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Beginner Geek: How to Use Multiple Monitors to Be More Productive

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Many people swear by multiple monitors, whether they’re geeks or just people who need to be productive. Why use just one monitor when you can use two or more and see more at once?

Additional monitors allow you to expand your desktop, getting more screen real estate for your open programs. Windows makes it very easy to set up additional monitors, and your computer probably has the necessary ports.

Why Use Multiple Monitors?

Multiple monitors give you more screen real estate. Hook up multiple monitors to a computer and you can move your mouse back and forth between them, dragging programs between monitors as if you had an extra-large desktop.

People who swear by multiple monitors use them to display multiple things on-screen at a time. Rather than Alt+Tabbing and task switching to glance at another window, you can just look over with your eyes and then look back to the program you’re using.

Some examples of use cases for multiple monitors include:

  • Coders who want to view their code on one display with the other display reserved for documentation. They can just glance over at the documentation and look back at their primary workspace.
  • Anyone who needs to view something while working. Viewing a web page while writing an email, viewing another document while writing an something, or working with two large spreadsheets and having both visible at once.
  • People who need to keep an eye on information, whether it’s email or up-to-date statistics, while working.
  • Gamers who want to see more of the game world, extending the game across multiple displays.
  • Geeks who just want to watch a video on one screen while doing something else on the other screen.

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Hooking Up Multiple Monitors

Hooking up an additional monitor to your computer should be very simple. Most new computers come with more than one port for a monitor — whether DVI, HDMI, the older VGA port, or a mix. Some computers may include splitter cables that allow you to connect multiple monitors to a single port.

Most laptops also come with ports that allow you to hook up an external monitor. Plug a monitor into your laptop’s DVI or VGA port and Windows will allow you to use both your laptop’s integrated display and the external monitor at once.

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This all depends on the ports your computer has and how your monitor connects. If you have an old VGA monitor lying around and you have a modern laptop with only DVI or HDMI connectors, you may need an adapter that allows you to plug your monitor’s VGA cable into the new port. Be sure to take your computer’s ports into account before you get another monitor for it.

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Managing Multiple Monitors With Windows

Windows makes using multiple monitors easy. Just plug the monitor into the appropriate port on your computer and Windows should automatically extend your desktop onto it. You can now just drag and drop windows between monitors.

To control how this works, right-click your Windows desktop and select Screen resolution. Choose an option from the Multiple displays box. The Extend option extends your desktop onto an additional monitor, while the other options are mainly useful if you’re using an additional monitor for presentations — for example, you could mirror your laptop’s desktop onto a large monitor or blank your laptop’s screen while it’s connected to a larger display.

Be sure to arrange your monitors properly so Windows understands how your monitors are physically positioned.

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Windows 8 allows you to extend your Windows taskbar across multiple monitors. You’ll find this option in the taskbar’s options window — right-click the taskbar and select Properties. You can also choose where you want Windows to display taskbar buttons for open programs — on any monitor’s taskbar or only on the taskbar on the associated monitor.

Windows 7 doesn’t have these convenient features built-in — your second monitor won’t have a taskbar. To extend your taskbar onto an additional monitor, you’ll need a third-party utility like the free and open-source Dual Monitor Taskbar.


If you just have a single monitor, you can also use the Aero Snap feature to quickly place multiple Windows applications side by side. On Windows 7 or 8, press Windows Key + Left or Windows Key + Right to make the current window take up the left or right half of your display. You could also drag any window’s title bar to the left or right edges of your screen and release the window.

How useful this feature is depends on your monitor’s size and resolution. If you have a large, high-resolution monitor, it will allow you to see a lot. If you have a smaller laptop monitor with the seemingly standard 1366×768 resolution, you won’t be able to see much of each snapped window at once, so snapping windows may not be practical.

Image Credit: Chance Reecher on Flickr, Camp Atterbury Joint Maneuver Training Center on Flickr, Xavier Caballe on Flickr

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 10/28/13

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