Once you get a second monitor, you can’t go back. It’s a sentiment that may seem silly to some, but once you get used to organizing your windows and programs across two or more screens, it’s hard to imagine gaming or using a PC without them. There are plenty of reasons to add a second monitor to your setup, whether you’re using it to work from home, play games, stream on Twitch or YouTube, or do production work. Having a second monitor helps streamline your tasks and maximize productivity-or even give you a wider view of specific games.
Read more: Best 4K Monitors for 2021
Before setting up dual monitors, however, you shouldn’t just buy any two monitors and throw them on a desk. There are some important factors to consider, including your graphics card, whether you’re using a laptop, and your budget. That’s why we’ve put together this guide to help you figure out exactly what your dual-monitor setup should look like.
Benefits of dual monitors
The most obvious benefit of a dual-monitor setup is that you get an extra screen to do whatever you want with. If you want to expand your total viewing space or even just put Netflix on your other monitor while you work or game, you can. Let’s jump into the specifics on why someone may want to add an extra screen.
Dual monitors for streaming
If you’re looking to stream regularly on Twitch or YouTube, a second screen is almost required. During streams, you need to be able to monitor your chat to interact with your viewers and have access to your streaming software to ensure there are no issues. With only a single screen, you’d need a laptop, tablet, or some other device to read chat-and you wouldn’t have easy access to your Streamlabs or OBS.
Dual monitors for gaming
Ultrawide monitors are available, but they can get quite expensive. If you want to have that wider field of view, you can always connect two or three monitors together and have a compatible game output to both. This gives you a much larger view of your game, whether you’re racing down a track, peeking to your left and right to see your opponents driving beside you; flying a spaceship and looking around for oncoming bogies; or pretty much any other action in a game you can think of. It’s worth noting that a dual-monitor setup works best with games you’re intimately familiar with as UI and other non-gameplay elements can act strangely at ultrawide resolutions.
Of course, you can also use your second monitor to keep an eye on Discord, Netflix, YouTube, or even Spotify while gaming. Using a second monitor like this isn’t exactly essential, but it is quite convenient.
Dual monitors for multitaskers
Multitasking at work is where dual monitors shine. Being able to spread out your tasks, applications, and workspaces across multiple screens makes your workday much more efficient. When you don’t need to keep flipping between documents, it’s easier to get right to work and finish your projects. Of course, it’s always nice to be able to throw on a podcast, Netflix, or YouTube on your second screen when your day is moving slowly. I’ve been using dual monitors for work for almost five years now, and I honestly can’t go back-thankfully, you’re even able to hook up a laptop to multiple monitors, too.
How to set up dual monitors
Choosing your monitors
The monitors you go with are going to depend on your setup. Ideally, you’ll want to stick with monitors that are the same size and resolution as that will make moving applications and other things much smoother-though it is possible to use two monitors with different resolutions. If you’re starting with a laptop, adding any size of display will be totally fine, but 24-inch monitors will be the easiest transition from the smaller screen. Borderless monitors are also a good option as they make the transition between both screens more natural.
That said, you won’t come across many incompatibilities. You can combine a flat screen with a curved display, and it’ll work just fine. You could even combine two monitors with a larger TV if you want to. It really depends on how you’re going to use the monitors, how many you want, and how much space you have to work with.
Connecting your monitors
You’ll want to make note of the ports on your monitors before buying. If you’re connecting them to a PC, you’ll either need enough ports to accommodate them all or daisy-chain the monitors with a DisplayPort cable-we’ll circle back to this soon. And then, of course, you’ll need the right number of cables to connect your graphics card or laptop to the monitor.
But what if you’re using a laptop (such as the MacBook Pro) that doesn’t have any cable outputs? There are HDMI docking stations and special cables, such as USB-C to HDMI, that you can plug into one of your laptop’s interfaces, USB or otherwise. You need to make sure you have the appropriate ports to accommodate one of these docking stations, but once you get the right one, you’ll be able to start connecting your laptop to a monitor. If you want to use more than one external monitor with your laptop, however, you’ll need to daisy-chain them with a DisplayPort cable. That means making sure your monitor has both HDMI and DisplayPort inputs.
Setting up your dual monitors could be the most difficult part of the process or the easiest depending on what you want to do. You can always take the simple route and place your two monitors directly on a solid desk. On the other hand, you can get a little fancier with a mount and have your two monitors hover above your workstation-this provides you with more space on the desk itself. A good monitor mount doesn’t have to be too expensive, though you need to make note of the size and weight of both your displays before picking a mount for yourself. For both mounting and keeping your monitors on their stands, you’ll want to make sure your desk is strong enough to carry all of that weight (see our guide to the best gaming desks for some sturdy options).
Once you’ve got your monitors situated in positions you’re comfortable with, it’s as easy as grabbing your cable of choice and plugging one end into your monitor and the other into your PC or laptop. You’ll then want to do the same with your second monitor. This is where that docking station comes into play with laptops. If you don’t have a docking station and both monitors have a DisplayPort port, you can connect the two screens with a DisplayPort cable. Once everything is plugged in, and your PC or laptop is turned on, both monitors will display two separate desktops.
From here, you may need to do some tinkering in your settings. You can find your Display settings by going to your computer’s Settings section, choosing System, and then selecting the Display tab on the left of the window. You’ll be presented with a rectangle that features numbered squares-these are your monitors. These squares can be moved to change the position of your monitor-if your right monitor shows up as the left for some reason, you can move it to the right to change this. From here, you can also click on a specific numbered box, change its resolution, make it your main display, and change its display orientation-the latter only matters if you’ve flipped a monitor into portrait mode.
For those using a second monitor for work and nothing else, you’re good to go. For gamers, however, you’ll want to go into your graphics card’s settings panel. If you have an AMD graphics card, click on your desktop and then select Radeon Settings. This is where you can tweak settings further, including enabling adaptive sync and changing refresh rate. For Nvidia GPU owners, you’ll want to search your PC for the Nvidia Control Panel, which is where you’ll be able to make your changes.
Best dual monitors
The truth is that almost any modern monitor will be suitable for a dual-display setup. If you’re a streamer who just wants a second monitor for chat, you don’t need to buy one that’s as nice as your primary gameplay monitor-and if you’re using a 144Hz or 240Hz monitor, you can still go with a 60Hz monitor for your second. For those unsure what to go with, check out our recommendations below.
The following budget monitors are great for those looking to snag an affordable second display for reading stream chat, watching Netflix while gaming, or anything else. Grabbing two of these would also make for an excellent work-from-home station.
If you’re looking for a pair of monitors that will really knock your socks off, you’ll need to spend a little more money. The following monitors are excellent, yet affordable for gaming, production, and other tasks where image quality, refresh rate, and response time are key.
Monitors can be an intimidating purchase, and it’s important to understand the intricacies of these screens before buying. If you want to learn more, check out our guide to monitor technologies. It covers everything from HDR in monitors to the display panel types, G-Sync vs. FreeSync, and more. And if you’re looking for a gaming display, it’s worth looking at our explainer detailing the differences, advantages, and disadvantages of gaming TVs vs. gaming monitors.