What is an external monitor for laptops?

All modern laptops have a handy ‘external display output’ port which can connect to a monitor, projector or television set. The external display can extend your viewing area, giving you more space for applications, or mirror your laptop screen (show the same thing on both screens). So, an external monitor is actually an extra screen which plugs into your laptop which gives you the use of two screens instead of one.

The external monitor you connect can be any size up to the largest on the market. A portable monitor does exactly the same job, only on a smaller scale – usually they are around 15” or so, and thus are easily moved from location to location. We’ll give you information on external and portable monitors in this blog.

External monitors for work

Many business users now rely on a laptop as their primary PC for office work, and with many now working from home on a regular basis, the demand for additional screens has gone through the roof. Not only is an extra screen much easier on the eye when you’re staring at it for most of the day, it can also help reduce neck and back problems, as you don’t have to keep bending over your laptop while working.

The size of your potential external monitor is important. If you’re just emailing colleagues and working on Microsoft Office, then a cheap 21-inch or 24-inch monitor will probably do the trick. And if you’re working at the kitchen table or on a table in the lounge, then you won’t want to go ‘too large’ when it comes to adding tech to your home, as you may need to keep moving the monitor around to free up table space!

As the price of larger monitors comes down, then it seems their popularity goes up – with many people opting for 27-inch monitors or larger. These larger screens are good for video editing, graphics and design work or presentations.

Pretty much everything looks better on a good quality screen, but what are some of the benefits of using an external monitor?


There are many ways to try to improve your productivity. A change of environment, taking a yoga class, or having a re-jig of your home office and making it nicer and more comfortable to work in are all beneficial. But using an external monitor with a laptop really does take some beating!


Doubling-up on screen space makes it much easier to run two full-sized apps at the same time. But what does that mean, exactly? Well, let’s imagine you’re busy working, and on one screen you have your emails open and an instant messenger like Slack, whilst on the other screen you can have your apps open and be busy writing. The additional screen is perfect for helping you organise applications and programs. Once you get used to it, you’ll never be happy with a single monitor again!


What Are The Best External Monitors?

There are many factors to consider when choosing the right external monitor for you. Below are a few of the key things to consider…

Screen size

The first thing to think about when buying an external monitor is deciding how large you’d like it to be – depending of course on how much space you have on your desk (or kitchen table), but you’ll definitely find one that fits your needs. You should also be aware that you’ll need enough distance between yourself and your new (bigger) screen, so that your eyes aren’t strained.

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A monitor’s resolution (measured in pixels), determines how clear the display looks, and how much information can be on it at one time. The average monitor’s resolution is 1080P. Both are good enough for general tasks like watching YouTube videos, surfing the web, or editing spreadsheets, documents, or presentations. For the more intensive tasks such as video and photo editing you’ll definitely need a high resolution monitor. These high-resolution monitors generally have a resolution of 4K.


These are a monitor’s inputs, the ‘sockets’ which allow you to connect your computer to them. Ideally you should have a DisplayPort and one or more HDMI ports so that you can plug your computer into them without the need for an adapter. For Mac users, try and select a monitor which has a USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 ports, as again, there’s no need for an adapter.


This is probably the least considered thing when buying tech, but in the long run, it’s really important for your health. Staring at a monitor for hours every day is not the healthiest thing you’ll ever do, so being comfortable is important. Check out if any of the monitors you’re interested in have adjustable stands – and we don’t just mean for height. Can they be tilted backwards and forwards? And can they be swivelled in order to get the perfect position? A monitor stand is not just useful for ergonomic reasons, but it also helps make more space on your desk.

What is a portable monitor?

A portable monitor is basically a second screen for your laptop. It can be easily connected to your laptop on-the-go, and so you can use it anywhere. Most portable monitors can be connected via USB or HDMI connection. The only difference between a portable monitor and an external monitor is that the portable one is obviously smaller in size, thus more portable!

Who needs a portable monitor?

Basically, a portable monitor is used as a second screen. People who would benefit from a second screen include: Anyone who has research to do (so you can research with one and write on the other!); Anyone doing any sort of editing or blogging; Teachers; Anyone travelling with work, doing presentations… In fact, you name it. The list is endless! You can even use one screen to have something on in the background (music, the cricket etc) whilst you work on the other.

How do you use an external/portable monitor?

Using an extra monitor is very easy. All you have to do is connect it to your laptop, and the connection can be made with either USB or HDMI cables. You’ll find this information in each set of monitor specifications. Internally, there’s nothing to do as things configure themselves. Just make sure that the monitor you’re looking at is compatible with your laptop OS (Operating system).

Can I use an external/portable monitor for gaming?

This is a common question, and it you look at it in terms of connectivity, then the answer is resounding “yes”. You can pretty much connect to any new generation gaming console provided you have a monitor which supports HDMI. But connectivity is the easy bit.

If you want to play games, then what matters is the quality. Playing games on a normal portable monitor is not going to give you the same experience as that you’d get with a gaming monitor. However, if you buy an external monitor which is actually a gaming monitor, then you’d get the best of both worlds.

What are the benefits of an external monitor?

  • Well firstly, you are not restricted by size – as long as you have the space, you can get a large one and use it for gaming too!
  • An extra screen increases your productivity level.
  • Multi-tasking becomes easy. *Some of these benefits also apply to portable monitors

What are the benefits of a portable monitor?

  • A portable monitor is lightweight and easy to carry around.
  • It has an easy-to-use interface.
  • In some portable monitors you get built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

What makes the best portable monitor for laptops?

Screen Resolution

Screen resolution is an important factor in making a good portable monitor. They come in almost all resolutions, such as 1080p, 2k and 4k. It really depends on your needs. The higher the resolution of your portable monitor, the better  the display quality. But what do you want to use it for? If you want to get something for watching video or playing games, then 2k or 4k should be your choice. Otherwise, a 1080p will be fine for what you need.


The next important thing is the size of your portable monitor for your laptop. They can be a large as 20 inches and as small as 13” or even below. You know what you are buying it for and therefore the size should be selected wisely. If you’re planning on multi-tasking, then we suggest 15” or above is most suitable. As you’re going for a portable monitor, check the weight (see below) on the specifications info, as you’ll be carrying it along with your laptop, cables and other bits and pieces.


Portable monitors come in different sizes and thus different weights. You should know what weight you will be carrying in your backpack. The bigger it is, the heavier it will probably be!


Your portable monitor should be compatible with the OS of your laptop. You should know if you are buying it for a MacBook or a Windows laptop. Additionally, you might want to use it for gaming or with your smartphone, so check with the retailer or a specialist if you’re unsure, before you buy.


Portable monitors mostly connect via USB or HDMI. You should know what your laptop will support. USB connectivity is handy but it requires installing drivers. Alternatively, HDMI is much easier and doesn’t require the installation of drivers – and data transmission has fast speeds. Bear in mind that portable monitors often have long cables, and you’ll be carrying them around with you.

The Benefits of Connecting Your Laptop to a Monitor

Forgive us if we’re being a little repetitive, but we really need to tell you again! Laptops aren’t just wireless portable desktop computers. With the right setup, you’ll find that they can do everything a quality desktop can do and you’ll be multi-tasking until the cows come home. All you need to do is follow the instructions here on how to connect your monitor to your laptop. It’s not difficult and before you know it, you’ll be ready to rumble!

More screen inches are a plus, but it’s not the only reason to connect a monitor to your laptop. Here are some other benefits.


With your laptop screen and an extra monitor it means you can have split-screen mode! You can be watching a live YouTube stream on one screen whilst tweeting about it on the other. This setup means you don’t have to keep forever switching between the two apps, so you get total convenience.

More screen area

By connecting your laptop to a monitor, you can literally double the size of your available screen space. Functions can be moved from one screen to the other so that you don’t have to shrink windows down or toggle to see two programs at the same time. This type of set-up is ideal for a number of scenarios – from leisure activities like video chatting while you’re on Facebook to updating a work spreadsheet while you’re referencing facts on another platform.

Extra options in Windows 10:  You can choose between a traditional desktop view or the new metro menu. But when you connect your laptop to a second desktop screen, you can actually have your proverbial cake and eat it too by running both at the same time.


Things You Need to Do When Connecting Your Laptop to a Monitor

Get the right cable. When you connect an external monitor to a laptop computer, you have to run a cable between the two devices. Make sure that you get a monitor cable that matches the sockets on your laptop and monitor. Yeah, that’s common sense, but can be overlooked in all the excitement!

Now, with the laptop off, connect your display cable from your laptop to your monitor of choice, be it via HDMI, DisplayPort, DVI, or VGA. Then, from the USB ports on your laptop, connect a desktop keyboard and external mouse. If you don’t have enough USB ports, then you’ll need to use an inexpensive USB hub or a keyboard with USB passthrough.

Learning how to connect your laptop to a monitor is quite easy and can enhance your experience. Imagine not ever having to switch between open windows and running programs on your laptop. You’ll never look back – and teaching yourself this easy task can make your life simpler and much more productive.

Second screen instructions

Turn on your PC, make sure that the display is powered on, and wait to see what happens. Most PCs should just automatically start using the external monitor after you sign in to Windows.

You will need to tell your operating system you’re using a second screen. It’s easy to do this in Windows 10. Go to your Desktop, right click your mouse and go to Display Settings. On Macs, the connection of an external monitor is automatically recognised, so you don’t have to do anything manually.


For the best experience, make sure that the laptop display is at eye-level. This is easy to do with a riser (or even a stack of books)! A fancier-angled laptop holder will also work, but it isn’t really necessary, as we won’t be using the laptop’s keyboard.

If you don’t see anything on the monitor after you log in, wait a moment or two and then check that the cables are inserted securely. If that doesn’t work, try to find out whether the PC is detecting the external monitor by heading to Settings > System > Display in Windows 10. Under ‘Multiple Displays’ click the ‘Detect’ button.

And finally…

You’ll find lots more information on the internet if you have any difficulties linking up your monitor to your laptop. Don’t be intimidated. This is actually quite an easy thing to master, and there’s lots of online help available!

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