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When I first started working in IT, one of the first difficult issues I had to deal with was trying to figure out how to get dual monitors to work correctly.

It’s a simple enough concept. You would think that all you’d have to do is just plug any video display into the applicable computer port on your laptop or PC and you’re good to go. The monitors should just instantly turn on and start working, right? Well, that’s definitely not the case.

There are a lot of scenarios to consider here – maybe you’re trying to get two external displays to work with your laptop, and no matter what you do it doesn’t seem to work. Or maybe, you’re trying to use both the VGA and HDMI ports on the back of your desktop PC, yet when you plug it in only one monitor seems to work.

These are common problems for a task that really shouldn’t be as complicated as it is. But when it comes to computer video output, there is a certain way that you need to go about connecting and using extended displays. In this article, I’m going to cover some of the most common issues I’ve come across that often throw people for a loop.

3 Things to Keep in Mind

The three things that you need to consider when you want to use extra displays with your computer includes: (1) Is your video card capable? (2) What is your hardware setup, and finally (3) Have you set it up correctly?

In this article I’m going to cover each of those areas and help you troubleshoot the issues you may be having with your extended dual displays.

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1. Check Your Video Card Settings

The first step is to determine if your video card even has the ability to display to multiple monitors. It’s easy enough to check – just plug in the monitors and then go into Control Panel – Display. Then click on “Change display settings”.

dual monitors

In the display settings, you may actually see the multiple displays come up, with some disabled and others set up as either your primary display or as an extended display. You can ignore those for now and instead click on “Advanced settings”. Click on the Monitor tab of your video card display (if there is a monitor setting), and check to see if the card “sees” the number of monitors that you’ve plugged in.

dual monitor setup

If they both show up, then the card is capable of displaying to multiple monitors. If you only see one, then you should quit here because even though there are two ports, the card is only able to utilize one at a time. Much of your success in this comes down to hardware capability, so checking this first is the most important thing.

If you’re using a video card with the Intel Graphics Media Accelerator Driver, then checking and setting things up becomes even easier. You’ll see the “Intel Graphics” tab above under Advanced Settings, and when you click on it you can launch the setup app for your display devices.

dual monitor setup

This is one of the easiest tools to use, and the fastest way to configure how you want your multiple screens to display.

However, if you’ve confirmed that your video card can “see” both displays that you’ve plugged in, yet you can’t seem to get a second monitor to work, don’t give up. There are a few little techniques I’ve picked up that might help you fix your own issues.

2. Check What Ports Are Available

As I mentioned above, before you start shoving wires onto ports in the back of your PC or the sides of your laptop, stop and take a closer look at those ports so that you know what you’re looking at. In most cases, if you have a VGA port and a different type of port – HDMI (either style) – then your computer can likely send out a signal out of both of those ports and you can use one as an extended display – with some limitations (see below).

You may see a port on your computer that accepts a plug like this – this will be one type of digital port that most monitors today can take. In fact, some of them out there are moving away from the old style VGA ports and moving entirely to digital.

dual monitor setupIn my case, the side of my VAIO has both a VGA monitor port and a smaller HDMI port.  Notice anything strange?  Yeah, VAIO did not have the foresight to realize that the HDMI port is scrunched too close together with the VGA port if you are using a standard VGA  cable.

dual monitor video card
Given what I stated above – that the two different ports should work at the same time – I decided to test that out to prove my point. Of course, it required that I completely shave off the right side of my VGA cable so that it can fit alongside the HDMI cable (what a stupid design – are you reading this Sony??)

dual monitor video card

3. Understand the Procedure

So now this gets us to the third concept. You’ve confirmed your video card can “talk” to two monitors, you’ve taken an inventory of the types of output ports available on your PC or laptop – and that you do actually even have two output video ports available. So now you should just be able to plug it in and go, right?

Nope – plug in those monitors while your computer is turned on, and if you’re lucky just one of the external ports will be enabled and start displaying, like shown below.

dual monitor video card

My laptop display stayed on, and my VGA connection started displaying immediately. Yet, the third PC is plugged in and I know my video card can see it, so why is it blank? How annoying.

Well, when it comes to laptops, there’s a little secret that most people don’t know. Just because it comes with a built-in display doesn’t mean you can have a 3-display setup. Most laptops can only have two video outputs – or if the main display can be enabled, only one external monitor can be used in extended mode. The other must be a clone.

To get those two external monitors working requires a certain sequence. First, shut down your laptop. When it’s off, turn it back on and immediately close the display so that the display is turned off.


In my case, I believe the Sony VAIO would allow me to keep my laptop display and rebooting would be enough, but I know with HP docking stations, you have to close the laptop display for the two docking displays to both work. In either case, it’s a good idea to just shut off the laptop display if you’re having problems getting two external monitors working. As you can see above, the VGA port is used as my main display upon bootup.

Once it’s booted, only one display is working. But don’t worry, just go back into the display settings, and you’ll either your two external monitors, or you might even see all three if the computer is capable of displaying the laptop video at the same time. Set up the first external as a clone of your laptop display, and then set up the second external as an extended display.

Here is how I set up both laptop (1) and external (2) as a duplicate.

dual monitors

And then the second external (3) as an extended display.

Click “Apply” and voila – I now have an operational setup with two large external displays running off my laptop – one off the VGA port and the other off the HDMI port.

As you can see, there are a lot of points in the process where some people would give up and conclude that it just doesn’t work – not realizing that if they just rebooted and shut the laptop display, the dual monitors would work. It comes down to just making sure your video card is capable of doing this (most are these days), and then playing around with those display settings and making sure that the monitors are configured correction.

Have you ever beat your head against the wall setting up external displays? What sort of problems did you have, and what was the solution? Share your own annoying external monitor experiences in the comments section below!

Image Credit: Two Blank Monitors via Shutterstock

  1. Mark
    August 25, 2016 at 11:25 am

    I have two old LG W1943S Monitors (VGA Port Only).

    I have Lenovo G40-70 laptop. Processor Intel(R) Core(TM) i3-4030U CPU @ 1.90GHz

    It has two video cards. Specs is Intel(R) HD Graphics Family 1GB RAM and AMD Radeon R5 M230 2GB

    I am using an ADT-V003-M VGA to USB Adapter.

    After struggling with the correct hardware driver to install, I finally did it! [ https://www.dropbox.com/s/ep7wbhglk466n8g/C360_2016-08-25-19-15-06-915.jpg?dl=0 ]

    Here's my problem:

    - The monitor I used with the VGA Adapter lags.
    - It crash if I set Screensaver to show to all the monitors. It works before when I only have two monitors.
    - I checked msinfo32>Components>Display and the VGA Adapter RAM says "Not Available." So I think it doesn't use Intel nor my AMD video card. I searched online and say that VGA Adapter use CPU and memory instead of video card. [ https://www.dropbox.com/s/z5xzjqydhe65tkn/Capture.JPG?dl=0 ]

    My question is:

    - If I use HDMI to VGA Converter like this: [ http://www.cdrking.com/?mod=products&type=view&sid=13407&main=154#.V77JMPl97cc ] will it use my Video Card and hopefully remove the lag?

    - Will I still be able to have the same setup where I have 3 monitors all in extended mode?

    Looking forward for your insight,. :)

  2. Preetish Anand
    June 29, 2016 at 3:41 pm

    i have my dell latitude E6430s on the docking station and its connected to 2 external DELL monitors all they work.
    but i want the laptop screen to work as well.
    Please advice preetishanand@gmail.com

    • Aadi
      August 1, 2016 at 8:05 pm

      hey mate i am not that old but i can definitely help you. All you have to do is go into the control panel and search change what closing the lid does and then choose do nothing. :)

    • Preetish Anand
      August 1, 2016 at 8:22 pm

      i m not closing lid.
      i want three of the screens to run together.

    • Aadi
      August 5, 2016 at 11:29 pm

      OK preetish. What you need to do is right click on the home screen and go to screen resolution. Under orientation where it says multiple displays, what you want to do is either choose extend these displays or duplicate these displays. Hope it helps :)

  3. Pat
    May 31, 2016 at 5:15 pm

    Hello,
    I have 2 22inch Asus Monitors. Lenovo W530. I've got a couple scenarios where I can extend to 2 displays and also use the laptop monitor. But getting it to work was strange.

    Initially, I used VGA for one monitor and DVI -> USB for 2nd monitor. This worked.

    I then purchased the startech doc, that includes VGA, DVI, HDMI (it also has more USB ports, ethernet, sound, etc). So I can unplug the USB and walk away. I thought with these ports, I would just plug the VGA for one monitor, DVI for the other, and it'd work. But W530 would have one screen, then the other two monitors were clones of each other, and display would only show one external, and the laptop monitor.

    I then unplugged the DVI and used the DVI->USB adapter again, and I am back in business.

    So I am not sure what the deal is, but getting the additional monitor connected via DVI->USB is the only way I get Windows 7 to allow me to extend to all 3 screens.

  4. Giovie Young
    May 2, 2016 at 6:46 pm

    My husband was trying to setup my computer to be extended to 2 monitors but having problems in displaying my desktop to the monitors. So what I did was play around with changing the display settings until I cannot see my desktop anymore in my laptop. Probably I have clicked something that would display my desktop to one of the monitors which are not working still. I have restarted my computer and still no display coming out. It's black. What should I do?

  5. dogetech
    March 30, 2016 at 2:56 am

    I have a GeForce gtx 960 and I plugged in my monitor in the computer not into the video card. but I cant plug it into the video card because the slot is to big. i plugged it into the dvi port but when I turn the monitor on it says no signal....help

    • Aadi
      August 1, 2016 at 8:10 pm

      Hi, I am only 11 but i might be able to help. First of all, i would reccommend getting a VGA cable instead of a dvi. It looks like a trapezium with holes in it. Next, find the VGA input in your PC/laptop. Plug it in to the monitor. Now, you can either duplicate the display or extend it. Extending the display means that you can complete two tasks at a time whereas duplicating the display means that you have exactly the same screen on both displays. Right click on the home screen and above personilization, choose screen resolution and choose duplicate/extend this display, whichever you want. If this does not work, it can either mean that the monitor could be faulty or your VGA/DVI input on your laptop/PC is faulty. If this happens, I would reccommend you to buy a USB to DVI/VGA/HDMI to plug in. :)

  6. Tom Palmer
    March 3, 2016 at 10:24 pm

    I have an HP laptop and I have connected a 2nd monitor. Everything works, but there is one problem. The "scale" or "zoom" is different. My laptop screen is smaller print/ the extended screen is larger print. This includes the screen saver. on the extended screen, it is a zoomed in version of the one on the laptop screen.

    Any suggestions?

    thanks,

    • Mark
      June 25, 2016 at 8:01 pm

      I've been battling this issue for 2 years, the best suggestion I have is to "co-ordinate" the resolution of both monitors.
      Start: go to the highest the resolution "setting number" of the second monitor, see if that works. This is tricky because there is no hard and fast rule with this, no matter what anyone says. The reason is that the resolution "capability" or "range of settings" of each monitor is different!
      In a sense you have to find the "happy medium".

      If you can't get that to work, the fall back solution is to "zoom out" from 100% to 90% or 75% or 67% , til the second monitor fits...... this sucks because it makes the 1st monitor's view, smaller too.
      Good Luck.

    • Aadi
      August 1, 2016 at 8:14 pm

      Hi Tom, Im 11 so I'm not that good at tech so this might be wrong. I had this when I first connected my laptop to my PC. The answer is simple, the screen resolution on your monitor is not as good as your laptop's. What you neeed to do is right click on the home screen and the choose screen resolution and then the control panel will pop up and then choose the highest screen resolution.If you want to maintain the same screen resolution as your laptop, extend the display instead of duplicating it. Hopefully i helped :)

  7. AndreaD
    January 22, 2016 at 9:29 am

    I have a Lenovo Flex 2-15 laptop, with a core i5 processor 1.70GHz. Then I recently purchased Upstar Dual monitors which each have their own power supply, and both VGA and DVI connection options. But my laptop has neither VGA or DVI ports so I also purchased a j5 Ultra Station (which I don't fully understand - that's a later session) which gives me additional USB ports, one VGA, one HDMI and it has an audio & a mic port and something called a "wormhole switch" (again, I don't know what that is).
    Previously I used one external monitor for the benefit of a larger screen and I told the computer to duplicate the screen onto the external monitor and to "do nothing" when I closed the lid so I could set my laptop aside when working at home. So as of right now, I have the same setting - do nothing and I set my laptop aside.
    I followed the above instructions to determine if my computer could handle the additional monitors and it detects 1/2...does this mean my laptop is 1 and the dual are being perceived as one instead of two individual? If so, what settings do I need to change/enable so that the dual monitors are detected individually so that I can use the "extend" option?
    Thank you from the bottom of a very technologically challenged, but eager to learn, fan member's heart! :-)
    AndreaD

    • Aadi
      August 1, 2016 at 8:18 pm

      Hi Andrea, I'm 11 and IT but the 1/2 means the duplicate displays. 1 is your laptop and 2 is the monitor. I would highly reccommend extending the displays as this essentially gives you two laptops in one. So right click on the home screen and choose screen resolution. Then where it says multiple displays click on the arrow and then choose extend :)

  8. Deepak Krish
    November 25, 2015 at 6:44 am

    My extended display turns off when i unplug my charger. Can anyone help me with this ?

  9. Doug
    February 27, 2015 at 7:34 pm

    I am able to get a computer screen and a TV screen set up where the computer screen is a mirror of the laptop screen and the TV Screen is the extended screen. Everything seems to be working fine but I am trying to watch video surveilance footage on the large TV screen, the data gets choked up and the video will not show on the TV. If I mirror the large TV with the computer monitor everything works fine. But there is some issue when I try to use the Extend function. Cant figure it out

  10. Joe McDade
    January 25, 2015 at 11:36 am

    I have an ASUS with 8MB of RAM and have been running two (2) 24" monitors forever without an issue. I plug one via HDMI and the other DVI. The HP has sound so I use the HDMI for that monitor since HDMI carries sound. The Hyundai does not have sound so I use the DVI for it. I constantly have my e-mail up on the Hyundai and do all the rest of my work on the HP. Works well for me but admittedly, I'm not a gamer.

    • Will
      February 23, 2016 at 1:54 pm

      How did u set yours up? Im trying to do the same on my asus but one monitor goes to sleep as soon as i connect the other. If I start the comp with both connected then only the hdmi works

  11. Keith
    January 5, 2015 at 6:42 am

    Hello Ryan,
    I recently (February 15th, 2014) , upgraded Hard Drive on my Dell Dimension 2400XP, cooling fan, new video card, Nvidia 720 single VGA out), after retiring my 32" Vizio, (bought a "New" 50" Vizio, for home entertainment center), updated Ram, to 2G, was able to get Chrome downloaded, FINALLY, and got original Dell monitor, to switch to #2 extension, with my 32" Vizio, as my #1 HDMI base unit, and I added an older Sony 15" monitor, that I hooked up with S video out, (it was ghosting my #1 with very poor quality), so I was going to pickup this 1 X 4 VGA splitter, to get my 50", linked up, with my 32"(mirrored), and the Dell monitor (extension),to see if my hookup is right, (with a high grade VGA 50' 400hz Shielded Gold cable), Do you think I'm on the right track?
    I've done all this work on my own, after having the original WD40G, crash, I bought an external HD hookup kit, with all the connecting cables, power source, and online instructions, I rescued old HD, cloned OS, and everything to new 160GHD, I figured with what I spent to do all that, it was a matter of, "Why buy new, when I'm more than 2/3 of the way there" ? I may buy another 500G WD HD, ( I have recovered and cleaned up the crashed 40GHD, have 36% left on the 160HD), also used 32G & 16G flashdrives for personal file backup. Your instructions were very clear, that if you start trying to do more, and you strike out, go back to square one, but as others have pointed out, how do you get back to square one ? When you don't know how you got where you are, by mistakes the mistakes you've made.
    Trial and error, Ryan, set everything back to default,
    yes, thanks for the guiding light, your help is appreciated,

  12. Gabe
    December 15, 2014 at 8:44 pm

    I have a situation where I am trying to do extended desktop with my laptop and a second monitor on a vga connection with one monitor being a generic pnp monitor and the other non pnp. I've been able to do dualview but for some reason I can't get my computer to do extended desktop/display. When I do it the second monitor turns off and says there's no signal. Any thoughts?

  13. Alex
    February 4, 2013 at 10:35 pm

    I have a graphics card with 1 vga and two monitors with vga will the computer that has 1 vga be detected when the card is installed, thanks

  14. Nick
    January 27, 2013 at 6:11 pm

    I have an AMD Radeon HD 7750 1GB graphics card and I have been able to dual screen before. But lately it's not showing the VGA port monitor anymore. The monitor is on and working fine, and sometimes it'll display at start up, but when I'm actually on the computer I get nothing. It's really confusing me and I'm wondering why it's doing this. On the step in the advanced settings it's not showing my second monitor now, even though it's been working previously.

  15. Dawn
    January 23, 2013 at 7:27 am

    I have two laptops one with windows 7 and one with windows xp. I also have a gateway monitor. I would like to create one desk top with all 3 screens. Is this doable? Most of what I read is two monitors and one laptop. I have all we programs on one system, and accounting on the other system. I would like to open a app program on one computer, and my accounting on another, and have Internet on my monitor all using the same mouse for all three screens. doable?

  16. BC
    January 9, 2013 at 3:05 pm

    Ryan,
    Here is what we are trying to do with dual monitors:
    One of the my physicians would like to work from home. Her office set up is with dual monitors. Main desktop is on the left and extends her desktop to the second monitor. She prefers to run 2 applications simultaneously, 1 on the main desktop monitor (ultrasound imaging software) and 1 on the extended desktop monitor (electronic medical record software, Epic). She likes to copy and paste information from one application to the other. We tried connecting to her work PC using a remote client server. She was unable to extend her desktop to the second monitor at home.
    My next thought is to connect using a VPN connection to the organization then use RDP to her desktop. Should she be able to extend her desktop to the second monitor at home then? We are currently waiting on authorization for the VPN.

    I found this interesting thread about using dual monitors over a VPN using RDP with Windows 7:

    Office workstation had Windows 7 Professional. The host computer needs to have Ultimate installed to allow the dual monitors to work using remote desktop. Upgraded to Ultimate and it works great.

    Our current set up is this:
    The host computer (work) has dual monitors and is running Window 7 ( I think Professional, but not sure)
    The remote computer (home) has dual monitors and is running Windows 7 Ultimate.
    You would think that using a VPN with RDP connection alone regardless of OS version would do this. Your thoughts?

  17. Ann Nguyen
    December 13, 2012 at 2:58 am

    Ryan,
    How do you make the laptop screen as the 3rd screen rather than close the lid? I would like to use it as the 3rd monitor as well. I have the same set up like to have with one VGA and one HDMI. But only have the ability to use 2 LED monitors and not the laptop.

    Thanks,

  18. Michael
    October 10, 2012 at 9:58 pm

    I have an His Radeon HD 6850 an i still can't get two monitors to work lol i have hdmi 1.4 ,2dvi an one display port my dvi is 24+1 pin drives me nuts lol

  19. druv vb
    September 10, 2012 at 10:34 am

    Am waiting to buy my new GPU card (old one dozed off 3 weeks ago), with twin DVI out. With that am gonna get a second monitor, maybe a 23 or 27 inch. Very useful while video editing, working with different files, even when panning games (though it would look bad).

  20. GayashanNA
    September 10, 2012 at 9:17 am

    Thank you for these very useful information. Thank you acer designers, for not making me shave off my vga connector.

    • Ryan Dube
      September 15, 2012 at 2:13 am

      You're so lucky....I was cursing at the Sony designers when I had to shave off my VGA connector.

    • SPK
      December 15, 2012 at 8:34 pm

      I have a Lenovo IdeaCentre K330B desktop with a single HDMI output. I think the graphics is on board. Is it possible to connect 2 monitors to this 1 output and get extended view across the 2 monitors?

  21. Scutterman
    September 8, 2012 at 5:39 pm

    When my laptop was my main computer I had it hooked up to an external monitor via VGA and a I also had a USB DisplayLink adapter to add second external monitor. I found it quite easy to do that and have both monitors and the screen as extended displays. The thing that puzzled me is the laptop seemed slower when I used it without the external monitors, though that may have been altered perception.

    • Ryan Dube
      September 15, 2012 at 2:12 am

      I didn't notice any slowdown when I extended my display, but you never know. If you're setup includes the use of a card that draws additional power or CPU usage - I suppose there's a possibility. There's always the issue of different hardware designs. It could have been altered perception, but you never know without running benchmarks and testing it out.

    • Scutterman
      September 23, 2012 at 6:43 pm

      Well, I'd expect a bit of slowdown the more displays I attach, since the computer has more to draw on the screen every render cycle. But I actually noticed the opposite. If I still had it set up like that I'd run some benchmarks.

      As a web developer I'd love that, but that's going to be expensive - in terms of rewriting IE-only apps, training the workforce to use the new apps, and lower production while they get used to the change.

  22. Ben
    September 8, 2012 at 5:00 pm

    I have seen setups with more than three displays. If just getting two to work, then those setups must be a real nightmare to pull off!

    • Ryan Dube
      September 15, 2012 at 2:11 am

      Wow - yeah, it's my dream to get 4+ going. I'm thinking of using two PC's with synergy running. Then again, I wonder what the limit is between using synergy on one PC after another...?

      That's something to try out and write an article about. Now where can I find 4 to 6 monitors to try this out. :-)

  23. Michael Jan Moratalla
    September 8, 2012 at 10:50 am

    I will soon be doing that after I got another 2 monitors for my 3 monitor setup.

  24. Emmanuel
    September 7, 2012 at 11:41 pm

    From my experience the dual screen setup makes things easier and more productive. I do a lot of programming and app development, and one thing i can say is i will never go back to single screen. Once your hooked to it you can't go back.

    • Ryan Dube
      September 15, 2012 at 2:10 am

      I agree 100% - I can't believe how much more productive it made me once I went to two screens. It's really painful when I have to resort to doing work on a single little laptop screen when I'm mobile. :-)

  25. Igor Rizvi?
    September 7, 2012 at 11:00 pm

    Im considering to buy a second monitor for my setup.I have a hdmi output,and the question is next: is it better to huck it up via hdmi or stick to vga?

  26. Julian
    September 7, 2012 at 10:02 pm

    Haven't seen a CRT in years now. I'd rather keep 1 monitor than have to extend to that at this point.

    • Ryan Dube
      September 7, 2012 at 10:27 pm

      It was a big-screen monitor that I had spare in my shop - nearly as much screen-space as the flatscreen display. I used it because I'm too cheap to go out and buy a new one for demonstration purposes - give me a break. :-)

  27. Richard Steven Hack
    September 7, 2012 at 8:11 pm

    I did have a client once who had a desktop machine and also a large screen monitor which he wanted to be able to show videos to clients on in another room controlled from his desktop.

    I never got it to work properly. We managed to get the video on the large screen, but we couldn't get it to fill the large screen as he wanted.

    The user interface for using multiple monitors is just brain dead as well. If you click something wrong, you end up all over the place and spend most of your time recovering back to something that works. It really ought to be simpler.

    • Ryan Dube
      September 7, 2012 at 10:28 pm

      I agree - the nice thing about the Intel driver is that the graphics options have a section for "displaying onto a projector", which might have worked for a situation like you describe. A lot has to do with the abilities of the video card(s) and the driver software.

  28. James Poole
    September 7, 2012 at 6:34 pm

    That actually sounds easier than I would have thought. I assume that the desktop version would be basically the same thing.

  29. Ahmed Khalil
    September 7, 2012 at 5:49 pm

    i still not sure if MAC book pro is having this cabapiity

    • Kyle
      September 7, 2012 at 10:45 pm

      I know the new Retina MacBooks do (I have one), but that's only because its has two Mini DisplayPorts. If you have a non-Retina version, you can hook up one monitor or multiple by using an external device such as one from Matrox (http://www.matrox.com/graphics/en/products/gxm/dh2go/digital_se/)

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