April 18, 2021

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You should be using two monitors — here’s how to get started

7 min read
(CNN) —  

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from a year straight of working from home, it’s that I wouldn’t be nearly as productive without two monitors.

Having access to multiple displays makes nearly every facet of my daily routine easier, whether I’m taking notes during a meeting or keeping an eye on Slack conversations and emails while hammering away at a story. And when it’s time to stop working and start playing some games, my second monitor is invaluable for looking up walkthroughs or interacting with my Twitch chat.

If any of these use cases apply to you, you’ll get a whole lot out of a dual monitor setup. And fortunately, there’s no real wrong way to add a little extra screen real estate to your workspace. But since the sheer number of monitor and accessory options out there can be overwhelming, we’ve assembled some pointers and products (including the monitors we’ve tested extensively) that will help you create the dual display setup of your dreams.

So whether you’re looking to boost your productivity or just want to be able to check email during boring Zoom calls (we won’t tell anyone), here’s everything you need to know about building a good dual monitor setup.

What to know about dual monitor setups

PHOTO: Mike Andronico/CNN

A dual-monitor setup is exactly what it sounds like — by plugging in two displays to your desktop or laptop (typically via HDMI or DisplayPort connections), you can significantly expand the amount of screen real estate you have for work or play. There’s no real wrong way to put a dual-monitor setup together, whether you want to mix and match screens or have two identical displays mounted together for a seamless ultrawide experience.

I personally use a basic, asymmetrical setup consisting of a Dell S2417DG as my main display and an Acer KG221Q as my secondary screen. The Dell monitor has a crisp 24-inch, 2560 x 1440 display that lets me get immersed in my favorite PC games or hammer away at Google Docs with minimal eye strain, while my smaller 1080p Acer monitor allows me to keep an eye on emails or monitor my chat when I stream on Twitch. My particular Acer monitor is hard to find these days, but this $93 model (Acer SB220Q) makes for a good alternative if you’re looking for a dependable and cheap second display.

If you want a more organized two-monitor setup, there are plenty of displays that are optimized to sit side-by-side with one another. The Lenovo L24q-30, our pick for the best computer monitor overall, is perfect for a dual-display setup thanks to thin bezels that can create a nearly seamless viewing experience when you place two of them side-by-side. The L24q-30 also supports VESA mounting, meaning you can mount several of them together on walls or various types of stands (more on those later).

It’s also worth considering monitors that can be positioned vertically when putting together a dual monitor setup. Vertically-oriented monitors are especially ideal for programmers thanks to their ability to show multiple lines of code, and also simply save desk space — something not everyone has a ton of in their home office. The $124 HP VH240a is a popular and inexpensive option that supports vertical orientation, as well as VESA mounting if you want a more elaborate two-screen setup. And yes, you can switch between vertical and horizontal on the fly.

You can simplify your dual monitor setup a bit by daisy chaining, which essentially means combining your various display outputs into a single wire that goes into your computer. To boil it all down, one monitor connects to a second monitor, with that display sending both signals to your PC with only one cable to worry about. It’s a nice feature that’ll make your setup a little cleaner, though not all monitors support it.

You’ll need a monitor with a DisplayPort 1.2 connection with Multi-Stream Transport (MST) technology in order to make daisy chaining work. The $229 ViewSonic VP2468 is a well-regarded daisy chain monitor if you want an affordable 1080p display, while the $423 Dell U2721DE is a popular option if you need a higher-end 1440p screen.

Dual monitor stands, wall mounts and hubs

It’s easy enough to plop two monitors onto your desk, but what if you want to clean things up a bit? That’s where stands and wall mounts come in. By mounting your monitors, you can save yourself precious desk space, as well as gain even more freedom for adjusting your displays and finding that perfect viewing angle.

For those looking to connect multiple monitors to their laptop (or just simplify their mess of cables), a USB-C hub is worth looking into for your dual monitor setup. And if you’re a true power user, a KVM switch, which can connect peripherals to two computers at once, will allow you to use your dual displays across multiple machines with ease. Here are some accessories worth checking out to make the most of your dual monitor setup.

VIVO Dual LCD Monitor Desk Mount Stand ($39.95; amazon.com)

PHOTO: VIVO

The VIVO Dual LCD Monitor Desk Mount Stand is one of the most popular stands on the web, allowing you to mount two monitors ranging from 13 to 27 inches and up to 22 pounds each. Each arm of this stand is highly flexible, and allows you to swivel your displays up to 180 degrees or rotate them 360 degrees for when you need some portrait mode action. The stand’s clamp is built to fit securely on any desk up to 4 inches thick, and it includes detachable cable clips for keeping all of your wires organized.

WALI Dual LCD Monitor Wall Mount ($59.99; amazon.com)

PHOTO: WALI

If you’d rather mount your monitors to a wall, WALI’s dual display mount is a popular and relatively affordable way to do so. This wall bracket fits any monitor up to 27 inches with a 75 x 75mm or 100 x 100m VESA mount, with a ton of articulation points including a 90 degree swivel and 360-degree rotation for positioning your monitors vertically. WALI’s Dual LCD Monitor mount also sports an adjustable gas spring, which allows the mount to offer increased or decreased tensions based on how heavy your monitor is.

Aukey USB C Hub 12-in-1 Type C Adapter ($69.99; amazon.com)

PHOTO: Aukey

Many modern laptops are limited on ports, which can make connecting external monitors to them tricky. USB C hubs, such as this 12-in-1 model from Aukey, solve that problem with ease. This adapter has two HDMI ports as well as a VGA port, giving you lots of flexibility for mirroring your laptop screen across up to three displays or using them all as distinct screens in extend mode. On top of that, you get a ton of extra ports for your peripherals, including two USB 2.0 ports, two USB 3.0 ports, an Ethernet port and an SD card reader.

Steetek 2 Port Dual Monitor KVM Switch ($109, originally $115; amazon.com)

PHOTO: Steetek

For power users or Twitch streamers that are using multiple computers with their dual monitor setups, a KVM switch is well worth looking into. These switches give you a single connection point for your monitors as well as your mouse and keyboard, allowing you to go from controlling one computer to another at the touch of a button. This well-rated Steetek switch supports both full HD and 4K monitors, and packs an extra two USB ports for sharing accessories such as printers or external drives across multiple PCs.

Dual monitor vs ultrawide monitor

Before you invest in a dual monitor setup, it’s also worth considering whether an ultrawide monitor is more suited to your needs. As their name suggests, ultrawide displays usually have a 21:9 aspect ratio (compared to 16:9 for a traditional display), giving you lots of horizontal screen space for doing heavy multitasking. Just look at the $699 Samsung CJ791, our current best computer monitor pick for large displays, which offers a generous 34-inch wide, 3440 x 1440 screen for juggling multiple apps or getting more immersed in your favorite games or movies.

Ultrawide monitors have a few benefits over dual monitor setups. For one, these monitors involve less setup and can potentially save you money, as you’ll only need to purchase and set up a single display for your work area. You also get the benefit of a truly seamless screen that can take advantage of games, movies and shows that have been optimized to fit a 21:9 aspect ratio. And many ultrawide monitors are curved, allowing for greater immersion while preventing your eyes from having to strain too much when moving from side to side.

However, dual monitor setups give you a level of versatility that’s hard to top. The freedom to mix and match displays means you can invest in a high-end 4K monitor as your main screen while picking up a cheaper 1080p model for web browsing and work calls. And you’ll quite literally have greater flexibility when it comes to positioning, whether you want to have one screen sit vertically or adjust the height and angle of both of your monitors independently on a wall mount.

Of course, if money and space aren’t issues, you could enjoy the best of both worlds and pick up multiple ultrawide displays. But for most people, an ultrawide monitor gives you simplicity and immersion, while a dual-screen setup allows for more flexibility.

Bottom line

Whether you’re looking to upgrade your home office or your gaming den, a dual monitor setup can make a huge difference. You’ll have more screen space for bouncing between emails, Slack chats and video conferences with ease, and can better monitor your broadcasts on your road to Twitch or YouTube stardom.

It’s worth considering a stand or wall mount if you want a cleaner, more flexible setup, as well as an ultrawide monitor as a simpler alternative to getting two displays. But no matter how you go about it, increasing the amount of screen space on your desk will boost your productivity — and help you have more fun — in a big way.

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