Thursday, 19 April 2018

How to Turn your Laptop into a Desktop – Which Cables and Adaptors will you Need

Large Monitor and Surface
Turning your laptop or tablet into a desktop with a large monitor is a breeze, as long as you have the right cables and adaptors – and the monitor of course.

When my 11 year old desktop tower PC died a few months ago I changed it for a Lenovo IdeaPad 520S which is lightweight and great for travelling. It has a 14” screen which is ok while on the move but a bit small for every day.

I also had a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 but I found the screen too small, so I set off on a mission to enable me to use my Surface as my ‘Desktop’ by attaching a large monitor – or largish, by today’s standards anyway.

VGA CableHDMI to VGA AdaptorMini DP to VGA Adaptor

There are three types of connectors you need to know about;  VGA, HDMI, and Mini DP or Thunderbolt.  There are others but these are the most likely you’ll come across if you’re just trying to hook up your device to a monitor.

VGA is the old style connector and you’ll still find it in the box of a lot of monitors.  In fact it is still frequently the only cable in the box.  One came with my Acer monitor.  I was originally using a VGA connector cable with an adapter to make it work with my Surface Pro 3, I've now switched to HDMI.

HDMI (centre above) or High Definition Multi Media Interface, has the ability to carry video and audio over a single cable, and is very good for watching movies and TV shows on your monitor or connected to your HD TV.  Many monitors come with a VGA old style connection and an HDMI connection, newer monitors will come with HDMI plus possibly a Mini Display Port connection. Use HDMI over VGA for a much sharper picture.

Mini Display Port - The other connector and port you may find is the Mini Display Port (on the right above) with is to be found on Surface laptops and tablets.  It is the same size as the Thunderbolt port on Apple devices.

So choose the monitor you want depending on what you want it for.  Mine is a quite basic Acer 21.5” monitor and works perfectly for my needs.  If you want something larger, or curved even, there’s a huge choice out there and you can, if you want, spend a small fortune. 

When you’re choosing, whether in a store or online, be armed from the start with three bits of information

1.  What ports are available on the device you want to connect (laptop or Tablet).
2.  What connections are available on your chosen monitor and what’s in the box.
3.  Which adaptors/cables will you need

Most newer laptops now don’t come with VGA ports.  My Lenovo has HDMI and my Surface Pro has a Mini DP port. 

If your new monitor comes with a VGA cable and you’re happy to use that, for a Surface device you’ll need a Mini DP to VGA Adaptor which will cost you about £6 at Amazon.  Better to get a Mini DP to HDMI adapter, and an HDMI to HDMI cable, then you'll be able to plug in just about anything.

Alternatively you’ll find adapters for all types of connectivity.  The reason I say know in advance is because if you walk into any computer or electronics store you’ll probably find they won’t have the adapter you need or they’ll want to charge you far more than you need to pay. 

Being able to use your laptop or windows tablet as your desktop has so many advantages, not just of portability and versatility.  You just need to get the right cables and adapters, and it really is simple. 

Just a note:  If you only want to hook up one monitor/screen you're not going to need a docking station so don't let anyone try and sell you one.  Useful for some people but for basic usage totally not necessary.