Laptops are the perfect choice for working on the go, but their relatively small screens can often be a bit awkward. Hooking up a second, third, or even fourth screen can give you some breathing room and make your workload much more manageable.
Essentially, having multiple screens means you no longer have to switch between apps on a single screen. For example, you can display your email client on your laptop's native screen and run Photoshop on a larger external monitor. Maybe you have a dedicated monitor for Slack and another for browsing.
This article explains how to connect your laptop to your external monitor and configure the display to work the way you want. It also contains details on resolution limitations for various connections and tips for finding the right adapter if your video inputs don't match.
How to connect and use multiple monitors
1. Check connections
If you have a Windows laptop, connecting external displays should be very easy to do. The first step is to determine the type of cable you need. Most modern laptops have an HDMI, DisplayPort, mini-DisplayPort, or USB Type-C port.
If the monitor and laptop inputs and outputs match, you can buy a cable, like this simple HDMI cable on Amazon, and hook the two together. If the inputs don't match, or you've tried connecting your PC to your monitor and have no picture, scroll down for more information on adapters and converters.
2. Choose to extend or duplicate the desktop in Windows
Extend/duplicate desktop in Windows 8, 8.1 and 10
Once you have your cable, plug it into the monitor and the laptop, the Windows side of things is simple.
- In Windows 8, 8.1, or 10, tap “WIN + P” to open the "Project" options, which appears in a menu on the right side.
- Use "Duplicate" ou "Second screen only" options to show a presentation through a projector or to play a movie. For work or play, however, the option you need is " To deploy themselves. » This setting lets you split your entire desktop across both screens and drag windows and other items between them.
Extend/duplicate desktop in Windows 7
Windows 7 users must follow a different procedure than Windows 8, 8.1 or 10 to duplicate or extend their display.
- Right-click anywhere on the desktop and select " Screen resolution. »
- To choose “Extend these displays” ou “Duplicate these views” in the "Multiple views" drop-down menu, then click " OKAY " ou " Apply. »
Notes: If your monitor does not automatically display your laptop's output after all of this, you may need to use the monitor controls to manually switch to the correct input.
3. Adjust multi-monitor positions in Windows
By default, Windows positions the laptop's built-in screen to the left and the external monitor to the right, which means you need to move the cursor to the right side of the internal screen when navigating to the monitor. If you have things upside down, you'll need to make a little adjustment since the monitor is placed on the left side.
Changing Multi-Monitor Screen Positions in Windows 10
- Click on the “The Start Menu,” then select " Settings. »
- Click on “System”.
- In the pre-selected "View" menu, click on a monitor and drag it into position. If it's on the left of your main screen, place it on the left of the main screen.
Fine tuning in Windows 7
- On the Windows desktop, right-click and select Screen resolution.
- Then, in the dialog box that appears next, click and drag the screen icons (screens numbered 1, 2, etc.) until they are in the correct order/position as they appear in your workspace. If you are unsure of screen number one and two, press the button Identify button, and it will display the numbers on each screen.
You'll notice that Windows doesn't limit you to left and right configurations; you can also arrange the monitor to sit above or below your laptop. You can also fine-tune the position of the screens so that various windows and other elements span both screens and match.
4. Troubleshoot video adapters and USB-C
If you have DVI and HDMI, HDMI and DisplayPort, or even VGA and one of the connections above, never fear. You can still connect multiple displays using a dual-purpose cable, such as DVI to VGA, HDMI to DVI, or another adapter or converter. A growing number of laptops are using a USB Type-C plug to complicate things further, carrying data, video, and charging capabilities.
The rather impractical Apple MacBook only has one USB Type-C socket, but it gets used to anything, so you'll need to add a multi-adapter if you want to connect it to a second monitor or a USB hard drive for backup. The new MacBook Pro laptops have two to four USB Type-C ports and offer much better flexibility.
USB Type-C is great, but it's not always obvious what your laptop port can and can't do. This is because some devices only support USB 2 connectivity and power transfer and will not carry any video signal. On the other hand, others offer up to USB 3, but do not allow you to connect to a monitor. Alas, there's no way to tell beyond trying it or checking the specs of the USB controller hardware your laptop uses.
There are also variations in USB-C specifications: the Thunderbolt 3 USB-C cable that came with 2016 MacBook Pro laptops, for example, only transmits data and power.
If you try to use this same cable to connect your MacBook Pro to your monitor, you'll be out of luck. Again, there's no way to tell beyond trial and error or buying a video-specific cable.
Luckily, the cables are pretty cheap, even though USB Type-C is a relatively new standard. If you need an HDMI to USB Type-C adapter, for example, you can get a low-cost converter from Amazon, if you don't mind connecting a small USB Type-C to HDMI adapter on the end of your Type-C cable.
However, it's better to buy a multi-adapter instead, which gives you a lot more flexibility. These connectors are a little more expensive than one-to-one adapters, but they won't break the bank and they'll give you connections for your monitor, standard USB accessories, and power input all in one.
5. Adjust display quality
There is, however, another factor in your choice of cable or adapter. Depending on the specifications of your secondary monitor, some video connections may not be able to display images at the monitor's native resolution.
Although you can still connect the monitor as a secondary display, you may find that the screen stretches or looks fuzzier than it should. With many affordable consumer monitors offering WQHD (2 x 560 pixels) or 1K (440 x 4 pixels) resolutions, it's worth making the right choice to get the best quality on your particular device.
Although there is no hard limit to the maximum resolution of a VGA connection, graphics cards for laptops often exceed 2 x 048. It is worth knowing that images can appear softer and less sharp over a VGA cable as it is an analog signal rather than a digital connection.
A DVI connection is a better choice, partly because it's a digital connection, but you still have to be careful. If you want to use resolutions higher than 1 x 920, you will need both a dual-link DVI cable and a compatible dual-link connector on your laptop. Take a look at the image below to see the difference between a double link cable (left) and a single link cable (right).
Similarly, although the HDMI 1.3 standard has added support for monitors and displays that extend beyond the popular Full HD resolution (1 x 920 pixels), and both HDMI 1 and HDMI 080 support now supports resolutions up to 1.4K, your laptop and monitor will need to support the standard for connection to work. If you have a laptop with an HDMI 2.0 or earlier port, you won't be able to push the resolution of the secondary monitor above 4 x 1.2.
DisplayPort is the most flexible connection of the bunch (as is USB Type-C, as it's just a stand-in for a DisplayPort or HDMI connection). Even the older DisplayPort 1.1 standard supports resolutions up to 4K at 30Hz. This specification limits the on-screen frame rate to a jerky 30 frames per second. So while movies look good, they are not suitable for 4K gaming. DisplayPort 1.2 adds support for 4K at a smooth 60Hz refresh rate.
The most recent standard, DisplayPort 1.3, adds support for 8K (7 x 680 pixels). With some laptops and graphics cards, different outputs will support different resolutions and refresh rates. Therefore, it is worth checking which connection performs better before buying cables or adapters. If you don't get the right one, you may end up with a lower resolution and refresh rate produced by a monitor capable of delivering better quality.
If you have a recent Apple laptop or desktop computer with a Thunderbolt connection, keep in mind that you can use a "mini DisplayPort-to-DisplayPort" cable (or DisplayPort adapter) to connect to any monitor compatible. no need to have a Thunderbolt input. You can buy a "mini DisplayPort-to-DisplayPort" cable for a few dollars on Amazon.
6. Connect two or more monitors
In many cases, connecting two (or more) monitors to your laptop is as simple as plugging them into multiple video outputs. Depending on the age of your laptop and the graphics chipset inside, there may be hardware limitations preventing you from doing this. Older laptops may only support two displays: the laptop display and a secondary monitor. Newer models can allow up to three external displays. Other devices, such as Ultrabooks, hybrids, and tablets, may be limited by a single display output, or none at all.
However, there are ways to add an extra monitor even if you've already used all the connections or your laptop doesn't have a working video output.
For devices with a DisplayPort 1.2 connection, there are a few options. First, you can purchase a DisplayPort hub that splits your single connection into multiple outputs. These splitters aren't cheap, but they allow an available DisplayPort connection to power two 2 x 560 monitors and a third 1 x 600 display simultaneously. Daisy chain: Compatible monitors use a DisplayPort output on the back to let you connect multiple monitors through a single DisplayPort connection.
Even if you have an older laptop or device without any working video connection, all you need is a spare USB port to add another display. There are a variety of reasonably priced USB to DVI, VGA or HDMI converters on the market that will allow you to add an additional monitor. You may need drivers for Windows 7 and earlier, but Windows 8 devices should get them automatically.
Whatever you decide to do, be sure to think about the resolution issue we mentioned earlier when connecting multiple monitors. For example, if you want to run a 4K monitor and a 1 x 920 monitor simultaneously, be sure to tie the 1K monitor to the video connection, which will use the highest and ideally native resolution. Do them the wrong way and you won't get the most out of your screen.
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