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How do I set up a system with more than one screen?


I have a second CRT monitor which I want to use with my system. How do I hook it up and what advantages can I derive from this hook-up? My present OS is Windows-XP.

Windows XP actually does a very good job of handling multiple monitors and display devices. In fact, I’m writing this on a dual  monitor system right now.

There are a couple of approaches to connecting more than one screen to your display.

And you don’t even have to stop at two. Add three, four, or more screens if you like.

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The biggest limiting factor is typically where to plug it in. Your desktop computer likely has a place to plug in exactly one display device.

One option is to install a video card that supports more than one  display, and that’s the approach I’ve taken. I ordered my current desktop machine with a ASUS 8600GT video card that provides two DVI outputs, to which I have my two 23″ displays connected.

Another approach is to simply install an additional video card. Years ago it used to be the case that only one video card could be installed and work at a time, but no more. You can install two, or more, and have each one provide the video output for a different device. In my case were I to install a second identical card I’d have the ability to drive four different monitors.

“The biggest limiting factor is typically where to plug it in.”

A more recent, and fascinating entry into the multiple-monitor market is a USB device that, when connected, provides an additional DVI/VGA output. The EVGA UV Plus is small and portable and a convenient way to inexpensively add additional displays (you can use more than one). The drawbacks I’ve seen so far in playing with one are that it is software based, and thus uses some CPU resources and requires additional drivers to be installed to manage your multiple displays. It also seemed to have an issue handling full-screen video.

Yet another approach is to use a product called MaxiVista. MaxiVista allows you to use another computer, and thus its monitor, as if it were an additional monitor connected to your PC. The classic case is using a laptop’s screen as an extension of your desktop computer’s display.

Speaking of laptops, most these days are already multiple-monitor capable. Not only do they have a built-in LCD display, but almost all laptops have a DVI or VGA connector for an external monitor. Through (often obscure) keystrokes and software settings, you can have your laptop display the same thing on both internal LCD and connected display, or treat them as a single multiple-monitor display. (The “obscure keystroke” I refer to above is often the laptops “Fn” key combined with one of the function keys to cycle through the possible display combinations. Confusion often arises as each switch can take a few seconds to actually happen, so be sure to wait each time you make a change to allow the hardware to catch up.)

Once you have your second (or third, or fourth) monitor plugged in, the Settings tab of Display Properties will actually show you both monitors, and allow you to arrange them and set the specific characteristic and options for each.

Display Properties Settings for Multiple Monitors

Having multiple monitors available can be a surprisingly powerful productivity enhancer. While, yes, I could do all my work on my laptop’s single screen, I’m actually more comfortable if I’m going to work on something for a longer period of time behind my desktop with its dual screen configuration.

I’m so much more comfortable that I’m likely to add a third display soon.

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12 comments on “How do I set up a system with more than one screen?”

  1. My work-furnished computer is a big Dell M70 laptop (with XP Pro) and we also have nice 21 inch or so Dell flat panels….I discovered this multi-monitor business shortly after we got them and love it. I put what I’m actually working on on the flat panel and reference material (or Firefox :-) ) on the laptop’s own screen off to the right.

    However I will point out that if you move back and forth between multiple setups – for example sometimes running without the second display (as I do at home), or plugging into a projector that has different (usually lesser) resolution than your external monitor then sooner or later Windows is going to get confused and you’ll wind up redoing the display settings.

    On a related note, I was pleasantly surprised that my new $400 netbook (Acer AspireOne with 6-cell battery and XP) can and does work just fine in a multi-monitor setup and can drive quite a high-resolution external display via its external VGA connector.

    The magic obscure key combo for it is Fn-F5, by the way. On the Dell it’s Fn-F4. So – yes, confusing. And yes, it does take a bit of time for each to take effect on either machine.

  2. Another aspect of this relates to the screen characteristics (desktop/properties/settings/advanced/Color Management). This is where you set the color properties for your monitor. But what happens if you are running two different monitors? Can you give each monitor its own color profile?

  3. A way to do this that you did not identify is to use an A/B VGA switch. I have done this and it works quite well. The only disadvantage is that one screen becomes blank.

  4. I found this article to be very helpful in setting dual displays, and video cards etc. It certainly will be very useful when I get the right cables.

    My biggest issue when it comes to adding anything to my main desktop, are the cables. What cables go where, what do they look like, and what are their function. I’m sure there are a lot of people who have the same problems. As we add something, cables do not always come with the card or hardware. Also, not all sales people know what all the cables are. I have a Dell Dimension4700, which can be used as an intranet server. I have another computer with monitor, that I want to use for storage but I don’t have a clue what cables I need to connect the two computers together. If you don’t have time to answer this question in the Newsletter, how would I find this information on the Internet? The tags to use.


  5. Another way to get a multi-monitor setup is with a DualHead2Go from Matrox. This is a small box that connects to your computer’s video output (VGA or DVI) and lets you hook up two monitors without having to open the case. It works with laptops and desktop computers, PC and Mac. Unlike the EVGA UV Plus mentioned above, it uses your own system’s graphics capabilities, so you get great performance across all monitors, including 3D and video. More info at (

  6. At work I have a Dell desktop which has both DVI and VGA outputs. I have a two Dell 19″ flat screens connected, one to each output.

  7. Be warned! Once you have used additional screens, there just ain’t no going back! I use a mere two although I could sometimes do with more and when I have to revert to a laptop, I don`t know what’s hit me! Withdrawal symptoms set in. I also use a free multi-monitor task bar from
    and this, coupled with Microsoft`s virtual desktop power toy just about covers all bases.

  8. I’ve been using dual monitors for about two years. Don’t think I will ever be able to settle for just one again. The only problem I’ve encountered (and it is a small one) is that I can’t figure out how to use any screen savers that are outside of the few boring ones that Windows allows AND when I got my second monitor, even that list became shorter. Anything I download simply will not show up on the list so I can switch from ho-hum Starfield.

  9. I use an HP2215 PDA hooked to my laptop via USB and MyMobile (freeware) to keep a small screen on my laptop (can minimize it when wanted) to provide a second access to the web (use a CF wifi card to hook up to my local wifi). It is slower than my laptop but still works well. And it enables me to work on my PDA in the PDA screen.

    Can I use a second monitor to view the PDA screen instead of having it take up part of my main screen?

  10. I would like to set up duel monitors. Can I take a video card from another computer and install it into mine to make this happen, or do they have to be the exact same kind?

    If there’s a slot available to plug it in, yes. Windows does not require the cards be identical.

    – Leo
  11. With 2 monitors attached to 1 pc, how can I do a Print Screen and have the formatting show as the one screen I want copied? Right now I get half of what is on monitor 1 & half of monitor 2.

  12. I would like to hook up my Samsung i5 to 4 montiors and run different videos on each. Is this possible? One video screen would need audio, the rest do not. Is this possible? Thanks, Ragan


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