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Using two monitors is a simple enough concept. You would think that all you’d have to do is just plug any video display into the applicable port on your laptop or PC and you’re good to go. The multiple monitors should just instantly turn on and start working, right? Well, that’s usually not the case.
There are many things to consider when you want to use two or more monitors. Does your computer even support dual monitors? How many outputs does your graphics card support? What type of video ports does your computer have?
Once you’ve assessed these basic questions, you’re ready to start configuring your multiple monitor setup.
How to Use Two Monitors
There are three things that you need to consider when you want to use extra displays with your computer.
- Does your computer support dual monitors?
- Is your video card capable of more than one monitor?
- Have you set up your dual monitors correctly?
This article will cover each of these areas and should help you troubleshoot the issues you may be having with your extended displays.
Step 1: Check What Ports Are Available
Before you start shoving wires into 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.
Modern computers handle video via an HDMI port, but older computers feature a variety of other ports:
- HDMI: A High Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) port is a computer interface that transmits uncompressed video and audio.
- DisplayPort: A DisplayPort was originally designed as a superior video port to older VGA and DVI ports, but is far less popular on modern computer systems than the HDMI port.
- DVI: The Digital Visual Interface was originally designed by the Digital Display Working Group, and was a next generation to the inferior VGA port. Many older computers have one of several configurations of the DVI port.
- Thunderbolt: A Thunderbolt port is a combination of several technologies, including DisplayPort and PCI Express, in combination with a power supply to power the external display if required.
- VGA: Older computers typically come with the famous blue VGA port. The 15-pin VGA has been used for computer video for many years, but has been largely replaced by the newer video ports like Thunderbolt and HDMI.
Many computers include a mix of these ports. Examining the back of your desktop PC or the side of your laptop, you should see one or more of them.
Typically, if your computer has two ports on it, the video card is usually capable of sending an output signal to both. If there’s only one port, then it probably can’t.
However your desktop might have available slots for additional video cards. So, even if there’s only one port on your desktop, don’t hesitate to pop the cover and check for any available slots for another video card.
When it comes to laptops, another option is to purchase and use compatible docking stations. You may have a docking station option that could extend your laptop (which may only have a single video port), into a docking station that features two or more ports.
So even if you only have one video port available, definitely research the graphics cards if you want to set up a dual monitor laptop.
Step 2: Check Your Video Card Settings
If you have two ports but you can’t seem to get both ports to work at the same time, the next 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 both monitors. The, click on the start menu and type Display. Click on “Change display settings”.
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 display settings at the bottom of this window.
On the next page, you should see Display adapter properties for each connected display if your graphics card “sees” the number of monitors that you’ve plugged in.
If more than one shows 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.
However, if you’ve confirmed that your video card can “see” all displays that you’ve plugged in, yet you can’t seem to get additional monitors to work, don’t give up. There are a few little techniques you can use to fix your own issues.
Step 3: Research Your Graphics Card
If you’re still not certain whether your computer can support dual monitors, another option is to research your graphics card.
First, look up the brand of your graphics card.
- Click on Start and type display manager. Click to open the Display Manager.
- Expand Display adapters.
- Note the brand and make of your graphics adapter.
Head to Google and research the brand of your graphics adapter, followed by the word “multi-display” or “multi-monitor”.
Hopefully, you’ll be able to find some evidence of whether or not your graphics card can handle multiple monitors.
Alternative: Using a Daisy Chain Setup
If your laptop or PC has a DisplayPort, then you might be able to take advantage of what’s called multi-stream transport (MST) to daisy-chain two monitors off the single DisplayPort.
- Your graphics card needs to have at least a DisplayPort 1.2 port.
- You need a monitor that’s DisplayPort 1.2 MST-capable.
- Update your graphics card drivers to the latest version.
Daisy-chaining with a DisplayPort is very simple.
- Connect your PC to the DisplayPort in the first DisplayPort-capable monitor.
- If your monitor is MST-capable, you’ll see a DisplayPort Out port. Connect that output port to the input DisplayPort port on the second monitor.
- Go into the Display Settings on your computer and Enable DisplayPort 1.2
- In the menu settings on the last monitor, disable DisplayPort 1.2 mode.
Now, in the Display Settings screen, you should see both monitors detected. You can arrange them to either mirror or extend your desktop.
There is also the option to split an HDMI signal to multiple monitors.
Alternative: Using USB Monitors With DisplayLink
Even if your PC or laptop graphics card only supports a single output port, you can still extend your system with a second display using a USB-powered monitor and DisplayLink software.
You can find many external displays that will connect to your computer system and provide a second screen. The great thing about these monitors is that many are powered by the USB port itself, so you don’t need another power supply. This is great for using a laptop with a second display when you’re mobile.
Installing one of these monitors is as easy as plugging it in, and installing free DisplayLink software that’ll make it all work.
Configuring Your Dual Monitor Setup
Whichever approach you take to set up a dual monitor setup, you configure it all in the Display Settings area.
Open Display Settings by pressing Start, and typing Display Settings. Click on Display Settings to open the configuration menu.
Once you have one or more external displays connected and detected by your computer, click on either of the detected monitors to configure it.
The example above is a laptop with a connected USB-capable monitor mounted in a vertical position. You can change a monitor from landscape into portrait mode in the display settings under the Scale and layout section.
Thanks to the variety of technologies available today, there’s always a way to attach additional monitors to your computer. This is even true if the system itself doesn’t have any secondary ports.
Better Productivity With Multiple Monitors
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.
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 correctly. If you have one DisplayPort, consider the daisy-chain option. And if all else fails, buy a USB monitor and install DisplayLink software.
If you’re shopping for monitors, make sure you’re aware of the differences between monitor refresh rates. And if you’re getting an ultrawide monitor, prepare to make the best of it with these virtual monitor apps.