Tech Tip: Add Another Monitor to Your Laptop

For some folks, making the transition from working at the office to working from home was a big step from a technical standpoint. At the office, you may have had a desktop computer with a monitor or two and lots of space, and it was easier to keep productive. Now that more folks are working from home, they’re generally at home with a laptop and its built-in screen. But even the largest laptop screens top out at 17-inches, while the smallest desktop monitors are 20-inches or more (because who doesn’t need a 49-inch curved monitor?). Here’s how you can add another monitor to your laptop to give yourself some more desktop breathing room and take advantage of both screens.

First off, I’d encourage you to read our previous article on the topic of multiple monitors. Most of the points in that article are still relevant today, since monitor and connection technology doesn’t change all that fast.

When it comes to external monitors on a laptop, things are a bit different than on a desktop. A properly-configured desktop computer will typically have multiple video ports built-in that will allow you to connect multiple monitors. If you need even more, they frequently have add-in slots available where you can add on additional video cards and go crazy.

But with laptops, the situation is a bit more complicated. With laptop manufacturers trying to make laptops thinner and smaller and lighter, they’re removing external video ports. But there should still be a way to get an external monitor connected to your laptop. Here are a few routes you can do it, whether you have available ports or not.

Existing Video Ports: Look around on your laptop and see what type of connections you have and see if any of them look like this:

Monitor Connections

For example, our standard laptop that we sell (the Dell Latitude 5000 series laptop) has an HDMI video port on it. Some laptops (like some HP ProBook models) have a DisplayPort or Mini-DisplayPort connection on them. Some even still have a VGA connection on them (I have an old laptop at home that has DVI on it still – it also weighs about 20 pounds and stays tethered to a desk). If you see one of those connections, then you should be able to plug in a monitor that has the same connection and you should be good to go. Adapters are available if necessary and connections don’t quite match — DisplayPort to VGA is a pretty common conversion, for example — but be aware that some connections cannot easily be converted (HDMI cannot generally or easily convert to a VGA-only monitor, for example).

USB-C Ports: More and more laptops are getting rid of as many ports as possible and just giving you a few USB-C (aka Thunderbolt) Ports. While USB-C ports are great, they’re also very confusing as to the capabilities of the port. We previously convered how to tell what your USB-C port is capable of doing and whether it can output video on the port or not. If so, you can get a USB-C adapter to whatever monitor you’re connecting to, or you can get a native USB-C capable monitor.

USB-A Ports: The old school USB ports that we’re all used to doesn’t have native video output capabilities. However, there are adapters that will work for basic uses to use USB ports for video output. If you’re doing very graphics-intensive work (CAD or Video work), we wouldn’t recommend using one of these types of devices as they generally will cause higher CPU usage (because the CPU is used for video processing). But for basic office work, they should do the trick.

Wireless Casting: Windows 10 has the ability to connect to displays wirelessly on your network, or even other PCs that are connected to monitors already. For example, I have a Roku Ultra device at my house hooked to my TV in my living room. It shows up as a wireless display option in Windows 10. Some Chromecasts and Smart TVs have this capability, too. Just follow the directions here to see if your smart device is available as a monitor.

Docking Stations: The most stable and least problematic way to get extra monitors on your desktop is by permanently connecting them to a docking station that you can then plug into your laptop. How you go about this depends on the make and model of your laptop. There are universal docking stations out there that work well for most office uses (this Pluggable dock is one of our favorites) and works with a load of systems, but be aware that that dock uses the standard USB bus and the CPU for its work (see our note about on how that isn’t ideal). Ideal world, you find a docking station that uses your laptop’s DisplayPort-capable USB-C or Thunderbolt port, as that will use much less CPU and will allow you to connect more monitors (the Dell Thunderbolt docks, for example, support three monitors).

Need more help? This can all be a bit confusing. Contact our sales team today and we can help you find the solution and parts for your multiple-monitor laptop needs.

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