Three Displays on a Laptop

The multiple monitor wave has hit most CPA firms and other companies now, and most IT people know how to configure Windows to support these additional displays.  That having been said, many home-based workers may not be getting the productivity gains that come from using two or three displays.  My home office setup is pictured to the left – I’m working off of my laptop (the center display), and am using two 19″ 1280×1024 displays (4:3 aspect ratio).  Both of these displays were purchased for under $200 each, so this whole project can be done for a little over $500, plus the cost of the laptop.

Here’s a question from a participant, and the related response:

Dear Mr. Tankersley  (ed. note: Mr. Tankersley is my father.  I am Brian.):

I attended your classes in November in Tulsa and really enjoyed them.  They imparted alot of useful information.  Especially enjoyed the Quickbooks classes. I have one question relating to your general technology session.  On page A13 of the general session material, you mentioned that it is possible to run 3 monitors from one laptop.  How can it be done?

Thank you

A Curious CPA


Dear Curious CPA:

Good to hear from you, and thanks for the kind words.

You can run three monitors on a laptop in three ways.  First, I’m defining screens as follows:

·         Screen One is the LCD on the laptop.

·         Screen Two is an external monitor connected to the video out port on your laptop (usually a VGA out port)

·         Screen Three is a hardware video device connected to an external monitor.  This is what confuses some when trying to figure out how to do this.

For purposes of this, I’m going to assume that you know how to enable the second monitor (go to Control Panel, pick display, select the last tab (settings).  Click on the additional monitors present, and select the “Extend my Windows Desktop onto this monitor” option for each. 

The third monitor can be enabled using a number of techniques. 

·         The easiest way to do this is to purchase a docking station for your laptop.  While some manufacturers make a docking station which will allow the third display, others (such as my cheap laptop in the attached picture) will require a USB 2.0 docking station.  I have a Targus ACP50 which supports four powered USB ports, VGA output, serial, 10/100 ethernet, and audio connections all over one USB 2.0 connection.  My experience with this device suggests that it will work fine if you want to just use it for VGA, or use it for VGA at low (1024×768) resolution, along with some of the other functions.   The one I have is a Targus ACP50, and it’s about $100 at Circuit City, Best Buy, or an office supply store.  This is the same device NMGI is recommending to CPA firms.  Info is at

·         I have seen some Cardbus VGA adapters in the past, but couldn’t find any for sale on Amazon in a cursory search.  You may be able to find something like this online somewhere – but I have not used these, and have not done an exhaustive search for any of these items online.

·         If you run multiple PC’s (as I do), you can use an application called MaxiVista to send the video for the third monitor to an additional PC over TCP/IP.  This requires client/server software. 

Hope this helps – and I hope to see you at another OKCPA event in 2007.

Best regards,