Dual-monitor setup

Whether you're a content creator, programmer, data analyst, or gamer, a system with multiple monitors not only looks good, but it can significantly improve your multitasking productivity when working with several apps. However, a multi-monitor setup is only practical as long as you configure it correctly.

Luckily, Windows 10 has several features and settings to support one, two, three, four, and even more monitors without the need for third-party software for the best desktop experience.

In this Windows 10 guide, we'll walk you through several tips to configure and use a multi-monitor setup, whether you're connecting an external display to your laptop, or you're connecting two, three, or more monitors to your desktop or workstation.

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Before configuring a multi-monitor setup

Before diving into this guide, make sure that all the necessary cables are connected to the monitors and computer. This includes connecting power and video signal using VGA, DVI, HDMI, or DisplayPort (recommended) cables.

If you're not sure, you can always note the make and model of the monitor, and search online for the manufacturer manual to get a better idea on how to connect the display.

How to rearrange multiple displays on Windows 10

Although you can connect a monitor to any of the available video ports on the graphics card, when setting up a dual-monitor or triple-monitor setup, it's easy to plug them in the wrong order. While they will still work, you may run into issues using the mouse and running applications until you rearrange them correctly.

To rearrange monitors on Windows 10, use these steps:

  1. Open Settings.
  2. Click on System.
  3. Click on Display.
  4. Under the "Select and rearrange displays" section, drag and drop each display to rearrange them according to their physical layout on your desktop.

    Windows 10 display settingsSource: Windows Central

    Quick tip: When rearranging monitors in the Display settings page, make sure that all monitors align at the top perfectly. Otherwise, you'll have problems moving the mouse cursor between monitors from the corners.

  5. Click the Apply button.

Once you complete the steps, Windows 10 will understand the physical layout of the screens, and you'll be able to work across each display and run apps without issues.

If you're not sure which monitor you're selecting, click the Identify button to figure out. If one of the monitors isn't showing up, make sure it's receiving power and connected correctly, and click the Detect button. In the case that you're still having problems, reset their connections (or restart your computer), and try the Detect button again.

How to adjust displays scale and layout on Windows 10

When connecting one or multiple displays to your computer, Windows 10 does a pretty good job detecting and configuring the most optimal settings. However, depending on your requirements, you may need to adjust scaling, resolution, and orientation for each monitor.

Selecting correct scale

Windows 10 includes settings to adjust the scaling, which comes in handy when setting up various monitors of different sizes and screen resolutions to make text, apps, and other items look the same size across the displays. Or, if you have a 4K display, for example, adjusting the scale settings can help to make items bigger and more readable.

To select the correct scale that best suits your requirements, use these steps:

  1. Open Settings.
  2. Click on System.
  3. Click on Display.
  4. Under the "Select and rearrange displays" section, select the monitor that you want to adjust.
  5. Use the Change the size of text, apps, and other items drop-down menu to select the appropriate scale.

    Windows 10 scaling settingsSource: Windows Central

After you complete the steps, you may need to repeat steps No. 4 and 5 to change the scaling settings on the other monitors, and then click the Sign-out option to apply the changes.

While you can adjust the scaling settings on a per-monitor basis, when possible, it's always best to use the same make and model of the monitors with the same configuration. Otherwise, you may run into issues, and Windows 10 may struggle scaling elements.

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Custom scaling

If none of the options work on your setup, you can specify a custom scaling value with these steps:

  1. Open Settings.
  2. Click on System.
  3. Click on Display.
  4. Under the "Select and rearrange displays" section, select the monitor that you want to adjust.
  5. Under the "Scale and layout" section, click the Advanced scaling settings option.

    Windows 10 advanced scaling settings optionSource: Windows Central

  6. Under the "Custom scaling" section, specify the scaling size between 100 and 500 percent.

    Windows 10 custom scaling settings Source: Windows Central

  7. Click the Apply button.

After you complete the steps, sign out of your account and sign back in to test the new settings. If the new scaling configuration doesn't look right, use the same steps outlined above again, and try a different value until you find a comfortable setting.

Selecting correct resolution

Usually, after connecting a monitor, Windows 10 will adjust the recommended resolution automatically, but you can also change the resolution manually with these steps:

  1. Open Settings.
  2. Click on System.
  3. Click on Display.
  4. Under the "Select and rearrange displays" section, select the monitor that you want to adjust.
  5. Under the "Scale and layout" section, use the Resolution drop-down menu to select the correct pixel resolution.

    Windows 10 change resolution settingsSource: Windows Central

Once you complete the steps, repeat steps No. 4 and 5 to change the resolution on the remaining monitors.

If you're looking to make text and other items bigger on the screen, you should be changing the scaling settings, not the resolution.

Selecting correct orientation

Windows 10 also allows you to rotate the screen horizontally or vertically, which is particularly useful when you have monitors with stands that rotate, and you want to use them with a different orientation for reading or coding.

To change the orientation on a per-monitor basis, use these steps:

  1. Open Settings.
  2. Click on System.
  3. Click on Display.
  4. Under the "Select and rearrange displays" section, select the monitor that you want to adjust.
  5. Under the "Scale and layout" section, use the Orientation drop-down menu to select the mode you want:

    • Landscape.
    • Portrait.
    • Landscape (flipped).
    • Portrait (flipped).

    Windows 10 change orientation settingsSource: Windows Central

Alternatively, you can also use the Ctrl + Alt + arrow keyboard shortcut to switch between the orientation modes in some supported devices. For example, using the Ctrl + Alt + Right arrow keyboard shortcut rotates the screen 90 degrees, and the Ctrl + Alt + Up arrow combo restores the normal orientation.

How to select multiple displays viewing mode on Windows 10

Using the built-in settings, you can also choose the viewing mode for your displays. For instance, if you're using a second monitor, you can expand the main screen to the new display, or you can mirror both monitors, which is an ideal option when showing a presentation. If you're using a laptop with an external monitor, you can even disable the built-in display, and only use the second monitor as your primary.

To change the viewing mode on Windows 10, use these steps:

  1. Open Settings.
  2. Click on System.
  3. Click on Display.
  4. Under the "Select and rearrange displays" section, select the monitor that you want to adjust.
  5. Under the "Multiple displays" section, use the drop-down menu to set the appropriate viewing mode, including:

    • Duplicate desktop — Shows duplicate desktop according to the description.
    • Extend — Expands the primary desktop to the display currently selected.
    • Disconnect this display — Turn off the selected monitor.

    Windows 10 expand monitor settingsSource: Windows Central

After you complete the steps, you may need to repeat steps No. 4 and 5 to set the display mode on the remaining monitors. Also, note that using these settings, you can make any of the monitors as your primary display.

Switching display modes with shortcut

In addition to using the Settings app, Windows 10 also allows you to switch display modes on the fly using the Project feature, which you can access using the Windows key + P keyboard shortcut.

Windows 10 project options multi-monitor setupSource: Windows Central

Once you invoke the shortcut, a flyout will open with four options, including:

  • PC screen only — Only the primary display is used.
  • Duplicate — Secondary displays will mirror the primary monitor.
  • Extend — Both screens combine to offer an extended desktop.
  • Second screen only — Only the secondary displays is used.

Usually, when using a multi-monitor setup on a desktop or laptop, you want to use the "Extend" option. This allows you to use the primary monitor normally and the secondary monitors at their native resolution creating a single large canvas.

Duplicate is a good option when using a second monitor or projector to show a presentation, while the Second screen only option is a good option when you want to close your laptop lid and work only with one monitor.

How to manage advanced display settings on Windows 10

Although it's not always a good idea to modify your advanced display settings, because not all monitors are created equal, sometimes, you may need to make a few adjustments to improve color accuracy and remove screen flickering.

Important: We only recommend adjusting the advanced settings if you've researched a little and have a rough idea of what to do. Typically, you should be fine with the default display settings.

Setting a custom color profile

If your monitors aren't rendering the colors accurately, you can use a custom color profile to improve color accuracy using these steps:

  1. Open Settings.
  2. Click on System.
  3. Click on Display.
  4. Click the Advanced display settings option.

    Windows 10 display advanced settingsSource: Windows Central

  5. Click the Display adapter properties option for the display that you want to set a custom color profile.

    Windows 10 configured monitorsSource: Windows Central

  6. Click the Color Management tab.
  7. Click the Color Management button.

    Color management settingsSource: Windows Central

  8. Click the Devices tab.
  9. Select a display from the list.
  10. Check the Use my settings for this display option.
  11. Click the Add button.

    Add color profile on Windows 10Source: Windows Central

  12. On the "Associate Color Profile" page, click the Browse button and locate the new color profile.

    Windows 10 color profile settingsSource: Windows Central

  13. Double-click the .icm file to install the new profile.
  14. Click the Close button.

    Windows 10 custom color profile Source: Windows Central

Once you complete the steps, you may need to repeat steps No. 9 through 13 to set a custom profile for the other monitors.

When setting up a custom color profile, you should use those created by your display manufacturer or from a trusted source. If you're not sure, you can use these steps to download the correct color profile for your monitors.

Changing the refresh rate

Usually, a refresh rate (frames per second) of 59Hz or 60Hz is more than enough to operate a computer. However, if you're noticing screen flickering, or if you have monitors that support a higher refresh rate, bumping the settings can provide a better and smoother viewing experience — especially for gamers.

If you must adjust the refresh rate in your current setup, use these steps:

  1. Open Settings.
  2. Click on System.
  3. Click on Display.
  4. Click the Advanced display settings option.

    Windows 10 display advanced settingsSource: Windows Central

  5. Click the Display adapter properties option for the display you want to change the refresh rate.

    Windows 10 configured monitorsSource: Windows Central

  6. Click the Monitor tab.
  7. Under the "Monitor Settings" section, use the drop-down menu to set the correct refresh rate.

    Windows 10 change refresh rateSource: Windows Central

After you complete the steps, you may need to repeat steps No. 5, 6, and 7 to change the refresh rate on the other monitors.

How to show taskbar across multiple displays on Windows 10

On a multi-monitor setup, the taskbar by default will appear only in the main display, but you can adjust the settings to show the taskbar across all the displays with these steps:

  1. Open Settings.
  2. Click on Personalization
  3. Click on Taskbar.
  4. Under the "Multiple display" section, turn on the Show taskbar on all displays toggle switch.

    Windows 10 taskbar settingsSource: Windows Central

If you want to control in which taskbar the buttons for running apps should appear, then use the Show taskbar button on the drop-down menu and select one of the available options:

  • All taskbars.
  • Main taskbar and taskbar where window is open.
  • Taskbar where window is open.

In addition, you can also use this guide to optimize the space on the taskbar to pin even more apps or to keep it as minimal as possible.

How to change background on multiple displays on Windows 10

Windows 10 offers a lot of settings to adjust the look and feel of the desktop, but when using multiple monitors, setting up different background images on each display is one the most important customizations you can make to personalize your experience.

To show different wallpapers on a multi-monitor setup using a slideshow, use these steps:

  1. Open Settings.
  2. Click on Personalization.
  3. Click on Background.
  4. Use the "Background" drop-down menu and select the Slideshow option.

    Windows 10 background settingsSource: Windows Central

  5. Click the Browse button.
  6. Select a folder with a collection of images that you'd like to display on the monitors.
  7. Click the Choose this folder button.
  8. Use the "Change picture every" drop-down menu to select the rotation frequency.
  9. Turn on the Shuffle toggle switch.
  10. (Optional) If you're using different sized images, use the Choose a fit drop-down menu and select the Fill option.

Once you complete the steps, the images will rotate on the desktop background, depending on the rotation frequency you selected.

Customizing each monitor with a different background

If you want to set a different background image for each monitor, use these steps:

  1. Open Settings.
  2. Click on Personalization.
  3. Click on Background.
  4. Use the "Background" drop-down menu and select the Picture option.

    Windows 10 single monitor wallpaperSource: Windows Central

  5. Click the Browse button.
  6. Select the wallpaper and click the Choose picture option.
  7. Right-click the image and select the monitor you want the wallpaper to show.

    Set wallpaper per monitorSource: Windows Central

  8. Repeat steps No. 5, 6, and 7 to set a custom background for another monitor.

After you complete the steps, each monitor will display a custom wallpaper.

Wrapping things up

Alongside the instructions outlined above, here are a few additional tips to keep in mind when setting up a computer with multiple monitors:

  • Unless it's a laptop, you shouldn't try to adjust the brightness or color using software. Instead, you should use the controls built into the monitor.
  • If the second monitor isn't getting detected, check its connections and use the Detect button in the Settings app. If you're still having issues, you can use this guide to troubleshoot and fix common problems.
  • When using one or multiple monitors, you may come across a black screen, which usually is a video driver related problem. If you're not sure how to fix this issue, you can follow these steps to resolve the problem.

Do you have another tip for configuring a multi-monitor setup with Windows 10? Tell us in the comments.

More Windows 10 resources

For more helpful articles, coverage, and answers to common questions about Windows 10, visit the following resources:

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