Having an additional display screen or an extended desktop can be very beneficial, especially when you have to keep multiple windows open for reference. For instance, if you need to compare data on two or more different websites or if you need to refer to one document and complete another, continuously pressing the ‘Alt + Tab’ keys to switch between the two windows can be frustrating. It also slows down your productivity. Having two or more monitors helps in viewing multiple windows at full screen rather than stacking, cascading or viewing them side-by-side. But investing on an additional monitor can set you back by over Rs 5,000, or even more.
Additionally, one would need to have a graphics card with two video headers to support that extra monitor. People who have an old laptop tucked away somewhere and don't know what to do with it can use it as a second monitor. I have, in the past, demonstrated how you can convert older working laptops into a panel PC or an additional TV for your home. This time, I show you how you can use your old laptop as a second display for your existing desktop PC or laptop.
Ripping off a laptop’s LCD display screen and converting it into a monitor is next to impossible because it employs a lot of cabling, soldering and converting digital signals into analog for input support. While these convertor kits rarely are available abroad, one would also have to take the trouble of designing the cabinet for the LCD screen. Here, in this workshop, we will not do any sort of hacking or soldering. We shall use the laptop as it is, in its working condition. All one needs here is a simple software utility and a network cable. Let’s begin with the works.
The laptop will be referred to as the secondary PC, while your current desktop PC or laptop, which needs to have the extended monitor will be referred to as the primary PC. If needed, format the secondary PC and install a fresh copy of Windows. Windows XP, Vista or 7, both 32-bit or 64-bit versions, are compatible. Set up the drivers for the laptop, especially the network and display, without which this workshop will not function. Once done, all you need to do is set up the network between the secondary PC and the primary PC. The network can be configured in either infrastructure mode or peer-to-peer mode. If you intend using wireless networking, you can use the ad-hoc mode, too. We suggest you use wired networking to get maximum performance. Once the networking is done, it is time to install the utility software.
Browse the website ‘www.maxivista.com’ and download the free demo/trial software. This download will be a self-extracting archive which contains two utilities – one each for the primary and secondary PC. First run the primary PC setup utility on the primary PC. The computer will flicker while setting up the utility and install a few video drivers on it. Make sure you allow the software to do the necessary changes. Once the installation is complete, you will be asked to restart the PC – go ahead. Now while the primary PC is restarting, you can install the secondary PC setup utility on the laptop. The procedure is similar. Once both the computers are ready with the utilities installed, all you need to do is double click on the respective Maxivista icons on the desktop and start the software.
The utility has no user interface, as such. It just starts up as a service and an icon will be available in the system tray. Absolutely nothing needs to be done on the secondary PC except for starting the utility (it also starts as a system service, so you don’t need to do anything). Note: If you have any firewall or antivirus installed on your PCs, you must set them to allow Maxivista to function using the network. Now on the primary PC, double-click on the Maxivista icons in the system tray and your display will start to flicker a few times. The system theme will also change from default to basic. Now look at your secondary PC – Maxivista will automatically startup and will be ready for use as an extended display.
Fine-tuning: To tweak your displays, you need to right-click on the Maxivista icon in the system tray and do the necessary changes, according to your preference. Click on ‘Monitor arrangement’ to finalize where you have placed your laptop (to the left or right of your primary monitor). Set the display colour modes to 16-bit if your laptop is slower. You can also place the laptop according to your orientation (landscape or portrait mode). Resolutions of the extended display can also be set, but you might get a window, rather than a full-screen. I suggest you leave it to the default settings, unless required. The ‘Options’ in Maxivista can give you further tweaks such as display modes, rotation of display by 180 degrees, performance tweaks, hotkeys, network settings, gamma settings and performance optimization for network.
The free demo/trial utility has limited functions and can be used for 14 days or 50 times. The full version supports the use of additional PCs to integrate more laptops on the network and create a multi-monitor setup. So, go ahead and check out this utility and if you like it and think it would benefit your work, you can download the full version for just USD $40 (approx Rs 2,000). The full version also supports remote control, display mirroring/cloning and a KVM switch, too. An iPad can also be used as an additional monitor for your existing PC. I am presently using a dual-monitor setup on my work desk and have used a laptop as the third display, which helps keep me updated with news, Facebook, chat, RSS feeds and emails whenever I need it. So what are you waiting for? Dig out that old laptop and set it up on your desktop. Old is always gold.
Please note: Maxivista has a few limitations. Aero display mode, video/TV playback and hardware graphics acceleration are not supported on the extended display. Also, the utility will not work if the primary PC has Windows 7 Starter edition installed.