6 Ways to Use Multiple Displays With Your Laptop

Dual monitors improve productivity, but it can be hard to get laptops to use multiple displays. It's not impossible, though. Check out these six tips for connecting laptops to external monitors.

By Paul Mah
Thu, May 10, 2012

CIO — The productivity gains of using more than one display at work are well-established and generally accepted. The additional display real estate helps reduce clutter and makes it easier to find the correct application window. While deploying more than one display is straightforward for desktop machines—just plug in additional graphic cards—if you're working on a laptop you have far fewer options.

Here we highlight six ways to use multiple displays with a laptop, including a couple of portable solutions suited to traveling executives and alternatives for employees working from a laptop-based workstation.

1. Android, iPad tablets

Yes, you can use your tablet as an external monitor with your PC or Mac OS X laptop. There is literally an app for that—several, in fact, are listed below. These applications install a virtual video device driver on your laptop that transmits the requisite screen updates to the tablet. An app running on the tablet translates the received data stream and renders it onto the screen—effectively using the as a highly portable monitor for your laptop.

Overall, the apps work well for office productivity tasks or Web surfing, though none claim to work with video playback. To conserve bandwidth, most will also disable user interface frills such as Windows Aero when in use.

The iPad's hardware restrictions mean that apps for using the iPad as an external monitor make use of Wi-Fi, though the iDisplay App for Android tablets recently added support to work with a direct USB connection. (For the convenience of wireless connectivity, it must be remembered that Wi-Fi networks may not always be available when on-the-go. Fortunately, a free Windows utility such as Connectify can be easily installed to allow a Windows 7 laptop to work as a Hotspot access point for the tablet.)

Apps that transform an iPad into an external monitor for a Windows laptop include DisplayLink and MaxiVista, while DisplayPad will let Apple's ubiquitous tablet work in the same way with a Mac laptop. Other than iDisplay, which works with both Windows and Mac laptops, ScreenSlider will also allow an Android tablet to serve as an external monitor under Windows. Air Display, on the other hand, will work with iPad and Android tablets, with a Windows PC or a Mac.

2. Portable USB Monitors

Professionals such as auditors and consultants who may frequently be required to work at various locations will know that a portable USB monitor used with a laptop helps to greatly increase work efficiency. This is made possible by technology DisplayLink developed to compress video data and pump it over a USB link, where it is uncompressed and decoded by a specialized chip made by the company.

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