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Attaching additional monitors to laptops is common. There are several settings to look at in order to make them work as expected.

I'm using a laptop with the Windows 7 Home edition to which I have connected two external screens via an adapter. Everything works well except that the two external monitors simply copy each other and I want to run different programs on each. How can I organize this?

In this excerpt from Answercast #16, I look at the various settings available for configuring additional monitors. However, the configuration will ultimately depend on that adapter.

Multiple Monitors

In general, if you've got multiple monitors on your machine, there are two things I would have you do.

1) Hold down the Windows key on your keyboard and press P.

That enables what Windows calls Presentation mode in Windows 7. It's a standard way to configure what gets shown on the laptop screen versus what gets shown on an externally connected screen. It is for exactly that reason – for presentations.

The concept is: you've got a laptop, you're going to give a presentation, [and] you're hooked up to a projector. Now all of a sudden, you either want to have both screens showing the same things or you want your PowerPoint presentation up on the projector and you want your notes on your laptop screen.

You can set all that up.

It depends on the adaptor

Now, what I don't know here is that you've indicated you've "got two external screens via an adapter." I don't know what kind of an adapter you have. The adapter may only support sending the same signal out to both screens: in which case, there is nothing that can be done.

In that scenario, as far as Windows is concerned, those two screens look like they are one screen and there is no software change that can be made to send different images to each of those two things. It's a limitation of your adapter.

On the other hand, there are adapters that will allow you to present those two monitors, those two screens, as two separate screens to Windows.

In which case, presentation mode may allow you to control what gets shown where.

Screen resolution settings

If not, the other approach that I would take is:

2) Right-click on an empty area on your desktop and click on Screen Resolution.

Screen resolution actually does more than just let you control your screen resolution. It also lets you control how external monitors, multiple monitors, are controlled and used by your system. In that interface, you can specify whether or not the screen you see on your laptop is mirrored to your external screens or if the two screens comprise a larger virtual desktop: a single virtual desktop that just happens to be broken apart into two or more physical screens.

You can then arrange how they logically appear: right to left, left to right. You can also change the resolution on each of them. That is still there. But that's the primary interface for tweaking and modifying the arrangement of multiple monitors on a system that supports multiple monitors.

Ultimately, it's the adapter

I'll go back to my fundamental concern, though, and say that depending on the adapter, as far as Windows is concerned, you may or may not have multiple monitors on that adapter. Windows may only see one, in which case there's nothing you can do.

If Windows sees two, then you're great, but you'll have to check out exactly what the capabilities of that adapter really are.

Next from Answercast #16 - Can I turn off my modem when I am gone?

Article C5325 - May 10, 2012 « »

Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

May 11, 2012 9:00 AM

Here at work, I have one monitor set up as landscape and the other as Portrait. Comes in very handy that way.

February 28, 2013 12:27 AM

I'm using Windows XP SP3; i have two monitors and one computer. I connected two monitors to my computer using VGA splitter.

Now I'm asking: How to view two separate programs in each monitor?

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