Tom’s Tech Tips

Tom’s Tuesday Tech Tip: Explore Your Duality with Twin Monitors

Okay, I’ve got to admit something. You’ve heard me brag about my dual 20″ monitors on my desk. Here’s the confession. I’ve gotten to the point where I cannot work without two monitors staring me in the face. In my office, I keep my email open on one monitor (the right) so I can do the ADD thing as soon as something important that requires me to drop what I’m doing and immediately attend to someone else’s problem, drops into my email box. I do turn off the sound so the pinging doesn’t drive me totally bonkers.

The left (really center) monitor is my workspace. This is where I do the important things (write my Tuesday Tech Tips, surf the Internet and occasionally some real work). I’m constantly mousing back and forth between the two monitors. If I’m editing documents, I’ll keep one document open on one monitor and drag another to the other. I even accidentally discovered that in Outlook you can right click the calendar or email icons at the bottom left and open either in a new window! That way when I’m putting a deadline from an email into my calendar or preparing another list of my availability dates to send to President Obama, I don’t have to depend on my bad memory, I just look back and forth.

Legal nurse consultants, if you haven’t tried duals you’re missing out. These are even more fun than using tabbed browsing in Firefox to look at multiple websites. The possibilities are endless. I haven’t tried spreading a spreadsheet across the two… maybe later. Think about working on your reports for your attorney-clients. You can have the scanned medical records on one screen and your report on the other while doing research in the background.

“Tom,” you might be wondering, “you’re a lowly laptop user – how did you plug two monitors into a laptop?” Well the answer is simple. I’ve got my dock, and my dock has two different outputs on the back for monitors – a standard VGA output (old school) for the monitor I put on top of the dock’s built-in stand and a DVI output (modern). Probably the designers figured people would have one type of monitor input (VGA or DVI) so they were building-in choice. By buying a second monitor with the DVI output, I was able to plug in a second monitor!

Newer docks are already on the DVI bandwagon and often come with two DVI outputs as well as the one good old VGA output. Check carefully before you buy. After you get your dock, you simply match your monitors to the output and away you go!

If you don’t yet own a dock (or port-replicator in geek-speak) you can still run duals on your laptop. You simply plug a second monitor into your laptop’s output (VGA or DVI) then boot up the laptop keeping the screen open. Once it’s booted, right-click anywhere on the screen (desktop in geek-speak). Click Properties, click Settings and tell it to Extend my Windows Desktop onto this monitor or specify both monitors as Attached depending upon what you see. If you plug a keyboard and mouse into the laptop, you don’t have to keep it up close and can even mount it on a laptop stand to raise the screen to eye level.

Now it gets cool. You can drag the monitor icons on the Settings screen left or right. This allows you to place your second screen to the left or right of your main and then roll your mouse off the left or right (depending upon where you place your monitor) of your screen and right onto the second monitor. Your cursor can fly through the thin air between two monitors!

Desktop owners, don’t start crying in your beer (or Perrier) yet. You may be able to do the same trick since most newer desktop computers support dual monitors right out of the box. You could be ready and not even know it. Look on the back of your computer (don’t sneeze from the dust). If you can find more than one VGA or DVI outputs on the video card that sticks out from the back of your computer, then you’re ready to go. Buy a second monitor with inputs that match your free output, plug it in and follow the steps above to activate it.

If you only have one output (VGA or DVI) you can haul your computer to the local geek store and they can drop in a second video card or replace your current one with a card that has dual monitor support for under $100. If you really want to create monitor envy in your friends, instead of replacing your old single card – add the second dual port card. Then, if you have the wall space, you can have three monitors! You’ll triple your work output.

There is one other option for the spacially challenged. At home, I don’t have the desk space for duals, instead I had to compromise and install just one freakin’ huge 26″ wide-screen monitor. YEAH, BABY! It’s like sitting in the first row of a movie theater and I love it. It’s big enough that I can open two slightly narrower versions of the dual windows I use at work without feeling (too) compromised by the smaller space and it keeps me from getting claustrophobic. If you don’t have enough desk space for duals, take my advice and do the next best thing, “Go wide, young CLNC® consultant!”

Time to tech-out here, so think about the duals. I’ve got to warn you – they’re addictive. Now, when I’m on a plane, train or automobile and I’m working from my laptop’s single (but wide) screen I can just about scream from frustration when I can’t work in the dual manner and style to which I have become accustomed.

Keep on techin’,


P.S. Comment and share your experiences with dual or more! monitors.

14 thoughts on “Tom’s Tuesday Tech Tip: Explore Your Duality with Twin Monitors

  1. Morning Tom,

    Either it’s very early and the brain isn’t turned on yet (good possibility), or I’m just dense. I understand how cool it would be to have the report on one screen and the research and other stuff on the other, but I’m totally confused about the process of how to put my desktop monitor to my laptop. Could you please elaborate in simple-eeze, please. (Actually, I learn better by seeing and doing.)


  2. Debbie,
    It’s easy. Before you boot up your laptop, plug a spare monitor into either the VGA or DVI port on the back. Make sure the monitor is powered up. Then open your laptop and start it up. It should register the second monitor automatically.

    If it does not, right click anywhere on your laptop’s main screen (called the “desktop”). Then select “Properties” then click on the “Settings” tab. If you see two monitors reflected, click on the second and then check the box marked “Extend my Windows Desktop onto this monitor.” Once you click “OK” it should pick up whatever “wallpaper” you have on your laptop’s main screen.

    Depending upon which side of your laptop you place the extra monitor you may need to go back to the Settings tab and drag the second monitor to the left or right side to reflect its placement.

    It’s easier than it sounds!

  3. Thank you, Tom, for this info. I am so excited to know that you are able to plug a large monitor in your laptop for use as a second monitor or just as a larger monitor. When I bought my laptop for my business, I went for a smaller screen (14.5 inch), lighter version so it would be easier to transport and not so heavy to carry, but I soon realized that it is so much nicer viewing mostly everything on a bigger screen, especially when you are working in Microsoft Office software such as Excel, or Publisher, or even Word.

    This is great news because I have several very nice large monitors I have stored in my garage from previous computers that the hard drive crashed and I just went out and bought everything over again. Now I can put those monitors to good use.

    It is really nice to know you can possibly plug an extra monitor into your desktop also to use as dual screens. I might even consider purchasing one of those docks you mentioned.

    The first time I ever went to my CPA’s office, I thought it was so neat that he had dual screens on his desk and I commented on them and he said sometimes they even plug in 3 screens, depending on what they are doing.

    I can just imagine having all the scanned medical records on one screen, then having your report on one screen, and maybe even having the third screen free for looking up research. Wow the possibilities are endless …….. but I think I will have to get a bigger desk if I want to go with the three screens. It is just so nice to know that you are able to do this if you want to and if you have the space. It is especially nice to know you can add these enormous time saving features at hardly any cost at all if you have old monitors in the garage like I do.

    Thanks again for this info. I can see where it has the potential to save a lot of time and therefore save a lot of money too.

    Keep these tips coming, Tom, I am learning so much from each one of them.

  4. Tom,

    I was also told that one large screen (like the 22″ beast I own) can be split. This can be much less expensive than purchasing 2 19″ monitors (I think a special video card is all that is needed).

    I haven’t tried either system yet…my main client has 3 screens up! It takes all I have to not gape with a big open mouth as he is dragging across these screens!

  5. You shouldn’t need a card to split a large screen – that’s what I’m doing right now (I can see you and my email). Three screens – wow! I’ve got something to aspire to.

  6. I’m not quite ready to explore the dual monitor thing yet (since I like working on my comfy couch a bit too much!) but thanks so much for the tip on opening new windows in Outlook! Such a simple little tip that makes such a big difference!

  7. Tom,

    Thanks for all of your tips! As a technically-challenged individual, I really need all of the help I can get and I always learn something knew from your Tuesday Tech Tips.

    I remember seeing my techie friends in college using two screens (mainly to play computer games!) but I had never imagined how this might benefit me. Now I know that using two screens has more purpose than just looking cool! I never knew that I could attach a desktop monitor to my laptop – I will have to go drag that dusty thing out of storage!

    Thanks again!

  8. Tom,

    How do you drag from one split screen to another right now? All I can do is view the different screens.


  9. Susan,
    Once you have the two screens visible (which means it’s working) make sure you’ve done the “Properties” and “Extend my Windows Desktop” steps.

    Then you should place your cursor about the middle of the main screen and then move it horizontally left then right to see which way (left or right) it will go onto the other screen. If it’s opposite what you expect, either move the second monitor or go back into “Properties” and drag the monitor icon marked [2] to the other side.

    It should work from there. To open a program screen on the second screen – double-click on the blue bar at the top of the program screen – then drag it onto the second screen and double-click it again. It should open up full screen!

  10. Tom,
    I have always thought this might be possible but everyone I have questioned about this looks at me like I have six eyes. So, naturally, I thought, “what a stupid idea this brain of mine came up with”. Thank you! I now feel vindicated and can’t wait to drag that other screen out of the basement and get going.

  11. You heard me whine about missing my duals when traveling. Quick solution, when I travel to the CLNC® 6-Day Certification Programs I ship a spare monitor ahead so I can have my duals on the road too! Take a look at the photo and you can see how the spare monitor has been connected.

  12. Tom,
    I have been able to get my old desk top screen attached to my lap top and get my desk top on the 2nd screen, my problem is I can not get different information on the 2 screens. First I had the info on my lap top spread over both screens (REALLY BIG) , I solved that issue by making sure the lap top was listed as #1.

    Now I can not get the icons from my desktop to move over so that I could open a second site on screen #2. I just have my screen saver over there looking great but not doing anything helpful.
    What step am I missing???

  13. I think I see the issue. You have to open the program onto the second screen. There are 2 ways to do it.

    Open Word or some other program on your laptop. Then at the top right of every Windows program there are 3 symbols. A _ then 2 little interlocked boxes then the X. Once Word is open click on the middle symbol. It will then make Word less than full screen.

    (Note the middle symbol will change to a folder appearance instead of interlocked boxes.)

    Next drag Word onto the right screen and then hit that middle symbol – it will then expand Word into full screen on the right screen. Any Word documents you open should then open up on the right screen.

    You should be able to repeat this with any program that you want on the right screen. I keep Outlook open there. Another way to move the program is to double click in the middle of the program’s top/title bar. In Word you’d double-click on the words Microsoft Word. In Outlook, double-click on the words Microsoft Outlook on the top left. The program will go to “window-size” and you can then drag it to the other screen and by double-clicking on the words again will move it full size. Any files you open for that program should stay on the 2nd monitor.

    If you have Outlook or Outlook Express open on that monitor, email will probably open on that same monitor (if you double-click on an email to open it) – you’d then need to drag it to the left screen, open it to full view and then send/close, etc. Future emails should then open on the left side.

    Firefox is the only program I have issues with opening/closing consistently in the second monitor.

    Try this and let me know.

  14. Thank you again!
    I think I have it now. Bottom line: I have to open the file on my laptop and then transfer it to screen 2. I can not transfer an unopened folder over and then open it.

    Today I was composing letters to attorneys. It was so helpful to have the second screen to pull up the attorney’s web site to check something and not have to shrink the letter etc. Usually I would just print out the page from the web site to prevent the back and forth.

    Becasue of your 2 screen tip I save time and paper. We already had the screen from our older desk top, that was retired about 2 weeks ago.
    I love it, efficient and green! The day after Earth Day too.

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