Adding Monitors to Your Laptop Computer

 

José A. Mari Mutt

University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez


 

Do you work simultaneously with several programs? Are you tired of resizing, minimizing, maximizing, and then trying to find the window you need? Sounds like it’s time for more monitors! The photograph below shows my XP laptop connected to 17-inch and 15-inch flat panel monitors. The screens show, from left to right: Outlook, PowerPoint, and Firefox.

 

Adding the left monitor was easy; I simply connected it to the VGA port used for PowerPoint presentations. I then restarted the computer, went to Control Panel, Display, Settings, highlighted the second monitor, and checked the box to extend the desktop onto this monitor. If you place the second monitor to the left of your laptop computer, like I did, drag the icon for monitor 2 to the left of monitor 1. These instructions should work with all newer laptops (mine is a yearold); update your drivers if you cannot extend the desktop, the main display darkens, or the system otherwise misbehaves.

 

I used an external USB 2.0 video card to add the third monitor. There are at least three such cards on the market, all apparently made by the same manufacturer. I bought a CompUSA card, but similar ones are sold by usbgear.com (shown below) and trittontechnoligies.com. They sell for about $90 and support a maximum 1024 x 768 resolution (at 16 bits), which is the native resolution of most 15-inch flat panels. After installing the drivers, I connected the card and monitor, went to the display settings, and extend the desktop onto the third monitor. You can adjust the monitor’s resolution using Windows’ display options or the card’s driver (you’ll find an icon in the tray).

 

To move windows from one monitor to the other, resize the window and drag it to the selected monitor. Dragging maximized windows is possible with Ultramon, an application designed specifically to work with multiple monitors. Windows remembers the location of the programs when the computer shuts down, so they will reopen in the correct monitor. If you use the computer without the extra monitors, all the programs should open in your only display; if they “open” in an unconnected monitor, go to Display, Settings, and uncheck the desktop extension box (you’ll need to recheck it later). My computer disconnects the external monitors when operating on battery power, so I must reactivate and rearrange them at the office on Monday. With this arrangement one can also stretch a window, for example a long Excel table, across all the monitors to reduce or eliminate lateral scrolling.

 

The external video card works only with Windows PCs. A FAQ at one site of the above sites states that currently only one USB video card can be used per computer. Finally, a good mouse set close to its highest speed will reduce mouse movement when dragging files from one monitor to another. Have fun!

 

 

April 29, 2005