How to connect an external display to my laptop

Updated: 02/27/2019 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 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 can be seen 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 typically 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.

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, you should see a Detect Displays button.
  4. Click it to force the macOS to look for any external displays connected to the computer.

Laptop connected to a docking station

If your laptop is connected to a docking station, there should be several video ports on the back of it for a monitor, although the types of ports will vary 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. For information about making changes to the BIOS, see entering BIOS setup.

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.