Using Two Monitors with Windows

by Barry Dysert
(last updated September 22, 2014)

Using two monitors with Windows provides a tremendous advantage. Since you can have multiple windows displayed simultaneously, having another monitor increases your desktop "real estate" so that you can see more of your windows without having to move or resize them.

How you physically connect two monitors to your system can vary greatly from system to system. Many (if not most) newer computers come with at least two DVI ports. (DVI is an acronym meaning digital video interface.) If you have these two ports, just connect your monitors to them. If you don't, you can check with your video card manufacturer to see if there is an adapter available to enable the connection of the monitors.

After plugging in a second monitor, you have to configure your Windows system to make use of it. To do this, follow these steps if you are using Windows 7:

  1. Display the Control Panel (click the Start menu and then click Control Panel).
  2. Click the Hardware and Sound Link.
  3. Click the Connect to an External Display Link. (See Figure 1.)
  4. Figure 1. Setting up Windows for two monitors.

Note that the Control Panel displays the two monitors on the system. You can click on either monitor (1 or 2) and see the characteristics of that monitor, as far as Windows is concerned. (If you don't see two monitors displayed in the screen, then Windows cannot access both monitors for some reason. In that case, you'll want to check with your video card manufacturer to see if they can shed light on why the two monitors are not visible.)

If the physical layout of your monitors is different from what is shown in the figure, you can click and drag the image of either monitor to the left or right so that the figure matches the physical layout.

The last thing to do is to indicate how you want the multiple displays to work. By using the Multiple Displays drop-down list, you can indicate whether to duplicate the displays, extend them (so that you effectively double your desktop "real estate"), or show the desktop on only one of the displays.

Windows 8 tried to make the process of working with multiple monitors simpler. They did this by doing away with the dialog box and reducing the number of decisions you need to make. Once you get the monitors physically connected to the computer, you can control how Windows should use the additional monitor by pressing Win+P. This displays the Second Screen pane at the right side of your screen. (See Figure 2.)

Figure 2. The Second Screen pane.

There are four choices offered in the Second Screen pane; these are very similar to the choices in the Multiple Displays drop-down list in Windows 7, described earlier:

  • PC Screen Only. This effectively turns off the second monitor, ignoring it completely. Everything is sent to your main screen.
  • Duplicate. This choice puts the same content on both the main and secondary screen. You'd normally use this if your second monitor is used for a presentation and it is pointing in a different direction than your main monitor does. (Perhaps the main monitor is on your laptop and the second is actually a projector of some type.)
  • Extend. This makes the second screen an extension of whatever appears on your main screen. As you move the mouse pointer off the right side of your main screen, it appears at the left side of the second screen.
  • Second Screen Only. This effectively disconnects your main screen, directing all output to the second one. You would normally use this if your main screen is much smaller than your second screen, for instance, in the case of a laptop into which you've plugged the second screen.

When you make a choice, it is implemented immediately. You'll want to play with the various settings, as some of them can affect the resolution on your main monitor. (For instance, if you use Duplicate, then the resolution of both monitors is set to whatever resolution is supported on both monitors.)

 This tip (11962) applies to Windows 7 and 8.

Author Bio

Barry Dysert

Barry has been a computer professional for over 30 years, working in different positions such as technical team leader, project manager, and software developer.  He is currently a senior software engineer with an emphasis on developing custom applications under Microsoft Windows. ...

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