Guide to Adding Extra Monitor to Your Laptop

Dual monitor and even multi-monitor setups in desktop computers are pretty straightforward; all you need are the ports and the cables to attach the monitors. Adding an extra monitor on your laptop however, is a different story. As advocates of multi-display setup, Dual Monitors Guide will guide you through connecting your laptop to an extra monitor.

 

Why You Should Do It

(image from AbsoluteLegends.com)

While some people would like to focus one thing at a time, we at Dual Monitors Guide love to have more room to spread out things, keep track of everything and multi-task. If you’re like us, then you definitely need some help in your laptop.

The limited screen real estate of laptops makes it hard for some people to perform their daily tasks. People who are always on-the-go rely on their laptop, and many of them wish to do more simultaneously with more screen real estate.

Here are the simple ways to dual monitor setup with your laptop, including a few portable options suited for professionals and traveling executives and convenient alternatives for people working from a laptop-based workstation.

Let’s start with the cheapest (and less portable) solution and then work all the way up from there.

 

Connecting Your Laptop to Standard Desktop

With the sleek and narrow design of newer models of laptops and ultrabooks-style in the market today, it will be easy to assume that they already got rid of the display ports. A couple of decades ago, it was a staple feature to have the chunky VGA port protruding at the backside of laptops. The day of analog computing may be long gone, but this doesn’t mean you can’t connect a regular desktop monitor to your portable computer.

 

Enter the HDMI port – the easily-overlooked, but new standard for external displays in laptops.

Laptops with this port can be easily linked to any external monitor (whether it’s an actual computer monitor or HDTV) with HDMI inputs, of course. For monitors that don’t come with HDMI ports, there’s a cheap solution available – HDMI to DVI cable adapter. HDMI-DVI adapters are bidirectional, which works like an old HDMI cable. There are also similar adapters (the same price range) to convert DisplayPort to HDMI or DVI (DisplayPort to HDMIDisplayport to DVI), if that’s the port available for your laptop.

 

When plugging in an external monitor to your laptop for the first time, the OS of the laptop will automatically detect the monitor (and mirror your laptop’s screen to the external monitor). Mirroring is a default setting for laptops, they are set that way so they are ready to go when connected to a projector for presentations. To switch the view mode, simple user the Fn key (Fn = F3), or go to the display panel of your Operating System and make the adjustments you want.

 

For slimmed down laptops without the HDMI port, you can opt for USB to HDMI adapter. Cable Matters USB 3.0-HDMI costs around $48, and it comes with an HDMI-DVI adapter as well. 

(image from Amazon)

 

There are adapters out there that can switch from digital HDMI signal to a VGA signal. This can cause signal quality, as the shift from digital to analog can be unbearable. Thus, it’s always a good idea to stick a digital signal whenever, wherever possible.

 

NOTE:

(image from Amazon)

 

When looking for USB adapters, make sure you check out the reviews and comments of the model you want to purchase, and check its compatibility with your laptop’s OS. A four-year old adapter with 4.5 stars used for Windows 7 can’t do much for Windows 8.1 if the manufacturer doesn’t provide driver updates.

 

Regular desktop monitor can indeed provide significant additional screen real estate for your laptop, but obviously, it’s not a portable choice. It’s a good set up for workstation or home office use, but bringing a slim desktop monitor with you as you travel is an impractical choice. It is however, offers a good setup option, even for dual monitor with external monitors.

 

Connecting Your Laptop to a USB Monitor

If you want an extra screen real estate of a traditional monitor but with the portability for on-the-go laptop use (something you can easily slip into your laptop’s carrying case), then there’s a new sub-class of monitor designed just for you – the portable USB monitors. This product lies between the full-size monitor and tablet screen in terms of functionality, performance, and screen size.

(image from Amazon)

One of the best products there is right now is the AOC e1659fwu. You can check our in-depth review of this product right here.

Though this AOC monitor is not a ‘plug ‘n play, it’s pretty easy to link and install to your laptop. Simply use the drivers included in its CD-ROM (if your laptop doesn’t come with CD-ROM drive, like most models these days, you can download the driver from AOC’s support site). The installation process will provide the DisplayLink drivers. After installation, you can plug the monitor and use.

This monitor offers 16 inch display (15.6-inch viewable) with a maximum resolution of 1366 x 768. It’s very light (around 2.6 lbs.), and requires no additional power brick. It gets its power from the two USB ports (one port for data, one port for extra power). Thus, make sure you don’t lose any of your cables.

The USB component of this AOC monitor is important: the USB 3.0 provides significant boost in bandwidth than the old USB 2.0. if your laptop uses USB 2.0, then you can get the older version AOC E1649. The newer version of course, has slightly better resolution, improved stand and VESA holes, which makes it very convenient should you wish to mount the USB monitor to a nicer stand. Unless you really love the idea of low-bandwidth, the USB 3.0 is a must.

It also has setting adjustments for brightness and contrast, which pretty much all you need for an extra screen while on the road. The glossy screen causes small issues for photos, but it remains sharp, and glares are actually minimal.

The stand works great, you can set it anywhere between slightly closed or completely open. The best thing about this display is it allows you to rotate the screen (portrait to landscape mode), and it adjusts the orientation automatically.

 

Connecting Your Laptop to a Tablet

(image from iDisplay)

 

As said in the last section, portable USB monitors are some sort of full-size monitor with body slightly bigger than a tablet. However, if you’re thinking that carrying an extra monitor that looks like an oversized tablet is not very economical for you, then you can just opt for a tablet as your secondary monitor for your laptop. A larger Android tablet or an iPad works just fine as a secondary monitor for both PC or Mac OS X laptops. Here’s how you can connect them to your laptop.

(image from LifeHacker)

There are actually apps for this setup. They work by installing a virtual video device to your computer and transmit the needed screen updates for the tablet. The app translates data for the tablet, while the tablet renders it on its screen. Apps work perfectly for productivity tasks and web surfing. However, none of these apps claim to have video playback. Also, to conserve bandwidth, most apps disable other features such as Windows Aero when in use.

Some popular apps on the market for both Android and iOS, such as Air Display and iDisplay, depends on the tablet and laptop (or any host computer) sharing the same WiFi network (though the Android version recently added support for direct USB connection). Quite an annoying design choice for many reasons; one is that the setup with routers is very complicated when AP isolation turned on (which many coffee shops, hotels, libraries, etc. employ to make sure each client can link to the router and greater internet, but not to each other). This means that places you are most likely to use the feature will most likely break the feature. Second is that, it results to a lot of unnecessary lags and may not be always available when on-the-go. Third, is exposes you to a lot of security risks as it sends all your screen data to the local WiFi node. Yes, the cable-free connection is quite convenient, but the slow, prone-to-failure and security risk is not a good compromise.

(image from Connectify)

Windows has its free utility app called Connectify, which works by allowing Windows 7 laptops to work as Hotspot access point for tablet and all your devices to WiFi. It can also help extend the range of your existing WiFi network by making your laptop act as a repeater, and can bridge connected devices to your Home Network.

 

You can never go wrong with the good old physical cable connection. The TwomonUSB costs as much as the other option above, but provides better connection and security. It comes with a companion app (automatically download and install as you launch the companion Twomon USB app on your computer. It provides smooth connection, even when playing Minecraft on secondary screen.

(image from Ergotron)

If you want this kind of setup for your workstation, then you might want to get extra equipment for ergonomic such as the Neo-Flex Desk Mount Tablet Arm. This stand provides a great way to give your tablet and computer more flexibility. It works perfectly with any eReaders and tablets such as Apple iPad, Barnes & Noble Nook and Amazon Kindle, and can easily remove the device from the mount when you need to go mobile.

 

Bottom Line

You are not stuck with the single screen of your laptop, as a matter of fact, there are plenty of options out there you can take advantage of. Consider your preferences, your nature of work, your budget and portability to choose which ones best fits for you.

For more guides like this, check out Dual Monitors Guide today!

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