Two Screens, One PC

For just over 10 years, I’ve been using two Screens on my computer. You can see my current setup in the featured image. Using two Monitor can be a little confusing for some people, but for many it’s normal. Let’s start with the physical aspects first.

Hardware

To even run two screens on a computer, you need two screens. Purchasing your second Monitor is not particular hard or expensive, given that prices range from just over £50, to over £4000. The £4000 screen is huge at 75 inches, and larger than many Home Cinema TVs . Most Screens that are intended for day to day Computing are below the £200 mark. Many modern TVs can be used as short term second Monitor, but due to differences in standards for TVs, some TVs will cut off the edges and/or may have a noticeable delay. As Monitors usually outlive most computers, it’s more than possible for have an older monitor from an older pc.

Many Laptops have at least one Display output, in addition to the built in screen. Older Computers will use a VGA port, which was the standard for years, while Newer Latops will use HDMI, Display-port and in a few Cases USB-C. Desktop PCs may be able to support any of the standards posted above based on the current hardware installed on it, as well as the DVI standard. Most Discreet or Dedicated Graphic cards usually will contain more than one port. Some Desktop motherboards integrated Graphics may have support for more than one Monitor as well, and could in with the proper setup can support both several monitors using both the dedicated and integrated Graphics. For those systems that have the incorrect ports, you can use an adaptor to connect the hardware together. There are even USB to HDMI boxes available, however these do come with a few detractors that I’ll cover later. Linus Media’s Techquickie has a video on this.

My current PC uses a Nvidia Geforce GTX 1060 6GB Dedicated Graphics card, which contains a DVI connector, 1 HDMI port and 3 Display-ports. In those is a Widescreen 1080p Screen on the left and a “Square” Monitor on the right as a secondary. The 1080p Screen was added on November 7th 2014, due to it’s predecessor encountering a hardware issue which I mentioned on the the day before. The partner monitor is a older 4:3 panel taken from another PC that was made during 2006. Most of the previous computers, used one of the dedicated graphics cards of that time. I also used a older CRT monitor for my first computer dual screen build due the lack cost of Flat Planel monitors at the time, and CRTs where beginning to be phased out at this time.

Software

Most Modern Operating systems, Windows, Mac and Linux all have built in support for Multiple screens. The relevant settings options will usually let you set up the screens to your liking. Windows even as has shortcut key to turn a monitor on or off, and alters some of the options. Most Gaming Level hardware will come with their own software to make turn Multiple Monitors in to make software think the computer has one large monitor, AMD uses AMD Eyefinity or while Nvidia uses Nvidia Surround.

Most Programs will just use the Primary screen, but can you drag their Windows to the other screen. Most games will go full screen on the Primary Screen.

I found very few pieces of software that actually used both of my screens. The first piece of software that I found that used two screens was Microsoft Powerpoint. This was intended for a Laptop user to show his or her presentation on a external Monitor while have his or her notes and additional information on this laptop. I’ve also found this type of functionality on many Powerpoint like software such as Open office. Evernote also has this functionality to present notes.

Some video editors can use a second monitor to show a preview of the final cut of the video, these abilities are usually present Professional software or software related to a Professional version.

Only few games supported two monitor setups, Four games that I’ve played are “Real-Time strategy” games. Star Trek Armada and it’s sequel used the second screen to put some action in more of a cinematic view. Supreme Commander and it’s sequel used the second screen as additional overview of the battlefield.

Some Flight Sim games can be configured to show additional information such as cockpit displays on a second screen, I however I am not a flight sim fan, so I don’t know about which games support Multiple displays.

Finally, there are several apps such Deskscapes and DisplayFusion that can provide some of the customisable side of a Multimonitor setup, that windows doesn’t provide naturally.

How I use two screens

My secondary screen usually has a series of status windows relating to the Computer’s hardware, all placed on the far right side. This means I can keep an eye on things to see how my system is performing. It also gives me an indication if my computer is doing something I think it shouldn’t be doing. As it’s on the far right side of the right screen these windows don’t get in the way, nor I notice them when I work. During my time with Windows Vista and Windows 7, I used the Gadgets feature that was included with those versions of Windows. Windows 10 had removed Gadgets, and I currently use an app called Rainmeter.

I normally write on the second screen leaving the main screen to show the source information on the Primary Monitor. This makes it easier to write the articles based on certain facts. The secondary screen makes it easier to layout a page of text on screen, as the screen is less wider than Main Monitor.

For games, I usually play them on the Primary screen, while on my secondary screen I may have a window from a Chat Program, similar to Skype open. This lets me see who is speaking and see any text messages I get.

Some Negatives

First, with two or more screens, you need the extra desk space for the additional Monitors. While Multi-monitor stands exist, it can limit some setups to being near permanent, as someone may need to screw the screens to the stand, and possibly the desk as well. For laptops, as their Primary focus is for mobility, a second screen often as large as the Laptop itself and it requires it own power, which limits a dual screen setup for a laptop to the office, or home. While Projectors have been shrinking down to the something smaller than a DVD case, the possibility to having a unclear image can be noticeable due either the limits of the light level of the projector compared to the ambient light or the display element within the Projector.

While most Modern PC don’t use that much CPU power to drive Multiple Monitors during your standard web browsing sessions. The Integrated GPU within most computers CPU’s rarely have the right stuff to get games running on the screen, which can hurt the flexibility of some setups.

Some remote access software, such as Chrome Remote desktop may treat both screens as one. which can be somewhat of a confusing issue if you are not aware of it.

While less of an issue, there are situations, where a window gets stuck on another screen without any means to get the window back. Today Windows 10 is smart enough to move the offending window elements back in to a visible area. However, having a program window being stuck on to a powered off Projector may be still an issue. Windows 7 and later adds shortcut keys to quickly move windows between monitors.

The Source/word processor dual screen setup can also be replicated within Windows 7 and later on a single screen. It can be accessed using a shortcut key combinations similar to the previously Window moving shortcut keys.

One thing to note. While it’s possible to check your email (more like twitter feed or Twitch chat) one one screen while playing a game full screen in another. The way many games performed didn’t let you pause the game and do something else in another program. Some programs may also suspend other programs (such as an email programs check for new email function) to give the However some “windowed” and “Boarderless Windowed” modes has allowed this type of work to be done.

The Dedicated software to support Multiple monitors, I mentioned before has less and less becoming useful, as . The only reason I even have both Deskscapes and DisplayFusion is due to deal for a package that included some software that I wanted for less than buying it from the company directly.

Conclusion

In today’s Technological world, having all the information to hand is useful to an almost requirement, but the shift to mobile devices reduced the need to have all the information presented on desktop computers. Also with all this display real estate, it can be distracting and confusing.. but then I still would have 160 tabs open even if I had one screen..

Will I be keeping the current dual screen setup I’ve had for years? Sadly, no; it’s days are already numbered. However this is mainly due to a new piece of specialist hardware arriving soon.

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