External monitor setup for a laptop
May 4, 2020 11:24 AM   Subscribe

How can I cram more stuff onto a new external monitor for my work laptop?

As the work-from-home regimen drags on, I have been improving my home office set-up.

I recently got a new external monitor (an Acer HA270 Abi) and so far it's working great, but I had really hoped to be able to cram more / see more "stuff" on it -- so far it only shows the same amount of stuff as the laptop screen, no matter what I tweak. The laptop is a Dell Latitude 7490 running Windows 10 (and is employer-owned). Both the external monitor and the laptop's screen have been set at the recommended (and highest available) resolution of 1920x1080.

I see Windows has a "scaling" option, but it only only goes from 100% and upwards (so can only make stuff bigger) -- seems like scaling it smaller for the external monitor is what I want? Is that possible?

I also see that the graphics card in the laptop provides for custom resolutions, but doing that comes with pretty dire warnings -- and is it even possible to force a bigger resolution than the screen can accommodate?

To try to explain better: On my external monitors in the office I can see more of an app (Outlook, e.g.) than I can see on the monitor screen (so I can see more lines of emails, more of the preview window etc) -- this is the effect I had hoped to replicate on the new monitor at home as well, not just replicating the monitor screen in bigger font.

Thanks in advance for any and all advice.
posted by AwkwardPause to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The monitor you link to has a max resolution of 1920x1080, so you basically get the same pixels as your laptop but over a bit more real estate. At your office you might have a monitor that does QHD (2560x1440) or higher. I don't think you can force a higher resolution for that monitor.
posted by jzb at 11:28 AM on May 4 [2 favorites]

Ugh, OK, that's what I was starting to fear. I should have done more research (and of course bought a monitor I can't return). Thanks so much.
posted by AwkwardPause at 11:31 AM on May 4

You are stuck as far as the monitor you already purchased. Monitor resolutions are what they are.

However, if you were really interested in improving the home office set-up, and your laptop is already known to support QHD or other greater-than-FHD (1920x1080) resolutions, you might be able to add a third monitor. You would need to research what was supported by the laptop and see if you could find something appropriate.

1920x1080 monitors are dirt cheap because the panels used in basically all of them are actually the same panels used in televisions, and volume production keeps prices low. The unfortunate reality is that monitors in resolutions between 1920x1080 and 3840x2160 (4K / UHD) are all custom jobbies with much lower numbers of units produced, and usually for business or special applications, so the prices are often way out of line. Still worth doing it, if you're used to it and it makes you more productive.

The trick, then, is what to do with that third Acer FHD monitor. Most laptops cannot directly support them, but you may be able to add a docking station or a USB-to-display adapter that will allow you to attach it to the laptop. The video quality will be fine, but the refresh rate may not be, and many of these steal CPU in order to help power the display. It isn't really a great primary desktop, but if you just need to be able to shovel some windows off onto an auxiliary screen, it's fantastic. Expect to pay about $50-$75 for a decent quality one. I happen to like Plugable's stuff, but there are many vendors. This doesn't always work. In particular, if you already have a dock, you probably won't be able to add another USB-to-display adapter. However, that laptop you have appears to have an HDMI output and Dell lists a QHD monitor as one of the accessories, so my best guess if that you could make this work if you wanted to.

If you go that route, then you can have the super mega jealousy-inducing triple monitor setup.
posted by jgreco at 12:13 PM on May 4

If you have the means to get a monitor stand, or have a stand that permits it: try physically rotating the monitor 90 degrees.
posted by mhoye at 1:13 PM on May 4 [1 favorite]

That's an interesting thought. Of course the monitor stand it comes with doesn't allow flipping it 90 degrees, but I just tried it, leaning it against the wall, and it certainly gave a bigger view of my email client (in the sense I could see more lines etc). Will have to experiment -- thanks for the idea!
posted by AwkwardPause at 2:09 PM on May 4

Are you duplicating the built-in display onto the external monitor, or extending it so that each monitor shows different things, or only using the external and the built-in is turned off. If you "extend", you can resize and arrange windows more flexibly. Some programs let you increase and decrease the font size (often with control-plus, control-minus), so, for example, you could have multiple brower windows, each zoomed to a different size.

To set this setting, right-click on your desktop, and follow "display settings".
posted by at at 6:35 AM on May 5

@at: I am extending the desktop and having different windows open on the different screens (external monitor and laptop screen). I use the zoom trick in the browser, e.g., but it doesn't do anything in Outlook (it zooms in and out the text in the email in the viewing pane, but not in the list/lines of emails. I've tried tweaking the font size for Outlook, but it's already at the smallest setting. As I write this, I'm thinking that maybe I should try accessing Outlook via webmail so that I can use the zoom functionality in the browser. Thanks for helping me think it through.
posted by AwkwardPause at 10:30 AM on May 5

So, sheepishly, and with some embarrassment, I think I figured out how to get the setup to be like I have it at work: simply moving Outlook's reading pane to be on the side instead of below made a lot more of the emails visible and, since the screen is so much bigger than the laptop's, the preview pane is still usable (I have to have the reading pane on the bottom on just the laptop screen, otherwise it gets too cramped). I wanted to report it back in case anyone else will ever have the same issue and for yet another illustration that, often times, the simplest solution is the right one. Thank you to everyone who helped me brainstorm and think through a solution.
posted by AwkwardPause at 5:20 PM on May 5

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