How to use a monitor with a laptop

Michael Rodgers

Connecting your laptop to a monitor

The average laptop has a screen size that is about 11 inches to 15 inches. In most cases, a 15-inch display is adequate, but you may need to hook your laptop up to a bigger monitor if you need more screen real estate for multitasking or work presentations. The ports on your laptop and the second monitor determine the method you use to connect the two.

Most modern laptops and monitors come with HDMI, USB-C, and DisplayPort connection ports but older ones have VGA or DVI ports. So, if both your laptop and monitor have USB-C ports, you can connect them using a USB-C cable.

What is USB, VGA, HDMI? 

A simple Google search should reveal what ports your laptop and monitor have, if you’re unsure. Below is a more detailed explanation about connection ports:

USB ports

There are several types of USB connection ports, but only the USB-C port with Thunderbolt or DisplayPort support can be used to connect a monitor and a laptop. Since USB-C ports are oval-shaped and significantly smaller, they are very easy to distinguish from other USB ports.

USB-C ports don’t just move data, they also connect to external hard drives and allow for fast charging of your phones, laptops or tablets.

VGA ports

Only older laptops have these kinds of ports, but you can still find them on many monitors. These ports are unique because they are covered in 15 tiny holes that fit the needle-like pins on the male end of VGA cables. Cables designed for these ports have screws that you have to tighten to secure their connection.

However, VGA cables cannot carry audio signals or high-definition resolutions such as 1080p.

HDMI ports

HDMI ports come in two varieties: the standard HDMI and a smaller version of it called mini-HDMI. Most laptops have a normal-sized HDMI port, but thinner, high-end laptops often have the mini-HDMI port. HDMI slots are not perfect rectangles like the USB-A slots you use to connect your mouse or keyboard.

DisplayPort ports

It is the most advanced display connection available today because it can deliver signals for high-definition displays in 4K resolution. However, you are only likely to find this connection port on high-end monitors and laptops.

DVI ports

DVI ports are the oldest connection ports. They look similar to VGA ports, but their holes are square rather than circular. Most modern laptops and monitors do not have these ports.

How to connect your laptop to a second screen

Connecting your laptop to a monitor using USB-C 

You can check the manufacturer's website to see if a USB-C port has Thunderbolt or DisplayPort support. Below are steps for connecting your monitor to a Windows laptop: 

  • Hook one end of your USB-C cable to the USB-C output of the monitor and the other end to the USB-C output of the laptop.
  • Go to the input settings of your monitor and choose USB-C.
  • Chances are that you will see your laptop display projected directly onto your monitor.
  • If you just want to use the second monitor or second screen only, press the Windows logo key and “P” at the same time and choose the “Second screen only” option. Your laptop screen will go dark.
  • Click on the “Extend” option if you want to extend your laptop display to the monitor. In this case, your laptop screen will still be active but the second screen will be an extension of it. This means you can drag a window from your laptop screen to the second monitor.
  • Choosing the “Duplicate” option is going to mirror your laptop screen onto the monitor.

Connecting your laptop to a monitor with a HDMI cable

To set up dual monitors on a Windows laptop using a HDMI port, follow the steps below:

  • Just connect the HDMI port on the monitor and the one on the laptop using an HDMI cable. 
  • Turn on the monitor and select the channel that the monitor is connected to.
  • Go to your Windows 10 taskbar and select “Start,” then click “Settings,” then “System” and finally click on “Display.” If it does not automatically detect the monitor, scroll down on the “Display” page and select “Detect.”
  • Scroll up to “Multiple Displays” and click the drop-down menu to select one of the options. 
  • You could also just press the Windows logo key together with the “P” key and the display options will appear on the right side.

How to connect your laptop to a monitor using a VGA port

This method is perhaps the most straightforward of all.

  • First, connect the cable to the monitor and the laptop. Tighten the screws to make sure the connection is not loose
  • Your laptop is going to automatically divert its output to the VGA monitor if you enable automatic switching.
  • If the laptop does not detect the second monitor, just open “Settings,” click on “System” and then select “Display.” Then click on the “Detect” button under the “Multiple Displays” section.

What if the connection ports on your monitor do not match your laptop?

If the ports on your laptop and monitor do not match, you can use dongles or docks.

Connecting a monitor to a laptop with a dongle 

If you have an older-generation monitor or laptop, it’s likely that it will not have ports such as HDMI, USB-C or DisplayPort. You can use a dongle or a dock, however, to overcome this limitation. So, if your laptop only has a USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 port while your monitor has an HDMI port, you can use a USB-C to HDMI dongle to connect the two using an HDMI cable.

A USB-C to HDMI dongle is a cable with an HDMI slot on one end and a USB-C male connection on the other. The USB-C end goes into the USB-C connection port on the laptop, while the HDMI cable connected to the monitor or TV goes into the HDMI slot on the dongle. Other types of dongles include VGA to HDMI, DVI to HDMI, VGA to DisplayPort and more.

Connecting a monitor to a laptop with a docking station

Docking stations are devices that can move data and run several displays through multiple extra ports such as USB-C, USB-A, Thunderbolt 4, Thunderbolt 3 and more. All these ports are powered by the docking station, not the laptop. So, if your monitor has an HDMI port while your laptop has a USB-C port, all you need to do is connect your HDMI cable to your monitor and the docking station, and connect your USB-C cable to the laptop and the USB-C port on the same docking station. Docking stations also have ethernet ports and microSD slots.


Michael Rodgers is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money.


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