Setting up dual monitors helps your productivity immensely. From having multiple browser windows open to using complex sets of editing tools for photos or video or having guides open on a second screen for research or gaming — it’s always an excellent way to maximize your productivity.
If you’re interested in this type of setup, our guide can show you the way — and Windows 10 makes it easier than ever. If you have any problems with your setup, you can also check out our guide on common multi-monitor problems for more info.
Your PC has an area for all important cable connections, typically called the I/O panel. If it’s been a while since you’ve peeked back there, take a look before you buy a secondary monitor. If you have a discrete (non-integrated) GPU, then there may also be a GPU section with ports of its own to take stock of. Snap a quick photo of this whole section for quick reference if necessary.
Now check to see what kind of display connections you have to work with. For modern monitors and PCs, the two common options are HDMI and DisplayPort, with even newer models also offering USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 for A/V data. You may also have a DVI-I port for managing older digital/analog connections, and some PCs might still have a VGA port (although we don’t advise using this for a second monitor).
Make sure you have at least two of these display ports for two monitors. Note which spare port you will be attaching the new monitor to and what connection type you’ll need.
You can also use a monitor as a second screen with a laptop, as long as that laptop has compatible display ports of its own. The laptop screen itself can also be used as a second monitor with the right setup, although that isn’t as common.
With port information in hand, you’re ready to pick out the best new monitor for your dual-display setup. We have some suggestions to help get you started and a list of budget models that are handy for saving money. Double-check to see that the monitor includes the right type of port for your open PC connection, and buy any necessary cables as well. For a smooth whole-screen experience, it’s a good idea to pick a monitor with a “bezel-less” or thin-bezel screen.
Now you’re ready to position both monitors on your desk and connect them to your PC.
Fire up your PC. When you reach the home screen, right-click on an empty part of the screen, and choose Display Settings.
The window this brings up will show your connected displays, which display is your primary display, and on which side the secondary is positioned (you can choose a different side by dragging the screen numbers). If you do not see your second monitor show up, try unplugging the cables and plugging them back in again. There is also a wireless option if you scroll down and choose Connect to a Wireless Display — less common but potentially useful. If it’s still not working, check for Windows 10 updates, reboot, and try again.
If both of your monitors are showing up, then you need to choose how they will work. Select your secondary monitor at the top, then scroll down in the Display Settings window, and select the Multiple Displays list to see your options.
You have two primary choices. The first is to Extend Desktop to This Display. This will make your two monitors function as a single whole monitor with a stretched-out desktop that you can freely move things between — the ideal choice for most dual-monitor users. The other option is to Duplicate Desktop on 1 and 2. This option is usually reserved for teaching and training setups where one screen will be facing the learners.
While you are in Display Settings, adjust other features so that both monitors are set up in the way you need. You can change the orientation and resolution of either monitor by clicking on it and then selecting from the choices below. For example, if you are a photographer editing a photo, you may want to buy a 4K secondary monitor and set it for a higher resolution for the photo while keeping your editing tools and menus on the primary screen. Keep in mind that resolution limits will also be limited by GPU and video output standards.
You can also change scale, adjust brightness, enable the Night Light mode for working in darker conditions, and more.
Set individual settings for each monitor as you need them, then exit the settings menu and start to experiment. Try dragging and dropping apps and browser tabs between your monitors to make sure you have just the setup that you want. Shift any shortcuts and icons you need to as well. Now, every time you start your PC, your two-monitor system will be ready and waiting for you.
If you continue to have issues with your dual monitor performance, we suggest taking a closer look at your GPU and what it can support, as well as other hardware limitations on your PC. Our troubleshooting guide can help you find more specific causes of multi-monitor problems. As with many problems and dual monitor issues, in particular, unplugging everything and plugging it back in can solve many problems.
If you use a more advanced GPU, you also have the option of setting up dual monitors there or in concert with Windows’ own approach. GPU software tends to give more options for tweaking multi-monitor setups, which may be an ideal option for streamers, gamers, and visual professionals.
Once you have your monitors set up, why not make sure they look their best with our list of the top dual-monitor wallpapers? Or if you’ve decided that the dual-monitor approach isn’t for you, you should take a look at our top picks for ultrawide monitors.
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