How to set up dual monitors

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In this tutorial, we will go through the process of setting up a dual monitor configuration. Although setting dual monitors is not a difficult task, one might encounter some problems. We will explain how to check if you can set up dual monitors and how to solve the missing/incorrect video driver problem.

Checking if your computer can support dual monitors

First of all, before you buy a new monitor, or even attempt to plug it in, we must see if your computer can accommodate dual monitors. There is a very simple way to do this. Simply check your video card's slots. To setup dual monitors, your video card should have two slots (either DVI slots or VGA slots). So go to the back of your computer and locate the video card. In one of the slots, you should see the cable from your current monitor. The second slot is empty and awaits the second monitor.

If your video card has only one slot, you need to upgrade it (you can also buy a second video card, but this is not a viable option anymore). New monitors have DVI connectors, so it is better to pick a video card that features two DVI slots. However, this is not mandatory, as there are many types of adaptors available on the market.

Here is how my video card slots look like. Both slots are for DVI connectors, but I will show you how to use an adaptor. You clearly see that there are two slots, meaning that I can successfully install two monitors:

DVI connectors

Installing the second monitor

First of all, when buying a new monitor, make sure it supports the same resolution as your older one. Although this is not mandatory, it is a good practice. Running two monitors on two different resolutions will decrease productivity and will stress your eyes. So, now that you have the second monitor, let's plug it in.

Here is the first problem! You monitor's connector is VGA compatible, but your video card has DVI slots. Don't worry. You just need an adaptor like the one below:

VGA to DVI adaptor

And here is how the connector with the adaptor attached should look like:

attached adaptor

Now connect the second monitor in the second DVI slot like this:

second monitor connected

Congratulations! You have just physically installed your second monitor and you are ready to check if it works!

Checking if the second monitor is working

Start both monitors and start your computer. Once Windows has booted, go on the desktop and right click on an empty place. Go to Properties and then to the Settings tab. You should see something like this:

Display – Settings

You don't? This means that there is an error with your monitors or with your video card. To troubleshoot the monitor problem, check the connection, make sure the connector is properly plugged in the slot, and restart the computer. If the problem persists, your video card has problems. Here is how a typical Settings tab should look like:

Typical settings tab

So how can we troubleshoot video card problems? First of all, we must see what is generating these problems. Go to Start and click Control Panel. Go to System (might be in the Performance and Maintenance tab). Go to the Hardware tab and click Device Manager. Go to Display Adapters and click the “+". There is an exclamation mark to the left of your video card isn't it? Or perhaps, even worse, you don't see the video card at all. This is not good! You have to install or reinstall the hardware drivers. Perhaps you don't have the original CD (the one that came with your video card) and you have lost the documentation. What can you do? The World Wide Web might return some results!

I have an Nvidia GeForce 8600GT. To make sure you get the latest drivers installed, you must find an alternative way to get the newest version. If, for example, your PCI Express video card has an Nvidia chipset, like mine, you should go to Nvidia's website to find new drivers. Please note that Nvidia might not be the manufacturer – in my case, the manufacturer is Asus. The manufacturer does not usually keep drivers on his website. You should go to the chipset manufacturer's official website if you want to find the latest drivers. Here is where to go on the Nvidia website:

Nvidia website

Once in the download drivers section, choose your graphic card model, click search, and you should be able to find and download the driver:

Nvidia downloads section

You must now install the driver. Go where you downloaded it, double click on it, and the following window should appear:

Nvidia security warning

Click Run because you can be sure that this driver is genuine, from Nvidia's own official website. Another window should appear:

Where to save the files?

You must choose where to extract the files. Choose a drive where you have approximately 100-150 MB of free space. After extraction is completed, the setup should start. It looks something like the one below:

Setup is starting

Click Next, accept the Terms and Conditions, and click Yes. The drivers will be installed. After it finishes, you will be asked if you want to restart your system now or later. If you are working on something, save, and then click “Yes, I want to restart my computer now":

Restart your computer

Go to Device Manager, double click on your PCI Express video card and go to the Driver tab. You should see the driver date and driver version there. Notice that both fields are filled and up to date. This means you have the right drivers installed and you are ready to go!

Congratulations! You have just installed the newest drivers for your video card and you should be able to see two monitors in the Settings tab. Let's take a look to make sure! Here is how my configuration looks like:


Presuming you want to see your desktop on both your monitors, here is how to do it. Click on Monitor number 2 and click “Extend my Windows desktop onto this monitor" like in the picture below:

Extend my Windows desktop onto this monitor

You can also click “Use this device as the primary monitor" to set it as primary monitor. Any of the two monitors can be the primary one. This option helps you when removing one of the monitors. Never remove the primary monitor because you might have some trouble finding or opening some windows. All windows are opened on the primary monitor!

You now have your desktop spread on the two monitors. Congratulations! You dual monitor configuration is complete. Now, you can tweak it a little. For example, it is useful to have the same resolution on each monitor. For example, my second monitor has a maximum resolution of 1440 by 900 pixels, while my primary monitor has a resolution of 1680 by 1050 pixels. I will need to lower the primary monitor's resolution to 1440 by 900 pixels to obtain an excellent image quality.

I click on monitor number 1 and set the resolution as I desire. Now the two monitors have the same resolution and I can start working on the next tutorial for you!

Some useful tips and tricks

When buying the second monitor, always try to pick one that is the same as your first monitor. For example, my primary monitor is a Samsung, 20" Widescreen. When I go to my local IT store, I will try to find the same model and size. By having two identical monitors, the image will remain the same when your eyes go from one to another, minimizing stress. But perhaps I don't find a Samsung at the store, and I want an LG. I must make sure that the LG supports my resolution and that it is of the same size as the Samsung. You can check this out on the box.

When picking up the monitors and/or video card, always aim for DVI. It is more efficient than the old VGA and all new monitors and video cards are DVI compatible. If you don't find or don't want to buy the hardware on DVI, there are DVI to VGA and VGA to DVI adapters available everywhere.

When extending the Windows desktop on the second monitor, never leave a window between the two monitors. You will have some problems putting the two pieces together in your head. When working, I place 2 windows on the primary monitor, and 2 windows on the secondary one. I can go from one to another quite easy and I don't have to search for a missing half.

I hope you have enjoyed this tutorial and I also hope that you are now a master at setting up dual monitor configurations. As you see, it is quite easy and everything falls into place once you get the idea. Have fun with your new configuration!