BOOT CAMP 412 (21/02/06)



I have played around with dual monitor displays ever since Multiple Monitor Support was included in Windows 98 but it wasn’t until six months ago that I became a serious convert.


I changed my mind whilst building my website; having two monitors greatly reduced the workload and sped up the design and compilation of more than 3000 web pages. However, the clincher was the recent dramatic reduction in the cost of LCD monitors, which made the installation of two screens on my modestly sized desk a practical and economic proposition.


Next week we’ll be looking at how to set up a dual monitor display on your PC but first a few words on how it all works. Until you have actually used a dual monitor display it can be difficult to see what all the fuss is about. Quite simply it makes your PC easier to use, more flexible, and you more productive, particularly if you routinely have two or more programs on the go, and that doesn’t include your email client and web browser.


Graphics intensive applications like video editing programs, games such as MS Flight Simulator and PowerPoint AV presenter all have dual monitor features built in. For example, in Flight Simulator one screen can be configured for a normal cockpit view whilst the other shows a view of the ground. In PowerPoint one screen is used for the presentation whilst the other one displays the speaker’s notes.


For those accustomed to using a single screen it can be hard to visualise how a dual screen display works on a normal PC but the basic idea is very simple. There are several ways of configuring a multi-monitor setup (see Top Tip) but Windows simply extends the desktop onto the second screen. In other words the two screens behave as if they are one wide display. If you move your mouse pointer off the right hand edge of screen 1 (on the left) it instantly appears on the left side of screen 2. If placed side by side the two screens seem almost to merge together.


How you use the two screens is entirely up to you. I’m still fine-tuning my setup but I have Word and my web-editing program on screen 1 (on the left) and email, web browser and image-editing programs on screen 2. This arrangement lets me work on a document or web page on one screen with web references, or the page I’m editing displayed on the second screen. Ideally I would like to have Word the web editor and web browser on separate screens and I am working on that. I’ll be adding a third monitor as soon as I’ve figured out how to squeeze it on to my desk...


Obviously you can’t just plug a second monitor into your PC, it has only one monitor socket, but don’t worry, it really is very easy, more on that next week.

Multi Monitor Support is built into Windows 98, SE, ME, 2000 and both versions of XP (and yes, I know Apple Macs have had it since the early 1990s…). 


Windows XP can support up to 10 monitors and with specialised software many more. No extra software or special hardware is needed but you will need a separate video adaptor card for each additional monitor, or a single card with dual monitor output. If your PC currently uses an integrated video adaptor (built into the motherboard) you probably won’t be able to use that so you will need to buy two video cards (or one dual output card).


You can use a mixture of PCI and AGP type video cards -- you may already have one if you have an old or retired PC gathering dust in the attic -- but you cannot use the older ISA/EISA type cards though it’s largely academic as very few motherboards have the necessary sockets these days. Any type of display (CRT, LCD, projector etc) can be used -- provided it is supported by the video adaptor -- and you can have a mixture of types. For instance, you might want to use a video projector for a PowerPoint slideshow and a desktop monitor in view of the speaker for the notes or script. 


Windows lets you specify which monitor is Screen 1 or the ‘primary’ screen and you can set a different resolution and colour depth for each display. In most situations you will want them to be both the same but this could be handy if you are using a projector and a monitor or two different types of adaptor card. 


Running two or more monitors can result in a reduction in the performance of your PC though the faster the processor and the more RAM it has the less noticeable it will be. It also helps to use video cards with plenty of on-board memory (64Mb or more).  Finally, some graphics components like Direct X, Direct Draw and Direct 3D may not work correctly on some games set-ups; there’s no easy way to tell beforehand but you might find some helpful advice on the game manufacturer’s web site. 


NEXT WEEK - Dual Monitor Display, part 2





Accelerated Graphics Port – dedicated socket on a PC motherboard for high performance video adaptor cards



Extended Industry Standard Architecture, obsolete expansion card socket used on older PCs



Peripheral Component Interconnect - high-speed expansion/connector system used for sound, video, and network adaptor cards, etc.




Multi-monitor support in Windows is limited to an extended desktop but various software and hardware alternatives are available that allow different display configurations. Some dual-output video adaptors support ‘Clone’ mode, where the same image appears on each screen. ‘Span’ or ‘stretch’ mode -- also available on some dual output video cards persuades Windows to treat both monitors as a single entity (so they have to be the same type). This can be used to create a single large widescreen display for games and applications that do not have built-in multi-monitor support.  




© R. Maybury 2006, 1502

Part 2


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