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54. Two screens can ease some tasks

By Mark Alberstat

For most computer users, one monitor is enough. However, there are times and applications when it would be nice to have two monitors.

Who would ever need two monitors running at the same time off the same machine, you ask?

Imagine you are editing video and want to keep all of your tools open and available on one screen while using the other for the actual images.

How about a project manager with some very long spreadsheets of flow charts? With two monitors that much more of the application can be seen.

Or how about online financial traders? With multiple monitors, they can keep up with industry news and price charts on one screen while filling in endless forms on another.

With multiple monitors not only can you have more than one application active at a time, you can stretch certain applications over the larger screen area, eliminating the need to shrink text size or viewable area.

Since Windows 98 came out, having two monitors attached to one machine has been possible, though few people have actually done this. With Windows XP, running multiple monitors has become even easier and you can, in fact, run up to 10 monitors from a single workstation.

Thinking about the back of your computer, you may be wondering how you could ever hook up more than one monitor. The answer is simple - not only will you have to purchase another monitor, but with most systems, you will also have to purchase another video card.

Video cards today can run from about $50 to well over $300, depending on the quality of the image you want and the various features, including the amount of on-board RAM. You can also purchase, often through large mail-order computer hardware companies, dual-monitor cards - a single video card that can run two monitors. These cards are often more expensive but will save you an expansion slot in the back of your PC.

If your computer has its video built into the motherboard, you may have to disable it in the motherboard's BIOS before an add-in card will work. To be sure about this, and how to disable it, you will have to refer to the documentation that came with the motherboard, as they are not all alike.

Once you have the cards installed, getting the multiple-monitor environment to work is relatively straightforward. Windows will easily recognize the situation and one card will have to be set as the primary. It is through this monitor that Windows will boot up. Any further setting manipulation, such as resolution or colour depth, of any of the monitors can be done through the Windows display panel.

With a Mac, dual monitors are also possible but, based on the postings on various Mac websites, the best way to do this, unless you have a PowerMac G5, is through a secondary device, such as digitaltiger's SideCar.

With a Linux-based computer, hooking up two monitors is similar to the process described above with Windows. There are several excellent Linux forums online with technical notes on how to have this type of OS run multiple monitors.

The Mousepad runs every two weeks. It's a service of Chebucto Community Net, a community-owned Internet provider. If you have a question about computing, email If we use your question in a column, we'll send you a free mousepad.


The Mousepad Index


Originally published 27 February 2005


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