Making Communications Buzz

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Using a Second Monitor With Your Laptop

This post is what's know as "off topic" since it's about computer hardware, not digital communications or the Internet, but check it out anyway.

As further confirmation that computing is going mobile, 2005 was the first year laptop computer sales exceeded desktop sales.* But let's face it, most laptop screens are still smaller than we would like.

If you favor a laptop over a desktop, but you would like a bigger screen, don't throw out that desktop PC monitor just yet. Did you know that Windows XP makes it easy to hook up a second monitor to your laptop?**

This more than doubles the available space on your PC's virtual desktop whenever you use your laptop at home, or at some other fixed location where you might keep a monitor — on a desk in your office, say. (I'm not recommending that you take the second monitor with you when you leave the house or office.)

By hooking up a second monitor, you can display one or more programs on your laptop screen and other programs on the second monitor. No more hiding your e-mail window so that you can read a Web page or vice versa.

You can view Web pages on one screen and write e-mails and Word documents on the other — or whatever combination of programs you like. I find this very useful. Try it and let me know what you think.

* Source: Newsweek print edition, February 13, 2006
** I don't own a Mac laptop, but I am pretty sure you can do the same with a Mac just as easily.

How to Hook Up a Second Monitor to Your Laptop Using Windows XP
Open the big door on the back of your laptop and you will find a socket where you can plug in a monitor. Plug it in. (Be sure to plug in the monitor's power cord as well.) Turn on the monitor. Now turn on your laptop. If your laptop is already on, that's no problem, just restart Windows.

Once the laptop is on (or restarts), click on the Windows Start menu (in the lower left corner of the Windows desktop). In the menu, find Control Panel. Under Control Panel, select Display. In the Display Properties dialog box that opens up, click on the Settings tab.

Here you will see a window with two monitor icons. Click on icon number 2. If the actual second monitor is on the right of your laptop, make sure the monitor icon #2 is to the right of monitor icon #1.

Now you can play around with the settings for the two monitors. Under Display, you should see the words "(Multiple Monitors)". Under Screen resolution, select "1024 by 768" if it's an option (or you can choose a higher resolution if you like).

Now click on icon number 1. Under Display, you should see the name of your laptop display. Under Screen resolution, select "1024 by 768" if it's not selected.

Now click the Apply button at the bottom of the Display Properties dialog box.

On the external monitor's screen, you should now see a "desktop" background that resembles your laptop's screen background.

With your mouse, grab the top of the Display Properties dialog box and drag it over "into" the external monitor's screen. It should move right over. See it there? If not, send me a comment (below).

Click OK to close the Display Properties dialog box. Now open your e-mail program or a Web page in your Web browser or whatever. In order to move one of these windows over to the second screen, you have to first click on the "Restore Down" button.

The Restore Down tab at the top of the Windows application window. Click to make the window resizable.
The "Restore Down" button. Click this to make
the application window resizable and draggable.

When this button shows the two little window icons, you can click it to make the window resizable and draggable. Click the "Restore Down" button. Now you can resize the window by moving your cursor over any edge of the window until the cursor turns into a black double arrow. Hold down the mouse and you can drag any edge of the window to make it bigger or smaller. You can "grab" and move the whole window by clicking and holding down your cursor on the bar across the top of the window.

Grab and drag any window to the into second screen. Once the window shows up on the second screen, you can click the same "Restore Down" button (which has become the "Maximize" button) to maximize the window so that it fills the entire screen.

The Restore Down tab at the top of the Windows application window. Click to make the window resizable.
The "Maximize" button. Click this to make
the application window fill the screen.

NOTE: Here's a little caveat. This might be hard to picture, but you'll understand what I mean if it actually happens to you. If you are working in a program — any program, Microsoft Word, say — and you have all your windows on the second monitor when you shut down your laptop, that is where they will be the next time you boot up. Cool, eh?

Yes, except when you boot up again without the second monitor attached -- because you will not see any program windows at all.

There's a quick and easy solution. Just go back to using the laptop display without the second monitor. Open the Display Properties dialog box (right-click on the desktop and select Properties, or go to the Windows Start menu > Control Panel > Display). Click on the Settings tab. Select the icon for monitor number 2, and then uncheck the box next to "Extend my Windows desktop onto this monitor". Click Apply or OK. Your missing program windows should now be visible on the laptop screen.

If this second monitor trick floats your boat even half as much as it does mine, you may want to keep your old PC monitor around a bit longer — at least until WebTV actually arrives.


  • Don't I need an extra video card to do this with my desktop? Robbin

    By Blogger LunaMetrics Blog, at 10:47 PM  

  • Robbin,
    No. I don't think you do. That's what is so handy about it.

    I just have the one card in my (relatively old) Toshiba Satellite laptop, but the process of hooking up a second monitor is (as far as I know) just as straight-forward as it sounds.

    By Blogger Mark McLaren, at 10:57 PM  

  • A brief follow-up regarding video cards: It does not appear to be the case that you need an additional video card to use a second monitor with a laptop running Windows XP, but you do need a single card with that capability. Some older laptop video cards may not work.

    Also, a friend reports that Windows 2000 will also run a second monitor -- as long as you have the right kind of video card.

    By Blogger Mark McLaren, at 4:23 PM  

  • Our church would like to add a second monitor to a laptop so the priest and worship leader can see what is on the power point screen behind them without looking backwards all the time. That will work for that if the cords are long enough, right?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:10 PM  

  • Dear Reader,
    I think this is a different problem. The technique above allows you to extend the Windows screen onto another monitor. So, if you look at something on one screen in that case, you can't see it on the other screen.

    In order to see the same thing on the laptop screen and on another monitor, you may need to make different arrangements. Let me get back to you on that...

    And thanks for asking!

    By Blogger Mark McLaren, at 10:14 AM  

  • I'm having problems. I've got a laptop and a monitor, and the correct video card. I plug the monitor into my laptop, and the display transfers to the monitor. However, at the same time, my laptop's display switches off. So I can use either screen just like a normal display, but not both of them for the advanced features everyone's on about. Also, I've tried Display Properties, but all the settings just appear as if they would with a single monitor.

    I am running on Windows XP.

    Please help!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:14 AM  

  • When you right-click on your desktop and choose Properties, you see the Display Properties dialog box. If you select the Settings tab, what do you see?

    If you have a video card capable of running two monitors, you should see a box with a 1 in it and a box with a 2 in it side by side. These icons represent your laptop screen and the external monitor, respectively.

    You should be able to click on the box with the 2 in it. Now (below that window) find "Extend my Windows desktop onto this monitor." and put a check in the checkbox.

    If you don't see the box with a 2 in it -- the icon that represents your second monitor -- then you don't have a video card capable of running two monitors.

    By Blogger Mark McLaren, at 11:35 AM  

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