How to Connect Two Monitors to Laptop

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If you have used two screens for your desktop setup, I’m sure you will agree with me that multiple monitors is amazing. Most people that tried using dual monitor setup will tell you that they’ve had a hard time going back to a single monitor.

This is one of the basic advantages that a laptop has over a monitor. Because laptops come with a built-in screen, all you need to do is add a monitor to optimize your productivity. 

There are ma few options that you can go for, and I will explain them in this guide.   

The Perfect Choice for Newer Laptops – Thunderbolt

The recently launched Thunderbolt 3 sports the new USB Type-C connector standard. This is the latest technology for laptops and tablets to output video. Its rapid acceptability is not surprising because it has a lot of advantages.

 A single cable can transport media files, standard data transmission (for external drives and internet connection), and power, all at the same time. Now you do not need to have multiple wires littering your desk, which means that laptops can be more portable and thinner by reducing the ports.  

So if you are lucky to get your hands on a laptop with Thunderbolt 3 and a Thunderbolt-capable monitor, you can easily connect multiple monitors. All you have to do is connect each monitor to one Thunderbolt/USB-C port.

Although it is somehow hard to achieve because you will need a very new laptop and the latest monitors to make it work. 

If you own a laptop that has a Thunderbolt 3 but older monitors that do not have Thunderbolt input, you will need to get an adapter for each monitor. You can either go for the USB-C to HDMI or the USB-C to the DVI adapter. And do not forget that you will need one adapter for each monitor that you want to use.

If your laptop is equipped with just one Thunderbolt/USB-C port, you will need to buy a docking station if you want to connect two monitors to the port. One of the good docking stations that I’ve tried and that I can recommend is the Dell Thunderbolt Dock, although there are other good ones that you can check out.

It’s important to note that there are laptops that will not work with this method; for example, the small one-port MacBook will not work with multiple displays from one port using docking stations. So make sure you check your laptop’s specifications.

 And if you want to purchase a dock, ensure that you buy from a store that will accept it back if it doesn’t work.

Thunderbolt has an impressive number of media files bandwidth, powerful enough to handle more than one standard monitor. For example, the new MacBook Pros can effortlessly handle a video output to two 5K resolution displays simultaneously as long as you have the necessary adapters.  

There are specialized adapters designed to work as docking stations for mini-laptops that work perfectly with a multi-monitor setup with other peripherals like mice, keyboards, and other connections.

 As soon as the new Thunderbolt and USB-C become more present on laptops and monitors, it will be the perfect way to connect for any type of video output. Although it will take a while because some major companies like Microsoft are not yet impressed with the new standard.

For Older Laptops: Get a Display Splitter Box

If you own a laptop that is a bit old, It probably doesn’t sport a Thunderbolt/USB-C, but it will have a VGA, DVI, HDMI, or DisplayPort port. You can easily connect an external monitor for video output if it comes with any of those. 

However, if you want to connect tow monitors, it becomes an issue. Most modern laptops are equipped with just one video-out port. Although, there are few laptops like Lenovo’s ThinkPad or the more recent Macbook Pros that come with more than one port.

It’s quite possible to use two ports simultaneously for more than one external monitor, but it is rare. This is because most manufacturers believe you do not need more than one monitor with your laptop screen.  

So, what you can do is to look for a 3rd party solution. For example, Matrox produces double and triple head dock, which comes with a single video cable that you can use to connect multiple monitors. Although they are a bit expensive, they work perfectly. And they are basically the best solution for a lot of people.

But you should also remember that their performance level depends on what your graphics card can handle. If you are using integrated graphics, you will not be able to run high-end displays with issues.  

A Cheaper, but Average Option: USB Adapters

Maybe you are on a tight budget, and you can’t afford to pay for multi-port docking stations, there is a cheaper option. Although the older versions of Universal Serial Bus (USB) were not engineered to support video output, the more recent version (2.0) has produced adapters that can work for monitor video output.

For example, there a USB-to-HDMI adapter made by Cable Matters and powered with Intel’s DisplayLink technology that can come in handy whenever you need to use a USB port as a monitor-out port.

The 2.0 USB adapter has its advantages too. It’s also inexpensive and easy to take anywhere from being a simple method of connecting your modern computers with an external monitor. It’s also expandable because basically, you can add as many external monitors as possible, provided your laptop has multiple USB ports.   

However, USB video-out adapters basically can only deliver on low-power graphics cards, which do not come as a surprise. And they also consume a lot of more system resources than a normal external display.

Most modern laptops will experience serious performance issues if you use this USB adapter option to connect multiple monitors. If you want a fast, easy and cheap monitor setup, it’s always better to connect your laptop screen with just one monitor using an HDMI or a DisplayPort and just one USB adapter. 

A Decent Solution for Business and Gaming Laptops: Docking Stations

If you are a pro gamer or business person using a laptop that does not come with the Thunderbolt technology, docking stations can be the next option. Just like I briefly discussed earlier in the article, a docking station is a suitable alternative for high-end users.

These gadgets are not designed for every laptop or tablet except for the ones that are explicitly for business people. An example of such a laptop is the Dell’s Latitude line and Microsoft’s Surface Pro tablets. Other laptops are basically for USB, but they are less powerful because the expensive ones offer more flexibility. 

A specially designed expansion dock that has more than one video output will definitely do the job if you are interested in keeping your laptop mobile, and you want to avoid cluttering. A better version of this design is the external graphics card, which is quite impressive.

With the external graphics card, you will be able to connect a full desktop version GPU to your laptop, which gives you the needed access to output to as many monitors as the card can handle. Most mid-range cards like the popular NVIDIA and GTI will be able to handle three or four monitors.

The external panel will hold the graphics card and its power supply, transferring video to multiple monitors depending on the desktop GPU’s ability. However, this option is quite limited, and only a few manufacturers have been willing to produce some laptops that can handle such an idea.

One of these manufacturers is Razer, which is popular for manufacturing high-end gaming laptops. The company has produced a few models, and they are quite expensive. You will need to pay around $300 for the docks alone, which means you will still need to buy the card too.

Also, they can only work with a USB 3.0 or Thunderbolt. External GPUs are definitely for the future, and it will take a while before they become popular. But if you want to use an external GPU, you will need to buy a brand new high-end laptop, a dock, and a graphics card. You should be preparing to part with nothing less than $2000. 

Setting Up Dual Monitors to Your Laptop: Step-by-Step

Step 1: The first part is quite simple; all you need to do is connect your second monitor to a nearby power source and connect it to an available port on your laptop. 

Step 2: You will need to dictate to Windows how you want the two monitors to work. If you are using Windows 7 or 8, right-click on the desktop and click on the ‘Display settings’ option. 

A dialog box will appear where you can specify the displays arrangement. The Multiple Displays menu will give you access to dictate how the screens work together.  If you click on the option ‘Extend these Display,” Windows will be prompted to treat your screens as one. 

If you are using Windows 10, click on the ‘Identify’ option under the graphic to dictate how you want your monitors to be arranged. 

Step 3:  Select monitor order. You can dictate the monitor that you want on the left or right by simply moving the screen icons placed at the top of the dialog box. If you don’t get it right, scrolling the mouse can be very confusing.

Step 4: Select the main display. You will see an option ‘Make this my main display,’ which dictates the display that gets the taskbar and Start button. If you can’t find the option, it means that the currently selected monitor has been automatically picked as the primary one.

You can have access to other options by right-clicking the desktop and clicking on your graphics control panel.

Alex Berg
Alex Berg

Founder, writer, editor-in-chief at LaptopTalks. Starting LaptopTalks is like a dream come true, combining two of his passions – writing and technology. Even in his free time, you can often find him by his gaming laptop playing the latest video games.

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