How to Setup Dual Monitors in Windows

Setting up dual monitors used to be an expensive and complicated task back in the days, but thanks to cheap graphics cards and cheap monitors, pretty much any modern computer can support dual monitors nowadays.

In addition, the latest versions of Windows support a lot of features natively that you previously could only get using third-party dual monitor software. For example, each monitor can have its own taskbar and Start button, which is nice. Also, each monitor can have a different background or you can use a single panoramic picture and have it span both desktops.

In this article, I’ll talk about the requirements for dual monitors in Windows and how you can configure all the settings in Windows once you have the monitors connected.

Dual Monitor Requirements

So what do we need in order to connect two monitors to a PC? Well, obviously, you need two monitors! So what kind of monitors do you need? Do they have to be the same?

dual monitors

Luckily, the monitors do not need to be the same. You can have completely different monitors if you like, but obviously, two of the same monitor will give you the best viewing results. When you use different monitors, the main issue is with respect to the resolution. You may end up with one monitor running at 1920×1080 and another running at 1366×768.

When you move programs from one monitor to the other, they will automatically be resized accordingly. Some people may find this jarring. So if you end up using two different monitors, just make sure they both support the same resolution (720p, 1080p, 1440, 2160, etc).

As mentioned earlier, even if the two monitors have different resolutions, everything will work fine. Both monitors will simply run at their native resolution.

The second thing to think about when it comes to monitors are the connections on the back. You don’t necessarily need a monitor that has multiple inputs, but you’ll need two different inputs for both monitors.

For example, if one monitor has HDMI, you’ll need to have a VGA, DVI or DisplayPort input on the other monitor unless your graphics card has two HDMI outputs or you have more than one graphics card installed, each with its own HDMI output.

However, from what I’ve seen, most graphics cards have multiple outputs using different connections. For example, my NVidia graphics card has one HDMI, one DVI and one VGA port. Only on higher end gaming cards will you see a single graphics card with more than one port of the same type (two HDMI ports or two DVI ports).

If you’re looking to buy a monitor, it’s probably a good idea to get a monitor with multiple inputs. The newer monitors usually have three connections: HDMI, DVI and DisplayPort.

monitor connections

Cheaper monitors usually have less connections, which is fine, but just make sure the connections on the monitor match the outputs on your graphics card. This brings us to the second requirement: a single graphics card with multiple outputs or multiple graphics cards.

graphics card

Above is a gaming graphics card with some serious ports: dual DVI-D, 1xHDMI and 1xDisplayPort. Using this single graphics card, you could connect up to four monitors to this one PC! As you can see, what outputs your graphics card supports determines what connections you need to have on the back of your monitor.

Also, it’s important to understand that if you are going to use DVI, you should consider a graphics card and monitor that supports DVI-D. DVI-D stands for dual-link DVI and it supports higher resolutions at higher refresh rates.

Another important note is that currently you can only use a 4K monitor at 30 Hz rather than 60 Hz or higher when using HDMI. Until HDMI 2.0 is released, it’s simply a hardware limitation. However, the latest version of DisplayPort, version 1.3, can support 5K displays (5,120 x 2880) at 60 Hz. DisplayPort version 1.2a can support 4K displays at 60 Hz also. So just be sure to check what version your graphics card or monitor supports.

Dual Monitor Settings in Windows

In this article, I’m going to talk about using dual monitors in Windows 10, since that is the latest version of the operating system. Windows 7 basically has a subset of the features available in Windows 10.

Once you connect your second monitor, Windows should automatically detect it and display a second desktop on the monitor. Note that one monitor has to be designated as a primary monitor. If the second monitor is blank or the wrong monitor is set as primary, you can change this by right-clicking on the desktop and choosing Display Settings.

display settings

This should bring you to the Customize your display screen where you should see a 1 and 2, each number representing a monitor.

customize your display

You can now adjust the settings for each monitor by clicking on the number box at the top. The selected monitor will be colored and the non-selected monitor will be grey. Firstly, you want to make sure the monitor on the left on your desk is actually numbered correctly in Windows. In my example, 2 is on the left and 1 is on the right. Click the Identify button and a number will pop up on each display.

dual monitors identify

If the numbers don’t match the actual physical layout, then switch the main displays by checking the Make this my main display box. As you can see in my example, the 2 monitor is the left monitor on my desk, so it matches what Windows sees.

You can change the scaling of text and apps, though 100% is recommended unless you are using a 4K monitor and everything is too small to see. Unless you have a monitor that swivels into portrait mode, you can keep the Orientation as Landscape.

The last option is the most important. By default, you probably want to choose Extend these displays, which will allow you to use the second monitor as another display for programs, etc. For laptops, you might want to choose Duplicate these displays or one of the Show only on X options if you are connecting to a higher resolution external monitor.

change resolution

If you click on the Advanced display settings link at the bottom, you can adjust the resolution for each monitor also. Next, we can configure how the taskbar works on each monitor. To do this, right-click on the taskbar and go to Properties.

multiple displays

At the bottom, you’ll see a section called Multiple Displays. Here you can choose whether or not to show the taskbar on all displays or not. It’s worth noting that even though you will have a separate taskbar on each display and you can open the Start Menu separately, when you click to open a program, etc, it will actually open on the primary display. You then have to move the program or window by dragging it to the second monitor.

If you are showing taskbars on all displays, I suggest you change the Show taskbar buttons on option to Main taskbar and taskbar where window is open or Taskbar where window is open. This will make it so that only the programs you have on the second display show up in the taskbar on the second display. This makes it more logical when working with multiple displays and many apps, at least for me.

Finally, when working with backgrounds, you can span a panoramic image across both monitors by choosing the Span option for Background under Personalization.

span background

So is Windows 10 perfect at handling dual monitors? Unfortunately, there are a couple of issues that are pretty annoying and hopefully get fixed in newer versions of Windows 10.

My main gripe is using dual monitors in Windows 10 with multiple virtual desktops. If you use the new virtual desktops feature in Windows 10 and you have dual monitors, whenever you switch between desktops, it also switches the second monitor. This means the second desktop constantly switches also whenever you switch to another desktop on the primary monitor.

It would be better if each monitor had its own set of virtual desktops, but that is not supported yet. Overall, Windows 10 does a good job with supporting multiple monitors and hopefully gets better as time goes on. If you have any questions, feel free to comment. Enjoy!

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