Office tasks and activities at home alike frequently require users to have more than one window open on their computer screen. Clicking back and forth between these windows on one screen is an option, but that becomes tedious rather quickly. Setting up a desktop or laptop with multiple displays makes multitasking much easier. It may sound simple to set up additional monitors, but there is a bit of forethought that goes into the process.

How Do I Connect Multiple Monitors?

Start by checking the back of the computer and look for the ports to see what kind of video connections the machine has. This could include HDMI, DisplayPort, DVI, VGA, and more. On a desktop, one of these should already be in use for the existing monitor. Laptops frequently feature an extra video port for dual monitor set-ups. If you do not have an extra video port, a USB adapter can be used instead.

From left to right: HDMI, DisplayPort, DVI, and VGA

When selecting an additional monitor, try to find one that uses a port matching the computer. If a computer has a spare HDMI port, look for a monitor with HDMI. If the computer has DisplayPort, find a DisplayPort monitor. And so on and so forth. If that is not an option, there are cables that can go between different video formats. Keep in mind that these cables will only provide signals as strong as their weakest link. For example, DVI goes up to 1920 x 1200 resolution. So even though HDMI and DisplayPort normally go up to 4k, an HDMI or DisplayPort to DVI cable will only support up to 1920 x 1200. If a computer only has one video port, it may be tempting to use a video splitter. However, this creates an issue between “extending” and “duplicating” a display.

“Extending” vs. “Duplicating” a Desktop Display

Splitters can be used to send video signals from a single port to multiple monitors. However, the source of the video signal is going to be the same for both monitors. This means that the exact same screen will display on both monitors. Users will not be able to open different windows between multiple monitors if they try to use a splitter. This is called duplicating a display.

To perform different activities between different monitors and boost productivity, a desktop needs to be extended. Extending a desktop display requires at least two separate video ports. Each monitor must be connected by its own video port to extend the screen. This allows two different signals to go to each monitor instead of having the same (copied) signal sent to both. Most computers are built with graphics cards that can handle at least two monitors, if not more. Using a USB adapter is also a good alternative for computers with only one video port. Additionally, it is a good idea to check the machine’s specs and see if it can handle extra monitors before setting up anything new.

Configuring Multiple Monitor Settings

Display settings in Windows 10

When a secondary monitor is first connected, a computer will automatically put default settings in place. For dual monitors, one monitor will be designated “left” and the other “right”. If these are out of order compared to how your monitors are physically sitting on your desk, *right-click the desktop and select “Display Settings”. The window that appears allows users to rearrange the order of the monitors by dragging and dropping boxes representing the monitors.

This same screen will also allow users to adjust other settings such as screen resolution, text size, and orientation. There are also options to duplicate a display or use only one monitor at a time. Computers will initially default to the settings the machine thinks are best, but they can be manually adjusted to fit user preferences as well.

*These instructions are for Windows operating systems.

Selecting the Right Monitor Cables

ShowMeCables offers every type of cable used on computer monitors today. This includes the cables themselves along with adapters for converting between different types of connectors. Have questions about what kind of cable or adapter you need? You can reach our Sales team at 1-888-519-9505 or