How to Connect Two Monitors to a Laptop

You'll never go back to one screen again

What to Know

  • If your laptop has two video ports, you're set. If not, you'll need a USB external display or display port splitter adapter or a Thunderbolt port.
  • The graphics or video card in most laptops is integrated into the motherboard so you can't swap it out or easily add a second card.
  • The hardware you choose depends on which existing ports on your laptop you already have available to use.

This article covers three different ways to connect multiple monitors to a laptop.

Add Monitors Using a USB External Display Adapter

These are adapters which turn your USB port into one or two external display ports.

  1. Most commonly, USB external display adapters are available to add an HDMI, DisplayPort, VGA, or DVI port to your laptop.

    Image of a dual HDMI USB display adapter

    Pay close attention to the USB port version required by these devices. Most modern USB video adapters require USB 3.0. You can check the version of your laptop's USB ports by opening the Control Panel, selecting Device Manager, and expanding Universal Serial Bus controllers. You will see the USB ports listed there.

  2. Before you install the adapter, you'll need to install the driver software that comes with the adapter for them to work correctly. If the driver software doesn't come with the adapter, you can download and install it from the manufacturer's website. The driver software allows your computer to communicate through the USB port to the adapter as though the USB port itself was multiple display ports.

    Screenshot of setting up the a USB display adapter driver
  3. Once the driver software is installed, shut down your computer. Plug the USB end of the adapter into the correct USB port on your laptop. Next, start up your computer and let it fully boot before moving on to the next step.

    With the driver software installed, your computer should detect the two monitors. If the second monitors don't display anything after your computer boots, you may need to step through some troubleshooting steps to determine the cause of the extra monitors not working.

  4. Adjust the monitors so your mouse cursor flows smoothly between your laptop display and the additional monitors. Select the Start menu and type Display. Select Display Settings. You will now see the second and third display. Adjust the display so they are positioned the way they are next to your laptop display. Select Apply to accept the monitor positions.

    Screenshot of adjusting two monitors on a laptop

Use a Thunderbolt Port to Add a Second Monitor

If you have a newer laptop, you might not even realize you have a special port on your computer called a Thunderbolt port. These ports are available on both macOS and Windows 10 laptops.

This port is usually located near the power adapter port. The latest USB Type-C connector is a small, oval port that packs powerful technology developed by both Intel and Apple. Older versions are more rectangular in shape and might be found on older laptops.

  1. The port allows you to plug into a docking station with a single cable.

    Screenshot of plugging into a Thunderbolt port
     Cronislaw\Getty Images
  2. The docking station provides video, audio, power, and even a data connection all through that cable. Most importantly, they provide access to two external monitor ports from that single Thunderbolt connection.

    Image of a Belkin Thunderbolt docking station
  3. If you don't want to purchase a full Thunderbolt docking station, you could instead purchase a less expensive Thunderbolt adapter. These extend the single Thunderbolt port on your computer into two external monitors. If your computer also has an HDMI or Displayport port, it means you could have up to three external monitors connected to your laptop in addition to the laptop's own display.

    Image of a Thunderbolt display adapter

    If you have newer monitors, they may include a Thunderbolt input. In this case you won't need to purchase either a dock or a hub to attach an external monitor to your laptop. However if you want to connect two external monitors, your laptop will need two Thunderbolt ports.

  4. The process of using a dock or a hub is the same. You simply plug the Thunderbolt cable into your laptop and plug each monitor into the appropriate ports on the device. Then, just adjust the position of each monitor in Display Settings as described in the first section of this article.

Try a Display Port Splitter Adapter

Older display port splitter devices used to be primarily for switching between two external monitors or display the same video output on two screens.

However, if you're looking to connect two monitors to a laptop, you're probably hoping to extend your display rather than mirroring.

Thankfully, newer display port splitter adapters are capable of taking the single HDMI or DisplayPort output from your laptop and extending the video display output across two or more monitors.

  1. Shop carefully when looking for one of these display splitters that are capable of extending displays, since most only mirror. Look closely at the specs for this when you purchase.

    Image of an output port splitter
  2. Once purchased, just plug the single display port cable into your laptop. Then use cables to connect each of the adapter ports to each of your adapters. Many of these adapters provide plug-and-play installation without any software required. Others may require driver software. Some may also require an external power adapter.

  3. Once all of the cables are connected and the splitter is powered up, you can adjust the monitor positions in Display Settings.

Choosing How to Connect Multiple Monitors

When it comes to adding multiple screens to your laptop, your choice comes down to the hardware capabilities of both your laptop and your monitors. Whether you're working with older technology or the latest laptop and monitors, there's a solution to extend to multiple displays.

  • How do I use a laptop as a monitor?

    Setting up a laptop as a monitor in Windows 10 requires both computers to have access to Miracast. Open Settings > System > Projecting to this PC > set drop-downs to Available everywhere, Every time, and Never. Next, select Connect on the casting computer and then set permissions on the receiving computer.

  • How do I keep the monitor on when my laptop is closed?

    On Windows, open Power Options and look for "When I close the lid," then set "On battery" or "Plugged in" (or both) to Do nothing > Save. On Mac, open System Preferences > Battery > Power Adapter > set "Turn display off after" to Never and check Prevent computer from sleeping automatically when the display is off.

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