A Complete Triple Monitor Setup Guide (Illustrated With Setup Ideas)
In an increasingly tech-driven world, a desk setup with one screen is often just not enough for anyone who relies on their computer to earn a living, complete study tasks or enjoy some meaningful downtime.
Dual monitor setups have long been established as a popular setup amongst home office workers and students – often via a laptop hooked up to an external monitor – but as productivity studies have shown, adding a third monitor can level up your output and experience to another level.
Whether you want to build your very own triple monitor setup to boost productivity, improve your gaming experience, or are simply curious about what specifications or cables you might need to organise a triple monitor setup, this article has you covered!
It’s a good idea before rushing out to buy any new components to have a clear plan for what purposes you want your setup to be optimized for, as this will ultimately have a large bearing on the size, resolution, and configuration of the displays.
To build a triple monitor setup your desktop computer or laptop needs to have an adequate number of ports as well as the graphic capabilities to render three monitors at once.
Taking inspiration from some of the best triple monitor setups shared online, we dive into all the technical aspects of building the setup of your dreams below.
Is a triple monitor setup worth it?
Firstly, what’s the evidence that splashing out on a triple monitor setup is actually worth the investment?
Sure, a triple display setup looks fantastic when time and care is taken over its design, but for the expense, you’ll likely have to outlay – I’m sure you’ll agree that at the end of the day, you want more coming back your way than something which is solely aesthetically pleasing.
The advantages of a triple monitor setup
Tech firms such as Apple know there are distinct advantages to incorporating more than two screens into a workstation.
In a broad sense, working from a triple monitor vs. a single monitor setup creates a positive reinforcement cycle by allowing you to become more productive > feel less stressed > and become even more productive.
Sure, the advantages received will be of more benefit to some roles than others, but it seems across the board that there is a marked benefit to most if not all (illustrated examples post there are ).
- You have more screen real estate upon which to work
- Multiple monitors maximize productivity
- A triple display helps create a less stressful working environment
1. You have more screen real estate upon which to work
One of the strongest arguments for adopting a triple monitor setup is the digital real estate you will gain. In a world increasingly geared towards remote working, this is often a much-needed benefit.
With three monitors, you can dedicate a particular screen to one activity or program and not be distracted from your task in hand by suffering from a bout of ‘out of sight – out of mind’.
In fact the space to keep more browser tabs and windows open at once can result in saving up to 90% of the time that would normally be spent maximising and minimising windows.
2. Multiple monitors maximize productivity
With the additional screen space, your ability to work more efficiently will be maximized.
In one study by Fujistu Siemens it was found that upgrading your single monitor workstation into a triple monitor setup can result in a huge 35.5% increase in productivity!
You’ll be able to save time normally spent switching between programs and configure the monitors to include landscape and vertical monitors depending on if your job involves writing articles or coding (portrait mode is perfect for typing long-form or having more lines of code in view at once).
3. A triple display helps create a less stressful working environment
When you have a heavy workload or deadlines looming, there are few things more stressful than a workspace that just seems to create more problems.
Picture it: you’re finishing that project which has come down to the wire with a key deadline, but you’re frantically swiping between tabs, unable to find those final key references that you swear you had open just a moment ago.
A triple monitor setup allows you to work more efficiently and improves wellbeing by allowing you to feel like things are under control.
A recent study by Amir et al., involving 101 participants (80% of which were professional programmers) found that using multiple monitors is indeed beneficial towards meeting daily goals and desirable for wellbeing.
So having a multi-monitor workstation should not be thought of as just a fancy gimmick these days but, in fact, a necessity to increase your productivity and reduce work-related stress.
The disadvantages of a triple monitor setup
Not to be naive, we’ve also got to acknowledge that there are drawbacks to having a triple monitor setup. Mostly temporary teething problems but some that are long term.
- Three screens require more processing power
- The additional monitors take up more space
- Upgrading to a triple monitor setup will hit your bank balance
- More screens can increase your likelihood of eye strain
- There will be an adjustment period when first using a multi-monitor setup
1. Three screens require more processing power
The main limiting factor of a triple monitor setup is the fact that it requires a suitable level of processing power. Without it, your system will slow, and you’ll begin to experience lag. The more screens you add to your system, the more graphical load your PC has to handle. This is an important thing to keep in mind when setting up a multi-monitor display.
We’ll cover this in detail in the next section and take a look at the computer specs required to operate a triple monitor setup.
2. The additional monitors take up more space
The screen real estate you gain from a triple monitor setup you lose in terms of space on your desk. While there are ways to combat this, such as various mounting options, it’s an important consideration to keep in mind.
There’s no point compromising on your workspace if you have a crucial need to spread out reports or papers in front of you.
Thankfully this issue of limited space on your desk can be resolved through the use of monitor arms.
While monitor arms can add a little bit of extra expense to your multi-monitor budget. They do offer advantages over regular monitor stands, like taking less space and offering multi-monitor support on just one stand.
Monitor arms also give the user more control of their screen in terms of yaw, pitch, and roll control. You can get really creative with monitor arms, which wouldn’t be physically possible with a monitor stands.
3. Upgrading to a triple monitor setup will hit your bank balance
Equipment costs cannot be ignored.
Even if you have monitors already available, peripherals and accessories such as monitor arms, cables or even a new desk can add up.
Moreover, whilst a triple monitor setup will allow you to increase your productivity (and thus earn back some time), it will also increase your electricity bill.
We explored exactly how much the wattage drawn by each additional screen would add to your power bills here – but as a rough indicator expect to add $0.13 – $0.53 per monitor per week (based on the avg. power rates statewide right now).
That range will scale to $20.28 – $82.68 of running costs per year for the monitors alone.
4. More screens can increase your likelihood of eye strain
It may not come as a surprise to say that eye strain is more likely to be encountered when using a multi-monitor setup – often as a result of the increase in exposure to screens.
One solution, pick up monitors that remain sensitive to your vision, adjust the brightness and color temperature of your existing displays, and apply this checklist to achieve an ergonomically sound monitor position.
Another great practice is to reduce eye strain from looking at screens is to use the 20-20-20 rule. Basically, after every 20 mins, look at something that is 20 feet away from you for 20 seconds. This is a great way to give your eyes some much needed rest.
5. There will be an adjustment period when first using a multi-monitor workstation
At first, users who are new to multiple monitors will struggle with mouse movements, how to organise windows, and get distracted by bezels immediately in the line of sight.
It won’t take too long; however, to find your stride and become comfortable with a multi-monitor setup.
In fact, a single display system will seem like a handicap if you attempt to revert. Multi-monitor systems offer so much freedom and versatility that once you go multi, you never go back.
How to build a triple monitor setup
It’s unavoidable that if you want to build your own setup, you’ll need to become familiar with some basic computer terminology.
Don’t be put off – it’s actually very straightforward and will give you the means to make better decisions should you need to pick up any new kit.
There are three elements of your triple monitor setup that needs to be considered:
- The computer
- The monitors
- The cables and connection points between the computer and the monitors
Computer specs needed to operate a triple monitor setup
Before you begin building a triple monitor setup around any computer, it’s important to establish whether it has the capability to support three displays.
Core Processing Unit (CPU)
Computers use a core processing unit (CPU) to run all programs and tasks. It’s a chip that sits on the motherboard that is often thought of as the brain of the computer.
In terms of CPU capabilities, all Intel 4th generation CPUs (those made from 2014 onwards) can support a triple monitor setup but their effectiveness will depend on the resolution and refresh rate of each of your monitors.
Rendering graphics for three monitors at once is no small feat. Especially if you are streaming 4K movies at the same time as gaming across multiple displays.
The higher the resolution, or more demanding the rendering task, the more likely it is that even the best CPUs will be able to complete the task without experiencing a reduction in speed or quality of the output.
If we look at AMD CPUs, the Ryzen CPUs by AMD based on the Zen microarchitecture perform really well. So, combining them with any decent GPU and you should be able to easily run a triple monitor setup.
Apple computers previously utilized Intel processors, before switching to their own M1 chip which has an integrated graphics card and is more than capable of supporting a triple display.
The below table shows you some of the most popular processors that you’re likely to come across in product listings, as well as how useful they are at supporting and generating triple monitor display.
It is really important to note that most CPUs that came out in the past 4-5 years can easily support a triple monitor setup as long as you have a good GPU.
|Core processing unit||Suitability for powering a triple monitor display|
|Intel i3 (4th gen and above)||8/10|
|Intel i5 (4th gen and above)||9/10|
|Intel i7 (4th gen and above)||10/10|
|AMD Ryzen 3 (1st gen and above)||8/10|
|AMD Ryzen 5 (1st gen and above)||9/10|
|AMD Ryzen 7 (1st gen and above)||10/10|
Graphics Processing Unit (GPU)
GPUs are the main limiting factor when it comes to smoothly running a multi-monitor setup. This is because GPUs handle all of the graphical load of multiple screens running.
This load can greatly vary depending upon the resolution of each of your screens. For example, a triple monitor setup at 1080p will require less graphical power as compared to a triple monitor setup at 1440p or 4K. The higher the resolution, the higher the load on your GPU.
A lack of processing power will quickly be evidenced by the video lagging or pictures stuttering.
Typically, any computer with a dedicated GPU will be better placed to support a triple monitor display. A dedicated GPU is a separate video card inside your PC or your laptop that is dedicated for graphical processing.
Many computers rely solely on the CPU to generate graphics – these are called integrated GPUs. For example, Intel’s 11th generation CPUs have a built-in integrated graphics chip called the UHD 730. These are obviously not as powerful as a dedicated GPU, but they should be able to support a triple monitor setup at a lower resolution.
It is always a good idea to get a dedicated GPU for your PC if you plan on running a triple monitor setup. Sadly, you can’t make this same upgrade for most laptops.
On a Windows machine you can check whether a computer has a dedicated graphics card, or integrated GPU by opening the start menu, typing Run, then entering dxdiag. This will open the DirectX Diagnostic Tool.
If you have yet to acquire your computer yet want to go shopping armed with knowledge, Intel lists its graphics controllers that support three independent displays on their website.
A quick and easy alternative to this check is to look at the number of ports available in the back of the tower. The more ports the more likely it is that the computer was designed to connect up a triple monitor display.
It is important to note that for multi-display system including a triple monitor setup, your GPU matters a lot more than your CPU, as it will actually be handling the graphical processing for your display.
Nevertheless, you still need a decent CPU to complement your GPU.
Otherwise, you will just be bottlenecking your GPU and not allowing it to perform to its full potential.
Monitor specs you should know when building a triple monitor setup
Now that we’ve explained the most important computer specs and how these components function together in a multi-monitor setup, it’s time to consider your monitors.
It’s important that you understand different monitor specifications as they can drastically change your experience.
Some of these pointers will come in handy when you’re deciding on the triple monitor configuration best suited to your needs!
When it comes to monitors, size isn’t everything when you have multiple displays to work on.
The resolution also plays an important role in your monitor’s capabilities both from a visual perspective as well as its impact upon the processing power. The more pixels there are the clearer and sharper the image quality. But as you increase resolution, so does the graphical power needed to sustain that resolution.
In terms of monitors being sold today, there are three resolutions commonly available; 1080p, 1440p and 4K.
The first is 1080p (1920 x 1080 pixels), also referred to as a Full HD. A 1080p screen has 1920 pixels horizontally and 1080 pixels vertically. 1080p is perhaps the most common resolution used today and is the standard resolution for most movies and TV shows.
Then there are monitors with a resolution of 1440p (2560 x 1440 pixels), which has almost twice the detail of a 1080p monitor.
Finally, there are monitors with 4K (3840 x 2160 pixel) resolutions, also known as Ultra HD. With quadruple the amount of detail featured on a Full HD display, ‘ultra’ is an appropriate term!
It’s important to note that running monitors with resolutions higher than 1080p will require a more powerful graphics card – especially if you plan on using 1440p or 4K displays across a triple monitor setup.
If your computer struggles to handle three monitors at their native resolution, you can always lower their resolution to take the strain off the processor. For example, if you’re using 4K displays as part of your setup, you can lower the resolution to 1440p.
Monitor viewing angles
All monitors will have specified viewing angles, which will be denoted in horizontal and vertical degrees. Essentially, this refers to the angle at which the image quality will degrade, and you won’t be able to properly see the image on the display.
You’ll be able to observe this by standing in front of a monitor and then moving to the side until the image distorts.
Viewing angles have a direct relationship with the type of panel technology (see below) and become an important consideration when intending to establish a monitor configuration which is side by side.
Monitor refresh rate
The refresh rate, denoted in hertz (Hz), refers to the speed at which your monitor updates or refreshes the picture on screen each second.
The higher this value, the smoother your monitor will run with the bog-standard refresh rate being 60Hz.
The refresh rate of a monitor is particularly important if you plan on using your setup to play games at any point, for this a computer monitor with a 75Hz screen refresh rate or more will help gameplay appear smoother.
In fact, some monitors designed for gaming have a refresh rate as high as 165Hz.
Less of a factor in triple monitor displays than resolution, the size of the monitor really only has an influence over how much physical space you will have to sacrifice to accommodate the screens.
There is no direct relationship between screen size and the number of pixels that are present to form an image. A 22″ screen with a 1080p resolution will have the same number of pixels as a 34″ screen with 1080p resolution.
Monitor panel technologies
When choosing the right monitors for your multi-display setup, you’ll come across many monitors using different panel technologies.
Most of these are LCD displays; however, they are not all the same! Understanding the difference between different display technologies is crucial when purchasing a monitor (or three).
LCD technology, of course, refers to a monitor with a liquid crystal display. This is typically found in flat panel monitors. However, there are few different types of LCD monitors available today that use different panel technologies.
IPS (in-plane switching) monitors are one type of LCD technology. IPS monitors provide better image quality and color accuracy than many other types of monitors. This makes an IPS monitor the ideal choice for those who edit or game. There are also better viewing angles with this type of monitor – essential when you aren’t looking at all monitors head on.
PLS (Super Plane Line Switching) monitors utilize a panel technology similar to the IPS panels we discussed above. Developed by Samsung, PLS monitors offer even wider viewing angles and slightly brighter displays.
TN (Twisted Nematic) panels are commonly used in LCD displays. Monitors with this panel technology are generally cheaper while still offering fast response times. However, the color accuracy is not as great as other LCD displays. Viewing angles are also more limited.
LCD monitors with VA (Vertical Alignment) panel technology are considered better than TN panels. That’s because the color accuracy and viewing angles are greatly improved. However, these monitors are known for an uneven distribution of brightness.
LED (light-emitting diode) monitors use LED lights to power the screen. Like an IPS monitor, LED monitors are a type of LCD screen with a unique backlighting technology. These monitors are more energy-efficient than other types and typically feature brighter displays.
Can monitors with different resolutions be used together in a multi-monitor setup?
You can run a triple monitor setup with 3 different monitors that have totally different resolutions and specs (i.e. 1 display at 1440p and 165 Hz plus 2 displays are on 1080p and 60Hz).
A lot of the time, people use lower resolution monitors for their second and third display if they don’t have a beefy GPU to support high resolutions on all their monitors.
So, there is no limitation on what type of monitor you use for your multi-monitor setup. As long as they can connect to your system, you should be good to go.
|Type of port||Usefulness in building a triple monitor setup|
|DisplayPort||A great option for running higher resolutions and refresh rates.|
Daisy chain compatible.
|Mini DisplayPort||Has less bandwidth when compared to a Display Port but can easily support 2560 x 1440 for a single monitor.|
It can be used for a multi-monitor system as long as a separate cable is used for each monitor.
|HDMI||HDMI 2.0 and above supports resolutions of up to 4K.|
It is always a good idea to use separate cables in a high-resolution multi-monitor setup.
|USB (3.0)||USB 3.0 supports 4K at 30fps.|
If you need to go higher, like 4K at 60fps, then a DisplayPort is recommended
|USB-C||USB-C can do 4K at 60 fps and is suitable for daisy chaining.|
|Thunderbolt 2||Thunderbolt 2 supports 4K at 60fps or 1440p at 120fps.|
|Thunderbolt 3||Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C shaped) supports 4K at 120fps and is daisy chain compatible.|
While this is amazing, you are limited to only an Intel-based system that supports the Thunderbolt ecosystem.
Suitable for using to daisy chain monitors together.
|VGA||A dated delivery system.|
VGA can do 1080p at 75Hz for a single monitor only.
|DVI||DVI offers 1080p on single link format and 1440p on the dual-link format.|
Similar to VGA, DVI is getting outdated.
Both VGA and DVI are old ports, some monitors might still have them, but you are better off using a DisplayPort or HDMI. Most monitors these days will have the option for either a Display port or HDMI, as well most PCs. So, using DisplayPort or HDMI shouldn’t be a problem.
USB-C and Thunderbolts 2 and 3 are great options for people using laptops since a lot of laptops don’t have larger ports to save space (this is where docking stations that also charge the laptop really come into their own).
An important thing to note is that Thunderbolt ports are only supported by PCs that have an Intel CPU. So you are limited to regular USB C if you don’t have an intel chipset in your computer.
Daisy chain multiple monitors together
When three monitors are connected using a daisy chain, the first monitor is connected to the computer, the second monitor is connected only to the first, and the third connected only to the second.
The video output is thus shared from the computer without the need for each monitor to be connected directly to it.
This is an ideal solution for minimizing cable clutter.
This method is compatible with Thunderbolt 3, USB-C and both types of DisplayPort connection, but not HDMI.
Bear in mind too that your graphics card will only be able to process so many pixels, no matter how top of the range it may be. So, there will be a limit on the number of screens you can add to the chain.
On top of that, each type of cable can also support a certain level of bandwidth before the connection gets congested. So, it is always a good idea to use separate cables for high-resolution monitors in a multi-monitor system.
Obviously, that is only possible if your PC has multiple ports to allow more cables.
Connect monitors individually to the computer
If there is not enough bandwidth to support your daisy-chained multi-monitor setup, then you will have to separately connect each monitor to your PC.
You can tell if your cables can’t support the amount of data going through them if your monitors are stuttering in a daisy chain connection. While it is not the only cause for stuttering in a multi-monitor system, it can be a sign to use individually connect your monitors rather than daisy chain them.
The first thing you will need to check is how many DisplayPorts are available on your PC. Most GPUs have 3 to 4 ports options at the back. But a lot of the time, they are not similar ports.
For example, your PC might have 2x DisplayPorts, 1x HDMI and 1x DVI. Or any other combination. You need to make the best of your situation.
Improve port diversity with an external multi-display adapter
For a lot of us, sometimes there are not enough ports on our PCs, and doing a daisy chain for your triple monitor setup just isn’t an option. In that case, you can use an external multi-display adapter.
With the adapter you’ll be able to run three monitors with just one display port on your computer.
This adapter is connected to your computer via a cable connected to a USB-C port, with the monitors and other peripherals then connected to the adapter.
Adopt a docking station into your multi-monitor setup
Think of a docking station as an extension of your PC’s I/O ports, which functions in a similar way to the external multi-display adaptor. A lot of people use docking stations with their laptops to extend the number of ports they have (including their DisplayPorts).
Buy a new graphics card (desktop computers only)
If your computer doesn’t have the power three available display ports, you always have the option of upgrading your graphics card with one that supports multiple connections.
Unfortunately, this option is not viable for laptops due to the nature of their design.
Triple monitor setup ideas
There are numerous possible ways to configure your triple monitor setup! At the end of the day, it comes down to the best configuration to meet your habits during work and play.
Configuration examples discussed below will give you some ideas on what might be the best setup for you.
Three flat monitors in half-hexagon formation
The most widespread and general configurations for a triple monitor setup is to place the monitors in a half-hexagon formation.
One monitor will be in the center facing you, while the other two will be angled inwards.
Three curved displays in a semi-circle formation
For an immersive experience, you can use three curved displays. These can be placed next to one another, creating a seamless all round display.
Two horizontal monitors and one vertical monitor
A popular triple monitor setup for editors is to use two horizontal displays and one vertical display.
The horizontal displays can be used to edit elements on a timeline, whereas the vertical display can be used to watch and preview the clips being used.
This can certainly increase your productivity and efficiency as an editor!
Horizontal monitors with laptop in front
If hot-desking between different workstations remains a large part of your professional life, incorporating a laptop into your own triple monitor setup makes perfect sense.
With larger monitors elevated either on stands or a monitor arm, the smaller screen of the laptop can be slotted into a central position without blocking any digital real estate.
This configuration will utilize two flat or curved monitors to form the base of the pyramid, with another monitor above this base completing the triangle.
Perfect for streaming as the bottom monitors offer a wide gaming platform, while the central screen above can be used for streaming software.
A monitor arm with a robust C-Clamp will be needed to hold two monitors stable at height in this configuration. However this arrangement can be used effectively in conjunction with a standing desk to allow an ultrawide viewing at eye level, with an accessory screen used to display message threads from Slack, or a work e-mail uninterrupted.
Centered horizontal monitor with vertical monitors at each side
A setup that suits programmers well. You’ll want to have use of a widescreen horizontal monitor if you can.
This would be your primary work monitor, with one of the vertical monitors used to display terminals and developer tools, and the other to host three different ‘windows’ in a stack format, which is great for your emails and browser.