How to Add a Second Monitor in Windows

Double your screen space quickly and easily

Picture of a business man working on a dual-monitor setup computer in an office
Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

Is a single monitor just not doing the trick for you? Maybe giving a presentation with people peering over your shoulder at a 12-inch laptop screen just isn't going to cut it.

Whatever your reason for wanting a second monitor attached to your laptop, it's an easy task to complete. These steps will walk you through how to add a second monitor to your laptop.

Connecting Your Monitor

The first step in using a second monitor on your PC is getting it physically connect to the computer. There are several considerations you need to take into account when connecting a monitor.

  1. First, take a look at which ports your computer has. On laptops, they're usually along the sides, but sometimes, you can find them on the back. Desktops always have them on the back.

  2. Figure out what the ports are. Some might be familiar to you, like HDMI. Others might be entirely alien. The image below should be a good reference to help you determine what you have.

    Display connector types
     Wikipedia
  3. Next, take a look at your monitor. Which ports does it have? The ports are usually on the back of the monitor. They're also commonly on the underside of monitors too.

  4. It's time to pick a cable to use. You need a cable that can match up your computer's ports to your monitor's. This should help you decide what you need:

    VGA and DVI - Older computers may have DVI or VGA ports. These connectors rely on a series of metal pins, which are usually on the cable. The ports, then, have a series of holes to accommodate the pins. VGA is a lower resolution standard definition connection. DVI is capable of basic HD. If you have a newer monitor, you may have a hard time connecting, because support for DVI and VGA has been dropped by most. You may have luck converting from DVI to HDMI, though.

    HDMI - HDMI is the most widely supported type of display connection. Almost all TVs rely on HDMI, and most computer monitors have at least one HDMI port. If your computer has an HDMI port on it, you shouldn't have any trouble connecting it to a monitor.

    HDMI might be the ideal option. It's the most widely used by devices, and you shouldn't have a hard time finding a cable.

    There are multiple types of HDMI ports. Laptop manufacturers may opt for smaller mini and micro HDMI connections to conserve space and build a smaller device. In those cases, you need to recognize that you're still working with HDMI, and you can easily find cables with a micro or mini connector on one end and a standard HDMI connection on the other.

    DisplayPort and USB-C - Things get a little more complicated with DisplayPort, Mini DisplayPort, and USB-C connections. You won't find these as commonly, but dedicated graphics cards and higher end laptops may have DisplayPort connections. Relatively recent computer monitors will also probably support DisplayPort. Like with HDMI, Mini DisplayPort connections save space on mobile devices, and you can find cables with Mini DisplayPort on one end and standard DisplayPort on the other.

    You probably know USB-C as the connection on current Android smartphones, but its a fast enough connection to support a monitor. In fact, it's the main option in recent Macbooks. If your computer only has USB-C video output, you may want to consider a monitor that supports USB-C input. Otherwise, you can purchase a cable with a USB-C connection on one end and either HDMI or DisplayPort on the other.

  5. Plug your cable in to both your computer and monitor using a matching pair of ports.

  6. Turn your monitor on.

Detect The Monitor in Windows

Now that your monitor is physically connected to your computer, it's time to configure your Windows operating system to recognize and use the monitor. It's entirely possible that your PC picked up the monitor right away and started using it, and if it did, that's great, but you should still know where the controls are to configure your monitor the way you like.

Each version of Windows has a slightly different process to enable and configure your second monitor. Follow the process for the version of Windows that's running on your PC. If your computer was made any time in the last few years, it's probably running Windows 10.

Windows 10

  1. Open the Power User Menu (Windows Key + X) or the start menu, and select Settings.

    Windows 10 start menu with settings
  2. The Windows settings will open. Select System from the settings window.

    Windows 10 Settings
  3. From the Display section, choose Detect (if you see it) to register the second monitor. There's also a chance that the monitor's already there.

    Windows 10 display settings
  4. Choose Identify below the monitors to see which one is which. Windows will display the monitor's number on each screen.

    Windows 10 identify displays

    The option Make this my main display, This is my main monitor, or Use this device as the primary monitor lets you swap which screen should be considered the main screen. It's the main screen that will have the Start menu, taskbar, clock, etc. However, in some Windows versions, if you right-click or tap-and-hold on the Windows taskbar at the bottom of the screen, you can go into the Properties menu to choose Show taskbar on all displays to get the Start menu, clock, etc. on both screens.

  5. You can use the diagram of the monitors to re-arrange them. Select a monitor, and drag it into position relative to the other monitor.

If the two screens are using two different resolutions, one of them will appear larger than the other in the preview window. You can either adjust the resolutions to be the same or drag the monitors up or down on the screen so that they match up on the bottom.

Windows 8 and Windows 7

  1. Open the Windows start menu, and select Control Panel.

    Windows 7 Start menu
  2. In Control panel, open the Appearance and Personalization option. This is only seen if you're viewing the applets in the default "Category" view (not the "Classic" or icon view).

    Windows 7 control panel
  3. Now, choose Display and then Adjust resolution from the left.

    Windows 7 appearance and personalization
  4. Select Detect to register the second monitor, if it isn't already there.

    Windows 7 display settings.
  5. Press Identify to see the number associated with each monitor displayed.

    Windows 7 identify displays
  6. Select and drag a display in the picture to re-position it in relation to the other one.

    Windows 7 arrange displays

Windows Vista

Windows Vista is extremely outdated, and Microsoft has discontinued all support for it. It's highly recommended that you install a newer version of Windows on your PC.

  1. From Control Panel, access the Appearance and Personalization option and then open Personalization, and finally Display Settings.

  2. Select Identify Monitors to register the second monitor.

Windows XP

Windows XP is extremely outdated, and Microsoft has discontinued all support for it. It's highly recommended that you install a newer version of Windows on your PC.

  1. Press the Windows start menu to open it up, and select Control Panel.

    Windows XP start menu
  2. From the "Category View" option in the Windows XP Control Panel, open Appearance and Themes.

    Windows XP control panel
  3. Select Display at the bottom of the window.

    Windows XP appearance and themes
  4. When the Display window opens, select the Settings tab.

  5. Select Identify to register the second monitor.

Change How Your Computer Handles The Second Monitor

Windows gives you a few options for how it will handle the second monitor connected to your computer. You can extend your desktop across both monitors, mirror them, or choose to use one and not the other.

Windows 10

  1. From the Display setting screen that you arrived at in the previous instructions, scroll down until you see Multiple Displays.

    Windows 10 multiple display settings
  2. Select the drop-down menu directly below Multiple Displays to show your options.

    Windows 10 multi-display options

    

  3. The menu will expand to show your choices:

    • Duplicate these displays - Show the same desktop on both monitors.
    • Extend these displays - Stretch the desktop across both monitors, using both and increasing your overall screen size.
    • Show only on 1 - Only use monitor 1.
    • Show only on 2 - Only use monitor 2.

    Choose one, and select it.

    Extend Your Desktop on Vista and XP

    In Vista, choose to Extend the desktop onto this monitor instead, or the Extend my Windows desktop onto this monitor option in XP.

  4. A new window will open asking if you want to keep your changes. Confirm to keep the monitor layout you picked, or select Revert to go back to the way it was.

    Windows 10 with extended displays

Windows 8.1 and Windows 7

  1. From the Screen Resolution page that you navigated to in the prior instructions, and find the Multiple Displays option.

  2. Select the drop-down menu next to Multiple Displays to show the available options.

    Windows 7 Multiple display options
  3. Choose the option you prefer. Extend desktop to this display will stretch your desktop across both screens.

    Windows 7 extended display