Having multiple monitors is a dream of almost any and every developer or designer. You can ask anyone who uses two or three screen setups for their workstation. They will tell you they can not work with a single monitor. However, with multiple monitors comes the difficulty of handling numerous power cables and the peripherals that go with it.
Laptops have a slight advantage as they have one portable screen to which you can add a monitor or two to increase productivity. Adding monitors can be a drain on the battery, so you might want to add an extension cord along with extra monitor power cable to the list of things to get before setting this up.
But laptop users don’t have to feel left out. There aren’t usually as many ports on laptops as a desktop computer, but that doesn’t mean you can’t add any more. The idea is to take benefit from the ports you have. Tech often creates backward compatibility, so you have options, even if your laptop is a little older. Let’s take a look:
New Laptop? Probably has Thunderbolt
Thunderbolt, Intel’s beloved child, gives the form factor of USB-C with Thunderbolt 3. And this port has become popular in newer laptops. This connection standard carries audio, video, and power at the same time. It’s a symmetrical powerhouse.
Go ahead and get a monitor that can take advantage of this port. But of course, there are some finer points:
- If your monitor is older and doesn’t have a USB-C port, but the usual HDMI or DVI port, you can still get the setup you want with adapters. Get adapters like USB-C to HDMI or USB-C to DVI. Each monitor will need its adapter.
- One of the older, attempting-to-be futuristic MacBook only had one Thunderbolt 3 port. If that’s the laptop you have, you will need a docking station to connect two monitors.
- Check your laptop’s specifications to make sure that it can support multiple ports and check things like the resolution it can support. It is crucial to make this setup as future-friendly as possible. Return policies are your best friend.
Thunderbolt has a large amount of video bandwidth and is capable of supporting multiple standard monitors. Specialized adapters use mini laptop docks. Designs are according to the purpose of regular docking to a multi-monitor setup with mice, keyboards, and other connections.
Thunderbolt will at some point, hopefully soon, become the norm. But until then, adapters and workarounds are the keys to getting the monitor setup you want.
Old laptop? Splitter box
Older laptops don’t have Thunderbolt or USB-C. But, they will have any of the numerous AV outs like VGA, DVI, HDMI, or DisplayPort. You might be able to simultaneously use two of these ports, but that might not always be the case.
A great third party solution can come in handy to split the signal out to two monitors. They do wreak havoc on your graphics card, so you might not be able to get anything like a 4K output.
The Good Old: USB Adapters
Even if your laptop doesn’t have the right port for audio/video, it most certainly has USB ports. You can add new life to them with adapters that can convert them to HDMI or other A/V standards. USB 2.0 can make this happen. USB ports are popular for making peripherals plug and play, and this use case only adds to that reputation.
But, USB video-out adapters function as their own low-power graphics cards. They also have a big hit on system resources like processor cycles and RAM than a standard external display.
You can manage this by plugging one monitor with USB and another with an audio/video port like HDMI or DisplayPort to make it easier on the laptop.
Docking stations are just what the name suggests, a place to plug in all the cables that connect to one computer. These gadgets are not for specific laptop or tablet models unless they are business-oriented. USB-alternatives are available but are less powerful. Whereas more expensive options offer more flexible video ports.
A specific expansion dock with multiple video outputs might do if you want to keep laptop mobile with minimum set up and tear down time at your desk.
Connect multiple monitors with your laptop and get the best out of each world. Along with this, remember to use the correct monitor power cables and extension cord.