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How to Set Up a Multi-Monitor Configuration

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In a previous HardBoiled article, we discussed the productivity merits on utilizing a multiple monitor setup. Adding a second monitor sounds easy enough, but as the adage goes—some assembly required. This article focuses on the hardware and software requirements of a multiple display configuration and provides instructions on configuration for Windows-based computers.

Hardware Requirements

To start, your workstation needs to have a multi-monitor-capable video card in order to connect a second monitor. Skip to the software section if your computer’s video card is as described. Please note: if your computer has one video connector on the motherboard and another on the video card, the computer can only utilize one at a time.

dvi_back

Photo by Ryan Franklin, taken from Flickr Creative Commons

There are several things you can do if your system only has one video connector or can only use one at a time. We have provided a list of methods to expand your system’s video capabilities.

Dedicated Video Cards

Upgrading the video card to one that supports multiple video outputs is a common fix that can be done at relatively low cost. Upgrading the video card is possible for most Windows-based desktop computers, though you need to consider several factors. They primarily include power supply requirements, expansion slot type, and the dimensions of the video card. Many dedicated video cards have at least two video outputs, with some having more than six.

Keep in mind, simply adding another video card to your computer will not work. Windows only utilizes one display adapter at a time, with the exception of some higher end models capable of Nvidia SLI or ATI CrossFire. Also, certain AMD motherboards are able to output video through both motherboard onboard graphics and dedicated video card simultaneously.

Here are a few workstation video cards with high user ratings. There are others to choose from.

PNY Quadro K620 2GB PCIe 2.0 x16 Video Card

PNY NVS 510 2GB PCIe 2.0 x16 Video Card

AMD FirePro W9100 16GB PCIe 3.0 x16 Video Card

USB Display Adapters

An external display adapter that utilizes USB to communicate with the motherboard, similar to how a dedicated video card uses PCIe. But since USB (Up to 640 MBps with USB 3.0) performs considerably slower than PCIe (Up to 8 GBps with PCIe x16), the video output capabilities of USB video adapters are more limited. These limitations include lower maximum resolutions, greater load on processor, and overall slower graphics processing performance.

Despite their limitations, USB display adapters enable computers without upgradeable video cards—such as laptops— to output to additional monitors.

Here are a few USB display adapters with high user ratings. Of course, others are available.

SIIG USB 2.0 to VGA Pro External Video Card

EVGA UV Plus+ 39 USB Display Adapter

IOGEAR USB 2.0 External DVI Video Card

Video Y-Splitters

As its name implies, a Y-splitter sends a single video output to multiple displays. However, a Y-splitter only allows for cloning of a display and cannot support extended desktop modes. For more information on extending and cloning desktops, see the Software Setup section. If you only need display cloning functionality and do not want to purchase another video card, a video splitter does the job nicely.

Highly-Rated Video Y Splitters:

HP DVI Dual-head Connector Cable

StarTech DVI-D Digital Video Splitter Cable

Aluratek 2-Port DVI Video Splitter

 

Software Setup

With the hardware in place and the monitors’ power and data cables connected properly, Windows should automatically detect and output video to both monitors. If you see a blank screen on one or more monitors or need to make changes, follow the steps below. Note, the steps pertain only to Windows 7 and Windows 8.

  1. Right click on your desktop wallpaper and select the Screen Resolution option.
    win-menu
  2. In this new Screen Resolution window, ensure that all your connected monitors are accounted for. If one is not appearing, check the cable connections and any newly installed video cards or other hardware.
  3. After confirming all displays are detected, choose one display to be your main display.
    main_display_menu
  4. You can move the displays in the window to reflect how they are positioned on your desk. Left click and hold to reposition a display if needed.
    move_display_menu
  5. To maximize screen real estate, make sure that the “Multiple displays” option is set to “Extend these displays.”
    extend_display_menu

 

The information in this article provides three hardware alternatives to ensuring your computer is capable of multi-monitor productivity. But it is up to you to take advantage of the additional real estate.

Summary
Article Name
How to Set Up a Multi-Monitor Configuration - HardBoiled
Description
Multi-monitor setups can improve productivity, but it can sometimes be a hassle to set up. We explain how to set up multiple monitors quickly and easily.
Author
Wallace Chu

Wallace Chu

A self-professed tech hipster that loves computers and music. Uses an iPhone ironically.

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