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Using Linux wisely can make you just as productive as other operating systems, but adding displays to your setup can provide further benefits. You can be even more productive while working, or you can be immersed in virtual worlds while gaming. Best of all, installing multiple external displays to Ubuntu is easier to set up than you might think.
Picking a Monitor
Before you start, you’ll obviously have to have at least one external monitor ready to hook up. Technically it can be anything that you can connect to your system — so be sure that your monitor can be connected to your system. If your monitor can only use VGA and your system only has HDMI ports, you will need an adapter in order to hook it up. If you are already using an external monitor and want a better experience, try to get a second external monitor that has the same size as the other one. Ideally, try to get the same model even. That way, when you put them next to each other and the mouse won’t “jump” as you move it from one monitor to another.
Hook It Up
Once you have the hardware ready, turn on your system. Once it has the desktop loaded, connect your additional monitor(s) to your system. Ubuntu will then try to automatically configure the new monitors. While it should be able to detect the best resolution, it probably won’t be able to detect which monitor is on the left and which is on the right. To change this, you’ll need to go into System Settings, and then click on Display.
Ubuntu’s Display Config Tool
Here you’re able to modify the settings of your monitors. The region in the upper half of this window allows you to rearrange the monitors so that Ubuntu knows which one is where. Clicking on each one will show a little box of info in the corner of the selected monitor. So if you click on the monitor that Ubuntu thinks is on the right, but the little box of info appears on your left monitor, then you need to drag that monitor around to the left of the non-selected monitor. Hit apply, and Ubuntu should now know which monitor is placed where.
If you have such a setup, you can also make the monitors use a portrait orientation instead of the normal landscape orientation, and you can also have monitors above and below each other rather than just left and right.
If you’re on a laptop and you’d rather use an external monitor than the one included on your laptop, you can easily choose your internal display and turn it off so that the graphics chip doesn’t have to waste resources on pushing pixels to your internal display if you’re not planning on using it. Just click on your internal display (out of the two or more you have available — this doesn’t work if your internal display is the only display) and click on the On/Off switch that is located between the display selection area and the “Resolution” dropdown menu.
Connecting a projector is just as simple. Just choose Mirror displays, so that the projector will show the same as your normal display.
There are also a few other settings here, such as which monitor should have the launcher bar that appears on the left side of the chosen monitor, or if you want it to appear on all monitors (which automatically kicks in if you clone your displays). The only reason why that option doesn’t appear in the screenshots is because I use Linux Mint on my system, which uses Cinnamon and doesn’t have the launcher bar that Ubuntu’s Unity has.
If You Use Proprietary Drivers
If you don’t use Intel graphics or the open source versions of the AMD or NVIDIA graphics drivers, then you may (or not if you’re lucky!) have issues with using Ubuntu’s tool for managing monitors. If this is the case, then you’ll need to go into your proprietary graphics driver’s configuration utility and make the needed changes there.
The concept is generally the same, but actually making the changes just depends on how the utility presents you the options. However, the Ubuntu-specific options such as where to place the launcher bar, will still need to be done in Ubuntu’s configuration tool. You’ll just have to avoid messing with any monitor settings while using that tool.
In most cases, you shouldn’t have to deal with any issues in configuring additional displays. The only issue I’ve ever come across is that HiDPI support isn’t quite complete. By that, I mean that if you’re using a system with HiDPI settings enabled (such as on a MacBook Pro Retina, which has one of the most popular and well-known HiDPI screens), then any additional displays will have those same settings applied. That means that everything on those displays will appear massive.
Hopefully someday HiDPI settings can be applied on a per-monitor basis rather than system-wide, but so far a fix isn’t expected until Wayland becomes the default display manager on most Linux distributions. Mass adoption of Wayland is still a couple years away. For the time being, you can still test out Wayland in live environments.
Using multiple monitors in Ubuntu is dead-simple. A lot is already automatically detected, and the configuration tool that comes with Ubuntu is simple and straightforward so any modifications that are needed can be applied quickly. So if you want to do it, go ahead! It’s as easy as can be.
What’s your most elaborate display setup on Linux? What have you done with all of that screen real estate? Let us know in the comments!