Run Two Monitors from your Laptop

If you’re like me, you can’t have enough digital desktop space. However, if you’re like me, you switched to a laptop many years ago, and had to take a step back from desktop computers that could easily run as many monitors as you could fit on your desk. Macs have always had an advantage here, running dual monitors since the late 80’s. This was one of the reasons they gained popularity for desktop publishing.

While most laptops natively support one external monitor in addition to the built-in screen, I’ve found myself at times wanting two big displays since I usually don’t have my laptop open on my desk. I find it cumbersome and recently downgraded to a 13“ MacBook Pro since I typically use the laptop as a laptop on planes and in coffee shops where it’s cramped. I may even go AirBook next.

Low and behold, about a year ago the geniuses at DisplayLink invented a microchip (let’s call it a magic box) that allows you to run a monitor off nothing more than a USB connection. How does it work? It compresses the video signal to fit into the 480 Mb/s data stream that USB can handle. Back in the day you had to have a separate video card for every monitor or pair of monitors, which used far more power and generate more heat. No more.

So now they’ve licensed the chip and there are all varieties of magic boxes out there. I highly recommend this USB display adapter from Diamond Multimedia, which works on Mac and PC and also has a built in 3-port USB hub since you’d be losing a USB port otherwise:

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Installation is a snap. Install one DisplayLink driver, which you can find here for free, then plug it in and go! The box has a DVI monitor port, so you may need an adapter for VGA, etc.

The only drawback is that the refresh speed is a little sluggish. You’ll notice this when you drag windows around or play a video. It can support HD resolution on up to six additional screens (one monitor per box), which is great, but I would not recommend it for watching movies or gaming. That’s what your main monitor is for!

At Astek, we’re completely laptop-based, which is great for a flexible work environment. And now the only significant limitation has been removed. I tested it out first on one workstation, and then bought them for the whole office. It’s $60 for the box, so around $300 total investment including a monitor for a significant increase in productivity. Here’s my current setup:

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What would you do with two monitors?

6 Comments

  • so why not just use your laptop’s screen as the second (or third) monitor? Is it simply a bigger screen you’re looking for as the second one?

  • Sure, I think it’s a personal preference. My 13″ laptop has a larger footprint than my 24″ monitor, so I’d rather just keep adding bigger monitors at my desk and keep the laptop tucked away. They are easier for me to set up ergonomically as well.

  • Gotta say that vertical monitor looks sweet, and I agree it’s a personal preference… I’ve just never understood why anyone would want to close their laptop lid and “waste” that space!

    Get a stand to raise it up and put something underneath it to get back the desk space :)

  • oh, and doesn’t Thunderbolt daisy-chaining make more sense for the newest laptops? At least when Thunderbolt hubs or Thunderbolt-enabled monitors start coming out, that is….

  • Yeah, the portrait display is really nice. Takes up even less space and is ideal for web testing with a width of 1080px. I guess I’m more of a “docker” with the laptop. Keeps the dust off! :)

    As for Thunderbolt, yes indeed once again Apple has invented a proprietary technology that is superior in every way… except industry adoption. It worked once with the iPod! Lightning could strike again. :)

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