After posting a photo of my laptop with its 5 screens, I got a lot of questions from people asking how I did it. Most laptops only have one display port, whether it’s a VGA output on older machines or a DVI/HDMI port on newer devices, and although my laptop has both VGA and HDMI, the engineers put the ports so close together that I can only use one or the other at any given time. Not exactly conducive to a multiple-monitor configuration. One extra monitor is well and good, but if one is good, then four must be simply incredible, right? Right.

I’ll be honest — the photo shows 5 screens, but I typically only use four in my day-to-day work on the laptop. The screen on the left is my iPad, and although I did use it as an external display for a while before I bought the other monitors, it’s now used mostly for games and reading — the things an iPad is good for. For those who are interested, I’ll detail how to configure the iPad as an external display for your laptop in an upcoming post. For now, however, I’ll concentrate on adding traditional monitors.

Let’s start with the easy stuff. For many, adding one extra display to your laptop’s screen will be plenty, and that’s simple to do. Just buy an external monitor and hook it up with a standard DVI or HDMI cable. Most new laptops are starting to ship with HDMI outputs, and even if you have a DVI-only monitor like mine, you can still hook it up with an HDMI-to-DVI cable easily enough (these cables go for around $10 on sale — shop around). Once the monitor is connected and you’ve booted up your laptop, change your screen resolution to match the monitor’s highest available setting to get the most crisp-looking display. Make sure the “Multiple display” pull-down is set to “Extend these displays” or “Extend desktop to this display,” and you’re almost done. Drag the picture of the two monitors around in the dialog box until they approximate the position of the physical displays in your setup, and that’s it!

Note that Microsoft has a guided tutorial on their support site that walks you through this configuration by using the “Win-P” shortcut (not covered here) in addition to the “Screen Resolution” method. Check it out for more information.

As you’ve seen, it’s relatively simple to connect a single external monitor to your laptop and extend your display. But what about a second, third, or fourth screen? You’ve already used the video output on your laptop, so now what? The answer, of course, is to add more video outputs. And the simplest way to add more video outputs is to use the USB ports on your laptop.

Originally, I was skeptical about using USB display adapters. So for months, I searched for any other way I could find to get a third monitor connected to my laptop’s unused VGA port. I had inherited a small 1024×768 VGA-only screen from my dad after he upgraded his monitor, and the unused VGA port on my laptop was begging to get connected somehow. I investigated the possibility of skinny little VGA cables and other methods, but in the end, I decided I was heading down the wrong path. When a Gold Box deal from Amazon showed up for a USB display adapter from EVGA, I decided to take the plunge.

I ordered the EVGA UV Plus+19 adapter and gave it a shot. The adapter was certainly overkill, and there were cheaper options that supported VGA only, but I felt like this one would set me up for compatibility with future upgrades. It supported both DVI and VGA (using an included adapter), and it could handle resolutions up to a staggering 2048×1152 (over USB?!). I connected the new adapter to my little VGA monitor, and I was pleasantly surprised by the responsiveness and reliability of the display. Success!

The adapter is incredibly simple to install. Just plug one end of the included USB cable into your laptop and the other end into the box. Next, plug in your monitor. That’s it! The adapter is USB-powered, so there’s no external power supply to deal with. Dead simple. It does require downloading and installing the latest driver from EVGA’s Download Center, but that’s extremely simple, too. The system will require a single reboot, and then the new monitor can be configured just like any other external display following the same instructions as outlined above. Adding yet another screen is even simpler: just buy another EVGA adapter and connect it in the same way, and the new screen is ready to go! Easy, and it just works. I’m very happy with these little things.

To make things even simpler, EVGA has released a new and upgraded adapter, the UV Plus+39. This little device provides two video outputs on the same box, so you can instantly add two more monitors to your existing setup without any fuss. It’s a great solution.

I’ve been running with four screens for months now, and I’m happy to report that the setup works perfectly. As you can see in the photo, I’m even running a Dell 2001FP monitor in portrait mode at 1200×1600, which is the highest resolution I could find in a professional-grade 4×3 LCD display with a rotating screen. I was afraid the higher resolution would push the limits of a USB-based display, but I was wrong — it works great, with no noticeable lag or any other issues. I’ve streamed video to the screen for extended periods of time with no problems, even in HD, and it handles everything I throw at it. I’m fairly sure gaming would be out of the question, but since that isn’t an issue for me, I haven’t worried about it.

And that’s how it’s done. Feel free to ask any questions in the comments!

One Response to “Laptops and Multiple Monitors”

  1. Note that since I first wrote this, I’ve enhanced my setup with a Kensington USB 3.0 Docking Station, described here in this new blog post. It works great, and I have no reservations about recommending it.

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