How to connect your laptop to an external display

A portable display can make working from your dining room table easier

It doesn’t matter how big your laptop’s screen is — if you’re going to be doing any serious multitasking for work or school, connecting a monitor can be a big help. Any modern laptop should be able to connect to whatever external monitor you have, but you may need to get creative.

The first step is to figure out what outputs your laptop supports. It’s likely going to be HDMI, mini-HDMI, a USB-C port with Thunderbolt and / or DisplayPort support, DisplayPort, or Mini DisplayPort. If you have an older computer, it may be VGA or DVI (the ones that are covered in holes). If you’re not sure what ports you have, a quick Google search can help you out. You should be able to find a list on the manufacturer’s website or in reviews of your laptop model.

Here are some examples:

The Asus ROG Zephyrus Duo 15 from the left side. To the left of the vents is a USB-C port that supports DisplayPort and Thunderbolt 3. Not all USB-C ports support DisplayPort and Thunderbolt 3, so double-check that on the manufacturer’s website. You can also look for symbols next to the port. Photo by Monica Chin / The Verge HP Pavilion x360 Second from the right is an HDMI port (it’s labeled). Second from the left is a USB-C that supports DisplayPort. Photo by Cameron Faulkner / The Verge Vaio SX14 Windows PC This is a VGA port. Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge Dell G5 15 SE Second from the left is a Mini DisplayPort. Third from the left is an HDMI port. The USB-C farthest to the right supports DisplayPort but not Thunderbolt 3. Photo by Cameron Faulkner / The Verge

Next, you’ll need to figure out what inputs your external display supports. You may find a variety of different options, but most will have an HDMI or DisplayPort. (If you have both HDMI and DisplayPort, the ideal choice will depend on the specific standards each port supports, the sort of work you want to do, and each device’s capabilities. You may want to check out an explainer. PC Mag has an in-depth one.)

From there, the final step is to connect the two devices. The easiest way to do this is to find a cord that connects the two standards. For example, if your laptop has a USB-C port that supports DisplayPort and your monitor has DisplayPort, you can pick up a USB-C-to-DisplayPort cable. If both your laptop and your monitor support HDMI, a standard HDMI cable will work.

USB-C to DisplayPort Cable for Home Office

An aluminum USB-C to DisplayPort cable, compatible with Thunderbolt 3 $17 at Amazon

AmazonBasics High-Speed HDMI Cable

A six-food HDMI cable that supports bandwidth up to 18Gbps $7 at Amazon

For some scenarios, it might be easier to use a dongle or a dock. For example, if you’re working with Thunderbolt 3 on your laptop and HDMI on your monitor, and you already have an HDMI cable, you can connect the two with a USB-C to HDMI dongle rather than buying a whole new cord. If you’re using a Dell XPS 13 or MacBook Pro that only has USB-C, you may end up connecting your laptop to a USB-C hub that includes HDMI support. In that case, just pop the HDMI into the dock to connect an HDMI monitor.

Once you’ve got your cord set up, plug in your monitor and power it on. Plug your laptop and monitor into the correct ends of your cord, and you’re good to go!

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