How to connect an external display to my laptop

Updated: 02/01/2021 by Computer Hope

All modern laptops can connect to an external display, such as an LCD monitor, projector, or TV. 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).

How to connect to an external display in Windows

To connect the external display to a laptop, locate the correct port on the body of your laptop. Most laptops utilize on or more of the following connections: HDMI, DisplayPort, DVI, or USB-C (Thunderbolt 3). Some older laptops use VGA. These various connections are shown in the images below.

New video port connections.

Older video port connectors.

Once you plug the display into your laptop, you may be required to press one or more keys on the laptop's keyboard to "activate" the external display. This shortcut key combination varies depending on the laptop, but is often one of the following: hold the Fn key, and then press F3, F4, F5, F7, F8, F9, or F10.

The activation function key usually has a picture of a monitor on or above it. Consult your laptop's manual if you can't find the key. If you are still having trouble, or you need to download a copy of the manual, visit the laptop manufacturer's website.

Change what's displayed on the secondary monitor

In Windows, press Windows key+P to show the Project options (for controlling a projector or external display).

Windows 10 Project options

  • PC Screen Only - Only the primary display is active. The external display is not used.
  • Duplicate - The same image is shown on both displays. If the displays have different resolutions, the resolution of the smaller display is used for both.
  • Extend - The external display extends the primary. Application windows can be moved from one display to the other if you click-and-drag the window's title bar.
  • Second screen only - The primary display is disabled, and only the secondary display is enabled.

If your external display uses Miracast (HDMI over Wi-Fi Direct), click Connect to a wireless display to connect to it.

How to connect an external display on macOS

For users with macOS X 10.8 or later:

  1. Access the System Preferences menu and select the Displays option.
  2. Press and hold the Option key.
  3. In the bottom-right corner of the Displays window, locate a Detect Displays button.
  4. Click it to force macOS to look for any external displays connected to the computer.

Laptop connected to a docking station

If your laptop connects to a docking station, there should be several video ports on the back of it for a monitor. However, the types of ports varies from brand to brand. Depending on the docking station, the laptop may have to remain open for a dual monitor display.

How do I disable the auto-switch or specify an external display?

Some laptops have an external display "auto-switch" feature, which can be configured in the BIOS.

Will a monitor work with my laptop if my laptop screen is broken?

In many cases, yes. If only the laptop's screen is broken, an external monitor usually still works with your laptop. However, if there are other malfunctioning components, such as your video hardware, the external display may not work.