Most people connect just one monitor to their computer, or they use the screen built into their laptop. But if you have the space on your desk or worktable, adding a second screen can make your computer much more flexible and easier to use.
Using two or more monitors with your computer can offer these benefits:
You can work on a document or other project on one screen while background programs, such as e-mail, a streaming Internet news feed, or the output of a video camera, run on another screen. It's much easier to glance over to the second screen to see if there's any activity than to move the background tasks on top of your current project window.
You can move toolbars and palettes in an application program out of the active window to create more space for the project in the window. For example, Figure 28.3 shows a Visio project with the project window in one screen and the stencils in the other.
Figure 28.3: Moving controls and tools to a second screen creates more space for the actual project.
You can eliminate overlapping windows and the need to move them around your screen.
You can view a text editor or other programming tool in one screen and immediately see the effect of your work in a second screen. For example, a Web designer could use an HMTL editor in one screen and a Web browser in another screen. To view changes, simply save your work in the editor and refresh the image in the browser. This is much easier than switching between windows on a single screen.
You can use information (such as a document or a Web page) in one screen as source material while you write, draw, or perform other work in another screen.
You can expand a single image to fill two or more screens.
Some games can provide two or more simultaneous images when multiple monitors are available.
Windows can support up to a maximum of ten monitors, but after the second or third screen, most users reach and exceed a point of diminishing returns. However, a truly massive multiple-screen set-up can create an impressive display for a trade show, a multimedia show, or some other form of public presentation.
If you do try to use multiple screens for a public presentation, make absolutely sure that it works properly with the actual equipment you will use during the show. Rehearse, rehearse, and rehearse again. Nothing loses the confidence of your potential customers (or the general public) more than a multi-screen program that has turned into nonsense because one screen is a step behind everything else, or the screens are not arranged in the right order.
After you install a second screen, it becomes second nature to drag icons and windows from one screen to another, and to create your own uses for the extra on-screen real estate that has become available to you.
If you have the table space, adding a second monitor doesn't have to be expensive. Secondhand monitors, especially monitors with CRT screens, are out there at giveaway prices. Remember that your second screen doesn't have to be as fast or as large as the primary (two 15-inch monitors give you more useful screen area than a single 19-inch monitor; two 17-inch or 19-inch screens are even better), so you can get along with an older 15-inch screen and a controller card with only 16MB of graphics memory or less. In an urban area with a decent secondhand computer retailer, the whole project could cost less than $20. If you have an old computer that you no longer use taking up space in your basement or storage closet, you can probably recycle the graphics card if it has a PCI interface. Of course, a new monitor and graphics controller will almost always provide a better-looking image, but they cost a lot more than inexpensive secondhand equipment.
You can connect multiple monitors to your computer in several ways:
With a separate graphics controller card for each monitor
With a single graphics card that supports two or more monitors
With a combination of both
To use more than one graphics controller in a desktop computer, each card must be either an AGP, PCI-Express, or a PCI device. Assuming your computer's existing graphics card is an AGP or PCI-Express card, this means that your additional card (or cards) must be a PCI card. If you're shopping for graphics cards in the junk-parts bin at a secondhand computer store, you should take this book along and use the photos in Chapter 10 to identify the interface used by each card. Generally, the card-edge connector on an AGP card has an L-shaped tab at the end farthest from the backplate; on a PCI card, the edge connector has no tab.
If you're buying a new graphics card, make sure it has the correct interface. Most new graphics cards use either AGP or PCI Express interfaces, but many manufacturers still make PCI video cards; they are available at larger computer retailers, but probably not at electronics stores or office supply places that don't have extensive inventories. If you can't find one locally, order it from an online retailer.
If your existing graphics controller is built into your computer's motherboard, use PCI cards for the additional controllers.
If you're using a secondhand graphics card, try to identify the make and model before you install it. If the card doesn't have a label, find the FCC ID number on the controller board and look it up through the Internet at the Federal Communications Commission's Equipment Authorization Search page (http://www.https://gullfoss2.fcc.gov/prod/oet/cf/eas/reports/GenericSearch.cfm). When you have the make and model number or name, go to the manufacturer's technical support Web site and download a copy of the latest Windows XP device driver. Save the device driver file in a new folder on your hard disk drive called Device Drivers.
Follow these steps to connect one or more additional monitor to a desktop computer through more than one graphics card:
Turn off your computer and disconnect the power cable.
Open your computer case.
Find an unused PCI or AGP slot on your motherboard.
Remove the filler backplate next to the empty slot. Save the screw.
Insert your graphics card into the empty slot. Push it down (toward the motherboard) at the front and back to make sure it's firmly seated.
Use the screw that held the filler plate to attach the graphics card's connector panel to the back of the computer. You might have to loosen the screws on adjacent backplates to fit the graphics card's connector plate solidly against the mounting rail.
Plug the video cable from your second monitor into the VGA connector on the newly installed graphics controller.
Plug in the power cable on the new monitor and turn both monitors on.
Plug the power cable back into the computer and turn it on. Windows displays a "Found New Hardware" message and installs a device driver for the new graphics card. If Windows doesn't automatically find the device driver software, use the Browse button to identify the driver on the CD that came with the card or that you downloaded from the manufacturer's Web site.
Move your mouse cursor to a blank spot on the desktop and right-click. The Display Properties window opens.
Choose the Settings tab. A dialog box like the one in Figure 28.4 appears.
Figure 28.4: The Settings tab in the Display Properties dialog box controls multiple monitors.
Turn on the Extend my Windows desktop onto this monitor option and click Apply. The second monitor comes to life, with the same background color and picture as the primary monitor.
If the software supplied with your new graphics card (or that you downloaded from the manufacturer) includes additional programs, run the setup program now.
Many new graphics controllers have separate VGA and DVI output connectors. If you connect monitors to both connectors, the same card controls both displays. When a single graphics controller drives two monitors, it shares its on-board memory and other resources between them, so the card's response to commands and mouse travel might be slightly slower than the same card can provide with just one screen (but not enough to notice unless you're using the computer for graphics-intensive programs).
To use a second monitor, follow these steps:
Turn off the computer. Make sure power is connected to both monitors.
Plug the cable from the second monitor into the extra connector on your graphics adapter. If necessary, use a DVI-to-VG adapter.
Turn on the computer and both monitors. You see the Power-On Self Test (POST) information on both screens, but when Windows starts, the desktop is only visible on one screen.
Right-click in an empty spot on the Windows desktop to open the Display Properties window.
Open the Settings tab. The box at the top of the dialog box shows outlines of both screens, with one in white and the other gray.
Click inside the gray outline. The Display field identifies this outline as Display No. 2.
Turn on the Extend my Windows desktop onto this monitor option and click Apply. The second screen comes to life with the same background image and color as the original monitor.
Whether you use a single graphics card with two or more connectors or a separate controller card for each monitor, the Settings tab in the Display Properties window controls the performance of each monitor and the relationship between or among the screens.
After you connect a monitor to each graphics controller, or each output on a dual-head controller, you must configure each screen to work as part of a multiple-monitor system. Follow these steps to adjust each screen:
Place each monitor on your desk or work surface in the locations where you plan to use them. Turn on all the monitors.
Click the Identify button at the bottom of the Settings dialog box to display a big number on each screen. This number corresponds to the number of that screen in the drop-down Display list.
Choose the screen number of the monitor you want to configure.
Set the Screen Resolution and Color Quality for that screen.
Click the Advanced button to open the secondary properties window and choose the Monitor tab.
Choose the Screen Refresh Rate for this monitor. Use 60 Hz for LCD screens, or at least 70 Hz for CRT screens.
Click OK to close the secondary window and confirm that the Screen Resolution and Color Quality haven't changed. If they have, go back to the Advanced Monitor tab and reduce the refresh rate.
Repeat the process for each additional screen.
Click OK to close the Display Properties window.
The box in the upper half of the Settings dialog box shows outlines of each screen connected to your computer. Depending on the combination of controllers and monitors, it might also show one or more additional phantom screens in solid gray, but you can ignore them.
In order to move your cursor and drag objects between screens, it's important to match the images in the Display Properties window with the physical positions of the screens. To move an on-screen image, follow these steps:
Click the Identify button near the bottom of the window. A large number appears on each screen that identifies that screen in the drop-down Display list. If you're using more than two monitors, you might want to place some kind of removable label on each monitor. A Post-It note works well for this.
Treat the No. 1 screen as a fixed position.
Click the image of the No. 2 screen and hold down the mouse button. The name and number of the monitor appears in the Display field.
Drag the outline of the No. 2 screen to a position similar to the location of the physical monitor screen. Release the mouse button and click Apply.
Slowly move the mouse from one screen to the other. As the cursor jumps across the boundary, notice how it moves. If the mouse motion between screens is not continuous, drag a screen up or down or from side to side to correct the problem. Click Apply after each move, and try moving the mouse cursor again.
The control software supplied with video cards that use either NVIDIA or ATI graphics chips often includes additional features and options for multiple-screen operation. For example, Figure 28.5 shows the NVIDIA Multiple Display configuration tool that offers several display choices:
Just one display
The same image on all screens
A single desktop that extends horizontally over all available screens to allow multiple-screen images
A single desktop that extends vertically over all available screens to allow multiple-screen images
Traditional multiple-screen display, with different resolution, color depth, and refresh rate settings for each screen, if necessary
Figure 28.5: The NVIDIA Control Panel program offers additional multiple-monitor options.
If your NVIDIA Control Panel does not look like this one, you can download new Control software and updated drivers from http://www.nvidia.com/content/drivers/drivers.asp.
The most recent versions of ATI's Catalyst Control Center include a similar program, as shown in Figure 28.6. If the software supplied with your ATI graphics controller doesn't include this feature, you can obtain a newer version from http://www.ati.amd.com/support/driver.html.
Figure 28.6: ATI's CATALYST Control Center also includes support for multiple-monitor operation.