How to Hook Up a Laptop to an External Monitor

Most modern laptop computers can be hooked up to an external monitor, but exactly how to do it will depend on the types of connectors on the laptop and the monitor itself. You will almost certainly need a laptop to monitor cable, and you may need some adaptors as well if they don't have compatible connections on them. You'll also usually need to plug the monitor into the wall.

Most modern laptop computers can be hooked up to an external monitor, but exactly how to do it will depend on the types of connectors on the laptop and the monitor itself.
Image Credit: Jae Young Ju/iStock/GettyImages

External Monitor for Laptop

Pretty much any laptop computer comes with its own built-in screen, but it's sometimes useful to connect your laptop to an external monitor. You might do this to have more screen space for your own work or to share what's on your screen with a wider audience.

Every laptop has certain types of ports on it, where cables can be connected to attach monitors and other external devices, and every monitor has ports or cables on it that can be used to connect a laptop or desktop computer. Ideally, you'll be able to find a way to connect the laptop directly to the monitor with a single cable, but you may need adaptors in certain cases if they're don't have compatible connections.

Types of Monitor Connections

Traditionally, monitors connected to computers using cables known as VGA, for video graphics array, and Super VGA. You're less likely to find these lower-resolution connectors on modern computers, but some monitors and projectors still require them.

More recently, many computers and monitors have been equipped with ports known as digital visual interface, or DVI, and even more recently with a newer kind of port called DisplayPort. Some newer computers and monitors also support wireless connections.

Apple Mac computers are known for using their own type of connectors known as Thunderbolt connectors. Some also use USB-C connections for all outside devices, including monitors. Since these are relatively uncommon in other brands of computer, you often need an adaptor to use Apple computers with external monitors. These can be bought from Apple and other vendors to use an external monitor for Macbook Pro or other Apple laptops.

Make sure you understand what types of connectors your computer is equipped with. If you're not sure, take a look at your computer's manual, look at online documentation or contact your computer's manufacturer.

Connecting Your Monitor

Once you've figured out the appropriate cables and physically attached your computer to an external monitor, you will need to make sure it works. Plug the monitor into a power source and turn it on, along with the computer.

In many cases, the computer will automatically begin sending its output to the monitor. In some cases, you may need to change the settings to adjust whether the screen view is extended from the built-in screen to the external monitor or if both share the same image. You may also need to adjust color and resolution settings.

To adjust display settings in Microsoft Windows, click the Start button, Settings, System and then Display. On a Mac, click the Apple menu, then click System Preferences and Displays.

Giving a Presentation

If you're giving a presentation, you may connect your laptop to an especially large monitor in a conference room or auditorium, or you may connect your laptop to a projector. The procedure for connecting a laptop to a projector is roughly the same as connecting to a traditional monitor.

If you are going to be using your laptop in a new place where you know you will need to connect to an external monitor or projector, such as giving a presentation at a conference, make sure to ask what types of connectors you will need. You may need to bring an adaptor of your own or make sure the event organizers have the right hardware to connect your devices.

In the worst case, you may need to move your presentation to another computer that is compatible with the projector monitor that's available to you as a presenter.