How can I connect a laptop to dual screen external monitors?
April 4, 2012 12:12 PM   Subscribe

How can I connect a laptop to dual screen external monitors or a single large external monitor and will the resolution make me happy?

I am looking to get an "ultrabook" or "thin & light" such as the Asus Zenbook UX31E or Samsung Series 9 NP900X3A-A05 (each with 8GB Ram/256GB SSD/i7 processor/13.3 inch screen.) The Asus has 1600x900 resolution in a 13.3 screen and the Samsung 1366x768.

(Or a Macbook Air but that tops out at 4GB Ram, so....?) And I would like to dock it on my desk to either 2 - 15 inch monitors or one larger monitor, say 27 -30 inch.

Can I do this? Will the resolution display the content sharp enough?

My usage is 98% three programs: Quickbooks, an always open multi-tabbed browser and an email client.
posted by Kensational to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You should only run a monitor at its native resolution to avoid fuzziness. The resolution of the external monitor doesn't have to be the same as that of the built-in display.

For instance, according to the MacBook Air's tech specs, it supports:
Dual display and video mirroring: Simultaneously supports full native resolution on the built-in display and up to 2560 by 1600 pixels on an external display, both at millions of colors
You should be able to find similar specs for the PC models you're looking at.
posted by bcwinters at 12:28 PM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

dock it as in use a laptop docking station ?

How many video outputs (and of what type) are there on the laptop or docking station ? What's the video processor on the laptop like (and RAM).

The first determines how many things you can connect, the second for what resolutions are available.
posted by k5.user at 12:29 PM on April 4, 2012

If you get the Macbook Air, it'll work with a 30" monitor, but you'll need to get an adapter, specifically a Mini Displayport to Dual-link DVI adapter (unless you get Apple's own crazy-expensive 27" monitor). IIRC, it costs about $200. My wife has a relatively old Macbook driving a 30" this way, and it works fine.

There are a number of adapters for running multiple screens off a laptop. Here are some search results.
posted by adamrice at 12:31 PM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Previously re: Apple Cinema Display, and how it's reasonably-priced for the resolution (unless you hate hate glossy screens). Especially since it's actually a Thunderbolt connector so you can daisy-chain other Thunderbolt devices (or SCSI, with an adapter).

I'd get that and an Air.
posted by supercres at 12:35 PM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

As mentioned by k5.user, the laptop's monitor size is a bit irrelevant to the size of the monitors it can display--a lot of that is based on the device's video card and what connectors you have available to you.

For example, my work laptop's max screen resolution is a pitiful 1366x768, but I routinely run twin 1900x1280 displays on it--one through HDMI, one through VGA.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 1:27 PM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

OK the MAcAir can power a 30 inch external monitor. Cool.

@k5.user: The small laptops I mentioned dont have proprietary docking stations, I meant docking on my desk ad hoc, disconnecting USB and external monitor cables as I go! :)

That said the Ausus and Samsung have mini-HDMI output ports and the Asus has a second mini-VGA port.

@schnitengruben: What you have set up sounds like what I am looking to do.

I know my way around specs - a little bit - I cant seem to figure out if the Asus or Samsung can DO what you have set up, what I want to do.
posted by Kensational at 2:17 PM on April 4, 2012

The hot thing these days is a Macbook Air hooked up to one Thunderbolt display. No MBAs will run two monitors, IIRC, and I think it requires at least a 15" MBP, if not a 17".
posted by rhizome at 2:38 PM on April 4, 2012

Yeah, the Air + large external monitor thing works great. Note that Thunderbolt is not strictly necessary; Thunderbolt is plug compatible with "Displayport", a much more common / cheaper interface you'll find on most new monitors. Thunderbolt adds data, though, which is awfully nice if you only want to plug in a single cable and then be able to have USB, etc off the monitor. Dual-link DVI will also work and Displayport is basically DVI in another form factor. But if you're buying a new monitor get one with Displayport, it's easier to deal with.

Running two monitors off a laptop is awkward. Frankly I wouldn't even try it, but presumably you could do it with some sort of USB video adapter.
posted by Nelson at 3:21 PM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

The two monitors vs one is just a screen real estate issue - I use two now in a Windows environment just to have multiple programs open and accessible but can change to Mac easy. What I was hoping to get was if the resolution of the external monitor(s) was sharp enough for everyday use on email, quickbooks, browsing. And I see that the Air can handle it nicely up to 30 inches but I cant seem to find out how the Asus or Samsung will fare.
posted by Kensational at 5:12 PM on April 4, 2012

Many pc laptops have a dock, or a port replicator that supports 2 monitors. Much cheaper than Mac hardware. There is a bookendz dock for Macs that supports dual monitors, but it's clunky. There are other ways to run 2 monitors on a mac, but if you can afford their display, you'll likely enjoy it.
posted by theora55 at 6:08 PM on April 4, 2012

Seconding Nelson's comment above that you don't need a Thunderbolt adapter to run an external (non Thunderbolt) monitor with the Air. I run a 27" from a DisplayPort adapter. Works fine, cost $10.

According to this support doc at Apple only 15" and 17" MBP's support more than one external display via Thunderbolt.
posted by Ookseer at 7:04 PM on April 4, 2012

I have a MacBook pro, but the same thing works with a MacBook air:

1) set computer on desk next to thunderbolt display.
2) plug thunderbolt display into computer.

Disconnecting it is the reverse.

It works fine, the thunderbolt display has a 2560x1440 resolution and looks great. You can either leave the laptop open and use it as one screen next to the big display, or close it and just use the big display (you need an external keyboard and mouse for this, but you can use Bluetooth devices or plug them into the USB ports on the back of the display).
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 9:13 PM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

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