Although laptops are a great choice for work on the move, their small screens can sometimes be a problem. You can give yourself a bit more breathing space and make your work easier by hooking up a third, fourth, or even fifth screen.
Multiple displays mean that you no longer need to switch between different applications on one screen. You can, for example, display your email client on the laptop’s screen and use Photoshop on an external monitor. Perhaps you have one monitor for Slack and one for browsing.
This article will show you how to connect your laptop to an external monitor. It also explains how to set up the display to function as you wish. You will also find information about the resolution limits of various connections, as well as advice on how to locate the right adapter for your video inputs.
How to connect and use multiple monitors on a Windows Laptop
1. Make sure to check the Cable Connections
Connecting external displays to your Windows laptop should not be difficult if you have one. First, determine the type of cable that you require. Modern laptops are equipped with an HDMI, DisplayPort or mini-DisplayPort port.
You can buy a cable (such as this HDMI cable from Amazon) and connect the two devices together if the outputs and inputs match. Scroll down to find out more about adapters and converters if the inputs are not compatible or if you have tried connecting your computer to your monitor but no picture appears,
2. You can extend or duplicate the desktop in Windows
Extending/Duplicating the Desktop in Windows 8, 8.1, and 10
Once you have your cable, connect it to the monitor and the laptop. The Windows side is easy.
- Windows 8 or 8.1 can be opened by hitting WIN + P. This will open the Projectoptions menu, which appears in the right-hand corner.
- To display a presentation on a projector, or to play a movie, you can use the Duplicate and Secondscreen only options. Extend is the best option for gaming or work. This option allows you to spread your entire desktop across both screens, and drag windows or other items from one screen to the other.
Extending/Duplicating the Desktop in Windows 7
Windows 7 users will need to use a different process than Windows 8.1 or 10, in order to duplicate or extend their display.
- Right-click on any desktop area and choose Screen resolution.
- Select Extend these display or Duplicate this display from the Multiple displays drop down menu, and then click OK or Apply.
Note: It may be necessary for your monitor to display the output of your laptop manually if it doesn’t do so after all the above.
3. Windows Multi-Monitor Positions Adjustable
Windows defaults to orient the laptop’s built in screen to the left and external monitor to its right. This means that you will need to move the cursor away from the internal screen’s right side to navigate to the monitor. You will need to adjust the monitor’s position if you want it the other way.
Windows 10: How to Change Multi-Monitor Screen Positions
- Click on the Start menu then click on Settings. The cog icon is at the bottom left.
- Click on System.
- Click on the preselected Show Menu to select a monitor. Then, drag it into place. If the monitor is located to the left or right of your main screen, you can move it around to position it closer to the main screen.
- You don’t need to do anything else. You can close the Setting Menu to get started.
Windows 7: How to Change Multi-Monitor Screen Positions
- Right-click on the Windows 7 desktop and choose Screen Resolution.
- Next, click and drag screen icons from the dialog box. (screens are numbered 1 through 2 respectively). You can drag them until they are in the right order/position in your workspace. If necessary, use to identify.
- When finished, select OK or Use
Windows isn’t limited to left and right layouts. You can arrange the monitor so it sits either above or below your laptop. You can adjust the screen position to allow different windows or other items to span both screens.
4. Solutions for USB-C and Video Adapters Problems
Do not be afraid if you have DVI, HDMI, DisplayPort, HDMI or DisplayPort. Dual-purpose cables can be used to connect multiple screens, such as DVI/to-VGA or HDMI/to-DVI or any other adapter.
To complicate things further, increasing numbers of laptops have a USB Type C socket. This allows for data, video and charging. Although USB Type-C is a great technology, it can be confusing as to what your laptop’s port can or cannot do. Some devices don’t support video, but only USB 2.0 connectivity and power transfer. Others, however, offer USB 3.0 connectivity but will not let you plug it into a monitor. Unfortunately, you can’t tell unless you try it or check the specifications of the USB controller hardware that your laptop uses.
You won’t be able to connect your laptop and monitor with the same cable. There is no way to tell if the cable you are using is compatible with video.
Even though USB Type-C has been around for a while, cables are still quite affordable. For example, if you are looking for an HDMI to USB Type C adaptor, Amazon has a great selection.
Multi-adapters are better because you have more options. These connectors will cost you a little more than single adapters but they are still affordable and provide connections for your monitor as well as standard USB accessories and power input.
5. Adjust the Display Quality
However, there is another aspect to consider when choosing a cable or adapter. Some video connections might not display images at native resolution depending on the specifications of your secondary monitor.
You can still connect the monitor to a secondary display but it may appear blurrier or stretched. There are many consumer monitors that offer WQHD (2.560 x 1,440 pixels) and 4K (3.840 x 2,160 pixels) resolutions. It’s worth choosing the right one to ensure the best quality.
There is no limit on the resolution of a VGA cable, but laptop graphics cards can often reach 2,048x 1,536. VGA cables are analog signals, so images may appear softened and less sharp.
DVI connections are better, partly because they’re digital connections, but it’s still important to be cautious. You will need both a dual link DVI cable and a compatible dual-link connector for resolutions greater than 1,920×1,200. Look at the image below to see how a dual-link DVI cable differs from a single-link one.
Similar to the HDMI 1.3 standard, which added support for monitors or displays that exceed Full HD resolution (1.920 x 1.080 pixels), HDMI 1.4 and HDMI 2.0 now support 4K resolutions. Both your monitor and laptop will need to be compatible with the standard to allow the connection to work. You can’t push the secondary monitor resolution above 1,920×1,200 if you have an HDMI 1.2 port or older.
DisplayPort is the most flexible of all the connections (as well as USB Type-C which is merely a carrier for a DisplayPort and HDMI connection). DisplayPort 1.1 supports resolutions up to 4K at 30Hz. This specification restricts the onscreen framerate at a slow 30 frames per second. This specification is not suitable for 4K gaming, but movies will look great. DisplayPort 1.2 supports 4K at a smooth 60Hz refresh speed.
DisplayPort 1.3 is the most recent standard and supports 8K (7.680 x 4.320 pixels). Different outputs for different laptops or graphics cards will work with different resolutions and refresh rate. Before you buy any adapters or cables, make sure to check which connection is the most compatible. You may not get the right one and end up with a monitor that is capable of producing better quality.
If you’ve got a recent Apple laptop or desktop with a Thunderbolt connection, then bear in mind that you can use a ‘mini DisplayPort-to-DisplayPort’ cable (or a DisplayPort adapter) to connect to any compatible monitor–the monitor doesn’t need to have a Thunderbolt input. You can pick up a ‘mini DisplayPort-to-DisplayPort’ cable for a few dollars on Amazon.
6. Connect two or more monitors
Connecting two or more monitors to your laptop is often as easy as connecting them to several video outputs. There may be limitations to your ability to connect multiple monitors depending on the age of your laptop and the graphics chipet. Older laptops might only allow two monitors: one for the laptop and another for the secondary display. Some models allow up to three external displays. Ultrabooks, hybrids and tablets may have a single display output, or none.
There are still ways to add an additional monitor, even if you have used all the connections and your laptop does not have a working video output.
There are two options for devices that have a DisplayPort connection of 1.2. A DisplayPort hub can split your single connection into multiple outputs. Although these splitters can be expensive, they enable you to use one DisplayPort connection to power up to two 2,560×1,600 monitors or a third 1,920×1,200 display. You can also buy a monitor with daisy chain functionality. Compatible monitors have a DisplayPort output at their rear that allows you to connect multiple monitors using a single DisplayPort connection.
You don’t need a newer laptop or device with no working video connections to add another display. All you need is a spare USB cable. You can add an additional monitor with a range of affordable USB to DVI or VGA converters. Drivers for Windows 7 or earlier may be required, but Windows 8 should automatically recognize them.
No matter what you do, remember to consider the resolution issue when connecting multiple monitors. If you plan to use a 4K and 1,920×1,080 monitors simultaneously, ensure that the 4K monitor is connected to the video connection. This will enable the native resolution to be used. If you don’t do it correctly, your display won’t work as well.
The Merrier, the More Monitors
There are many ways to connect multiple monitors to your laptop, either for work or to stream movies to a larger monitor. It’s easy to connect multiple monitors to your laptop. Follow the steps above and you will be up and running in no matter what.
Did you manage to connect your monitors successfully? Did you run into issues? Please share your experiences in the comments section below.