Despite the convenience and portability, a single laptop screen can feel just a bit too limiting. This is especially true if you have ever used multiple displays in the past. This can be true whether you are working, gaming, or anything in between. You may want to connect more monitors to your laptop to get a larger, more efficient view.
Most laptops can support two or three additional monitors. The number of monitors a laptop can support depends on the operating system it is running, the graphics card, and the number of available ports on the device, as well as the additional equipment you are willing to purchase.
It is a good idea to assess your laptop and determine which setup will work best for you. There is a lot to consider when deciding how to connect additional monitors to your laptop. Most important is ensuring your computer can support them. Read on to determine the optimal option for setting up multiple monitors on your specific laptop.
How Many Monitors Can a Laptop Support?
While most laptops can support several additional monitors, each individual laptop will have its own limitations. Older laptops will have less powerful hardware components. These will not support as many monitors. The ports will also be obsolete.
Newer laptops may have better hardware but fewer ports. Lots of laptops these days are built to be small and sleek. To accommodate lightweight bodies, laptop manufacturers often remove extra ports and internal hardware.
How Old Is Your Laptop?
The available solutions for connecting additional monitors will depend on the current features of your laptop. This will not only impact the best options available but will also inform you of the additional equipment you will likely need.
2 Years Old Or Newer
Most laptops purchased in the last two years come equipped with Thunderbolt 3 or USB-C ports. Put simply, these are the latest versions of the standard USB port. These ports accomplished all of the following tasks all through a single cord:
- Quickly transfers data
- Provides power
- Provides audio
- Provides video
These ports are distinctive from traditional ports in that there is no up or down orientation—the ports are ovals. That means that the external monitor will also need to have the same ports to connect. If your monitor does not have these ports, you will need to get an adapter to connect it to your laptop.
Additionally, many modern laptops come with only a single Thunderbolt/USB-C port, so if you want more than one external monitor, you will need to purchase a docking station that allows you to connect multiple monitors to a single port, such as this USB-C Universal Dock.
3 Years Old or Older
If you bought your laptop more than a few years ago, it is unlikely that it has the latest Thunderbolt/USB-C technology. Your laptop likely comes equipped with a different port that still allows you to connect easily to a single monitor, but adding multiple can get tricky. Older monitors usually have one or more of the following ports:
Many laptops come equipped with more than one port, such as an HDMI and a VGA port. If you have a monitor with a different port, you can get a simple adapter that will still allow you to connect with your existing cords.
Even if you have the right ports, cords, and adapters, most laptops have only a single video-out option, which means you will only be able to use one port at a time for one additional monitor.
The easiest solution is to buy an external multi-display adapter that allows you to connect multiple monitors to a single video output and still achieve high-quality, uncompressed graphics and video across all monitors. Most of these adapters draw power from the USB port and do not require any additional cords or plugs.
How Good is Your Graphics Card?
Acquiring the correct cords and adapters is just one side of the equation. In addition to determining which ports your laptop has, you will also need to determine if your computer’s graphics card can support multiple monitors.
The graphics card is largely responsible for the images that appear on screen or, in this instance, multiple screens. Not all graphics cards have the power to supply high-quality images to multiple monitors.
On a Mac
Here is how you can find which graphics card you have on a Mac:
- Click the Apple icon in the top-left corner.
- In the drop-down menu, select “About This Mac.”
- This will open a window with the basic information about your computer, including the graphics card.
On a PC
Here is how you can find which graphics card you have on a PC:
- Open the “Start” menu, type “Device Manager,” and press “Enter.”
- Listed below will be an option for “Display Adapters.”
- Clicking on this option should reveal the name of your graphics card.
Once you have determined which graphics card you have, you can run a quick search online on the specific model to see if it supports multiple monitors.
Acquiring the Correct Equipment to Connect Monitors
Determining the capabilities of your laptop is a crucial first step, but now comes the fun part: designing your new computer setup. The right monitors for you will depend on your specific requirements, how much space you have, and their intended use. Fortunately, a quality monitor does not have to be very expensive.
Below are some things to keep in mind as you consider new monitors:
- Technical Compatibility: Now that you have finished assessing your computer’s capabilities, you know exactly what types of ports and cords you will need and will want to be sure your monitors have the same.
- Size and Position: It is a good idea to map out how you intend to set up your new monitors to be sure they fit in the space you have available in the way you intend to use them. Do not forget you still need space for your laptop!
- Power Supply: If your monitors require individual power, be sure that you have access to enough outlets or have secured a power strip to connect all of your equipment. There is nothing more frustrating than having all the right gear but no place to power it.
- Orientation: Some monitors can be positioned vertically, which may be especially useful for non-video projects such as working in spreadsheets or conducting research.
- Resolution: Most modern monitors offer a 1080p resolution, while more expensive versions offer 4k displays for high-quality video and gaming. The best resolution for you will depend on your intended use.
Once you have secured your preferred monitors, it is time to complete the setup of your new, optimized workstation. The good news is that once you have done your research, the physical setup is relatively easy.
How to Setup Two to Three Monitors on a Laptop
Despite all of the specification requirements outlined above, there is no additional software required to install your monitors. Simply position the screens, connect the cords to their corresponding ports, as well as any power cords required, and the monitors should turn on.
The monitors may immediately begin to work without any issue. However, there are some additional steps to take to be sure that your laptop recognizes all of your new displays and they are correctly oriented. This final step varies depending on your laptop and operating system.
On a Mac
Follow these steps on a Mac to ensure your additional displays are working properly:
- Go to the Apple menu in the upper left-hand corner.
- Select “System Preferences.”
- Select “Displays.”
- Select “Display.”
- If you do not immediately see your new monitors, press the “Option” key and select the “Detect Displays” button that appears.
- Once your laptop has found the displays, you can position them and adjust the settings to your preferences.
On a PC
Follow these steps on a PC to ensure your additional displays are working properly:
- If your laptop is running Windows 10, right-click on your desktop and select “Display Settings” in the menu that opens.
- If using Windows 8 or 7, this option will say “Screen Resolution.”
- This will open display mode, where each of your monitors should appear numbered.
- Typically, your laptop is labeled “1” while your external monitors are labeled “2” and “3.”
- Click on either of these displays and select “Extend desktop to this display,” followed by “Apply.”
- Repeat this process for the other monitor.
Now that you know how many monitors a laptop can support, you can decide how best to set up monitors on your laptop. Depending on the laptop you have, you may be able to set up one, two, or even three monitors. With your new screens up and running, the only thing left to do is enjoy the new view.
- The ultimate docking station and laptop compatibility guide
- Should your second monitor be vertical?
- Why it’s better if dual monitors are the same size
- This is why your second monitor should be 144 hz
- Is a dual monitor setup worth it?
Hamid Tahir is a Mechatronics Engineer and founder of WFH Overload. He is currently working from home and is dedicated to the continuous improvement of his home office setup. Hamid has extensive experience setting up workspaces and dealing with the related tech. He hopes to share his knowledge to help you create the most productive and comfortable work from home setup. Read More