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  • Two Monitors are Better than One
    By John Nolt
    Has your computer ever made you claustrophobic? Have you ever found yourself resizing two windows in an attempt to make them both fit on your monitor? Well there's a cure for your malaise—add a second monitor to your computer system.

    You'll find yourself enjoying a vast expanse of virtual desktop space, surrounded by open fields just waiting to window after window of beautiful Web pages, IM chats, and DIVx videos, in addition to that spreadsheet you're supposed to be working on. It's a multi-tasker's dream come true!

    So come along and hop right on to the multiple-monitor train!

    Note: This tech tip involves opening your computer up and plugging/unplugging stuff. If you're not comfortable doing that, ask a techy friend for help.

    Step One: Set up your computer
    In order to add a monitor to your system, your computer needs to be upgraded in order to support the
    extra monitor. (Let's assume for the moment that your computer's video card doesn't already support more than one monitor.)

    Multiple Video Cards
    One way to make your computer support an additional monitor is to just add another video card. That's right, you can just plug another video card into your computer, and it will work! A few notes before you try this method:
    • If your computer's video is integrated into its motherboard, then you don't have a video card. Any additional video card you plug in will take over the video chores for your computer, rather than adding the ability to use two monitors.

    • How do you tell? Open up your computer and see if the cable that's attached to your monitor jack leads to a place on your motherboard rather than to a card plugged into the motherboard. If so, you've got integrated video and you should get a dual-head video card instead. See below for more info on dual-head video cards.
    • Older video cards may not want to play with other video cards. If your older video card doesn't work when you plug in the extra card, return the new card and replace your old one with a dual-head card.
    • Check the available slots in your computer before you buy a video card!
    Dual-Head Video Card
    A "dual-head" video card has two jacks on the back where you can plug in a monitor. Sounds fancy, but you can get dual-head video cards just as cheap as their single-headed brethren. Try a search on for "dual-headed video card".

    But remember, you get what you pay for. The cheapest card may be a bargain, but if you want to do more than basic word processing, IM, and other jobs that don't involve a lot of intense video processing, you should spring for a more expensive card which will have more memory and more processing power to let your games and DVDs run smoothly.

    Step Two: Set up your monitors
    To use two monitors you need two monitors. You can really use almost any monitor combination and it will work. If you've got an old 15" monitor in the basement from your previous computer, drag it upstairs, dust it off, and plug it in.

    You'll get the best results from two monitors made by the same company. Not only will they perform similarly, with regard to technical stuff like refresh rates and color temperature, but they'll be the same size and shape—much easier to organize on your desk.

    Or, see our previous tech tip on Buying a New Monitor.

    DVI Converter
    If you're using an older monitor, you might need a DVI converter. A DVI converter is a little plug (costs around $15) that lets you plug a regular, analog monitor into the digital, DVI jack. Dual-head video cards often have one regular monitor jack and one with a lot more holes in it-that's the DVI jack.

    Step Three: Organize Your Windows Desktop
    Once you've got your hardware installed and plugged in, you get to configure your new enormous desktop. When your computer has started, right-click somewhere on your desktop and choose "Properties", then click the Display tab. This dialog will let you make your Windows desktop mirror the physical placement of the monitors on your desk.

    More Multi-Monitor FunThere are a bunch of products on the market that will help you get the most out of your dual-monitor setup.
    • Ultramon is software that enhances your ability to organize your desktop. It lets you do things like stretch a desktop picture across all your monitors, and move windows from one monitor to the other at the push of a button.
    • Monitor stands. If you have two LCD monitors, you can buy a monitor stand to hold them both on one clean pedestal. (Note: These stands don't come with monitors. You have to buy those yourself.)
    • EM shielding. Monitors give off electromagnetic waves, and sometimes two monitors side-by-side will interfere with each other. This can cause distortion and discoloration in your picture. If you experience this, try some EM shielding to correct the problem.
    Adding a monitor to your computer system may be just a few dollars and a little time away. Here's hoping this tech tip has given you the confidence and ideas you need to break those single-monitor chains and dive into the world of enormous desktops, increased productivity, and the comfortable feeling of knowing you're not about to run out of space any time soon.

    If you're looking for more inspiration before diving in, check out this fascinating gallery of multiple-monitor setups.

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