Saturday, July 13, 2013

Triple Display – How to Set Up Multiple Monitors for your Laptop

As an online freelancer, I often find myself in working in a job that has a lot of responsibilities. Sometimes, I need to have Skype open all the time for the convenience of my boss(es), who might need to contact me at any time. Since I use a laptop as my primary workstation now, I only have a 15-inch integrated screen to display several windows: my Chrome browser, Skype, Microsoft Word, etc. Albeit big in notebook standards, the single screen is still not enough for a hardworking multitasker like me. That’s why I decided to add not just one, but two external monitors to supplement my laptop’s main screen.

Laptop with Triple Display

Most of my freelance work involves writing, which is only made easier thanks to my multi-monitor setup. I keep my word processor maximized in one display, whereas my several online sources are put on full view in my other monitors. No longer do I have to switch between windows by pressing Alt+Tab or stack them altogether side by side in one screen. The first is just too troublesome and a waste of time that’s well spent for more productive tasks. On the other hand, stacking windows gives very few screen real estate for each window that you most likely need to zoom in and scroll about to view stuff.

To help my cause, there have been reports about how more screens improve office efficiency, although there are also others that denounce its supposed boost in productivity. But if you have nonetheless decided to add secondary monitors, check out my guide below.

Guide Scope and Limitations

Before you proceed, please do note that the guide is tested to work for Windows 7 and 8 operating systems. Earlier Windows OSs should have similar steps. Linux and Mac users are better off finding another guide.

Hardcore gamers are also better off learning elsewhere on how to setup a system with AMD Eyefinity or Nvidia Surround multi-display capability. These technologies are mainly used to combine all screens (which should have similar dimensions and resolutions) and make them act as one giant display, a feature that truly adds a great experience to video games and movie watching (although they can just buy one gigantic HDTV to get the same effect). Such setup is quite impractical when using a laptop because of its small, fixed display.

Your own notebook (or desktop) hardware may have different configurations, so there’s a chance this guide may not be compatible, too.

What this guide is meant for is simply to add more displays that are meant to show simple, static content such as pictures and text in web browsers and folders. Videos and games require a more expensive setup that supplies the needed response time and graphics processing power.

Requirements

If you think one extra monitor is more than enough to boost your productivity during work, then you only have to buy/obtain the following:

  • the monitor itself
  • compatible cable (which should come bundled in the monitor package)

For two external displays, you need the following:

  • two monitors (obviously)
  • compatible cables
  • external video card or USB display adapter

When two are still not enough, perhaps you might want to try the Matrox TripleHead2Go DisplayPort. It’s an adapter that’s compatible with both PC and Mac platforms and allow you to add up to six monitors for your computer system. As it uses the power of your system’s main GPU or video card, the adapter lets you experience games and applications with visuals spanning across all monitors and not just each display.

How to Add Multiple Monitors for your Laptop

Other guides might suggest that adding extra monitors for your system is a difficult task to do. Truth be told, it’s simple and takes only a few moments of your time, even more faster when just installing a second monitor. So, let’s start with the dual display guide:

1. Power up the monitor and connect it to your laptop through its integrated VGA port. Most laptops have this port, given that it’s a convenient way for such portable computers to display presentations and whatnot to a projector. No matter what, the VGA port is still useful for an extended display.

2. In some cases, Windows does not automatically consider the connected display as an extension to your main screen. To do it manually, go to Screen Resolution, which can be found in the Control Panel or by right-clicking the desktop background and clicking on said settings.

Screen Resolution

3. In the Screen Resolution window, select the second monitor that’s usually marked with “2.” Under the Multiple displays drop-down list, select Extend desktop to this display.

4. Click OK.

Depending on the positioning of the monitor as configured in the Screen Resolution, you can navigate your mouse cursor to the second screen by moving it through one of the edge of your main screen. The positioning can be adjusted in the same pane that contains the Detect and Identify buttons. If, for instance, the display 2 is to the exact right of 1, then you simply need to move your mouse through the right edge of display 1 to access the content displayed in the other screen.

 

Now comes the slightly harder part: triple displays. For my own setup, I bought two Samsung monitors (SyncMaster S20B300). Given their size and cheap price, they’re the perfect displays to use in the rather cramped space in my room. I also bought CD-R King ADT-V003-M, a locally branded USB to VGA display adapter. I could’ve used my laptop’s HDMI port to install the same triple display setup, but there are very few available monitors with an HDMI connection sold here in my country. That’s why I needed to use an external display adapter.

CD-R King ADT-V003-M

1. To begin, simply do the steps mentioned above on how to setup a dual display.

2. To add a second external monitor, hook the displayer adapter first into an available USB port. Windows should be able to detect the device and find a compatible driver to work with it. If not, let the operating system find a driver online.

3. Once the adapter is successfully detected and its driver installed, connect the second monitor to the adapter’s port. That monitor will be soon enough detected by your laptop as well.

4. Go back to the Screen Resolution settings and configure the monitor to act as another extended display. If for some reason, you want one of them to be a duplicate display of another, you can do so in the very same drop-down list.

5. Adjust the positioning of the three displays.

6. Click OK to save the settings.

And that’s it. You now have a computer system with three displays.

Additional Tips

  • In Windows 8, you have the option to display the taskbar on every screen. To do this, simply right-click the taskbar, click Properties, and check Show taskbar on all displays. You can modify even further by showing taskbar buttons on all taskbars, on the taskbar where the window is open, or a combination of both.
  • Choosing which display is your main is also done in the Screen Resolution settings. Simply select a display and check Make this my main display.
  • To better position your display physically (not just through Screen Resolution), make use of a monitor stand.
  • If you decide to just buy one gigantic monitor, check out my guide for virtual multiple desktops.
  • Given that the mouse cursor is quite small by default, finding it can be hard when there’s more than one display to look at. To remedy this, go to the Control Panel’s Mouse settings. Under the Pointer Options tab, check Show location of pointer when I press the CTRL key. Just like what the checkbox’s description states, you’ll see a visual hint at exactly where the cursor is whenever you press the Ctrl key. The Mouse settings also lets you customize the appearance of the cursor. You can, for example, make it bigger and add pointer trails.

Mouse Properties