Two Monitors For An Extended Desktop – 3 Things You Should Check First

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dualdisplay   Two Monitors For An Extended Desktop   3 Things You Should Check First 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.

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Three 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.

Checking 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”.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

hdmi   Two Monitors For An Extended Desktop   3 Things You Should Check First In 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.

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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??)

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Understanding 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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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

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27 Comments - Write a Comment

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Ahmed Khalil

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

Kyle

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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James Poole

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

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Richard Steven Hack

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

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.

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Julian

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

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. :-)

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Igor Rizvi?

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?

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Emmanuel

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

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. :-)

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Michael Jan Moratalla

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

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Ben

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

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. :-)

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Scutterman

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

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

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.

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GayashanNA

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

Ryan Dube

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

SPK

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?

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druv vb

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).

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Michael

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

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Ann Nguyen

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,

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BC

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?

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Dawn

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?

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Nick

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.

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Alex

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

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Gabe

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?

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