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There are different reasons why people need more than one monitor running on their computer. This quick guide will explore the why and how of setting up two or more displays on your laptop or desktop.

Mirroring or Extended Desktop?

When setting up multiple monitors on your laptop or desktop computer, you can choose to either mirror or extend your desktop. Mirroring is when all connected displays shows the exact same image simultaneously. This option can be handy in scenarios when digital signage on two or more displays is set up at a distance from each other in a public place. All displays would show the same information at all times, such as flight times, current seminar information, emergency warnings, or to simply entertain.

Choosing the extended desktop option is more commonly done for personal computer applications. Investing, accounting, writing, and other business applications that are data-heavy require a lot of information to be displayed. Mistakes are commonly made because the user has to open and close different windows going back and forth between reference documents and working documents. By extending your computer's desktop to cover two or more screens, you can view multiple documents, watch multiple stock trends in real-time, browse multiple websites simultaneously, etc.

How Do I Add More Monitors to My Computer?

Add-on Video Cards: If you are trying to add a monitor to your desktop computer, one option is to add an internal video card to your machine. Decent add-on cards often cost about $70 to $120 for business applications. For gaming and other graphic-intense applications, the card needs more onboard memory and prices go up.

When buying your video card, you should make sure you know what kind of port you are buying for. Most common types of ports are based on the PCI protocol and include the standard PCI (Peripheral Component Interconnect), AGP (Advanced Graphics Port), and PCI-express (also known as PCIe). If you are unsure about how to do this or what to look for.

USB is becoming a more of a popular port for adding a display. Manufacturers have been working for years to create a USB display adapter that has the same resolution, refresh rate, and other performance specifications that add-on cards offer. Recently, a USB to DVI adapter with included DVI to VGA adapter has been released that can match those specifications At an extremely reasonable price point, this adapter can achieve resolutions of up to 1920x1080 and displays video at frame rates that equal add-on cards.

The secret to this little adapter is 128 MB of onboard memory. The adapter is essentially an external video card that conveniently interfaces with your computer via USB. Sewell Direct tested five of these USB display adapters simultaneously. Playing video on three of the five displays, all of which were in the 19 to 21 inch range, the adapters performed beautifully.

Another advantage of using USB ports to add monitors to your system is that it is conveniently done with desktop computers and laptops. No messy installations are required. The USB to DVI display adapter is a simple plug and play solution with numerous video applications.

PCMCIA, also known as Cardbus, is the slot located on many laptops. Recently, ExpressCard has become the more popular slot on newer laptops, so before exploring this option, make sure your laptop has a PCMCIA (Personal Computer Memory Card International Association) slot and not the smaller ExpressCard slot.

A popular solution for adding one or two video displays to your laptop via the PCMCIA slot is the VTbook dual display PCMCIA card. This simple card has 32 MB of onboard memory (perfect for business solutions) and slips right into your laptop's cardbus slot, instantly adding a DVI port. If you need a VGA port, a DVI to VGA adapter is included. If you want to add even another display through this same card, a cable that is sold separately, called the DualHead, can extend your desktop even further (in tandem with the VTbook and proprietary software that is included).

You can also use your system's Aux. VGA port to get multiple displays with a line of multi-display adapters from Matrox. Their DualHead2Go and TripleHead2Go solutions allow you to add two or three (respectively) displays to your system conveniently via the VGA port. The Matrox adapter acts like an external video card using proprietary onboard software to turn one VGA port into an extended desktop on multiple monitors. These Matrox adapters perform to a higher standard than the VTbook and can therefore be used for gaming. The adapters are considerably less portable, however. The VTBook is recommended for the business traveller, and the matrox is recommended more for heavier graphics work loads.

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