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Upgrade Your PC: Install a Second Display Adapter and Add a Second Monitor

written by: Joli Ballew•edited by: Christian Cawley•updated: 9/17/2008

If your monitor is crowded with running programs and you constantly have to toggle between them, consider adding another monitor. Note that you may also have to install a second display adapter in an older PC.

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    Adding a monitor can be beneficial when you use multiple programs and have to access multiple open windows, such as a day trader, programmer, or artist might need to do. Both Windows XP and Windows Vista let you add a monitor (if you have the required hardware) and then extend your desktop to it. That means you can add another monitor and open a couple of programs on one and a couple of programs on another, and drag items across the boundary between monitors as though both were a single device. This is a really neat feature that many users don’t know about. It can quickly solve the problem of not having enough room on the screen to do what you want to do.

    Adding a second monitor is easy if your computer is a newer model. Many newer computers come with display adapters that can already handle two monitors. If you are one of the lucky ones, just turn off the computer, plug in the second monitor, and power it up. Then, turn on the computer. Finally, skip to the section “Configuring the Display Settings” to set it up.


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    Purchasing a New Display Adapter

    If you have a computer that’s a couple of years old (or older), you’ll probably have only one display adapter. If that’s the case, you’ll need to purchase another display adapter and install it. Not all display adapters are alike, though, so make sure that the adapter you choose is fully compatible with your PC and operating system. If it isn’t, although you may be able to set up dual monitors, you won’t be able to extend your desktop to the second one. (The second monitor will just show the same screen as the first)

    In addition to selecting an adapter that is compatible with Windows XP, you need to make sure you have a slot available on the motherboard that will accept it. There Is more than one kind of video adapter slot. If you have the information booklet that came with your computer, a tech support line, or access to the company’s Web site (if you purchased the computer from a large manufacturer), you might be able to find out if you have any open slots by calling or browsing their site. However, the easiest way to find out is to turn off the computer, unplug it, and open the case. Take a look at the motherboard, and see if there are any empty PCI (Peripheral Component Interconnect) or AGP (Accelerated Graphics Port) slots. You’ll have to plug the new display adapter into it, so there has to be one available. PCI slots are long, thin areas that hold cards such as modems and network adapters. They are generally white. AGP slots are generally brown and are shorter than PCI slots. If you are unfamiliar with the inside of a computer, you should consider calling the manufacturer or tech support before going much further.


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    Physical Installation

    After you’ve decided you have an available slot and purchased a new adapter, read the instructions for installing it. Installing a new display adapter generally consists of a few distinct steps:

    1. Turn off the computer and unplug it.

    2. Open the case and touch the chassis to ground yourself appropriately.

    3. Remove the cover that corresponds to the open slot on the back on the computer case, usually held with a single screw.

    4. Remove the display adapter from the protective packaging, being careful to touch only the edges.

    5. Insert the new adapter into the PCI or AGP slot and use the screw you removed in step 3 to secure it.

    6. Close the case, plug in the computer, and power it on.

    7. Install any required software.

    8. Turn off the computer, plug in the second monitor, and turn the computer back on. Configure the display settings as detailed in the next section.


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    Configuring the Display Settings

    Once the additional display card is configured and its monitor is working, you can configure the new monitor to show a duplicate of what is on the current monitor, or you can choose to extend the display to the second monitor. Extending the display is the best choice; with this configured, you can move applications over to the second monitor or view a large spreadsheet or image stretched over both.

    Follow these steps to configure the display settings in Windows XP (note that performing these steps with Vista differs slightly):

    1. Right-click an empty area of the desktop and click Properties.

    2. Select the Settings tab.

    3. Click the monitor icon that represents the monitor you want to use in addition to your current monitor.

    4. Select Extend My Windows Desktop Onto This Monitor, and click OK.

    Now simply drag and drop (from the title bar of your open applications) any application or window you’d like to move to the new monitor and desktop. You’re going to love this!



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