noted, one of my must-have checklist items was that the device had to run Windows. The ViewSonic ViewBoard runs Android, not Windows. However, there are two ways to get Windows on the device.

The first option is to install a slot PC. For those who might not be familiar with the term, a slot PC is essentially just a PC that can be installed as an add-on card. The ViewBoard contains a slot that can accommodate such a PC.

The other option was simply to connect the ViewBoard to a standard PC by way of an HDMI cable. This was the option that I decided to go with. However, there were two things that I had to do in order to make it work.

The first thing that I had to do was to upgrade my PC's video card. Even before connecting the ViewBoard to my PC, I was already using three monitors. Two of the three monitors were 32 inch, 4K displays and the third display was a 1080p pageview monitor. Connecting a fourth monitor was simply going to be too much for my PC's video card.

I upgraded to the GIGABYTE GeForce RTX 4060 TI gaming card. I'm not much of a gamer, but I chose that particular card because it offered connectivity for four monitors and because it includes 16 GB of video RAM. After taxes and shipping, the video card was just under $500.

The other issue that I had to address was that I needed to be able to use touch and pen input. However, an HDMI connection alone does not allow for touch or ink input. I solved that problem by running a USB cable from my PC to the monitor.

Ultimately, the ViewSonic ViewBoard did absolutely everything that I needed for it to do. My total cost for the project was about $3,300, which is far below the cost of a Surface Hub device. While it is true that Surface Hub devices contain integrated cameras that can be used for Teams meetings, the ViewSonic ViewBoard offers several USB ports, making it easy to connect an external camera should there ever be a need for it. And like the Surface Hub, the ViewBoard contains integrated speakers and offers a screen sharing feature.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 22-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.


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