How to Use Multiple Monitors With a Parallels Virtual Machine

If your Mac has multiple monitors, and you run Windows inside macOS using Parallels, you know how great a full-screen virtual machine on the second display can be. It’s almost like you’ve got two computers using the same mouse and keyboard: one running Windows, the other running macOS.

But sometimes you only need Windows, meaning your second display isn’t doing anything for you. And as it turns out, it’s possible to use both displays for your virtual machine, allowing you to multitask in Windows the same way you do in macOS.

To get started, open the Parallels Control Center. Make sure your Windows virtual machine is shut down (not suspended), then click the gear icon.

This will open up the settings for your virtual machine. Head to the Options tab, then the Full Screen section.

Here you’ll see the option to “Use all displays in full screen.” Check this. By default a second option, “Activating virtual machine shows all its spaces,” is also checked; we’ll get back to that later, but for now you can leave it checked.

Once you’ve changed the settings, start up your virtual machine, then click the green Full Screen button.

The virtual machine will launch in full screen on both displays.

You can switch back and forth between Windows and macOS in Mission Control.

By default, switching to Windows on one display will also switch the other display over. If you use the default Mission Control settings, you likely won’t even notice this happening, but if you’ve enabled the “Displays have seperate spaces” option in Mission Control, this can be jarring.

To make Parallels behave like the rest of your programs, head back to the virtual machine’s settings and toggle the “Activating virtual machine shows all its spaces” option we talked about earlier. You may occasionally lose track of a Windows program and feel confused, which is probably why Parallels doesn’t make this the default, but it’s good to have the option.

Multiple displays aren’t just for Windows: the feature works with any virtual machine you can get up and running in Parallels. Here’s how it looks on my desk with Ubuntu.

You can even enable this feature in the the free version of Parallels, called Parallels Desktop Lite, so any Mac-owning Linux fans who want to give this a try don’t even need to pay for Parallels.

Justin Pot is a staff writer for How-To Geek, and a technology enthusiast who lives in Hillsboro, Oregon. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, if you want. You don't have to.