Dual Monitor Setup

Dual Monitor Setup – Introduction

Dual monitor setups have been around for quite some time now for many professional users but outside of graphical design studios and corporations they have previously only been available to the elite few due to the high cost implications of setting up.

The reduction in prices for the latest LCD TFT monitors, along with the fact that a modern LCD monitor is a much more compact and aesthetically pleasing piece of equipment than the CRT type monitors of old, makes the addition of a second LCD display a very attractive proposition.

Two smaller size screens can be purchased for a lot less than one enormous screen and with the Windows operating system, adding a second monitor to your setup is a snap!

Once you have experienced working with a dual monitor setup believe me, you won’t want to go back!

Why would you want a dual monitor setup at home or in your office?

Well, just think what you could do with double your screen size!

dual tft monitor screens


Modern PCs are designed to run multiple applications but opening more than a couple at a time, even with a large widescreen LCD display, can make your screen appear a little busy and switching between windows all the time can begin to get frustrating and tiresome.

For me, I like to keep my email and regularly used program shortcut icons on one screen while my main application is open on the other – everyone has their own favorite way of working.

Here are a few possible uses that you may have with a dual monitor setup!

  • Have your web browser open on one screen for getting research material say and your word processor open on the other

  • A graphics program up on one monitor with your picture folder open on the other

  • Watch a DVD or Blu-ray on one whilst keeping an eye on some time consuming processing task or virus scan etc on the other

  • Playing an online game on one with Facebook open on the other

  • Comparing and editing documents side by side

  • Spread Photoshop across two screens with your tools and layers etc on one screen and the main editing area on the other

And so on, the list is endless, it’s just so much nicer to work this way if you have the space and can afford the cost of the extra monitor (which is pretty cheap these days) it’s definitely the way to go.

Microsoft Windows started proper support for multiple monitors back in the days of Windows 98 and have continued through with this to their latest version, Windows 7.

Even good old Windows XP supports up to 10 monitors and video adapters!

When you set up Windows to provide support for multiple monitors the Windows operating system will create a virtual desktop in video memory and will allow you to use multiple monitors to display this ‘virtual desktop’ which will be split between the number of screens that you specify.

Dual Monitor Setup – Requirements

Now, to be able to display across multiple monitors you will need either a video or graphics card that has multiple outputs for driving your monitors or you will need to install separate graphics cards for each monitor.

Unless you have special requirements most people will be more than happy with a dual monitor setup and most modern graphics cards will have the requisite dual outputs required to drive two monitors.

With dual monitor setups and multiple monitor setups one of your screens is always designated as the primary display.

Your second and any further additional monitors are referred to as secondary displays.

When adding additional adapters to drive extra monitors it’s necessary for Windows to identify which of your adapters is the primary and which are secondary. This can be set up in the system bios.

Once you have installed and configured your video / graphics card adapter all other settings are controlled via Windows which will allow you to set up screen resolution and color settings etc individually for each monitor.

So, to sum up you can achieve a dual monitor setup by using either a separate graphics card for each monitor or by installing a graphics card that has support for two or more monitors.

These cards are sometimes referred to as ‘dual-head’ or ‘multiple head’ cards.

Using a dual head or multiple head card will benefit you by only taking up one slot in your motherboards PCI-Express or AGP slot and you will also only need to concern yourself with the installation of drivers for one graphics card.

Dual or multiple head cards will usually ship with a VGA 15 pin D-type analog connector (used by the old CRT type displays but also usable by LCD monitors with a VGA type input option) and a DVI-I digital connection which can be used for an LCD monitor.

Some video cards now come with two DVI-I outputs and some also have TV-Out connections.

So, with the above options you can mix and match two LCD monitors or an LCD plus an older CRT type etc.

Note that the DVI-I digital output also has analog signals present and you can purchase a DVI-I to VGA adapter to allow the use of two VGA analog input LCD displays or two of the older VGA driven CRT type displays.

Dual Monitor Setup – Configuration

Ok, so how do we go about setting up dual monitors exactly?

Well, first off you need to decide whether or not you will be using a dual head graphics card or whether you intend to install a second video / graphics card adapter to drive your second monitor.

How do you know if your existing video card is capable of driving more than one display?

Simple, just take a look at the rear of your PC where the graphics card connector for your existing monitor is and check to see if you have a second output VGA or DVI connector.

Hopefully your graphics card will have a VGA plus a DVI connector or even better for those with a dual digital input LCD monitor setup in mind, two DVI outputs.

For now we will assume that you have a dual monitor video card – don’t worry if that’s not the case, further on in this article we detail how to obtain a dual monitor setup even if you don’t have a dual-head graphics card already installed.

Ok, so assuming that we have a graphics card with two monitor outputs let’s check out the monitors that you intend to connect to it.

Hopefully you will be using nice modern LCD displays with DVI inputs and your graphics card has dual DVI outputs – this setup will give the best performance as you will be driving your ‘digital input’ LCD monitors directly from your graphics card DVI digital outputs with no intermediate digital to analog conversion required which would degrade your signal slightly.

Note that when identifying your graphics card outputs DVI connectors are identified by the color white and the older VGA connectors are colored blue to making it easy to recognize them.

If you have only one DVI output then you will need to make use of your monitors secondary VGA input which it will hopefully have.

Good, now connect up your monitors and we can carry on to configuring Windows to finalize setting up our dual monitor configuration – setting up dual monitors is easy!

Setting Up Dual Monitors in Windows XP

Turn on your PC and after it has finished booting up right click on your Windows desktop and select ‘Properties’ then ‘Settings’.

You will now be presented with the following ‘Display Properties’ dialog box where you can go in and set up your dual monitors position etc.

XP Dual Monitor Primary

You will need to click on the ‘2’ monitor icon which represents your secondary monitor and then add a check to the ‘Extend my Windows desktop onto this monitor’ tick box.

XP Dual Monitor Secondary

The screens will now both become activated and you should be able to run your mouse cursor off the edge of your primary number ‘1’ screen over to your secondary number ‘2’ screen.

Now you should also notice that each monitor has its own settings available which you can adjust to individually suit.

Just click on the ‘1’ or ‘2’ rectangle and you can then adjust the settings solely for that monitor.

Also note that if you prefer you can drag the ‘2’ monitor icon in ‘Display Properties’ to any orientation relative to your number ‘1’ primary display that you like.

Now, most people will stick to their primary display on the left and secondary display on the right but the option is there to put one above the other say or swap them around horizontally if you should so wish!

Remember, Windows XP can cope with up to 10 monitors at a time. Setting up multiple monitors is just as easy as setting up dual monitors with Windows and we detail some options for this later on in this article.

Once setup, you can open up your applications and, by making sure they are not maximised on the screen, you can drag and drop them to the screen of your choice then maximize and it will fit that screen!

Setting Up Dual Monitors in Windows Vista

Right click on your Windows desktop and then select ‘Display Settings’ from the ‘Personalize appearance and settings’ window.

Microsoft Vista Display Settings


You will now be presented with a ‘Display Settings’ dialog box similar to that for Windows XP.

Vista Display Settings Dialog Box

You should see your two monitors display as ‘1’ and ‘2’ and you can identify which is which by clicking on the ‘Identify Monitors’ button which will momentarily display two large white numbers on your monitors display.

Click and drag on the green numbered boxes in ‘Display Settings’ to replicate how you have actually configured your monitors relative to each other.

Now click on the monitor ‘1’ or ‘2’ box which is to be your primary with the Windows taskbar etc on it and add a check to the ‘This is my main monitor’ check box to identify it for Windows Vista.

The ‘Advanced Settings’ button will allow you to access further options where you can make more detailed changes to your monitors and graphics card setup etc.

Dual Monitor Setup in Windows 7

In Windows 7 there are two ways to access control of multiple monitor configuration.

The usual way as for Windows XP and Windows Vista is simply to right click on a blank area of your desktop and select ‘Screen resolution’.

Windows 7 Personalize Dialog Box


You will now be presented with the ‘Change the appearance of your displays’ dialog box.

Windows 7 Display Settings Dialog Box


From here you have the option to select one or other screen from your dual monitor setup and adjust the screen resolution, orientation, multiple displays (if you wish to add more screens) and how you wish to configure the way you view the desktop.

Windows 7 also gives you the option to change the screen orientation with the ‘Orientation’ drop down menu.

Now, with Windows 7 there is another way to access multiple monitor configuration – simply press the ‘Windows’ key and the ‘P’ key simultaneously and up pops a simple menu of options.

Windows and P Key

Try it now, pretty cool huh?

Immediate access to configuration which makes multiple monitors, laptop screen extension and projector additions a snap!

Dual Monitor Setup – Dual Output / Dual Head Graphics Card

Now, we mentioned earlier in this article that before you can set up dual monitors you need to confirm that your graphics card has 2 outputs. All modern graphics cards will have two outputs and most these days will come with two DVI digital outputs but some will still have a combination of a VGA analog and a DVI digital output.

These dual output graphics cards will detect whether a monitor has been connected to its ports so before completing set up and configuration you will need to plug in both monitors and turn them on before booting up your PC.

Now, if your PCs graphics card is an older model with only one output or you have a motherboard with integrated graphics the simplest option is to go ahead and purchase a new graphics card with the requisite dual outputs – preferably two DVI outputs if you have two new DVI capable LCD monitors.

You won’t need a high spec gaming graphics card unless you intend on using it to play games and a simple dual output card can be purchased pretty cheaply so don’t let the cost put you off.

To install a new graphics card you will need to ensure that you take adequate precautions against static electricity build up which could easily damage your components.

Ideally you should wear an anti-static wrist strap or at the very least ensure that you ‘ground’ yourself to the PC chassis before working on it.

You can read our article on how to install a graphics card and then return to this page when you have finished installation.

With a dual output graphics card installed you’re all set to connect up your 2 monitors.

If you have purchased a card with a DVI output or dual DVI outputs but you have monitors that are fitted with VGA inputs you can purchase a VGA to DVI adapter to allow connection to the DVI outputs on your graphics card. These adapters are available extremely cheaply.

Dual Monitor Setup – Installing Multiple Video Cards

Another option to obtaining a dual monitor setup or multiple monitor display is by the installation of additional video cards.

You will need to confirm that you have enough PCI-Express slots in your motherboard but with a modern mid range spec motherboard you will usually have two PCI-E slots available to you.

Using this option you can install more than one multiple monitor graphics card and easily set up and configure three, four or even more screens!

A point worth noting here is that you do not need to match video / graphics cards in order to set up a dual or multiple monitor display.

Also, if your PCs motherboard only has one PCI-E slot but has a free AGP or standard PCI slot you can add an older PCI or AGP type graphics card for your secondary display very cheaply.

Just remember to keep the best graphics card connected to your best monitor and use this screen for doing work that requires the best graphics performance and use the secondary display for low spec work such as word processing, internet browsing or email etc.

Your graphics card and monitors do not need to match as far as size, make or whether or not they are CRT or LCD types – just remember to match the monitor to the graphics card output connection wise and you’re good to go!

We hope the above tips have answered all of your questions regarding how to set up dual monitors.

If you should have any comments or suggestions / additions that you think may be of interest to other readers attempting to configure a dual monitor setup then please feel free to contact us

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