How to set up dual monitors for laptops and desktops easily

Dual monitor set up

You’ve got yourself a second monitor and you’re ready to start feeling like you’re in the mission control room at NASA. Let’s do it… It’s simple (when you know how)!

Let’s find out how to set up dual monitors using your desktop computer, laptop or docking station in this step-by-step guide.

Why have dual monitors?

Because more is more, duh! Basically, it doubles your screen space which ultimately feels like doubling your brain space (we can’t be the only ones who feel like this, right?). But seriously, it’s great for working on something, whilst referencing or researching something at the same time.

Let us put it like this…

  • One screen for data and metrics, one screen for writing the report
  • One screen for writing a quote, one screen for researching the items
  • One screen for designing a poster, one screen for the brand guidelines
  • One screen for clicking around on Outlook, one screen for staring at your to do list
  • One screen for cat videos, one screen for ordering pizza

Read on to find out how to set up dual monitors for yourself!

You will need:

Time for the ingredients – and a lil spice.

  • Your existing desktop computer or laptop
  • Your existing monitor – whether that’s your laptop screen or a desktop monitor
  • The shiny new monitor
  • The cable you’ll plug into the new monitor and your desktop computer/laptop (hopefully your new monitor came with this!)

Step one: Figure out which video cable you need

You’ll need a cable to attach your new monitor to your existing computer or laptop, or docking station if you’re using one.

  1. If the new monitor came with a video cable: Check to see where to plug it in, both on the monitor itself (usually at the back or underneath) and the computer or docking station. Go ahead and plug it in if the shoe (cable) fits!
  2. If the monitor didn’t come with a cable: You’ll need to check which cable you’ll need. Look at our nice images below. Look at the ports (shaped holes) on your computer, laptop or docking station, then look at the ports on your new monitor. You’re looking for one of these:
    • HDMI or DisplayPort (recommended) – Supports the highest resolution/refresh rates, and supports audio.
    • DVI-D/DVI-I – Supports high resolution, standard refresh rates, and doesn’t support audio.
    • VGA – Similar to DVI but the quality of the video will be lower, only use as a last resort

I’m having issues! If you can’t find the right ports on your computer, it could be that it cannot support dual monitors. Some desktop computers and laptops simply do not have enough ports, or the right ports, to support an extra monitor. If this is the case, contact a tech savvy friend or local IT business who can help you. 

Common Display Interfaces
Common Display Interfaces. Credit: Wikipedia

Step two: Plug it in to your computer and a power outlet

Once you’ve got your video cable sorted, it’s time to plug it in. Here are the next steps on how to set up dual monitors:

  1. Plug the monitor’s power lead and the video cable into the back of the monitor. Just look for which holes will fit the ends of the cables. But remember not to force the cable in, as the correct cable will fit with a small push.  
  2. Plug the video cable into the corresponding port on your computer, laptop or docking station Again, be gentle as the correct cable will fit with a small push. 
  3. Plug the monitor power lead (the plug socket end) into a power outlet – that’s the mains electric!
  4. Press the power button on the monitor to turn it on (if required, as some monitors will turn on automatically).
  5. If your computer is turned on, signal should be automatically detected and you should see some sort of image displayed on your new monitor.

And that’s how to set up dual monitors! But if you’re clearly not done, and experiencing issues, then…

1) I want the monitors to be extended, not mirrored

I use Windows 10 (How to tell: Your start button is on the left bottom screen)

  1. Select Start > Settings > System > Display.
  2. In the Multiple displays section, select an option from the list to determine how your desktop will display across your screens. You can choose to extend your display, or display on one of the screens, or mirror the picture on all of your screens.
  3. Once you’ve selected what you see on your displays, select Keep changes.

I use Windows 11 (How to tell: Your start button is in the middle bottom screen)

  1. Select Start
  2. Open Settings
  3. Under System, select Display.
  4. Use the dropdown list next to the image of your desktop to choose how your screen will project across your displays.
  5. Once you’ve chosen your setup, select Apply.

2) If the monitor is not detected…

Computer says no? OK, we’ve got you covered.

I use Windows 10 (How to tell: Your start button is on the left bottom screen)

  1. Select Start > Settings > System > Display.
  2. Your computer or laptop should automatically detect your monitors and show your desktop. If you don’t see the monitors, select Detect.

I use Windows 11 (How to tell: Your start button is in the middle bottom screen)

  1. Select Start
  2. Open Settings
  3. Under System, select Display.
  4. Your PC should automatically detect your monitors and show your desktop. If you don’t see the monitors, select Multiple displays, then Detect.

3) If the monitor shows ‘no signal’ message, or if it’s stuck in standby

If nothing is working and the screen and/or computer is at risk of being mysteriously thrown out of the window, then:

  • Try a different port on the computer that corresponds to the video cable
  • Try a different cable that will fit the computer and screen
  • Try a different computer
  • If it’s a new monitor and you have the user guide to hand, then flick through to try and find out how to check or change the ‘source’ on the screen to match the video cable e.g. DVI/DisplayPort/HDMI. This will likely involve pushing buttons on the screen to change the ‘source’. Like you would a TV remote!
  • Still can’t hack it? Time to find a tech savvy friend to help you out.

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