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When shopping for a new desktop computer, I'd like to get one that allows me to use two monitors. Is that something that most current-generation video cards can do (in late 2012), or do I need to search for a specific graphics card, or specific attributes for a card?

I've Googled the question but most answers talk about how to figure out if a computer that you already have can support dual monitors (generally, by plugging two monitors and seeing if they both work). Is there some key terminology that I'm missing in my searches?

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Surprisingly difficult to find information. AMD Eyefinity might work for you, which is connecting 3 screens that appear as one to the OS. – Daniel Beck Oct 8 '12 at 15:23
Make sure to check what kind of connectors it has, if you have 2 older monitors with DVI while the card has mostly HDMI or DisplayPort, you'd need a converter to make things work – Ivo Flipse Oct 9 '12 at 9:42
up vote 10 down vote accepted

if you're buying a desktop computer check the graphic card: if it's integrated it (usually) doesn't support multimonitor configurations.

if it has a separate graphic card check the model of the card; then look at the card specifications (note that "nvidia gt630" isn't enough.. producers use that chipset on different boards!!!). however.. nowadays only really cheap cards has only one monitor connector! with 50$ you can buy a "decent" card (if you don't play games with your pc!)

if you're buying a laptop: usually they have one dvi/vga connector for the 2nd monitor and the integrated monitor..

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I do believe some integrated graphics supports multiomonitor these days. current intel video supports up to 3 iirc – Journeyman Geek Oct 8 '12 at 17:12
@JourneymanGeek - Two, except on laptops. The chipset really supports three but the third is an internal DisplayPort header and there are no desktop boards on the market that actually expose that on the chipset. (There's no technical limitation behind this, just that nobody's bothered.) – Shinrai Oct 8 '12 at 19:30
I think my x220 might. I have no DP capable monitors tho – Journeyman Geek Oct 9 '12 at 0:04
Yeah I've been meaning to get a displayport converter for my x230 and see if it can do three... – nhinkle Oct 9 '12 at 3:30
The x220 CAN support three monitors, but be sure that you are using an ACTIVE displayPort converter (the more expensive one) otherwise the card will see it as a Legacy connnection (VGA, DVI or HDMI) and limit you to two. Any graphics card that doesn't expressly support multiple monitors needs active DP adapters to leverage more than two screens. – Jared Tritsch Oct 11 '12 at 14:14

Two monitors is simple for modern computers to accomplish. If you want more than two you will need to make sure you get a graphics card strong enough to support it, as well as the proper connectors.

For two monitors though, Just make sure that it includes the necessary ports. Most bargain PCs only provide one Video out port. If this is the case you will need to purchase either an internal graphics card with the needed ports, or buy a USB->Video converter (cheaper, but not as nice of a picture.)

For laptops, look into docking stations. These almost always provide at least two video ports for the purpose of multiple monitors.

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You can also find splitters that take a card with one DVI output and turn it into two. You have to be careful to find one that doesn't just duplicate the one image though. – Brendan Long Oct 8 '12 at 17:35

In this day & age, if the card has multiple outputs, it can support multiple monitors. ATI/AMD cards can drive up to 6 outputs independently, while nVidia cards can drive 2 independent outputs (or 3 joined outputs + 1 independent output - see "nVidia 3D surround" for info. These limits are per-card if the system has multiple graphics cards acting independently, or per-cardgroup if you're working with SLI). Intel's integrated graphics (GMA, or the newer graphics that come with sandy bridge and ivy bridge processors) can drive at least 2 monitors.

On a laptop, if the system has an external connector for the monitor, it can drive the internal display + an external monitor. Driving multiple external monitors, or with a docking station makes things more tricky and vendor-specific.

Pretty much any system or graphics card you buy new today will support at least 2 displays as long as you have a place to actually hook up the second display.

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Current gen cards, even from Nvidia, often do at least 3 outputs out of the box. – Shinrai Oct 8 '12 at 19:30
@Shinrai Very true, but you can't turn them all on at once except for very specific situations. nVidia cards are still hard-capped at 2 independent displays per "master" GPU. – Darth Android Oct 8 '12 at 19:51
No, I'm afraid you're incorrect as of the 600 series. I've run three independent outputs on a single GTX 680 and I believe the entire 600 line supports this. – Shinrai Oct 8 '12 at 21:41
@Shinrai I can't find any references to it supporting 3 independent displays. Bear in mind that 3D/2D surround is 1 independent display spanned over 3 physical displays. The 600 series can also support a 4th physical display as the 2nd independent display as long as you don't do 3D on it. If all three displays show up in Windows' screen resolution config in the control panel, and can be configured to different resolutions, then color me both surprised and happy. – Darth Android Oct 8 '12 at 22:29
They can and do- no trickery required, no use of Surround, nothing. You can consider them equivalent to most Radeons in that respect now. – Shinrai Oct 9 '12 at 0:44

Well for just a computer that can support dual monitors, you want to look at the adapters.

Video Port Reference from DoctorMo

Basically you want a video card that has two of one of the above ports. The best bets would be two of one kind, since you then know that they are compatible. Two VGA (older video), two DVI (higher end video), one DVI and one VGA (mid range video).

Try and make sure at least two of the ports are in a similar area of the back. If one is up high on the back and one is down low, the computer likely has an onboard and dedicated video card, which may or may not work as a dual-monitor computer.

Only go for the HDMI or S-Video if you know you can support those output types, which usually requires a semi-modern or modern television.

Most modern monitors use the large DVI interface, but there are adapters between DVI and VGA.

If you are interested in learning more about ports, visit the source of the above image at their page.

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