Laptops offer the power of a PC wherever you are, from the other side of the country to the other side of the couch. But sometimes you want a desktop for a bigger screen, a bigger keyboard and a sturdy mouse. Here̵
Any laptop can turn into a desktop
Transforming your portable PC into something more permanent is easy with a few cables and the necessary peripherals. Best of all, your laptop doesn’t have to be tied down to your workspace, and when you want to be on the go, just unplug the cables and you’re good to go.
Let’s take a look at the basics of a DIY setup to get on your way to big screen glory.
What do you need from a laptop?
The first question people often have is whether their laptop can handle all those peripherals, including a larger screen. The answer for most people is almost always yes. Even something as old as an Intel Sandy Bridge CPU can work. All that matters is that the PC has a solid processor with reasonably integrated graphics.
If you are using a Pentium or a Celeron processor, you may run into performance issues if you use both the laptop and the external monitor at the same time. In general, most laptop Intel Core and AMD Ryzen processors will have no problem driving an external monitor.
Identify the ports on your laptop
The next step is to identify the ports you have on your laptop. Ideally, you buy a monitor with the same kind of port, so you only have to buy one cable without an adapter.
There are several port types that you are likely to encounter. The most common, of course, is HDMI, which is shown in the laptop above. Next up is DisplayPort, which is often used on gaming displays with a feature called FreeSync.
Then we have DVI-D. This is not very common on laptops these days, but you will find that many mid-range displays to a lower budget will have this port. If you end up getting a monitor with only DVI-D, you will need an adapter. Another option is mini DisplayPort, which is not very common, but you will find both laptops and monitors.
Finally, there’s the old standby VGA, the classic video connector we’ve seen on PCs since the 1980s. VGA is the largest of the ports you are likely to encounter and is unmistakable. There is almost no chance of your equipment shaking VGA only, but you may find some monitors equipped with it as a secondary option. We do not recommend using VGA unless it is the only option available.
The screen you need
The centerpiece of any laptop-to-desktop configuration is the display. In general, try to stick with a monitor that has the same resolution as your laptop. This makes it easier for your laptop to handle and reduces any impact on performance.
The only exception is anyone with a display less than 1080p, such as 1366 x 768. Those people should buy a 1080p display and the laptop should be able to use the native resolution of the external display without any problems. Anyone who has at least a third generation Core processor, a newer Ryzen processor, or a laptop with a discrete GPU should try upgrading to a 1440p or 4K display.
If you want to control more than one external monitor, you are in a completely different area and we won’t go into too much detail here. For multiple external monitors, you need a good laptop GPU, as well as enough ports (or GPU bandwidth and a hub with enough ports) to support it.
Cables, peripherals and installation
Now comes the easy part. Turn off the laptop and connect your laptop’s display cable to your display of choice, be it through HDMI, DisplayPort, DVI or VGA. Then connect a desktop keyboard and an external mouse from the USB ports on your laptop. If you don’t have enough USB ports, you need a cheap USB hub or a keyboard with USB passthrough.
We are almost ready to get started. If you plan to use your laptop as a secondary display, place it to the right or left of the external display, where you find it most comfortable.
Make sure the laptop’s display is at eye level for the best experience. This is easy to do with a stack of books or a box. A laptop holder in a slightly more luxurious angle will also work, but that is not really necessary, as we do not plan to use the keyboard.
Now we are ready to start it up. Turn on your PC, make sure the display is turned on and see what happens. Most PCs should just automatically start using the external monitor after you log into Windows.
If you don’t see anything on the monitor after signing in, wait a few more minutes to be sure. Then check if the cables are properly connected. If that doesn’t work, try to find out if the PC detects the external monitor by going to Settings> System> Display in Windows 10. Click the “Detect” button under “Multiple monitors”.
If none of these steps help, you can try other strategies such as updating the graphics driver or reinstalling it. Any serious issues not resolved with these steps should be extremely rare.
Adjust the external monitor
Once you set up your monitors, customizing them is a breeze. Typically, your laptop monitor is labeled 1 and your external monitor is labeled 2, and they are arranged with the laptop screen on the left side of the external monitor. If you placed the laptop to the right of the monitor, click and drag the monitor 1 icon in the Settings app to the correct location.
Open Settings> System> Display again and scroll down to ‘Multiple displays’. Here you can choose to duplicate the displays, expand them, or just display the desktop on one of the displays.
Anyone looking for a dual monitor setup will usually want to use the “Extend” option to create one large desktop. If you don’t want to use your laptop’s display, choose “Show only on” the external display.
Next, we may want to adjust the external monitor’s scale (how big the text and icons are) and the resolution. To do this, click the Monitor 2 icon at the top of Settings> System> Display and scroll down to ‘Scale and Layout’.
Windows 10 is pretty good at picking the right scale and resolution, but if they don’t look right, this is the place to tweak it. You may also need to lower the resolution of the external monitor if the computer is not performing properly.
Or try a dock for your laptop
These are the basics for creating a desktop-like environment for your laptop. DIY solutions are by far the cheapest to make, although they usually come with a fair amount of wires that need to be well organized.
Another option is to look at laptop docking stations built specifically to turn your laptop into a desktop. Docks can make it easier to organize, as you simply plug the laptop into the station while everything else remains attached to the dock. Laptop docks are usually generic, universal devices, but some laptops may have purpose-built docks, such as Lenovo’s ThinkPad line.
However, in our opinion, a generic DIY solution without an expensive dock is the better option.