If you’ve never tried running two screens from one computer then it might seem like an unnecessary luxury—but setting up a second display can make a huge difference to your productivity and entire user experience. Once you’ve taken the plunge with another screen, here are nine ways to make the most of it.
1) Change your primary display
Your primary or main display is where a lot of the main action happens: It’s where your taskbar (Windows) or menu bar (macOS) sits, it’s where app windows and dialogue boxes appear by default, it’s where the login screen shows up, and so on.
Whichever way you’ve got your monitors configured, you can set which one acts as the primary one. On Windows, open Settings then choose System and Display. Select the display you want to promote to primary, then tick the box labelled Make this my main display.
On macOS, open System Preferences from the Apple menu, then choose Display and Arrangement. Drag the white menu bar from the current display to the display you want to set as the new primary one, and you’re done.
2) Manage your windows
Managing open application windows across multiple displays can be tricky, but various third-party tools are around to make your multi-display life easier. Magnet for macOS will cost you $1 but is invaluable in snapping windows to the sides and the corners of the display, no matter how many displays you have.
DisplayFusion is an excellent option for Windows, giving you finer control over how windows are managed across multiple screens: you can snap apps to the edges of the screen, for example, and launch specific apps on specific screens if you need to.
There’s actually a lot more to DisplayFusion as well. You can stretch the taskbar across multiple screens, set different wallpapers on each display, and much more besides. You can use a basic version of DisplayFusion for free, but to take advantage of all the features we’ve mentioned you need to pay $30 (£24).
3) Stretch your wallpaper across monitors
Both Windows and macOS let you use different backdrops on different screens. On Windows head to Personalisation and Background from Settings, but right-click on an image to set the second display backdrop; on macOS open System Preferences and Desktop & Screen Saver then make your picks.
If you want to be able to create a desktop wallpaper that spans your multi-monitor setup, then the aptly named Multi Monitor Wallpaper is worth a look for macOS. You supply the image (or use the app to find one), then it’s split up to perfectly match the size and position of your screens. The app costs $10 (£7.99) but you can try it out for free.
For those of you on Windows, the aforementioned DisplayFusion will let you pick images that span the width and the height of your multiple displays. It’s also available as a native feature, though it doesn’t always work that well: just select Span under Choose a fit on the Background screen (have a look at Dual Monitor Backgrounds if you need some images).
4) Use multiple spaces and desktops
Both Windows (with “Desktops”) and macOS (with “Spaces”) let you set up virtual desktops that work like additional monitors created inside the software, desktops that you can switch between as and when needed. These can be used instead of an external display, but they can also be used with an external display.
On Windows, click the Task view button (by the search box), then pick New desktop to create a new one. Your new Desktops will work independently right away, so you could (for example) have three Desktops on your left monitor and two Desktops on your right monitor. Which Task view button you click determines which ones appear.
On macOS, first open System Preferences from the Apple menu, then choose Mission Control. Make sure Displays have separate Spaces is ticked, which means going full screen on one display won’t turn the other one off. You can then create new Spaces by going to Mission Control (via the Dock or a three-finger upward swipe), and clicking the plus icon in the top right-hand corner.
5) Switch resolution settings
Unless you’ve got two identical monitors set up next to each other, your two screens are going to have different sizes and resolutions (and perhaps even orientations). While Windows and macOS can do a decent job of managing this disparity automatically, tweaks to certain settings might help improve the user experience you’re getting.
On Windows, open up Settings by clicking the cog icon on the Start menu, then choose System and Display. Pick the display you want to change the settings for at the top, then use the Resolution and Orientation options underneath. On some displays, you can adjust the scaling of text, apps and other elements too.
With macOS, open up the Apple menu, then System Preferences and Displays. Under the two Display tabs you can adjust the resolution (click Scaled first), the rotation, and in some cases the refresh rate of the screens you’re working with.
6) Connect second screens wirelessly
You’ve got more options for adding an extra screen like a monitor or even a TV than you might think. If you’ve got a Chromecast plugged into anything with an HDMI input in it, for example, you can mirror your Mac or Windows desktop to it via Google Chrome (pick Cast from the Chrome menu, then choose the Chromecast device, then click Sources to pick between casting a browser tab or the entire desktop).
If you’re on macOS and have an Apple TV too, the magic of AirPlay can either mirror or extend your macOS desktop. Click the AirPlay button on the menu bar, pick your Apple TV, then use the same drop-down menu to decide if you want to just duplicate your Mac’s screen or use the connected television as an extension of your desktop (so you can drag app windows to it and so on).
For third-party options give AirParrot your consideration—it works across Windows and macOS, can beam to a multitude of devices including Chromecasts, Apple TVs, Windows, and macOS computers, and is really easy to use too. You can, if you like, just wirelessly stream media files rather than your entire desktop. AirParrot will set you back $13 (£10.40), but you can try it for free.
7) Use an iPad as a secondary display
With macOS Catalina bringing the new Sidecar feature with it later this year, you’ll be able to set up an iPad as a second screen for your Mac without any need for wires (and you’ll even get a software Touch Bar as well). However, if you want to get this up and running straight away, or you’re on a Windows machine, you’ve got a variety of options.
Air Display, which costs $10 (£7.99) is perhaps the pick of the bunch: It works with Android tablets as well as iPads, and can function in wired (USB) or wireless mode, though it is macOS-only. Another slick, stable option is Luna Display ($70--about £56). It costs more and needs a dongle to work, but feels like magic (no cable required). Again, Luna is only on the Mac.
Duet ($10, about £7.99) is worth a try if you want to connect an iPad as a second display to a Windows device. There’s no wireless mode here, so there needs to be a direct connection to your computer, but that means a stable link is guaranteed. It’s also available macOS.
Featured photo: Farzad Nazifi (Unsplash)