How to Set Up Multiple Monitors on Desktops and Laptops! (in Layman's Terms!)


Jul 12, 2005 (Updated Jul 23, 2008)


The Bottom Line How To Install and Use Multiple Monitors on a Windows Desktop or Laptop in 5 Easy Steps!

This is a How To guide for How To Install Multiple Monitors on a PC system running Windows. I am not sure how the other operating packages work with multiple monitors, so do not be disappointed if this does not work and you are running something other than Windows.

As monitors become thinner and thinner, the possibility of setting up multiple monitors on one computer is becoming a reality. Flat Panel monitors take up less space than traditional monitors, and can be connected so that they are next to one another either horizontally or vertically. No longer is having two or more monitors something that only the tech savvy can enjoy... now you can too!

Why Would You Want Multiple Monitors? - This is the question that you have to really answer before you go out and buy more than one monitor. I work in an office where I have three monitors hooked up to my computer. It may sound excessive to the average user, but I always have something going on on each screen. If you use excel frequently, you know that flipping between screens on one monitor can become annoying, especially if you are doing data entry. With multiple monitors, you can have excel set up on one screen and the data that you are taking on the other. If you use Bloomberg at all, you know that there are four little screens that pop up when you log on, and usually you can have something different going on each of them (messaging, market tracking, news, etc.). Having all four of these screens on one monitor can be extremely helpful for searching through them, as well as for going through various other programs (because having the Bloomberg screens up on the same monitor can become a hassle). At the end of the day, you can see that there are many reasons to have multiple monitors hooked up to your computer. If you think that it would help you, read on. If you think that it's pointless, I urge you to stop reading now and not to waste your time...

Step 1: Buying the Monitors - The first step in setting up multiple monitors is buying the monitors. If you are unable to purchase the same model twice, I would suggest getting two that are the same size and have similar builds (dot pitches, brightness, etc.). This is because when the two are next to one another, if they are different it can become incredibly annoying if you are dragging your mouse over uneven areas (for example, if you drag your mouse from one monitor to the next, if one is taller, you are more likely to bring it down on the taller monitor before you go to the shorter one, even though this is not necessary). Keep in mind that it is also not necessary to buy the biggest monitors possible because they are going to be situated next to one another - so they will seem pretty big even if they're not.

Step 2: Buying the Graphics Cards - If you are going to have multiple monitors, you are going to need to have multiple graphics cards (or a graphics card with two outputs). Most computers only have one AGP slot, so you are probably only going to be able to get one really awesome graphics card in your computer. However, you can buy as many PCI graphics cards as your computer can fit and set up a monitor on each one. Also, you can buy graphics cards that have two monitor outputs, so you really can go nuts if you want to with monitors. Which graphics card you purchase really depends upon what you want to do. For gaming, you are going to need top of the line graphics cards. For email and excel, you are not going to need anything too special.
Note: If you are trying to set up multiple monitors on a Laptop, you do not need to purchase graphics cards (unless you are trying to set up three monitors). Most laptops have a monitor output in the back of the computer, and the monitor set up from there can be used in addition to the laptop screen. If you want to set up three monitors on a laptop, skip to the end of this where I will explain.

Step 3: Installing the Graphics Cards - Installing graphics cards is not that hard of a task to complete. However, BEFORE YOU OPEN YOUR COMPUTER CHECK TO SEE THAT YOU ARE NOT VIOLATING YOUR WARRANTY. Most computer manufacturers have a clause that states that if the computer is opened, for any reason, the warranty is voided.
When you open your computer and look inside, you will see all sorts of slots. There are usually five or eight PCI slots on the motherboard. They are located on the side where they would be facing the back of the computer box. DO NOT TAKE THE MOTHERBOARD OUT OF THE COMPUTER. All you have to do is click in the PCI Video Card into a PCI slot. That's it. Screw it in if there is a place to do so in order to secure it, and put the cover back on. If you are installing an AGP video card, do the same but in the AGP slot (it is usually above the PCI slots). For each graphics card that you install, you should shut down the computer, turn it on, move onto the next steps, and then come back to this one (i.e. only install one at a time).

4. Setup the Monitors - Set the monitors up on the desk and connect them to the back of the computer. It's pretty straight forward and pretty easy. If you are running Windows XP, you are essentially done at this point because XP will detect the monitors by itself. All you have to do is configure the monitors and you are done.

5. Configuring the Monitors - There are a few ways to get to the screen that you need to go to. The easiest is to just right-click the desktop and go to properties, and then go over to the Settings Tab. The other way is to go Start / Settings / Control Panel / Display / Settings Tab. YOU SHOULD ONLY BE ABLE TO SEE STUFF ON ONE MONITOR AT THIS POINT... DO NOT FREAK OUT. Click on the secondary monitor picture (primary is the one with the big one on it, the secondary monitor is going to have any other number in it... 2 if it's the 2nd monitor, 3 if it's the 3rd, etc.). You can arrange the monitor pictures to however you have your two monitors set up on your desk. Click on the new monitor, and then click the button on the bottom that says Extend my Windows desktop onto this monitor. Then click apply and you should be good to go! Your desktop should not extend onto both monitors.

Extra Laptop Portion for Three Monitors - If you want to set up a third monitor on your laptop, you are going to have to buy a PCMCIA Video Card (it's a card that's going to go into the little slot on the side of your computer). Before the days of built in Ethernet cards and Modems, you used to have to purchase PCMCIA cards that would go into there (just as a reference point). These video cards are different than the typical PCI or AGP cards, which is why I wanted to separate it into a different section in order to avoid confusion. Purchase one of these, put it in your laptop, and you should be good to go!

General Note: It helps to make sure that you have all of the latest Windows drivers installed on your computer - no matter what version you are using!

Additional In Layman's Terms:
Part 2 - How To Set Up A Wireless or Wired Home Network
Part 3. How To Network Your Printer To Print From Multiple Computers At Once

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