Dual Monitors: Six Good Reasons to Upgrade

Category: Hardware , Video

A reader asks: I'm considering dual monitors because my 17-inch monitor seems to be shrinking. Sometimes it seems like I spend more time scrolling and tabbing between programs than on actual work. But I'm still not sure... should I upgrade to a 30-inch monitor, or go with a dual monitor setup?

Dual Monitors For Increased Productivity

If you've ever wished for a bigger computer screen, here's an even better idea. Use a dual monitor (or multi monitor) setup to extend your desktop across two or more screens. Both Windows and Mac computers have the ability to simulate one BIG screen using a dual or multi monitor configuration. Adding a second monitor will be cheaper than upgrading to a super-size screen, and there are other advantages too.

I've used two monitors on my PC for the past several years. My system has dual 24-inch flat-panel monitors and I love it. I set both monitors on my desk, side by side, and a bit of software magic creates the illusion of one giant screen. I can open a website on one screen, and a word processor on the other, then copy and paste from one screen to another. I can even open a spreadsheet and stretch it across the full width of both screens if I want.

Dual Monitors

Personally, I find that all the extra desktop space makes me more productive and greatly enhances the fun of computing. When I am forced to use a computer that has a single screen, I notice the limitations right away, as the extra scrolling and alt-tabbing becomes tedious. Others have told me that after ten minutes of using a dual monitor setup, they can't imagine living without it.

Here are SIX good reasons to have dual monitors:

  1. Published studies indicate that having a dual monitor in a workplace setting can increase productivity by 20 to 50 percent. For example, if you're a computer programmer, it should be obvious that having your source code on one side and your program on the other side of a dual monitor display would be very helpful.
  2. Real multi-tasking requires enough screen space to keep two or more apps in full view simultaneously. If you have ever tried to size and align windows on a single monitor, you'll appreciate the ability to have several apps fully open at the same time. Customer service reps and web designers are additional examples of people that would benefit from dual monitors.
  3. Cutting and pasting between documents is much easier when you don't have to alt-tab between them and scroll up or down so much. If you create newsletters or PowerPoint presentations, you'll identify with this.
  4. Picture and video editing is a whole new experience with dual monitors. You can have all of your editing tools on one screen while you work on the project in the other. You can compare before and after views of the same work, or supersize panoramic pictures.
  5. Comparing products is easier when you have dual monitors. You can show two video cameras' specs side by side in separate browser windows, for example.
  6. Video and gaming take on a whole new dimension with dual monitors. You can view much more of a virtual world and see bad guys coming from a distance. Streaming video on one screen and work on another is a good way to be productive while waiting for an action scene.
  7. Windows 8 offers some new multi-monitor features, such as the ability to use different backgrounds on each monitor, span multiple screens with your background image, and multiple taskbars.

Hardware Required For a Dual Monitor Configuration

Okay, that was seven reasons, and I'm sure I could list more if I rubbed a few brain cells together. Despite all that, a Microsoft study showed that less than 15 percent of all PC users have a multiple monitor configuration. But now that you know all of the benefits, let's move on to the actual nuts and bolts of adding a second screen, to make your dual monitor dreams come true.

Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8, and Mac OS X have built-in support for dual monitors. Setting up dual monitors takes about five minutes. But first, you need to make sure you have the right hardware. Almost all laptops have a VGA, DVI or HDMI port where you can plug in a secondary monitor. If you have a spare monitor, and the video cable required to connect it, that's all you'll need. If your video cable has a different connector than your laptop, you can buy an adapter to make ends meet.

On a desktop, you will need two video connectors on your PC, matching connectors on the two monitors, and of course appropriate cables. Some desktops come with two video ports, but you have only one, you can add a second video adapter, or swap yours for a dual-port model. Adding or swapping a video adapter sounds geeky, but it's actually a pretty easy upgrade. After popping the hood on your system unit, the video adapter simply plugs into a slot on the motherboard. If you know how to use a screwdriver, you can do this.

Some computers, however, simply lack the capacity for internal hardware upgrades. In these unfortunate cases, there are ways to get around this limitation, such as the Matrox Graphics DualHead2Go, which functions almost identically to a standard video card, yet is actually an external device that makes use of your existing video out port. With DualHead2Go, you can add an additional display to your PC or Mac desktop, or another two monitors to a laptop.

How to Connect a Second Monitor

Dual Monitor Setup - Windows 7

On Mac OS X and Windows 8 computers, your second monitor should be automatically recognized and enabled.

To set up dual monitors on Windows 7, open Control Panel, choose Hardware and Sound, then under the Display heading, choose "Connect to an external display." Connect your second monitor to the computer. The Display window will flicker (or go blank for a few seconds), then you'll see a dual-monitor setup screen like the one shown here. If you don't, click the "Detect" button. If that does not work, check the monitor's connection to your computer.

Once the second monitor is detected you need to choose how the two monitors will operate. There are three options:

"Duplicate these displays" shows the same display on both screens. This is handy when monitoring a presentation on a laptop while it is displayed on second, larger screen. "Extend these displays" makes one big screen out of the dual monitors. You can actually drag objects across the boundaries of the two monitors. This is the setting that most people use, and the one I recommend. "Show desktop only on 1" or "Show desktop only on 2" disables one of the monitors.

Adjust the screen resolution of the monitors as desired, press Apply, and you're done.

Connecting a Second Monitor on Vista or XP

Dual Monitor Setup

If you have Windows Vista, right-click on the desktop, and the "Personalize appearance and sound" window will appear. Click on Display Settings.

On an XP system, right-click on the desktop, click on Properties, then click on the Settings tab. You should now see a Display Settings or Display Properties dialog.

Right-click the newly connected display (labeled "2") then select "Attached" to activate it.

I recommend that you check the box next to "Extend my Windows desktop onto this monitor" so you can utilize the combined space of both monitors as one large monitor.

Dual monitors are not for everyone. They take up a lot of desk space, obviously. But if you are a programmer, graphic artist, website designer, author, editor, proofreader, support technician or gamer, dual monitors will boost your productivity and definitely look cool on your desk.

Do you have something to say about dual monitors? Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Dual Monitors: Six Good Reasons to Upgrade"

(See all 21 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

29 Jul 2013

In addition to the uses you mentioned:
*Great for Flight Simulator, instruments on one, outside view on the other.
*When using Teamviewer, my screen on one, the other persons on the other.
I've also used the square style monitor with a 16:9 one, when some things fit that format better when used just for reference. E.g Online NASCAR racing (VHR), race on one screen, Skype, & server display on the other.
As you say, once you try it, you will find two superior to one extra large monitor. (¯`·._.·ns¢ävË·._.·´¯)®

Posted by:

29 Jul 2013

If you get the second monitor as a rotator (landscape/portrait) then you can set one each way (or rotate back to normal dual landscape) depending on your work (activities)

My second monitor is fed by a HDMI source switcher and I can use the second monitor as a TV / DVD / VCR/ laptop screen while working on the primary monitory.
So many options / so little time

Posted by:

Marcus Ellison
29 Jul 2013

I use three monitors, I have a laptop and then connect two monitors to it. This allows me to have one monitor that is just e-mail, outlook and or gmail, one monitor that always has a browser window open to a site on the Internet and one monitor that houses whatever word document, pdf, excel file, PowerPoint or other item open at that time.

Granted my desk is a 6 foot folding table, but it overall still is very efficient for me since I do a lot of teaching online which requires opening and marking up lots of word documents, keeping the browser open to go from school site to school site and being able to have my e-mail up and open 24/7 so I can easily respond immediately, sort, or ignore emails as they come in.

Posted by:

J Means
29 Jul 2013

I can confirm the increased productivity in an office environment. Duals also decrease employee job frustration in areas where your whole job is done through a computer. I would also recommend adding Multimon (multimonitor.com) to the setup. This neat little program gives you a task bar on each monitor plus some nifty screen control arrows. Last I ordered this program, it still was not working with dual screens in a remote desktop environment, unfortunately. Once you use dual monitors, it is very hard to go back to one.

Posted by:

Dan Payment
29 Jul 2013

One very important consideration is resolution. Having monitors of differing maximum resolutions capabilities is a pain, unless you choose to lower the resolution on the better quality monitor. Also, if you're considering more than two monitors, forget it unless they are all capable of the same maximum resolution.

Posted by:

29 Jul 2013

My husband convinced me to set up a second monitor, and I am very grateful that he did. I am a writer/editor (mostly retired!), and I find having that second monitor is extremely helpful.

Posted by:

29 Jul 2013

Thanks, Bob for informing us about how to add a dual monitor to our computers. I could use this sort of setup. :)

Posted by:

Bob D
29 Jul 2013

At least three 30" monitors. Programmers need four.
Be sure they are all the same size.

Posted by:

Michael L. McQuown
29 Jul 2013

And how does one do this with Ubuntu?
How does one apply this to something like using the TV/Internet box?

Posted by:

B Westbrook
29 Jul 2013

Another option not mentioned here is a USB to DVI/VGA adapter. They are reasonably priced and allow you to add another monitor using a USB port.

Posted by:

29 Jul 2013

Great article Bob. I have used multiple monitors for many years. One of the coolest things I've tried is MaxiVista. Maxi allows you to place video on your main PC on to a second PC. I like flight sim so I put my FS plane view on my main screen; place my immediate instrument panel on the 2nd screen, then place my nav stuff on the 2nd comp screen. Maxi works very well ... I was a beta tester. Multi monitor/multi PC people need to check out MaxiVista. It's great!

Posted by:

29 Jul 2013

With Windows 7, Windows key + p opens up the second monitor choice box.

Posted by:

29 Jul 2013

Great posting Bob! Perhaps you can do a future one with details of how to use the 2 monitors with an example for those of us who are beginners.

Posted by:

Mike Day
29 Jul 2013

I too was quite surprised that Bob took the Control Panel route to the dialog for Windows 7. On my system I just right click on the desktop and select Screen resolution to get there.

EDITOR'S NOTE: You'd be surprised how many people get tripped up by "just right-click on the desktop."

Posted by:

harry ray
07 Aug 2013

need to set up wireless monitor[TV] using this method as clone to TV.how to do?

Posted by:

10 Aug 2013

I use 2 different monitor with 2 different resolution and it work well. One is 16:9 size (Samsung 22 inches) and the second is 4:3 (Acer 19 inches. I guess it dépends on your video card? or your Windows version. I could not tell.

Posted by:

18 Aug 2013

We both use three monitors, a portrait (rotated) 19" on the left at 1024x1280, 24" hd screen in the middle and a landscape 19" at 1280x1024 on the right, so resolution isn't identical but it really doesn't matter - different stuff on different screens. The tall portrait monitor is brilliant for web pages and reading anything.

We used two for years, then I got a deal on a third and tried it - we won't go back to 2, and hate working on our laptops! One screen sucks!

We do web development, event management, spreadsheets, writing, presentations etc in our business.

Posted by:

19 Aug 2013

Cost could also be a small consideration. A nice big (24? 27?) monitor is better than the 19 or 20" most people have and gives more real estate.
However a used second monitor costs next to nothing in a thrift store which means lots of space and no real cash outlay.
Make sure though, you have somewhere to plug in the second unit. There are still lots of systems which only have a single vga port for the video.

Posted by:

24 Aug 2013

Been using dual monitors for quite some time and couldn't live without 'em. Most of my machines are legacy (going back to Pentium III) yet they're all equipped with dual-monitor video cards (PCI, AGP, PCIe).

Since the monitors have both DVI and VGA connectors I keep one machined permanently connected to the DVI while the others get attached to the VGA as needed.

From lowly Windows 2000 up to Win7 with various Unix/Linux inbetween I get so much done.

Posted by:

26 Sep 2013

Ok, I'm hooked on two. How about three? Any difference in hookup?
Love Ask Bob Rankin!!

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