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I run two separate monitors to the back of my graphics card which happens to accept 2 DVI inputs. I am running Windows 7.

80% of the time, I just require one monitor on, and just use the 2nd monitor for development work.

The problem I have is that sometimes a window can open on the 2nd monitor.
The workaround is to windows key + left arrow to bring it onto the other monitor.

Is there a way for my NVidia graphics card/Windows 7 to automatically understand that the other monitor is powered down, and thus just extend the desktop to the border of the primary monitor that is turned on?

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I'm not sure about automatically detecting it, but you can use Windows+P to pull up the display switcher applet. Your video card driver also might let you configure a hotkey to switch between display modes (e.g., switch between extend and clone, or extend and single). –  rob Apr 23 '12 at 13:56
    
@rob: I've been using that for a long time now, but it's not bulletproof either. I've had applications start on my "ghost" second monitor even when it's not connected. That was before W7 and the Windows+Left/Right arrow. –  Terry Apr 23 '12 at 15:08
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Some video card drivers and utilities also allow you to force new windows to open on a specific monitor...perhaps that would suit your needs. –  rob May 18 '12 at 6:42
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To add to Rob's comment, do you have nView installed? Right click on the desktop, and select nView Properties. Enable nView if not already enabled, then check out the Windows tab. I've tried Prevent windows from opening off-screen without success. As Rob said, you can also change Open windows on to your primary display. Will that work? –  John McCarthy May 18 '12 at 15:43

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You could try using DisplayFusion, which adds a lot of multimonitor functionality that probably should already be in Windows but isn't. I'm guessing that for your purposes I blieve you'd have to get the Pro version- which is a $25 that I found to be well spent. The free version is a must have for anyone running a multimonitor Windows setup IMHO.

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Agree wholeheartedly. You can try the full version for 30 days. I used it all of 5 minutes before I decide to buy it. –  Mike Bantegui Jun 12 '12 at 0:07

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