How to connect an external monitor to my laptop

Updated: 10/19/2017 by Computer Hope

Almost all laptops can connect to an external display such as a flat panel display, projector, or TV. The external display can extend your screen, give you more screen space for applications, or mirror it (show the same thing on both screens).

VGA or DB15 monitor connectorTo connect the external display to the laptop's external video connection, locate the correct port on the body of your laptop. An example of a VGA connection, and the VGA port on a laptop, is shown to the right. If there are screws on the connector, tighten them to be snug, but not too tight. Tighten them evenly on the left and right, a little at a time.

When the connection is made, your laptop may automatically switch to the new external display, or you may be required to press one or more keys on the laptop's keyboard to activate the external display. The activation key sequence can vary depending on the laptop, but is typically one of the following: Fn + F3, F4, F5, F7, F8, F9, or F10. For example, pressing the Fn and F7 keys at the same time could switch between your laptop and external display. The activation function key may be labeled as CRT/LCD, or have a picture of a monitor on or above the key. 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, contact your laptop manufacturer, or visit their website.

Note: For computers with macOS X 10.8 or later, if you have trouble getting an external display to work with the computer, access the System Preferences menu and select the Displays option. Then, press and hold the Option key. In the bottom right corner of the Displays window, you should see a Detect Displays button. Click that button to force the macOS to look for any external displays that are connected to the computer.

Some laptops can output video to both the laptop and the external display at the same time or to a single display. Laptops with this feature can toggle between the two modes when the appropriate function key is pressed.

DVI, HDMI, and Display PortTip: Some laptops use a DVI or HDMI connection. See these links for additional details and pictures of these connectors. If your display has a DVI connection, but your laptop only has a VGA connection, you need to use a video converter that converts VGA to DVI.

Newer laptops may also have a DisplayPort, which can be used to connect external display devices that utilize a DisplayPort cable. If your external display uses VGA, DVI or HDMI instead, you can also get a DisplayPort adapter cable, allowing you to connect your VGA, DVI or HDMI display to the laptop's DisplayPort.

Laptop connected to docking station

If your laptop is connected to a docking station, there should be a VGA or HDMI port on the back of the docking station for a monitor. Depending on the docking station, the laptop may have to remain open for a dual monitor display. Some docking stations have two ports for connecting two monitors, allowing for a dual monitor display even with the laptop closed.

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. For information about making changes to the BIOS, see entering BIOS setup.

How do I change the resolution on a monitor connected to a laptop?

Unless the monitor is detected or set up in the operating system, it may not work properly or only display at the default resolution. If you want to change the external display's resolution, make sure the monitor is detected by the operating system.

Microsoft Windows users can verify the monitor is detected by looking in the Windows Device Manager and making sure a monitor is listed.

Linux users running X Windows or a variant may need to modify their XF86Config file and add the display settings for the external monitor or projector.

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 will usually still work with your laptop. However, if there are other malfunctioning components, such as your video hardware, the external display may not work.