How to configure multiple displays on a Dell PC using the Ubuntu operating system

How to configure multiple displays on a Dell PC using the Ubuntu operating system

This article will give information on setting up multiple screens using the Ubuntu operating system on your Dell PC.

Table of Contents:

  1. Introduction
  2. Configuring Multiple Displays on Ubuntu
  3. Tips and fixes for common issues

1. Introduction

Many people now expect to have multiple displays/monitors working from their PC as a matter of course. Dell has always built this capability into their PCs which run the Windows operating system. (Both in the hardware offered and in the utilities installed from the factory.)

In order to get multiple screens to work on your PC, you need to have both the correct hardware and the correct software along with the support of the operating system.

Hardware Requirements :

  • The obvious first requirement is that you have more than 1 display / monitor.
  • The second is that your PC has more than 1 video output:
    • In the case of a Notebook, this could be a VGA and either a Dport or HDMI connectors built into the PC.
    • In the case of a Docked Notebook using a port replicator, this could be multiple VGA, HDMI, Dport and DVI connectors.
    • In the case of a Desktop this could be either VGA or DVI and either Dport or HDMI connectors on the Motherboard.
    • In the case of a Desktop using an Add-on Video card, it's only limited to the type of card you buy and the kind of money you're willing to spend.
  • You will also need the correct video cables to go between the PC video connectors and the monitor / displays.

Software Requirements:

  • An operating system that supports multiple displays.
  • Installing the correct drivers and software:
    • If you are using onboard video, you will need to have the correct software / driver installed from the GPUs manufacturer. (Commonly Intel or AMD)
    • If you are using a discrete or add-on video card, you will need the appropriate software from the GPUs manufacturer. (Commonly Nvidia, Radeon, Matrox or one of the other manufacturers.)
Note: Before you attempt to connect up multiple displays using different types of video connector or by using additional adapters / converters, I would recommend you look over the type of video in use across the different connectors. For example VGA is analogue only. Some DVI are both analogue and digital and some DVI are only digital. (Knowing what type of DVI connector you have is key to knowing what type of video it supports.) HDMI and Dport are digital only. (HDMI carries sound as well as video, whereas Dport carries only video.) Some issues later on can be avoided if you get the connectors and cabling correct here.

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2. Configuring Multiple Displays on Ubuntu

The first thing to do is to make sure your Graphics drivers and software are installed and up to date. (There are open source drivers which install by default and you can install proprietary drivers at need. ) You can find out more on the article linked below :

When everything is up to date, reboot your PC and login to the Ubuntu Desktop.

  1. Connect the additional monitors / displays to you PC. Ubuntu should attempt to automatically configure the additional screens.

  1. In order to configure the additional screens yourself, go to System Settings > Displays.

    1. The top part of the configuration window displays the detected monitors /displays along with their names. (You can click on the monitors and drag them into the correct alignment for how you have them actually set up.)

    2. The bottom of the configuration window shows several options:

      1. There's a check box at the upper right hand side corner of the bottom half of the configuration window that toggles the screens between Extend and Mirrored. (Extend is the default. Be aware setting the screens to Mirror may restrict the possible resolutions in use.)

      2. The first option down the middle is Resolution : this has a drop down menu of choices. (It matches whichever screen you have currently clicked on at the top of the window.) The resolution is how big or small the screen appears, how much details is shown and the aspect of the screen.

      3. The second option down the middle is Rotation : this also has a drop down menu of choices. (Again it matches whichever screen you have clicked on.) The rotation decides which edge of the screen the display regards as being the bottom. This is useful if you have one or more of your displays mounted on their side to give a Portrait, rather than a Landscape view.

      4. The third option down the middle is Launcher Placement : this has a drop down menu which gives a choice between the launcher being visible on only on one of the displays or on all displays. (The default setting is All Displays. The Launcher is the vertical taskbar in Ubuntu.)

      5. The fourth option down the middle is Sticky Edges : this has a toggle between on and off. (The default setting is ON.) The purpose of Sticky Edges is to allow applications to dock to the edge where two monitors meet. It slows the mouse to give you more time to align the application correctly.

      6. There is a button at the lower left hand side corner of the configuration window named Detect Displays that will attempt to detect any screens plugged to you system and assign an ID on each screen so you can see if your configuration is working.

      7. The is a button at the lower right hand side corner of the configuration window named Apply Settings that will save your configuration.

Configuration Window

  1. Use this window and it's various options to configure the multiple screens the way you want them. How you set your screens up is purely down to your personal preferences and needs.

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3. Tips and fixes for common issues

Note: Dell only supports the hardware that ships with the PC and the factory installed version of the Ubuntu Operating system. If the hardware checks out OK and an OS reinstall from the recovery partition doesn't resolve the issue, then you could be directed to contact Canonical for further Software support. If the hardware in question is a third party device, you may be directed to contact the manufacturer of the device for further help. If you are still having trouble after this, then you may be directed to contact the Ubuntu community forums with the information about your hardware for further support. I will give some general troubleshooting steps in the section below, but this information is used at your own risk.


Use a different wallpaper on each screen or extend one across them all

There are two applications which can be used to achieve this sort of thing:

  1. The first one is SynchWall. Use the command below to install it:

    sudo add-apt-repository ppa:milarimogard/webupd8
    sudo apt-get update
    sudo apt-get install synchwall
    • Open the snychwall app and go to Preferences > Display parameters and on the page below go to Multi Monitor Display and select Extend image and check the box next to share image between monitors to put the wallpaper across all of your screens.

    • synchwall can also rotate wallpapers, apply effects and more.

  1. The second one is Nitrogen. You can search for it in the Ubuntu Software center or use the command below:

    sudo apt-get install nitrogen

    nitrogen doesn't have a desktop launcher, so open it from the command line:

    • Go to Preferences and add your wallpaper folder. At the bottom of the preferences window select Full Screen to stretch the same wallpaper across the monitors.

    • To get individual wallpapers on each screen select screen 1, 2, etc. at the bottom of the preferences page to set each wallpaper on each screen.

      Note: In order to set a different wallpaper for each monitor, you must disable the file manager from handling the desktop. Please be aware this means you will no longer have folders on the desktop.

      In order to do this you need to install the GNOME Tweak Tool:

      sudo apt=get install gnome-tweak-tool

      Go to the Desktop section in the GNOME tweak tool and set the Have file manager handle the desktop option to OFF.

    • In order to have your configuration saved past a reboot, remember and add nitrogen --restore to your startup applications.

Get Flash videos to remain full screen on one monitor when using the desktop on another monitor

Most Flash videos and Games are shown within either the Chrome or Firefox browswer. There are a couple of extensions you can use that will resolve this issue :

  1. For Google Chrome /Chromium: MaximizeFlash resizes the flash video / game to fill the whole browser, if you press F11 it will make the browser full screen on the monitor you selected.

  2. For Firefox: Flash Game Maximizer adds a button to the addon bar that resizes the flash video / game to fill the whole browser, if you press F11 it will make the browser full screen on the monitor you selected. (Be aware there are known issues with this extension and YouTube.)


Issues with the Video drivers

If you can't achieve the configuration you want with the open source drivers that default install on your PC, you may want to try the proprietary driver and utility that comes from the video GPU manufacturer. In some cases going from the proprietary driver to the open source driver can achieve the results you want, depending on what you are trying to do. The basic advice is - if you're having problems with one, try installing the other instead and see if you experience the same issue?

The Ubuntu Configuration Window doesn't let me set up my displays as I need them

As in Windows, you can use the software that installs with the proprietary driver to configure your video devices and to configure your multiple displays. Each manufacturer will have more information on their own support site about how to use their specific software.

Ubuntu doesn't detect all the displays correctly

  1. Install CCSM (Compiz Config Settings Manager):

    sudo apt-get install compizconfig-settings-manager
  2. Open CCSM and go to General Options > Display Settings.

  3. Uncheck the Detect Outputs box.

  4. In the outputs array, set each of your displays screen resolution.

  5. Go back to section 2 and configure your displays again in Ubuntu's display settings.

Ubuntu won't keep the display positions past a restart

There are a series of steps below to take you through creating a script that allows you to fix the positions of your mulitple monitors and keep them past a restart or coming out of suspend :

  1. Delete your old monitors.xml file and create a new one using the Gnome display settings tool :

    rm ~/.config/monitors.xml

    Go to Displays and change the positions to how you want them.

  2. Open the file ~/.config/monitors.xml in an editor and make sure the primary display has a yes for the primary flag.

  3. Install the libxml2-utils package if it's not already installed:

    sudo apt-get install libxml2-utils
  4. Use the commands below to copy the script to a directory on your path and make it executable:

    sudo wget -O /usr/local/sbin/update-monitor-position
    chmod +x /usr/local/sbin/update-monitor-position
  5. Use the System > Startup Applications tool to add update-monitor-position so that it runs when you login.

  6. Reboot your system and check the script works.

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Additional Information :

Note :
Software support is provided by Canonical through the following methods:
Technical Support is provided by Dell :

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Quick Tips content is self-published by the Dell Support Professionals who resolve issues daily. In order to achieve a speedy publication, Quick Tips may represent only partial solutions or work-arounds that are still in development or pending further proof of successfully resolving an issue. As such Quick Tips have not been reviewed, validated or approved by Dell and should be used with appropriate caution. Dell shall not be liable for any loss, including but not limited to loss of data, loss of profit or loss of revenue, which customers may incur by following any procedure or advice set out in the Quick Tips.

Article ID: SLN298529

Last Date Modified: 03/24/2017 10:19 AM

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