Set Up a Second Monitor for your Laptop

Samsung Monitor

Samsung 22 inch Monitor/TV combo

Your laptop can drive an external monitor which can give you a two monitor setup and improve your viewing experience. This could improve your home office setup – since with a second monitor it is easier to multitask or work in one window while referring to a different window.


This article will show how to connect your laptop to a second monitor (or TV). We will visit the basics of available connections, present a pattern for deciding what you need to do, and provide a specific example.

 

 

A laptop will have several output ports that can feed your display to an external device such as a monitor or projector. The common ports are:

  • VGA – the most common monitor connector. Most (probably all) monitors and TVs can accept a VGA connection. VGA is an analog connection while the others listed are digital.
  • DisplayPort – carries video (and sometimes audio) to a monitor. It is intended to replace VGA and DVI.
  • HDMI – (hi-def) carries both video and audio to a monitor. A laptop doesn’t often have a HDMI-out port, but a monitor often has an HDMI-in.

A monitor (or TV) will have several of the same connectors listed above. If it is a late model TV – you may have many HDMI ports. It is possible to share the monitor among several devices by using several connections and switching between the connections with the ‘Source’ control button.

To connect your laptop to an external monitor:

  1. identify the connectors on your laptop – mine has both VGA and DisplayPort.
  2. identify the connectors on your monitor – mine has both VGA and HDMI.
  3. make a choice of how to connect the laptop to the monitor – analog to analog (VGA to VGA) or digital to digital (DisplayPort to HDMI). I will go digital.
  4. obtain a cable of the appropriate type and length – I will use a DisplayPort to HDMI cable – 6 feet long.
  5. connect the cable from the laptop to the monitor. Since I will connect to a laptop, the cable must be on the top of my desk. And 6 feet is plenty.
  6. turn on your external monitor (or TV) and set the Source to accept input from the PC (if VGA) or HDMI (if you connected to the HDMI port). The method will be different depending on your monitor, but my Samsung Monitor/TV has a Source button on the face of the monitor as well as on the remote control. Touch the Source button to toggle to the input that you desire.
  7. tell Microsoft Windows 7 your display preference – I like the 2 monitor setup. Right-click the desktop and choose Screen Resolution. A Display Appearance panel appears. Set Display to 2 Monitors. Windows 7 will not show a 2nd monitor option unless you’ve made the additional connection in step (5). Also, in the Windows 7 Display Appearance panel, you can arrange the monitors side-by-side or high-low which affects how your mouse acts when you drag off the edge of one monitor to the other.
  8. now that you’ve hooked up a 2nd monitor and enabled it, you can drag windows from one monitor to the other. Minimize a window so that it is not full screen in size. Click the window title bar and drag the window to the other monitor. Make the window full screen on the 2nd monitor if you desire.

As an example, I will connect my Lenovo Thinkpad 510 laptop to a Samsung TV/Monitor. Following the pattern above:

  1. a Lenovo ThinkPad 510 – has one VGA connector and one DisplayPort connector (it is NOT a DisplayPort++ connector). Lenova does not send Audio to the Monitor thru the Displayport connector, so be wary that you may need a separate audio connection. Of course … laptop speakers will still work if you think about it for a minute.
  2. a Samsung T22A350 22-Inch Class LED HDTV/Monitor Combo (Black) for $300 on Amazon – with one VGA connector and one HDMI connector. The VGA connector is already in use by a different PC (a great setup because you can use the Monitor ‘Source’ button to switch PCs). If you’re in the market for a 2nd monitor – I love this monitor. Some day I may also use it as a TV at my desk. But pay attention to the one setting comment on Amazon for this monitor. The setting takes 10 seconds to apply.
  3. I will use the laptop DisplayPort connector to the Monitor HDMI connector.
  4. a High Quality Black DisplayPort Male to HDMI Cable Male – 6 Feet / 2M from Amazon for 4 bucks + $3 shipping – it is not a powered cable, but rather a direct cable without external power. A powered cable will have an extra connection to plug into a USB port because a USB port provides a slight amount of power. You likely do not need a powered cable unless you are running 3+ monitors.
  5. connect the HDMI end to the Monitor (screw it in so you have a good permanent connection) and connect the DisplayPort end to the laptop
  6. turn on the monitor and set Source to HDMI.
  7. set the Windows 7 Display to 2 monitors. Set the orientation correctly to match your 2 monitor positions – so your mouse moves correctly to the other monitor when you reach the edge of the screen.
  8. practice moving windows for a minute. AWESOME!

With a second monitor, it is easier to multitask or work in one window while referring to a different window. With today’s computers, laptops, monitors and TVs, there are dozens of combinations that you can take advantage of to improve your home office setup.

About the author

I've been in software development for 30 years ranging across all platforms - from mainframes to Unix and Windows. I'm currently a CTO at a small company that focuses on integration to IBM middleware products for document management and work process automation, plus advanced search of images, photos, audio and video.