Connecting a laptop to an external monitor.

Overview

Of course, being fairly techie, I couldn’t actually live without a laptop. There’s hardly a day goes by without me using one for something.

When I’m at work, everything I do requires a laptop, apart from going to the coffee machine, and lunch.

When I’m in the office they supply me with a docking station and two screens, along with the laptop screen, which means I’m working with three screens, and I need all of them. One usually has email and Skype for business, the other, a web browser and an RDP (Remote Desktop Protocol) session to a client’s network management station, while at the same time I’ll have documents, spreadsheets and or a file transfer program such as Filezilla open.

Not to mention that there’s a third screen for a second (secure) laptop or Mini PC stick so I can be working with four screens and three keyboards. I often get confused and type things into the wrong laptop.

The point of the above, if you haven’t drifted off already, is that there’s no substitute for screen real estate. I couldn’t do my job with just a single screen because there’s just so much going on. If you’ve ever had the extra space of a decent screen you’ll know that the improvements in productivity that go with it are well worth the expense. Plus the fact that I don’t have to squint at the screen all the time is most welcome.

That said, when I’m editing a WordPress blog, I don’t need the same sort of multiscreen environment as that, or even the laptop for that matter, as we’ll see later.

When I’m working from home and using a laptop, I need an adapter for my screen, because it doesn’t have an HDMI port. When I bought the screen it was for work and I was looking for display port connectivity and screens without HDMI are just much cheaper on eBay. I ended up with 23-inch EIZO Flexscan ev2333w and I’m very happy with it.

It did mean though that I had to find an adapter to connect the output from the laptop, which had HDMI and USBc outputs to the screen.

The physical connections

Depending on what outputs the laptop has will affect the choice of cable.

Some laptops have DisplayPort, some mini DisplayPort, some, HDMI, some VGA connections. I was looking for a USBc connector because I knew the laptop supported video out from work. The HDMI out was already being used to connect to another screen.

In the end, I settled on a multi-output adapter which gave me HDMI, VGA, and DVI port options. The adapter is fairly small and easy for me to carry around. It means I can use it on most screens, so I can work at friends’ houses or in hotel rooms and as an added bonus, it fits my Note 9 phone USBc port, and the DEX functionality works with it.

Since I have the Linux on Dex on my phone, it means I can do most things I’d normally do on my laptop, even if I’ve left it behind. As long as I have the adapter, the phone, and a screen then I’m fine.

USBc 4 in 1 Adapter
USBc 4 in 1 adapter

Device support

You will need to be sure your USBc port supports video out. For my Dell, which is a Latitude 7290 it did. I’d already been using it in the office with the docking station.

A google search for your laptop or device specs should lead you to the answer. I like CNET’s product specification pages as seen below for the Dell in question.

Checking Device support on CNET's product specifications page
Checking Device support on CNET’s product specifications page

From the image we can see that the laptop supports USB-C/DisplayPort.

If you look at the port on the device you should see a display port icon as below if it supports video out. Wiki has a good explanation about Alternative Mode partner specifications here.

Display port icon circled in red indicating that a USBc port supports Video out
Display port icon indicating that a USBc port supports Video out

If you don’t have a suitable USBc port, there are other possibilties if you want an extra monitor. It is possible to use USB3.0 ports to connect or even USB2.0.

I wouldn’t recommend using USB2.0 ports because bandwidth is fairly low if you want high-end graphics, but it might be ok for office work and lowresolution monitors.

Plugable do a nice USB to DVI adapter which comes complete with VGA and HDMI adapters so covers the same output options as the 4 in 1 minus the USB port.

Setup for Windows 7

1; Show the desktop and right-click anywhere on the screen, then select screen resolution. You could also select Personalize, but there are a few more steps involved before you get to the screen setup pages we want.

Image of pop up box showing select Screen Resolution, circled in red
Right click the desktop and choose Screen resolution

2; Choose Extend these displays.

Choosing Extend these displays from the Multiple Displays drop down box
Select Extend these displays from the Multiple Displays drop down box

3; Choose which one you want as the main display and click the checkbox for “Make this my main display”. You can change the resolution of each monitor as desired here, then click OK.

Changing the resolution and selecting the main display
Changing the resolution and selecting the main display

Setup for Windows 10

4; Show the desktop and rightclick anywhere on the screen, then select “Display Settings”.

Pop up presented after right clicking the screen in Windows 10
Right click the screen and select “Display Settings”

5; From the next screen you can choose to Mirror or Extend the display, change the resolution of the individual displays and choose which one to use as the main monitor.

Windows 10 Display Setting page
Windows 10 Display Setting page.

6; The final result for my Dell connected with the screen extended is shown below.

Print screen from my Windows 10  Dell connected to an external monitor using the 4 in 1 adapter
Print screen from my Windows 10, Dell Latitude 7920 connected to an external monitor using the 4 in 1 adapter.

Setup for Samsung Note 9

7; The Samsung didn’t need any setup to get it working. Simply plugging the adapter in brought up the screen. I’ve captured a screenshot as a demonstration below and it’s showing the Linux on Dex dextop.

Note 9 connected using the 4 in 1 USBc adapter.
Note 9 connected, showing the Linux on Dex dextop.

To cut a long story short, the summary

There’s no substitute for screen real estate when it come to increased productivity at work. Also with laptops getting smaller and phones getting bigger, it’s possible and increasingly common for people to do most, if not all their Internet browsing on the phone.

I have a laptop that really only comes out of the drawer if I want to do some design work with FreeCAD or I’m running network simulations or Virtual Machines.

The USBc 4 in 1 adapter covered all the bases because it worked with the Dell laptop and the Samsung Note 9, as well as having a selection of display outputs including HDMI, DVI, and VGA. It also has a USB3 port which I use to connect a wireless keyboard and mouse.

The only downside to using it with the Samsung Note 9, is that it doesn’t provide power to the phone but you could use a wireless charger for that.

If you’re a network engineer and you could use an IPv4 subnet calculator check out the free techiedoodah IPv4 excel subnet calculator spreadsheet and if you get a lot of time hands on rackside and need a tray to put your laptop on, let us know what you think of the Portable Rack Mount Laptop Tray and sign up if you want one. Type with two hands instead of one, be more comfortable, improve your productivity and get out of the server room sooner, (or wherever the rack happens to be).

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