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How to connect a monitor to your desktop or laptop computer

Connecting your laptop or desktop computer to an external monitor is quite simple and requires just a few steps. Moreover, purchasing an extra monitor is very affordable today and can make your work easier running multiple displays.

However, before purchasing an extra monitor, it is best to know what your computer is able to connect to. It is advisable to take a look at the back and on the sides in case of a laptop and see the ports that you have. Most computers have the VGA, DVI and HDMI connection ports with some laptops coming with thunderbolt, USB ports and an HDMI adapter only. So, for example, if your monitor has a VGA connection, and so does your computer, then use a VGA cable to connect the two. If it has HDMI, then use an HDMI cable to connect the monitor to the HDMI port on the computer. The same applies to any port and cable you may have.

In this article, we are going to talk about connectors and adapters that you can use to connect your computer to multiple displays, how to make the connection and how to configure the display settings to work well for you.

Cables, connectors and adapters

There are different types of cables or adapters that can be used to make the screen connections. They include:

  1. VGA Adapters and connectors

    cables VGA

    This is one of the oldest connectors. They use an HD15 connector to make a connection between a PC or laptop and a monitor. Although it can get a few high frame rates and resolutions, they transmit an analog signal.

  2. DVI Adapters and connectors

    cables DVI

    DVI adapters and connectors are newer and they offer a sharper and better display compared to VGA adapters. They carry both analog and digital signals. It is quite easy to differentiate them from VGA connectors since they are white while VGA connectors are blue.

  3. HDMI Cables

    These are much better and clearer. They support standard, enhanced and high-definition videos, as well as multiple channel digital audio over a single cable. HDMI cables have one major limitation. If your PC has an HDMI 1.4 connections, then that means that the maximum output is at 3820 by 2160 pixel resolution and 30 frames each second. If you get a new monitor (4K), then you will be limited to 30 frames each second. Getting over this limitation might require you to get new hardware or even a new PC. However, it is important to note that all technologies have previous versions with limitations not only the HDMI 1.4 connections.

    HDMI connectors are classified into Standard, Micro and Mini.

    Standard HDMI Cables: The Standard HDMI cable is designed to handle most applications and connections.

    cables HDMI
  4. Mini HDMI cables: The Mini has a smaller connector and is easily used for smaller sized ports found on DSLR cameras, high-definition camcorders and standard sized tablets. The image below shows a mini to standard cable.
    mini to standard HDMI cable

    Micro HDMI cables: This format combines video and audio into an interface that is small enough to connect to tablets, smartphones and other mobile devices. They are 50% smaller than the standard HDMI cables. The image below shows a micro to mini cable.

  5. HDMI cable micro to mini
  6. Thunderbolt

    cables thunderbolt

    Thunderbolt is the brand name of a hardware interface standard developed by Intel and Apple. Thunderbolt 1 and 2 use the same connector as Mini DisplayPort, whereas Thunderbolt 3 uses USB-C. Thunderbolt 3 is a superset solution with 10Gbps and adds Displayport 1.2 and a 40Gbps thunderbolt from a single USB-C port. It has a very clear display.

  7. DisplayPort interface

    DisplayPort connectors have 20 pins and are available in two sizes, the DisplayPort and Mini DisplayPort. Version 1.3 delivers enough bandwidth to carry video resolutions of up to 3840×2160 pixels at a refresh rate of 60Hz, and it supports all common 3D video formats. The images below show the Standard and the Mini DisplayPort connectors

  8. cable standard display port
  9. mini display port

How to decide on the right connector

In most cases, you might be limited by the available ports that your PC has. However, this should not really be a big problem since it is possible to convert some of these cables into the others. One good example is the DVI and HDMI connectors that can be converted using an adapter.

Depending on what you would like to transmit to the external display, you can get the right cable for the job. If you want to transmit just the video, then you can use any of the cables above. However, if you would like to transmit audio as well, it is very important to note that the HDMI cable will be the best to use. For a high quality display, the HDMI and DVI cables will be much better to use compared to the VGA cable.

Making the connection on a Windows laptop or computer

If you have been operating with a single display on your computer but want to have multiple displays, making the connection should be very easy. Follow these steps to connect a extra monitor to a Windows computer or laptop.

  1. Check the connections

    The first basic step would be to find out the type of a cable that you need. Most modern computers have different ports, among them the HDMI, USB Type-C, VGA and DVI ports. If you get an output on the computer that matches an input on the monitor, then you are good to go. In a situation where the output does not have a matching input on the monitor, then you can easily get an adapter that will help you convert the output.

  2. Duplicate or extended

    After getting the right cable for your connection, plug it into the computer and then the monitor. This is straightforward if you are using a Windows Operating System. On Windows 8 or the later versions, simply press WIN+P. This will open up an options menu on the right hand side of the screen.

    windows second monitor screen

    Since you are making this connection for work, the best option would be the “Extend” option. The extend option allows you to spread the whole desktop over the two displays. You will easily drag different windows from one display to the other. However, if you are making this connection to make a presentation or maybe watch a video, you can use the “Second Screen Only” or the “Duplicate” options. The Duplicate option will show exactly the same thing on both of the screens while the Second Screen Only option will shut down the display on the first screen.

  3. Windows 7 users can do the same by right clicking on the desktop and then selecting “Screen resolution.” Then from the drop down menu on Multiple Displays, select “Extend these displays,” click “OK” then “Apply.”screen shot windows screen resolution
  4. Fine tuning

    Windows positions the first screen on the left with the new one going to the right by default. This means that you will move the cursor from the right hand side of the screen in order to get to the new monitor. In case you find yourself running it the other way round, then you will need to make an adjustment. This can be done by:

    • Right click on the Windows desktop and select “Screen resolution.” Note that the settings are slightly different in different versions of Windows. In Windows 10, this option will be shown as Display Settings.
    • A dialog box appears with the screen images. Click and drag the screen images until you get them to their correct positions.
    • You can click on the “Identify” button on the right hand side of the screen images to show you which screen is 1 and which is 2.

      screen shot windows display options

    Windows does not simply restrict a computer user to just the right and left positions. You can have an arrangement such that the new display sits below or above the other one. You can also have the positions of the screens fine tuned so that items that might span both the screens can be matched up.

  5. Getting the right resolution

    Getting the right resolution is another factor that should affect your choice of a cable. Some video connections may not display images at the same resolution to the native computer’s resolution. This depends on the specifications of the second monitor. Even though you will still connect, you might find yourself in a situation where images are distorted, stretched or blurred. To avoid this, make sure that you get a good monitor, with at least a 4K resolution.

Making the connection on an Apple laptop or computer

On an Apple computer, the process is simply the same for the connectors. When you have the external monitor setup and switched on, simply connect it to your computer using the right cable. The computer will detect the external monitor automatically. From here, you can change to your display preferences by going to the Display Settings pane from System Preferences. In a situation where your monitor is not automatically detected, you can click on “Detect Displays” from the Display Settings pane and it will be detected.

Further information on connecting a monitor to a laptop or computer

If you find yourself in a situation where you have a mixture of the ports for the cables above, such as HDMI and DVI or VGA and DVI, do not give up on using multiple monitors. You can still connect using a dual personality cable such as DVI to HDMI or use a converter.

Most modern laptops come with a USB Type-C port, which carries data, videos and can also be used to charge the laptop. An example is the older versions of the Apple MacBook laptop which has one USB Type-C port which is used for everything. In such a situation, you will need to add an adapter so that you can connect to another monitor.

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