We often get enquires asking how to connect a multi-screen array up to a laptop, unfortunately there is no easy answer to this question.
Most laptops are only really designed to support one external monitor, this is through the VGA or DVI port usually located on the back or side of the machine.
Often laptops will have a VGA output and a HDMI one, but these generally can’t support two external screens, if you connected two screens they would normally show the same image (clone) which is not what we want.
There are a few options to support more than one screen but there are drawbacks and considerations to these routes.
Matrox DualHead2Go or TripleHead2Go
The Matrox kits are capable of achieving multi monitor support from one VGA or DVI output.
They are essentially little boxes that you connect to your laptops monitor output and then you can plug in two (DualHead2Go) or three (TripleHead2Go) screens to the other side of the device.
The Matrox kits fool Windows into thinking that you have a large widescreen monitor connected up to it rather then two or three different screens.
This solution does work however the screens must be physically located side by side, you couldn’t run a pyramid setup or have two monitors stacked on top of each other. The reason for this is because your mouse would behave like you have one large screen so it would naturally expect the screens to be seemlessly connected to each other.
Also, the screen resolutions are tightly controlled which equates to you requiring three monitors with the same resolution, with the VGA kit (Analogue) the max resolution is 1280 x 1024 which means that you are limited to 17″ or 19″ screens.
For the DVI (Digital) kits then you can go to 1920 x 1080 which is up to 24″ widescreens.
USB to VGA Adapters
This solution is a bit of a hardware ‘hack’. They are little devices which connect to a USB 2.0 port and allow you to connect a VGA screen to the other end. They fool Windows into thinking that you have an extra graphics card installed.
The main problem with them is that they have no processing power of their own so borrow from your laptops resources meaning that they can slow down your system.
They also have screen resolution limitations and generally don’t perform well over 1280 x 1024 resolutions (17″ or 19″ screens).
Finally, due to the lack of processing power they don’t handle anything too graphical very well, for example videos played on a screen connected through one of these devices can sometimes appear choppy, and you can forget about games or anything else that has fast updating graphics.
If you intention is just to connect up a spare screen for email, word processing or light Internet usage then they can be an easy option to consider.
We used to sell some of these types of adapters however we have withdrawn them due to their poor performance levels.
Are There Any Multi Screen Capable Laptops?
There are no real dedicated laptops to multiple monitor usage, the market probably isn’t big enough for anyone to design and manufacture a laptop with more than 1 or 2 monitor outputs.
One thing we have recently seen though are laptops with DisplayPort outputs which (in theory) let you ‘daisychain’ up to 3 monitors together, i.e. one monitor is connected to your laptop’s DisplayPort then a 2nd screen is connected to the 1st monitor and then a 3rd screen is connected to the 2nd monitor.
Being brutally honest I’ve never seen this setup working, in theory it should work however in reality you would need the right kind of DispayPort output on the laptop and then screens which are compatible with this kind of setup. As DisplayPort and daisychaining is still not widely supported on lower to medium priced screens this setup is likely going to end up costing a bit to get up and running.
There are also many online reports of kit not working in this fashion quite as it should, I think that is to be expected of any kind of technology that hasn’t seen mass adoption yet.
Unfortunately that’s about it for laptops and multi-screen computing, they just aren’t designed for this kind of usage and any working solution is going to be a compromise one way or the other.
Written by Darren @ Multiple Monitors
Last Updated: April, 2012