How to Add a Second Monitor in Windows

Picture of a business man working on a dual-monitor setup computer in an office
Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

Is a single monitor just not doing the trick for you? Maybe giving a presentation with people peering over your shoulder at a 12-inch laptop screen just isn't going to cut it.

Whatever your reason for wanting a second monitor attached to your laptop, it's an easy task to complete. These steps will walk you through how to add a second monitor to your laptop.

Verify That You Have the Correct Cable

USB and other plugins
Stefanie Sudek/Getty Images

To start, you should first make sure that you have the appropriate cable for the job. It's important to realize that you have to connect a video cable from the monitor to the laptop, and it has to be the same type of cable. 

Ports on your computer will be classified as DVI, VGA, HDMI, or Mini DisplayPort. You need to ensure that you have the correct cable to connect the second monitor to the laptop using the same connection type.

So, for example, if your monitor has a VGA connection, and so does your laptop, then use a VGA cable to connect the two. If HDMI, then use an HDMI cable to connect the monitor to the HDMI port on the laptop. The same applies to any port and cable you may have.

Note: It's possible that your existing monitor uses, say, an HDMI cable but your laptop only has a VGA port. In this instance, you could purchase an HDMI to VGA converter which allows the HDMI cable to connect to the VGA port.

Make Changes to the Display Settings

Screenshot of Windows 10 Display options highlighting the "Detect" button users should click to detect their second monitor.
Screenshot, Windows 10.

Now you need to use Windows to actually set up the new monitor, which can be accomplished through Control Panel in most versions of Windows. 

See How to Open Control Panel if you're not sure how to get there. 

Windows 10

  1. Access Settings from the Power User Menu (Windows Key + X), and choose the System icon.
  2. From the Display section, choose Detect (if you see it) to register the second monitor.

Windows 8 and Windows 7

  1. In Control panel, open the Appearance and Personalization option. This is only seen if you're viewing the applets in "Category" view (not the "Classic" or icon view).
  2. Now choose Display and then Adjust resolution from the left.
  3. Click or tap Identify or Detect to register the second monitor.

Windows Vista

  1. From Control Panel, access the Appearance and Personalization option and then open Personalization, and finally Display Settings.
  2. Click or tap Identify Monitors to register the second monitor.

Windows XP

  1. From the "Category View" option in the Windows XP Control Panel, open Appearance and Themes. Select Display at the bottom and then open the Settings tab.
  2. Click or tap Identify to register the second monitor.

Extend the Desktop to the Second Screen

Screenshot from Windows 10 showing the option to Extend two displays to create a single desktop on two monitors.
Screenshot, Windows 10.

In Windows 10, scroll the Display options to find the Multiple displays section. Using the dropdown menu, choose the option for Extend these displays.

In Vista, choose to Extend the desktop onto this monitor instead, or the Extend my Windows desktop onto this monitor option in XP.

The Extend option lets you move the mouse and windows from the main screen onto the second one, and vice versa. It's literally extending the screen real estate across two monitors instead of just the regular one. You can think of it as a single large monitor that's simply split into two segments.

If the two screens are using two different resolutions, one of them will appear larger than the other in the preview window. You can either adjust the resolutions to be the same or drag the monitors up or down on the screen so that they match up on the bottom.

Click or tap Apply to complete the step so that the second monitor will act as an extension to the first.

Tip: The option called "Make this my main display," "This is my main monitor," or "Use this device as the primary monitor" lets you swap which screen should be considered the main screen. It's the main screen that will have the Start menu, taskbar, clock, etc.

However, in some Windows versions, if you right-click or tap-and-hold on the Windows taskbar at the bottom of the screen, you can go into the Properties menu to choose an option called Show taskbar on all displays to get the Start menu, clock, etc. on both screens.

Duplicate the Desktop on the Second Screen

Windows 10 Display properties screenshot showing the option to "Duplicate these displays" so the same desktop is shown on two (or more) screens.
Screenshot, Windows 10.

If you'd rather have the second monitor duplicate the main screen so that both monitors show the same thing all the time, choose Duplicate these displays instead.

Again, make sure you choose to Apply so that the changes stick.