One of the best things about laptops is their portability. They have become powerful enough that it is no longer necessary for most of us to need a separate desktop. However one of the biggest limitations, especially for anyone doing graphics, design, photography or application multitasking on their computer is the small screen size.
Most laptops allow you to connect one external monitor to the vga (blue input) or dvi (white input) in the back of the computer. This allows you to extend your laptop screen to two screens, which causes both the built-in monitor of the laptop and external monitor to act like one giant screen. Once you go from one monitor to an extended desktop of multiple monitors… it is impossible to go back to one. Your productivity will increase dramatically.
Even with most desktops, one extra monitor is the limit even if you have multiple monitor inputs (vga/dvi/hdmi) because the video graphics card in your computer can’t handle more. The video graphic cards that allow multiple monitors (3-4) are much more expensive as well.
One of my business partners went this route and while it works great – he had to spend thousands of extra dollars for the setup. (Pictured above) After purchasing a new laptop recently, I stumbled upon a workaround to not only add multiple monitors to my laptop… it is allows you to add up to 6 external monitors to your laptop or even desktop. Since I already had the monitors, my total cost was only $60 to have a 3 screen computer setup.
To add multiple monitors to your laptop or desktop:
Step 1: Download a free driver / software from DisplayLink
Displaylink offers a great software solution that lets you connect up to six additional external monitors to your laptop. It basically works by using resources available in the CPU and GPU to process the graphical information from the external monitors. Updates to the screen are automatically detected and compressed by their software. The data is then sent back and forth from the laptop and the monitor very quickly even allowing you to watch video on them.
Best of all it is free and you manage your monitors from your same graphics setting page you usually use to adjust screen resolution.
Step 2: Buy a USB 2.0 to VGA/DVI/HDMI Adapter for each monitor
While some monitors are now able to connect via usb out of the box, most of us will need to buy an adapter that converts the standard vga or dvi plugs into a USB device. After quite a bit of research I found one that is actually certified to work with displaylink’s software and is powerful enough that you can even watch video on the added monitor without any issues. (This is not the case with many adapters and software combinations).
The adapter I bought and recommend is the Plugable USB 2.0 to VGA/DVI/HDMI Adapter for Multiple Displays with DisplayLink DL-195 Chip. It allows for multiple display resolutions up to 2048×1152 and is less than $60.
Some tips and tricks
After installing the driver you may need to restart your computer. I have Windows 7 Professional and it would not work until I rebooted.
I plugged in my main big screen into the VGA input on the laptop, so I only needed to buy one USB to VGA/DVI adapter. However, if you wish to be able to grab your laptop without having to unplug the monitor each time, you can buy an adapter for all the external monitors. Simply get a powered USB Hub – I bought a 7-Port USB 2.0 Hub, Black. It had great reviews on Amazon.
This will allow you to plug in all your devices into the USB Hub and just have one USB plug (from the HUB) to remove when you need your laptop in a hurry. Be cautious when getting a USB hub, even though many top named brands offer 5 or 7 usb ports, the reality is that they can’t power most devices or at the maximum one or two at a time. The USB Hub I bought now has all 7 slots used simultaneously without any problems.
What I connect to the USB Hub
- Epson Perfection Photo Scanner
- Apple iPhone
- Canon EOS Rebel T1i 15.1 MP CMOS Digital SLR Camera
- Logitech AudioHub Notebook Speakers
- Acer G246HL Abd 24-Inch Screen LED-Lit Monitor
- Western Digital WD Elements 1.5 TB External Hard Drive
- Microsoft Wireless Keyboard and Mouse Set – I highly recommend getting a wireless keyboard and mouse set. It makes productivity and using multiple screens so much easier.
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