Whether you edit Hollywood films or trade stocks on Wall Street, a single computer screen in your office can often seem a bit limiting. Your desk should be a helm for productivity, and outdated tech will only slow down your efficiency when you have a million and one tasks to keep track of. If you haven’t yet taken advantage of a dual monitor setup at work, it’s time to step into a bright new world.
Beloved among business professionals and amateur artists alike, the dual monitor setup can be seen anywhere from the C-suite to the college dorm room. Multiple monitors guarantee more screen real estate as you multi-task with ease and keep an eye on critical information - all without constantly switching between various open tabs.
While the dual monitor setup has garnered a huge following of avid fans, there are also many vocal critics of this configuration that claim the good ole’ days of a single monitor actually increase your productivity. If you’re considering outfitting your office with a few more screens, it’s important to understand how, when, and why a dual monitor setup makes sense for you.
How to set up a dual monitor with Windows 10
Before you delve into the merits of multiple computer screens, it’s critical to know exactly how to set up dual monitors in your office. Start with the obvious: invest in a desk that can handle two screens.
The goal of dual monitors is to amp up your productivity, and crowding a cramped desk with more equipment would certainly detract from an improved workflow.
Once your office is complete with the correct furniture, begin building your hub with a primary computer. Whether this mothership is a desktop PC or a portable laptop depends on if you take your work outside of the office. For consistency’s sake it’s best to have two monitors of the same size but if your desk isn’t that large or your primary PC is a small laptop, displays of varying size shouldn't be a problem.
The next step is to connect the two monitors together. Most desktops come with more than one port to hook up another screen to, such as an HDMI, DVI, or DisplayPort. Laptops typically come with at least one external display port, and you can also find splitter computer monitor cables or laptop docking stations that allow you to connect more than one monitor to a port.
So how do you set up dual monitors with Windows 10? It’s actually quite simple. If Windows doesn’t automatically extend your desktop - meaning you can’t move tabs from one monitor to the next or it only mirrors your display - you can get your workstation up and running in a few clicks.
Right click on your home screen
Open display settings
Once you’re on the display tab, use the rectangular graphics of the two monitors to arrange them to correspond to how they’re set up on your desk
Choose the primary PC you’ll be working from and arrange them in the same spatial order as they appear in front of you so your mouse movements intuitively carry over from one screen to the next
Select the drop down menu under the "Multiple Displays" section
Select "Extend These Displays"
You’ll now be able to have different programs and windows open on your separate screens. If you later want to only see content on your primary or secondary monitor, this drop-down menu allows you to select that viewing option as well.
Voilá! Your dual monitor set up is open for business. But what about saving desk space and opting for a larger monitor instead of two screens? You’ll want to keep reading.
What’s the difference between dual monitors and a split screen single monitor?
If you don’t want to connect two monitors but need more screen-power at work, an ultrawide monitor is another option. These elongated monitors deliver widescreen (16:9) and ultra widescreen (21:9) aspect ratios so you can have more screen real estate in one display.
However, the ultrawide monitor isn’t without its flaws. Because it is still only a single monitor, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to open multiple programs in their full-screen mode, one of the major draws of a dual monitor setup. Plus, because of the wide viewing angle, information at the edges of the screen can be a strain for the eyes to see and colors can become distorted.
While strain and distortion can be fixed by opting for an ultrawide curved monitor, the limited functionality still remains the same. Fortunately, Windows 10 has an answer for those wondering how to split the screen on a single monitor. Snap Assist is a tool that allows you to open four different windows on the same display, effectively mimicking the look of multiple monitors.
But remember: easier viewing doesn’t alleviate the problems an avid multi-tasker may run into with a single ultrawide display. While there are ways to “cheat” the single monitor system, an ultrawide display does not perform in the same way as a dual monitor setup. Be sure to consider your own specific needs before making a decision for your office.
The pros and cons of using a dual monitor
Like almost everything in life, making the switch to dual monitors isn’t a black and white issue. While many studies tout the benefits of using more than one screen at work, there are plenty of naysayers who disagree with the research. Let’s take a look at some of the major advantages and drawbacks of a dual monitor setup.
Increased productivity or increased distractions?
In 2017, a study from Jon Peddie Research found that dual monitors can increase productivity by 42% . Simply put, the more you can see, the more you can do. A similar study from the University of Utah found that adding another monitor to your workstation increased efficiency by 29%, allowing participants to get their work done more quickly and with fewer errors .
More comparable research supports these findings, and the last decade has seen a huge boom in businesses all the way from corporate conglomerates to scrappy startups taking advantage of the dual monitor productivity hack.
Because two screens allow you to multi-task more efficiently than a single screen, opponents of dual monitors claim that it actually increases distractions while offering a false sense of improved time management. Some studies suggest that heavy media multi-taskers have worse memory retention than non-multi-taskers, in addition to a reduced ability to control what they focus on at any given time .
This research offers valuable insight into how digital landscapes are shaping the human brain . However, it doesn’t directly correlate multi-tasking, especially with dual monitors, with reduced memory or attention span. While the evidence can be conflicting, the positive impact of setting up two monitors depends on what your job requires and how you manage your time.
Ideal for an office environment but difficult for working remotely
Certain industries lend themselves to a dual monitor setup better than others. PC power users, such as video editors, graphic designers, CPAs, attorneys, architects, researchers, writers, or any other executive with a busy plate every morning, can certainly benefit from some dual-screen action.
Segmenting work tasks is a breeze once you get your office rigged with two displays. Bill Gates is famous for popularizing the multi-screen method, and he even uses three monitors to maximize his productivity. With a dual monitor setup, you can typically use one screen to perform the task at hand, such as writing an article or color correcting a photo, and keep the other screen open on your email stream or other online research that’s relevant to the current task.
This workflow is ideal for a stationary office environment. When you spend 8 or more hours a day in the same building, being able to access all the information you need for any given project in one glance can be extremely liberating. Time wasted on clicking between windows or resizing tabs will be put to use staying on top of your schedule.
But as the digital economy continues to shape the workforce of the world, many people are working remotely on a daily basis. This is where relying on two screens can hit a snag. If coffee shops and hotel lobbies are your typical office space, it’s incredibly difficult to set up dual monitors. Relying on a single screen will keep your workflow consistent no matter where you choose to set up shop, which ultimately leads to greater productivity.
Side-by-side viewing vs. virtual desktops
Another key benefit to rigging up two screens at the office is the ability to perform side-by-side comparisons. This is particularly useful for professionals in the media and arts industries who need to see changes to their projects in real time. If spreadsheets are your constant companion, amalgamating large amounts of data will be a breeze when you can copy/paste information from one screen to the other.
For diehard single monitor users, virtual desktops are a way to mirror the easy workflow of multiple displays. Many Windows computers allow you to create an unlimited number of desktop screens that can feature different programs, files, and information. Just as if you were mousing between two monitors, these virtual screens allow you to segment your work without adding a bulky screen to your workspace.
Useful dual monitor accessories
Just because you’ve invested in two monitors for the office doesn’t mean your desk space is at maximum efficiency. Take your work rig to the next level by investing in some accessories that will boost productivity and keep your space as professional as possible.
Dual monitor stands
The ergonomics of your office environment can have a direct impact on your physical and mental health at work. Both monitors should be positioned at eye level to avoid placing your neck in an uncomfortable position. A dual monitor stand like the Ergotech dual LCD monitor desk stand will hold both screens so you can position them to your liking without damaging your desk.
When shopping around, it’s important to think about the size of the two monitors you’re using. If you have a laptop and a standard desktop monitor, you’ll need to get a stand that can accommodate the varying sizes of different devices. A stand can also include dual monitor arms that allow you to move each screen around as you please, making the complexity of your stand dependent on the amount of flexibility you’ll want during the course of your day.
Across industries, the dual monitor setup is a popular configuration for employees at all levels. Whether you need a better view of extensive spreadsheets or a closer look at complex PC graphics, two screens make the flow between screens an effortless addition to your day.
While it’s important not to get too wrapped up in the promise of power multi-tasking, connecting another screen to your PC can benefit the desk-bound user in an infinite number of ways.
About the Author: Megan Edwards is a contributing writer for HP® Tech Takes. Megan is a digital content creator based in Southern California and specializes in creating multimedia content for various industries, including technology.
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