How do i connect two monitors to my laptop

Laptops are great, but as laptops, they’re always short on screen real estate. connecting two external monitors to a computer can make it a genuine productivity powerhouse, but it’s not always clear how to connect two monitors to a laptop. Depending on your exact model, you have many different options.

use the internal monitor with an external monitor

If two total monitors are all you want, you can use a single external monitor in addition to the one built into your laptop. Of course, this is not the same as connecting two monitors to your laptop, but we know there will be some who just want a dual-monitor setup and didn’t know they can achieve it this way.

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if this is you, then you already found your solution; just plug in the external monitor where the laptop allows it and keep the laptop screen open. both must work together.

use beam step (if available)

Some modern laptops have a Thunderbolt 3 port. However, most newer laptops have at least one USB-C port. both technologies use an identical connector. If you need to brush up on Thunderbolt, watch HDG Explains: What is Thunderbolt? for more information.

Thunderbolt 3 devices can be “daisy-chained”, which also applies to Thunderbolt 3 displays. So if you have two Thunderbolt 3 displays, you can connect the first one to your computer’s Thunderbolt 3 port and the second to the first monitor in the chain.

This is an elegant solution, but it’s still rare, and thunderbolt 3 monitors are relatively rare and expensive. If you already have a Thunderbolt 3 display (you should check it out!), then it’s not too outrageous to buy a second one for a setup like this, but for most people, the total outlay will be too much to justify.

If you own one of the latest Apple M1 computers, unfortunately there is a limitation on the Apple M1 MacBooks, which only allow a single external display. Apple has promised to fix this issue in a future macOS update, but at this time, it’s only possible through third-party workarounds involving specific display dongles and drivers. there is no native macos solution.

connect a monitor to each output type (if supported)

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It is very likely that your laptop has more than one type of display output. for example, the computer you are writing to has an hdmi port and a mini-displayport output. the first is connected to the dedicated gpu and the second is connected to the integrated intel gpu. it is possible to connect a monitor to both outputs and have them both work at the same time. both monitors must work in conjunction with the internal display, adding up to a three-monitor setup.

There are some limitations to be aware of. First, the gpu in question must support the required number of screens. Modern embedded CPUs typically support up to three displays, so that would cover two external drives in addition to the internal display. dedicated gpus usually support three or more.

Before you go out and buy monitors, you should confirm with your laptop manufacturer via their website, manual, or customer support if your particular laptop supports separate monitors on each display output.

use dongles

The advent of ultra-slim laptops has also brought us a generation of laptops that barely have any ports. Apple’s latest MacBooks only have Thunderbolt 3 ports, starting with just two ports on base models. if you want monitor outputs on these computers, you need a dongle.

if you want to connect more than one external display, you need a dongle with multiple display outputs, or you need two dongles, each connected to its own thunderbolt 3 or usb-c port.

Remember that Apple M1 MacBooks currently have a limit of one monitor for external displays. For Intel-based Windows and Mac computers, this is often not the case.

use a usb display

Some monitors offer a USB display connection, and there are also many portable USB displays on the market today. this essentially turns your usb ports into additional display outputs and provides an easy way to add a second external display if your laptop only has one monitor output.

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Remember that USB displays may exhibit lag, lower refresh rates, and lower image quality than other options. This depends on your computer’s performance and available USB bandwidth. they’re still great for content like slack, email, or web pages. just not high quality videos or games.

use a multihead splitter

Several devices on the market offer the option to “split” the output of a single monitor into multiple monitors. how these devices accomplish this may differ. for example, some present themselves as a single computer monitor and handle image expansion across multiple screens. With these adapters, it is not possible to use the dual monitor features of your operating system because it thinks there is only one display.

As a consequence, full-screen applications are spread across all external displays linked to the splitter. still not a bad solution if you use multiple windows fitted to each half of the virtual screen.

Other types of splitters are smarter than this one, but it depends on the underlying display technology. for example, a displayport hub that offers three ports will register as multiple independent displays on the computer. this is made possible by a feature of displayport 1.2 (and newer) known as multi-stream transport (mst). With MST, you can daisy-chain multiple DisplayPort displays in a similar way to Thunderbolt 3 monitors. The hub does this daisy chaining internally, but the actual connection layout is the same as daisy chaining the monitors together.

if your laptop has an mst compatible display port output, then you can buy one of these splitters (known as mst hub) and solve your external display problem for less cost than thunderbolt 3 and with a wider variety of monitors.

get a proprietary docking station

While using standards like usb, thunderbolt, and displayport will be good enough for most users, don’t forget that there are proprietary solutions. many laptops have custom connectors that allow you to add a docking station (sometimes called a “port replicator”) that works like a native solution. these docking ports often use a connection that runs directly to the laptop’s motherboard’s high-speed buses, ensuring a top-notch experience and compatibility.

These docking stations typically have a multitude of display outputs. For example, Dell E-Port products allow compatible laptops to easily connect two external monitors, offering multiple DVI and DisplayPort connections. whether this option is available to you will depend entirely on your specific laptop model.

do you need two monitors?

While there are many legitimate use cases for connecting two external monitors to your laptop, you should consider whether you need such an elaborate setup for your needs. If all you want is more desktop space, you might want to consider an ultrawide monitor, which only needs a single screen output. see ultrawide monitor vs dual monitor for a detailed discussion of both options and which one is best for you.

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