How to Use Your Laptop Like an External Monitor

Gavin Phillips Updated 06-04-2020

Using an extra monitor for work is a fantastic productivity boost. No more split-screen action between Microsoft Word and Chrome. No more having to prioritize which window goes on top. A multi-monitor setup also looks cool, plus you can use the extra screen as a media display when not in use.


If you don’t have an extra monitor but have an extra laptop, you can repurpose the laptop as a sort of second screen. Here’s how you can use your laptop as an external monitor!

How Can You Use a Laptop as a Second Monitor?

Multi-monitor systems are relatively common. You’ll see them everywhere. Your doctor might use a second monitor for notes, and another for diagnoses. Using a second monitor can boost your productivity by giving you the extra screen real estate you need.

Creating a multi-monitor setup with a laptop is a one-way process. It’s likely your laptop only features an outgoing VGA, DVI, or HDMI cable. You can plug a monitor in and use the laptop on both screens. Perfect, right?

What about if you don’t have the right cable? In that situation, you need to use a KVM switch. A KVM switch is a physical switch you can turn to switch your system to another network. For instance, back in the day, you might have had to turn a switch to connect your system to a printer.

To use your laptop as a second monitor, you need KVM software. You install the software on your desktop and your laptop, and the local network creates a bridge of types between both devices. You can control your desktop and your laptop from a single keyboard and mouse, turning your laptop into a second monitor. The rise of KVM software is one reason why you no longer need a dedicated KVM switch Why You No Longer Need a KVM Switch for Multi-PC Setups If you have more than one PC, a KVM switch can boost your productivity. Here's how to use software KVM to set up your multi-PC system. Read More !


Using KVM Software for a Second Monitor Laptop Setup

Two of the biggest reasons for using more than one monitor are working space and frustration with the split-screen. Several applications let you easily share your mouse and keyboard between laptop and desktop.

Note that you cannot drag-and-drop an active window across KVM software. It just doesn’t work like that. However, some tools let you drag-and-drop a file to open on the laptop you use as a second screen.

It isn’t quite the same, but it is better than nothing and often faster than using a cloud drive (and especially a USB flash drive).

1. Input Director

input director global preferences


Input Director is a handy free virtual KVM program. The installation package gives you the option of being the Master (Server) or the Slave (Client). Run the Master installer on your primary system, and the Slave installer on your laptop.

Once installed, you can configure the location of the laptop you are using a second screen in relation to your primary monitor. You can add the Slave using its network IP address, or the hostname provided in each Input Director window.

Input Director has some neat features, including Cursor Wraparound which lets you take your cursor off of any screen to another (rather than running in parallel), and the all important shared clipboard which allows you copy between devices.

Download: Input Director for Windows (Free)


2. ShareMouse

sharemouse monitor manager

ShareMouse is one of the simplest, but also best virtual KVM tools to turn your laptop into a second monitor. ShareMouse is full of decent features, coming with shared clipboards, drag and drop file sharing, and an interactive monitor manager.

You can also set your unused monitor to fade when you’re not using it. It makes it easy to keep track of which screen you’re using, as well as saving power on your laptop.

ShareMouse is free for Non-Commercial Personal Use. But you are limited to a maximum of two monitors. Or, you can register for professional use, granting you up-to 19 networked monitors/systems, encryption, and a handful of other tools for $49.95.


Download: ShareMouse for Windows | macOS (Free)

3. Synergy

synergy share mouse laptop

I used Synergy for a long time until switching to ShareMouse. Still, Synergy remains an excellent open source virtual KVM tool. It is well suited to turning your laptop into a second monitor, featuring drag and drop file sharing, shared clipboard, and encryption.

Synergy isn’t free. It comes in two flavors; a Basic version for $29, and a Pro version for $39. The basic version has seen a steep rise in price in recent years (from $10 to $29), and the Pro version has jumped up, too. Synergy developer, Symless, is also working on Synergy 2, so that could explain the price jump.

One cool Synergy feature is that you can install it on your Raspberry Pi and use it as a central controller for every system attached to your network. Synergy is also available for an extensive range of operating systems, including Windows, macOS, Ubuntu, Debian, and other Linux distros.

Download: Synergy for All Operating Systems ($29 Lifetime License)

4. Mouse Without Borders

mouse without borders share screen

Mouse Without Borders is a workspace unification application developed by The Garage. The Garage is an internal Microsoft development team that employees can use to incubate and build personal ideas into real-world projects.

The Garage has overseen some fantastic projects, including the Microsoft Launcher for Android, the Microsoft Health Bot Service, and Eye Control for Windows 10.

As well as these projects, you can use Mouse Without Borders, a virtual KVM tool that “makes you the captain of your computer fleet.”

In typical Microsoft fashion, Mouse without Borders uses a system of codes to connect your systems, also displaying the network adapter you’re connecting through. It also comes complete with drag-and-drop file sharing, and a useful Clipboard feature.

Download: Mouse Without Borders for Windows (Free)

Use Your Laptop As Second Monitor with Windows 10 Project to This PC

Windows 10 has an integrated Miracast feature that allows you to use your laptop as a second monitor. The Project to This PC function works using two Windows 10 computers and allows you to either Extend or Duplicate your primary display onto the secondary screen.

The result is a handy option to get a second monitor up and running, especially as it doesn’t require any third-party software.

How to Use Project to This PC with a Laptop Second Monitor

windows miracast project to pc options

On your laptop, head to Settings > System > Projecting to This PC. From here, you can select the projection settings for your setup, including which devices can connect, if new devices must request a connection, and whether pairing devices must enter a PIN before connecting.

If you’re only using your laptop as a second monitor at home, you can allow any device and leave the PIN blank.

Now, on your main PC (the one you want to project from), press Windows Key + P, then select how you want to project your screen. As you want to use the laptop as a second monitor for productivity, you should select Extend.

Select your laptop when the option to connect appears, and you’re good to go. Better still, you can use the Windows 10 Miracast feature to project your Windows 10 computer or laptop to your TV How to Project Windows 10 to TV With Miracast Windows 10 has built-in abilities to mirror its screen on your TV. Here's how to use Windows 10 with Miracast. Read More , too.

Use Your Laptop as a Second Monitor with spacedesk

If you find the Windows 10 Miracast option a little underwhelming, you can opt for a third-party option instead.

spacedesk is a free app that allows you to extend your desktop to a secondary display using your local area network, either via a wired or Wi-Fi connection. You load spacedesk on your main PC and the laptop you want to use a second monitor, connect the two, and begin boosting your productivity.

The major plus to spacedesk is that you can connect more than one additional screen to your main PC. If you want to use your second monitor laptop as well as connect a tablet as a third display, you can do that. The same goes for your smartphone, an additional laptop, and so on, connecting up to four simultaneous monitor displays.

How to Use spacedesk to Turn Your Laptop into a Second Monitor

First up, you need to download and install spacedesk on your primary PC:

Download: spacedesk for Windows 10

You can also find spacedesk download links for Windows 7 and 8.1 using the above link.

Next, you need to download and install spacedesk Windows viewer on your laptop:

Download: spacedesk Windows viewer for Windows 10

Scroll past the download links for the main spacedesk app to find the links for the spacedesk Windows viewer.

windows 10 spacedesk connection manager

Once the installation completes, open the spacedesk application on your primary system. The spacedesk app on the main PC acts as a server for incoming connections, allowing you to mirror or extend your desktop display to another system.

Now, head back to your laptop and open the spacedesk Windows viewer application. You should see a connection option for your main PC, which will turn your laptop into a second monitor.

Before opening the connection, change the connection settings using the Functionality menu. From here, you can ensure you can use the keyboard and mouse of the remote device, plus set the screen resolution of the connection.

The screen resolution should default to 1920×1080 but will also fall back to a lower resolution if you require it.

Create the spacedesk settings for your setup, then Connect to the Primary Machine by selecting the computer name from the list.

Use a Physical KVM Switch for Second Laptop Monitor Use

Now, if you do want to go down the physical KVM switch route, that’s fine. I have a KVM switch on my desk for when I need to plug in a Raspberry Pi or two, and a KVM switch can have other uses, too.

Here is a basic KVM switch you can use to upgrade that old laptop to a second monitor.

UGREEN USB 3.0 Switch Selector

UGREEN USB 3.0 Switch Selector UGREEN USB 3.0 Switch Selector Buy Now On Amazon $48.99

If you’re using a laptop as a second monitor, you don’t need to worry about the “V” aspect of the switch so much (the V stands for video, which your laptop monitor already has!). As such, you can use a USB sharing switch to divvy up your mouse and keyboard input.

The UGREEN USB 3.0 Switch Selector is a basic input/output box, taking USB connections from four devices and allowing you to switch the output between two separate computers. Plug one output into your main PC and the other into your laptop and you’re all set.

Can You Use a Laptop as an External Monitor?

You can use a laptop as an external monitor… of sorts. I know, I know. It isn’t like being able to drag-and-drop an active window into a second monitor. However, using a virtual KVM is easily one of the next best things.

You can make much more efficient and productive use of your laptop as a second monitor using one of these tools, despite the occasional problems with multi-monitor setups. So, why not give them a try?

Furthermore, here are steps to creating the perfect multi-monitor setup. If you’ve decided to go for a single ultrawide monitor instead of a second, external monitor, try these virtual monitor apps 7 Virtual Monitor Apps to Maximize Your Ultrawide Monitor If you have an ultrawide or 4K monitor managing your screens is important. Here are the best virtual screen divider apps for you. Read More to make the best of your new setup.

Related topics: Computer Monitor, Multiple Monitors, Productivity Tricks, Workstation Tips.

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

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  1. Ramesh Navi
    May 11, 2020 at 5:22 pm

    Awesome! ShareMouse works like charm.

  2. Gordon Bennett
    July 22, 2017 at 8:00 am

    Aren't any leads required? I've watched a number of videos on this issue and no one mentions leads for some reason. Is it taken for granted that we know which leads to use?

  3. Sean Smith
    June 3, 2017 at 9:55 am

    Input Director doesn't let you drag Windows from one monitor to the other. Do any of the other options? I was expecting it to act like a second monitor had been attached to the Desktop PC whereas this is just a way of using the same keyboard and mouse on more than one machine.

  4. NutonDev
    April 14, 2017 at 9:08 am

    Displaying distracting media"? What kind of an opinionated article is that? When developing a web site where you have to follow guidelines and prototype on a single, do you think an extra monitor is "distracting"? If someone uses laptop as a typewriter or tv then for sure. Otherwise casting curse at additional monitor estate is like recommending a small table over a large one. If you're fine - then use it, but don't try to tell others they are wrong if they prefer large.

    • Gavin Phillips
      April 14, 2017 at 10:20 am

      Well, we're allowed to infer our opinion at MUO. I don't mean all the time, and I make it quite clear that the second monitor is great for productivity.

      In fact, I'm not sure why you're so angry.

      I was merely stating my own experience. Since writing this article I've returned to a multi-monitor setup. I didn't tell anyone they were wrong, you've got the wrong end of the stick.

  5. Bucky the Bronco
    January 14, 2017 at 4:28 pm

    Article title is misleading. Website loads articles I wasn't looking for. Can't use the back button. This site is shit.

    • Gavin
      January 17, 2017 at 12:29 pm

      Sorry it wasn't what you thought. The website uses a continuous scroll feature which has led to some users reading articles they weren't expecting. However, I'm not sure why the back button didn't work. Even with the continuous scroll, each URL is loaded so you should have been able to move back. I'll mention it to our developer.

      Hopefully you'll find other things you can make use of...

  6. lemo
    November 22, 2016 at 7:58 am

    ayy lmao

    • Gavin Phillips
      April 14, 2017 at 10:17 am

      Top keks?

  7. Liam Anthony Dalton
    October 3, 2016 at 1:33 pm

    The Word; L'Ordinateur

  8. Gavin H.
    September 24, 2016 at 11:48 am

    I thought it was a little strange when I saw that the second computer name on Mouse without borders said Gavin-PC because not only is my name Gavin, but that's my laptop name as well.

    • Gavin Phillips
      April 14, 2017 at 10:17 am

      Haha, I've had that problem before!

  9. Gardner West-Bound
    September 21, 2016 at 1:29 pm

    Microsoft has certainly made all things email very complicated, over the years. Your article, which purports to lift the veil of fog surrounding it, merely adds to the confusion. You gave the article the title, "Hotmail No More! Microsoft Outlook Email Services Explained" and yet all you have accomplished is delivering a history of the various iterations if Hotmail over its lifetime. You did not conclusively state whether "" will be discontinued altogether, or merely undergo yet another facelift and iteration.

  10. Ed
    September 12, 2016 at 7:11 am

    Hi Gavin,

    I cracked my laptop screen so badly I can't see anything on the desktop, let alone getting to some important documents. I was thinking about connecting the laptop with cracked screen to another laptop via VGA cable and use that laptop as an external monitor. My question is how to set it up on the laptop when the screen is cracked?


    • Gavin
      January 17, 2017 at 12:25 pm

      Honestly, I would just remove the hard-drive from the cracked laptop and either use it as an external drive with an enclosure (or just a SATA to USB if you want to be really cheap). Or install it in the second laptop, remove needed files to a secondary drive, and then replace the original drive.

      Sorry this is a late reply, I hope you got sorted!

  11. Chris
    July 30, 2016 at 9:00 pm

    Even with the word "like" in the title, there is a pretty direct, unambiguous implication from "Like an External Monitor" that you should be able to do one thing in particular:

    Open an application window on your desktop (for example), and then drag that window to your laptop screen.

    If you can't do that, then the title doesn't make any sense at all. In the absence of that fundamental feature, you're not using your laptop screen as an external monitor; you're just sharing one computer's mouse and keyboard. The two concepts are actually nothing alike.

    • b
      December 10, 2016 at 11:18 pm


  12. george
    July 3, 2016 at 12:32 am

    change the title and description. It is extremely misleading. I really don't understand how that could have been a mistake.

  13. Faisal
    January 7, 2016 at 4:43 pm

    Well I use multiplier for showing the same display to my customers, but I am really looking forward to something like synergy. Count me in for the giveaway. Thanks

  14. ugugx
    January 7, 2016 at 2:16 pm

    WoW, same here, what i got was that i`m going to use my laptop screen as a secondary monitor for my workstation.

  15. Karyn
    January 7, 2016 at 3:14 am

    The title isn't inaccurate. "Like" means, in this case, "similar to". So the title implies that the article contains information on ways to use your laptop to have an experience that is similar to having a second monitor. The article is actually exactly what is described in the title. Even the picture, with is disproportionately large mouse and keyboard seem an attempt to illustrate what the article contains. A single mouse and keyboard shared between machines.

    If it had said "How to use your laptop as an external monitor", then it would have been deceptive.

    It is understandable that people have misunderstood the title. Only because, the expectations that it was something more or different is rooted in the fact that the English language is grossly misunderstood by an astonishing number of it's native speakers. However, that is hardly the fault of MUO or it's writers.

    I'm just sayin'.

    • Karyn
      January 7, 2016 at 3:18 am

      Anyways. Saving this for later. Thanks for the info! I've been wondering if there was a way to do something like this. Definitely has potential to be extremely useful for the multi-tasker.

    • Coast
      April 30, 2016 at 3:15 pm

      To clear it all up, the title should have just simply stated "How to share your mouse and keyboard between computers". As it stands, most people seeing this title will be thinking that they are reading something that will show them how to setup two systems as external or dual monitors.

  16. Anonymous
    January 6, 2016 at 10:24 pm

    Im not always sure if the articles/titles are being dumbed down or if I've moved past the content as a whole.

  17. Al Pennyworth
    January 6, 2016 at 8:51 pm

    Many years ago, I used some software called Maxivista which would allow another computer's monitor as a second monitor. When I read the title, I expected to read about software similar to this but I was sadly disappointed when I got to the description of Synergy. At that point, I knew the article did not match the title.

    Too bad.

  18. Jayson
    January 6, 2016 at 7:25 pm

    I was intrigued in this article, and thought it was about using a laptop as a monitor for another system. Where it appears that all of these software packages let you use your own Keyboard/mouse on multiple machines. Bummer that the article didn't portray what the title depicts.

    • Anonymous
      January 6, 2016 at 7:49 pm

      Seems to be pretty common with Make Use Of recently. Completely BS titles as click bait. I'm so frustrated with it I'm ready to remove them from my G+ circles.

      • V2SJ
        January 25, 2017 at 9:04 pm

        I was under the same impression as you guy. As someone have point out that the Title did say "like second monitor". it is deceptive to call what outline here as 2nd monitor. You guy MUO loss a bit of credibility here.