Can a Plugable adapter connected monitor be my primary monitor?

Hello. I am currently running two Dell monitors from my Sony Vaio laptop which is closed on a shelf inside my desk. One monitor is connected via an HDMI cable and it defaults to my primary monitor. The second monitor is connected with a Plugable USB 2.0 UGA-2K-A and works great. To clean up a little clutter and reduce by one the number of cables being plugged into the laptop I would like to replace the HDMI cable with a second Plugable USB adapter. The problem is I am afraid the laptop screen would go back to being my primary monitor and that won’t work since it is inside my desk. Incidentally, both Plugable adapters would be connected via a 7 port powered USB hub.

So, is there any way to make my setup work the way I am envisioning?

Many thanks!

Hi Jim - Thanks for the question! Great scenario.

The answer is a qualified yes, with some significant limitations. And the details depend a little on what OS you’re using. If you can reply back with which OS (Win 7?) we’ll cover the details.

Thanks again!

Hey Bernie. Thanks for the incredibly rapid response!

The laptop is a couple of years old. Sony Vaio model VGN-FW140E. Running Vista Home Premium w/ SP2. Hardware is Intel Core 2 Duo P8400 @ 2.26ghz w/ 3GB ram.

Since my laptop isn’t docking station compatible the set up I have now is the best way I could think of to declutter my physical desktop. But I’m a bit of a luddite and always looking to learn.

One thing I noticed is that the monitor connected with the Plugable adapter has blacker blacks and is more crisp than the HDMI monitor. In addition to wanting to make it easier to “undock” my laptop, that’s another reason I’d love to get both monitors connected via Plugable.

Thanks again. Cheers!

Hi Jim - Windows 7 has some improvements in this area over Vista (and I’ve got XP and 7 systems I use here daily, but not Vista).

I want to make sure I describe the steps and limitations on Vista correctly, so I’m going to create a similar setup as yours to verify the behaviors. Might take a day or two. I’ll post then. Thanks for your patience!

Hi Jim,

Here are some steps and limitations for running (two) extra USB monitors on a laptop where you’ll be closing the lid and perhaps sliding the laptop away into a desk (as Jim is doing), docking the laptop and treating it like a desktop PC.

  1. Set the laptop lid close event to not put the computer asleep (Jim’s already doing this):…
  2. Plug in your two USB-attached displays with the laptop open (so you can work with all 3 screens until it’s configured)
  3. Open Up Display Properties, click on the USB display that you’d like to be your new primary display, and check “This is my main monitor” and “extend the desktop onto this monitor” but don’t click ok or apply *yet*
  4. Now, while Display Properties is still up, click back to your laptop monitor display, and uncheck “extend the desktop onto this monitor”. Now you can click “ok” to have the changes for steps 3&4 take effect. Unless you do 3&4 in one step, the change of primary display won’t take.

Your laptop screen is now off – feel free to close the lid – and you’re using the two USB monitors in your “docked” mode. Now unplug the primary USB display, and your laptop goes back to “undocked” mode - your laptop screen comes back as you’d expect. USB screen attached again - back to “docked” mode.

Just the behavior you’d like for what Jim has described.

Now, what are the limitations?

  1. USB displays have fundamental performance limitations vs. your hardware GPU and their connection to the monitor. For people doing video playback or gaming, they’ll likely prefer keeping their main monitor connection. But for normal application/web use, the convenience of docking with just one cable (as Jim is looking to do) can make USB worth it.
  2. Only Windows knows how to talk with your USB display. Your system’s BIOS does not. So when your laptop is first booting up, and right at the end when it is stopping, the computer will switch the USB displays off and use the laptop’s main screen (even if the lid is closed). Normally, this doesn’t matter - you’re booting right into Windows and all’s well. But if something goes wrong, keep in mind that you may need to pull out the laptop to see what messages might be displayed there.

Note that things are even easier with Win 7, which has some improvements in how multiple displays are configured through the control panel (which in Win 7 has gotten an unfortunate rename to “Screen Resolution”).

Hope this helps. Let us know if anything is unanswered.

Thanks again for your question, Jim!