Multiple monitor support in Windows 2000 Pro

Windows 2000 Professional added the ability to support multiple monitors. In this Daily Drill Down, Mike Jackman shows you how to use this feature to extend your desktop and how to troubleshoot problems using multiple monitors.

Unlike Windows 98 users, those who upgrade from Windows NT 4.0 to Windows 2000 Professional get the best benefits of the upgrade path—many new features that users of the Windows “New Technology” haven’t been able to use without third-party support. In this Daily Drill Down, I will discuss how to set up and troubleshoot one of those new features, support for multiple monitors.

What is multiple monitor support?
Support for multiple monitors refers to the ability to simultaneously use more than one display. In Windows 2000 Professional, you can configure up to nine monitors. Should you do this, you could extend your desktop across nine displays. That is, of course, more desktop than you will ever need. But using two or even three monitors allows you to be more productive in your IT job by letting you view more open application windows.

To set up multiple monitors, you’ll have to use a separate video card for each display. Any number of combinations is possible. If you have a recent PC with onboard video, you may have a free AGP (Accelerated Graphics Port) slot. Using an AGP video card for your second monitor gives you the fastest connection. If you don’t have an AGP slot, or if your primary video is already in this slot, use a PCI video card for your additional monitors. That was the case with my test machine. I purchased an ATI Xpert 98 PCI card for $50 (US) at my local computer shop and used it in conjunction with a Voodoo 3D AGP card with no problems.

Second, your monitors need the ability to function as a primary or secondary monitor. At the Microsoft Windows 2000 Web site, you can search for a compatible monitor.

Third, you’ll need video cards and drivers that are supported by Windows 2000 and that support secondary monitors. If a driver doesn’t come with your Win2K installation disk, or if you experience trouble setting up multiple monitors, check with your hardware vendor for new or updated drivers.

POST Display
When you turn on a Windows 2000 system, one of your monitors will display the power-on self test (POST). You’ll use this device to access the BIOS when needed. The other monitor will not be powered on at this time. The POST Display monitor will also be used when you run MS-DOS mode in full-screen, as when you hit [Alt][Enter] at the command prompt. To work correctly, a POST Display must be a supported VGA monitor. You’ll also need to know which card will send the POST information. In my system, the PCI card, not the AGP, transmitted the POST. As a last resort, you can simply plug in both monitors, power up your computer, and note which monitor displays POST information.

There are a few tricks you can use to predict this in advance. If both your video cards are PCI devices, the card in PCI slot 1 will usually have priority. Check your motherboard to see how your slots are numbered. If you have an AGP card and a PCI card, you may have a BIOS setting that lets you choose which device starts first. In my system, this setting is called Primary VGA BIOS and is located in the Advanced | PCI Configuration submenu in my Award BIOS. Be careful with this configuration! When I changed my POST Display from the PCI to the AGP monitor, Windows 2000 behaved unexpectedly. I was unable to log in to my NetWare network, and the sound card made strange “ticking” noises. Fortunately, rebooting and setting the BIOS back to PCI solved this problem.

You might experience some problems if you have onboard video (if your monitor port is connected to your motherboard) connected to a VGA-capable monitor, and a PCI card connected to a VGA-capable monitor. In case your computer can’t activate the onboard display in this circumstance, disable hardware VGA for the PCI card. Your onboard device will display the POST, and your PCI monitor will be your secondary monitor (see Secondary Display, below).

Primary Display
Your Primary Display will be the monitor Windows 2000 uses for initializing and login screens and to display the Start menu and it will be the default monitor for initially displaying application windows. The Primary Display doesn’t have to be the same as your POST Display.

Secondary Display
Secondary Displays can be either AGP or PCI devices and need drivers that allow them to support secondary displays.

Setting up multiple monitors
Setup begins by attaching a second video card, your second video monitor, and booting into Windows 2000 Professional. According to Microsoft documentation, the monitor that displays the POST information will be your Primary Display by default. However, this is not always the case. Your default Primary Display will be the monitor you use to log in to Windows. You can change this arrangement later, if you wish.

Windows plug and play should detect the new video card and automatically install drivers. Keep your Windows 2000 CD handy for when the Add/Remove Hardware Wizard asks for it. You may need to reboot your machine.

Configuring multiple monitors
Right-click an empty area of your desktop and click Properties from the menu to bring up the Display Properties dialog. Click the Settings tab. You should now see icons for both monitors, labeled 1 and 2 (see Figure A). Icon 2 will be grayed out at first.

Figure A
The Display Properties dialog should show both installed monitors.

Below the monitor icons, a drop-down box lists all your installed display adapters. Clicking on icon 1 brings up the settings for that adapter, while clicking on icon 2 changes to its adapter. Here’s where you can see one very nice feature of Windows 2000—the Colors and Screen Area settings are independent for each video card. If required, one monitor can be set to High Color and 800 x 600 pixels, while the other can be set to True Color and 1024 x 768 pixels. Click the icon for the monitor you want to change and click Apply when you’re finished.

Two check boxes at the bottom of the Display Properties dialog finish your basic configuration. By default, monitor 1 is your primary monitor. If you wish to change this to another monitor, click its icon and check that box. Monitor 1’s primary setting will become grayed out. Finally, check Extend My Windows Desktop Onto This Monitor to reap the benefits of more than one monitor. Once you do, icon 2 will show as active. Click Apply, and you’ll be able to drag any window over to your secondary monitor. Note that if you ever uncheck this box, all windows on your extended desktop will snap back to your primary monitor. You won’t lose any applications or settings.

Figure B shows a panorama of my desktop at the time I wrote this Daily Drill Down. The red line in the center of the figure indicates where the screen breaks in each monitor. As you can see, I was using Performance Monitor, listening to an old radio show featuring Groucho Marx in Windows Media Player, and configuring the display using the Display Properties dialog.

Figure B
When you enable an expanded desktop, you have the advantage of lots of screen real estate.

Changing primary monitors
When you use Display Properties to change your primary monitor, you might notice a few quirks. Normally, you’ll drag windows to your extended desktop from left to right. In other words, the window will move “through” the left-hand monitor and into the right-side monitor on the inside corners. Now, let’s say you’ve made monitor 2 the primary monitor; however, it is still physically located to the right of monitor 1. You will still drag windows from left to right, however; they will seem to “jump” from the outside right edge of monitor 2 into the outside left edge of monitor 1. This will confuse your hand-eye coordination, as it is counter to using the mouse. The right edge of monitor 1 will be a brick wall you can’t cross, though you’ll be accustomed to doing so. Switch your monitors so that their positions are reversed.

I noticed during my test that after changing primary monitors a few times, the Start menu became “stuck” on monitor 2. If this happens to you, perform the following steps: On monitor 1, uncheck Extend My Windows Desktop Onto This Monitor and click Apply, then recheck this option and make monitor 1 the primary monitor again. The Start menu should reappear on monitor 1.

Dragging monitor icons
You can drag monitor icons into position the way you’d like your extended desktop to appear. Rather than a side-by-side layout, you can, for instance, create a vertical desktop spanning two monitors. The most practical use that comes to mind is for viewing a full page in a Word document, or a large spreadsheet with many rows. Figure C shows how the icons would appear in Display Properties.

Figure C
You can drag monitor icons to create a vertical arrangement.

Docked computers
Special considerations apply to docked computers using multiple monitors. In Windows 2000, you can’t undock a computer while it’s on if it has been configured for multiple monitors (called hot docking and hot undocking). To remove a portable computer from its dock, use Display Properties to disable a secondary display before undocking, or, if you prefer, you can create one hardware profile for multiple monitors and one for a single monitor. Log into the single monitor profile before hot undocking your computer.

KVM switches
KVM switches give you a good opportunity. In my office, I attached one monitor to the KVM switch. The secondary monitor remained directly attached to my Windows 2000 Pro machine. By dragging windows to the secondary display, I could monitor activity in my Windows 2000 machine while using the primary monitor to switch between my other systems. When I switched back to my Windows 2000 machine, I could use its multiple monitor layout.

The ability to set up multiple monitors in Windows 2000 is a nice feature exported from Windows 98. Windows NT users upgrading to Win2K will especially appreciate an expanded desktop and the productivity that allows you to monitor one machine while working in another.
For more information about setting up hardware profiles, read “NT for newbies: What are hardware profiles, devices, and services?”The authors and editors have taken care in preparation of the content contained herein but make no expressed or implied warranty of any kind and assume no responsibility for errors or omissions. No liability is assumed for any damages. Always have a verified backup before making any changes.

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