How to Use Your Laptop Like an External Monitor
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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 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 Why You No Longer Need a KVM Switch for Multi-PC Setups 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 set up your multi-PC system today. Read More . 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.

Using KVM Software for a Second Monitor

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).

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, as you will see below.

Download: Synergy for Windows (64-bit) | Windows (32-bit) | macOS | Ubuntu (64-bit) | Debian (64-bit) | Red Hat & Fedora (64-bit) | Raspbian

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)

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 3 Easy Steps to a Dual Monitor Setup and an Extended Desktop 3 Easy Steps to a Dual Monitor Setup and an Extended Desktop A dual monitor setup is wonderful. But does your PC support multiple monitors? We'll show you how to use two monitors or more. Read More .

Explore more about: Computer Monitor, Multiple Monitors, Productivity Tricks, Workstation Tips.

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  1. 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?

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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...

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

    ayy lmao

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

      Top keks?

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

    The Word; L'Ordinateur

  7. 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!

  8. 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 "@hotmail.com" will be discontinued altogether, or merely undergo yet another facelift and iteration.

  9. 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?

    Thanks

    • 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!

  10. 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

      Agreed

  11. 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.

  12. 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

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.