Setting up dual monitors using Windows XP Home

Are you a power user who is always burdened with a cluttered desktop? So many programs open that they consume the entire task bar. You switch back and forth between windows so often you get dizzy. If this sounds like you, then perhaps you should consider installing a second monitor.

There are many benefits to having a second monitor (and with XP Professional you can have up to 10 monitors). You can open different files on each desktop and drag items seamlessly from one to the other. Items can be stretched across multiple desktops, allowing you to see more columns in an Excel spreadsheet, or an entire Web page, without scrolling.

Windows XP makes it easy to install a second monitor. The hardest part is acquiring a spare monitor and an additional video card, but as more people upgrade their computers it is easier to come across superseded equipment. Many people will have a 14in or 15in monitor just laying around unused. You can pick up a cheap video card from a computer store or computer fair; just make sure that it is XP compatible.

Installing an additional card and monitor

Installing a second card and monitor is a fairly simple affair, but it is necessary to open up the computer. If you are not comfortable with opening your computer, then get a friend to do it for you or take it to your local computer store.

The basic steps required are set out below. See the July 2002 issue of PC World (page 118) “Upgrader: Enlarging your Desktop area” for full step-by-step details.

1. Turn off your computer and remove the casing.
2. Insert the second PCI or AGP video card into an available slot.
3. Plug the second monitor into the card.
4. Turn on your computer. Windows XP will detect the new video card and install the appropriate drivers. (If you have additional drivers for the card, then by all means use them instead of the default XP ones. The most recent drivers will not only be technically superior, they often boast features that you will not find in the default drivers.)
5. Open Display from the Control Panel.
6. On the Settings tab, click the monitor icon that represents the second monitor that you just installed.
7. Select the ‘Extend my Windows desktop onto this monitor’ check box and click OK. (Note: if the check box is not displayed, it may be because your video card does not support multiple monitors.)

From the Control Panel’s Display option you can configure the second monitor in the same way that you would the primary monitor. Features such as resolution and colour depth can all be configured individually for each monitor. In the Display window you may also come across advanced features that relate specifically to the video card being used. To learn more about these advanced features, you should look up the Web site of the video card or chipset manufacturer.

DualView

Many video cards, particularly those found in notebooks, are equipped with dual adapters, which means you can hook two monitors to a single card. Windows XP provides support for these cards with its DualView feature.

DualView is very similar to the multiple monitor feature already described, with the exception that you cannot select the primary display. On a notebook computer the primary monitor is always the LCD display screen. On a desktop computer, it is the monitor attached to the first video port.

Once you have attached the second monitor, turn on the computer and select Display from the Control Panel. The DualView tab will be present and will contain all the settings you need to configure it. In some circumstances the DualView tab will be replaced by the card’s own configuration tab, which will include advanced features over and above the standard XP options (see FIGURE 1).

An alternative solution: Virtual Desktop

If you do not have access to additional video cards and monitors, there is an alternative solution.

In the April 2003 issue of PC World we looked at the collection of handy tools designed especially for Windows XP, called Power Toys. In the Power Toys collection there is a Virtual Desktop program that allows you to expand your Windows XP workspace. With the Virtual Desktop Manager you can have up to four desktops, allowing you to organise your work into distinct groupings. See the article for more information or visit Microsoft’s Power Toys site at www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/home/downloads/powertoys.asp.

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