Tutorial Thursday

When hooking my laptop up to an external monitor, the first thing that I like to do is extend my desktop over to that monitor. That way I am able to use my main monitor, but I am also able to utilize the screen on my laptop which practically doubles the amount of screen space I have to work with.

The only problem is that Windows has never let me choose which monitor is the primary one, and by default it always sets my laptop to be the primary display. I don’t like this because I have my main monitor in front of me, and my laptop sits more off to the side. Despite there being an option to choose which monitor is the primary one in the Display Settings, it has always been grayed out for me. After several hours of messing around, I have finally been able to figure out a solution that should work for everyone who has that option grayed out.

Vista’s External Monitor Option Grayed Out

On Windows Vista, the grayed out option reads “This is my main monitor” while on XP it says “Use this device as the primary monitor.” The two options mean the same thing, but the wording has been changed in Vista.

The reason that the option is grayed out is because some graphics cards don’t support changing the primary monitor. Well, they do, it just takes a little trickery to get it done. It won’t take you long to do, and doesn’t require you to download any additional tools or hack the registry. I was actually surprised at how easy it is after I figured out how I could get around it:

  1. Here’s what I’m starting out with: the monitor on my laptop is enabled and my external monitor disabled:
    Vista External Monitor
  2. The first thing you need to do is to enable only the monitor that you want to be the primary one. This is done by pressing the Function (Fn) key on your laptop along with the “F” key that switches the display. There should be either a picture of a monitor on the “F” key or it should say something like “CRT/LCD”. For me the key combination is Fn+F8:
    External Monitor Keyboard Shortcut
  3. So right now I have my external monitor enabled, and my laptop screen is off:
    Vista External Monitor
  4. Now I open up the Windows Display Settings, click on the box with the number 2 in it, and choose the “Extend the desktop onto this monitor.” In this case the secondary monitor is your laptop and should be the one disabled:
    Vista External Monitor
  5. Now enjoy the bliss of having the Start Menu in front of you instead of off to the side:
    Vista External Monitor

Note: You can also reverse this process to have the Start menu show up on the laptop’s monitor instead of on the external monitor.

The cool thing is that Windows will remember this setting so that every time after setting this up, it will properly designate the primary monitor. As soon as you unplug the external monitor, Windows will then move the Start Menu back to the Laptop just like you would expect it to.

Hopefully this will help someone out there because I spent hours searching the Internet trying to figure it out before finally sitting down and trying to come up with a solution myself.