An old, beat-up laptop can be used for a variety of purposes. It can live again as a home media server, internet browser, and YouTube player for your kids, or maybe a secondary monitor. If you plan on using your laptop as a monitor, continue reading this guide. But only if you plan on using the device as an auxiliary – secondary, third, etc. – monitor since, at the moment, it isn’t possible to use a laptop as a primary monitor. The main reason is that a vast majority of modern notebooks don’t feature video inputs. HDMI and DisplayPort connectors you have on laptops are used for video output only.
In other words, you can only use those ports for sending video output to other monitors or PCs. You cannot just power a laptop’s screen and use it as a monitor. The entire machine has to be turned on. You cannot use your notebook display as a primary monitor if you have a working laptop and a working desktop PC without a monitor. Technically you can, but you need a standalone monitor to get there anyway. So, if you want to learn how to use a laptop as a monitor, or a secondary monitor, read on. Do note that you’ll need an internet connection for this to work.
If you plan on using a laptop as a monitor as a temporary solution because your primary monitor died, you could check some of our monitor buying guides. If you’re a competitive gamer, we recommend our list of the best 1440p 240Hz monitors. If you want more options, including some great budget picks, check our lists of the best IPS monitors and the best LG gaming monitors.
How to use a laptop as a monitor with Windows Projecting
Miracast, Windows, compatibility, and Wi-Fi access
If you plan on using your laptop as a monitor via Windows Projecting your primary PC, regardless of whether it’s a laptop or a desktop machine, needs to be able to wirelessly connect to your home network. Miracast, the technology that enables all this, functions only if the two devices are both connected to the same network wirelessly. If you own a desktop without Wi-Fi access, you must get a wireless adapter. A PCIe Wi-Fi card could be a great choice.
Next, Miracast usually asks for an Intel iGPU to work correctly. If you have a laptop with an Intel CPU and a dedicated graphics card, Miracast should work since the video signal passes both through the iGPU and the dedicated GPU before showing up on your laptop’s screen. If your laptop has an Nvidia GPU with Optimus enabled, you should disable Optimus to be sure that the video signal will pass through the iGPU. If you have a notebook with an AMD CPU, move on to our third-party solution.
Checking whether Windows Projecting is enabled
If you want to use a laptop as a monitor with the Windows Projecting feature, you need a working laptop and a working PC with a primary monitor connected. Both devices need to have a copy of Windows 10 installed. Do note that this procedure also works on Windows 11. Finally, as we already said, both devices have to be able to connect to your network wirelessly.
The good news is that every Windows 10 device can use this feature. Another good news is that the feature is also available on Windows 11. The bad news is that the Windows Projecting option isn’t available on Windows machines from the get-go. You’ll have to enable it first.
So, the first thing you should do is turn on your laptop and see whether you have this option enabled. Chances are it isn’t, but hey, maybe you or someone else accidentally installed the feature while tweaking your PC. To see whether Windows Projecting is turned on on your PC, do the following:
- Click on the Start button
- Click the Settings button
- Click on System
- Then click on the Projecting to this PC menu
Once you enter the Projecting menu, all of the options should be greyed out. If that’s the case, move on to the next step. If you have Windows Projecting enabled on your laptop, move on to the step where we explain how to set up Windows Projecting.
Installing the Wireless Display feature on your laptop
Since you probably have Windows Projecting disabled on your laptop, let’s enable it by installing an optional Windows feature called Wireless Display. Here’s how to do it:
- Click on the Windows Search bar
- Type “Optional features”
- Click on the “See optional feature history” button
Now you’ve entered the optional features menu where you can add or delete Windows features. To install Wireless Display, follow these steps:
- Once in the “Optional Features” menu, click on the “Add a feature” button
- Type wireless display in the “find an optional feature” type box
- Click on the “Wireless Display” box and then click Install
- Wait for the feature to install
Once the “Wireless Display” feature has finished installing, return to the “Projecting to this PC” menu, and the setup options should be clickable and not greyed out anymore. That’s it! Now you can perform the setup process and start using your laptop as a monitor.
Setting up “Projecting to this PC” menu on your laptop
Now that you have Wireless Display installed, let’s talk about settings you should use in the Projecting to this PC menu on your notebook.
- The first option is called Windows PCs, and phones can project to this PC when you say it’s OK. You should set this option from “Always Off” to “Available Everywhere” or “Available Everywhere on Secured Networks.” If you only plan on using your laptop as a monitor at home, you can enable the first option.
- The second setting is called Ask to project to this PC. You have two options here: “First time only” or “Every time a connection is requested.” You can pick whichever you want, based on your preferences. Just don’t forget that you chose the latter choice in case you experience issues when connecting to your laptop.
- The third option asks you whether you want to type PIN each time you pair with the primary PC. Again, it’s up to you whether you’ll use a PIN each time you connect or not.
- Finally, laptops (not desktops, for obvious reasons) also have an option called This PC can be discovered for projection only when it’s plugged in. Again, set this option according to your preferences. If you set this on, don’t forget about it if you try to use your laptop as a monitor while the device isn’t plugged in.
Okay, that should be it, at least when it comes to setting up your laptop. Just remember the laptop’s name, shown at the bottom of the menu. This is the name you’ll see during the connection process. Now, let’s move on to the primary PC setup & connecting process.
Setting up and connecting your primary PC
Your primary PC (either desktop with wireless capabilities or a laptop) should be able to use your notebook monitor as a PC now. Just remember, if we’re talking about a desktop PC here, it has to connect to your network wirelessly.
Anyway, either press Windows Key + P or click on the notifications button (right side of the Taskbar) and then click on the “Connect” button. Once you find your laptop on the list of potential devices for connecting, click on it and then allow the connection on the laptop, in case you selected any of the options that ask for a PIN or connection confirmation.
The second way to connect to your laptop is to right-click, then click on “Display Settings.” Once inside display settings, look for the “Connect to a wireless display” option listed above the “Advanced display settings” button. Once you select to connect to a wireless display, the rest of the procedure should be the same as using the “Connect” button. Now, you should be able to use its screen as a secondary display on your primary PC.
Click again on the notification button or press the Windows key + P and then click on the “Project” button. Select “Extend” to simply extend your desktop to the secondary display, in this case, your old laptop’s screen.
Other choices in this menu include an option to only show content on the primary PC screen, an option to mirror the content of the primary screen to the secondary screen, as well as the option to only show content on the secondary screen. The last option technically allows you to use the old laptop’s screen as the only monitor. But for that to happen, you need a primary monitor anyway.
For more multi-display options, go to the Display (Start->Settings->System) settings on your primary PC. There, you can tweak the orientation of the two displays as well as rearrange them.
Ok, that should do it in case you want to use your laptop as a secondary monitor via Windows Projecting. But if your primary PC is a desktop machine without a wireless card or a motherboard with Wi-Fi capabilities, check out the guide below.
How to use your laptop as a monitor with Space Desk
As we already said, the built-in Windows Projecting feature only works if both computers are connected to the same network wirelessly. If the primary PC doesn’t have a motherboard with Wi-Fi capabilities or a wireless add-on card, you won’t be able to use your laptop as a secondary monitor with the help of Window Projecting.
Luckily, an app called Space Desk supports PCs using a wired, ethernet connection. With this app, you’re able to use your laptop as a monitor for your primary PC, even if the primary PC only supports a wired Internet connection.
On top of that, Space Desk also supports Android and iOS devices, allowing you to use your Android phone or tablet or your iPhone or iPad as a secondary monitor. With that said, this guide only explains how to connect a Windows laptop to the primary PC.
Space Desk Requirements
- Do note that Space Desk supports Windows 10, Windows 11, and Windows 8.1 on the primary PC. When it comes to the notebook used as a secondary display, it can run Windows 10, Windows 11, or Windows 7.
- Both machines need to be connected to the same network. The primary PC can be connected either via ethernet (wired connection) or wirelessly.
- Next, if you have an Nvidia graphics card, make sure to update your Nvidia graphics driver to version 461.09 or newer.
- Finally, if you have Splashtop Wired XDisplay, an app for using iOS and Android devices as secondary monitors installed on your PC, make sure to delete the Splashtop wired XDisplay’s virtual display driver in order for Space Desk to work correctly.
Space Desk installation & setup
Okay, the first thing to do is to go to the Space Desk webpage and install the application. The installation procedure looks like this:
- Go to your primary PC
- Go to the Space Desk download page and scroll down until you see SPACEDESK DRIVER SOFTWARE FOR Windows PRIMARY PC (server)
- Download & install the driver – you can pick between 32-bit & 64-bit versions, depending on which version of Windows you have installed – and then restart your primary PC
- Next, go to your laptop, visit the same download page and then install the viewer software – listed on the website under the SPACEDESK VIEWER SOFTWARE FOR SECONDARY MACHINE (CLIENT) label
- Since we’re using a Windows laptop, pick the Windows 10 or Windows 7 version of the software
- Install the software and restart the laptop
- Next, open the Space Desk app on your laptop
- Click on “File” (located on the top of the app windows), then on “Connect”
- Wait a few moments for Space Desk to search for available machines, click on your primary PC once it’s shown on the list, and then click on the “OK connect!” button
- Once the signal from your primary PC comes on, click on “View” and then on the “full screen” option
That should be it! If you followed our instructions, you should have no issues turning your laptop into a secondary screen for your main PC.
How to use your laptop as a monitor to play Steam games with Steam Remote Play & Steam Link
While having a secondary screen is excellent in most cases, sometimes it’s better only to use your primary screen. You shouldn’t be using the methods we shown above to play games on your secondary screen. Since the two devices are connected via a local area network, the signal is laggy, and it has a massive input delay compared to a monitor directly connected to your GPU video output.
Because of this, playing games will feel laggy and out-of-sync, which can ruin your experience, especially when playing multiplayer games. If you still want to play games on your laptop display, it’s better to use other tools, such as Steam Remote Play or the Steam Link app.
Streaming video games via these Steam features is still slower than playing games directly on your primary PC, but at least it’s faster than using Windows Projecting or Space Desk. While faster, we still don’t recommend playing multiplayer games with Steam In-Home streaming. To enable Steam In-Home streaming feature, follow these steps:
- If you have Steam installed on your primary PC and laptop, open it. If you don’t have the app installed, download it and open it on both devices
- Next, sign-in on both devices with the same Steam account
- Once you do this, make sure Steam is opened and running on both devices
- Now, enable streaming by clicking on Steam->Settings->Remote Play-> tick the box next to the “Enable Remote Play” option
- Make sure that streaming is enabled on both devices
- Enter Steam on your laptop, go to the game you want to stream, and click on it to enter its Steam page
- Next, instead of clicking on the Play button, clock on the little arrow right next to it
- There, select the Stream option instead This Computer
That should be it! Now, you should be able to use your laptop as a secondary monitor and play Steam games.
Playing Steam games on your laptop with Steam Link
If you want to use Steam Link for streaming your Steam library on your laptop, enable the Steam Remote Play option on your primary PC, leave Steam running, and then do the following:
- Download the Steam Link app on your notebook from here
- Install Steam Link and follow the instructions
- If Steam Remote Play is enabled on your primary PC Steam Link setup should automatically discover it and allow you to connect to it
Once your laptop is connected to your main PC, you should be able to select and play any game you have in your Steam library via the Steam Link app on your laptop!
Do note that streaming games via Steam Remote Play and Steam Link can be pretty demanding when it comes to bandwidth. We recommend hooking the laptop to your network via ethernet cable for the best results.
Also, while the Remote Play menu includes a number of options, we recommend leaving those at their default settings as long as you don’t experience issues. You can change the options regarding the streaming quality – called Client options streaming to this computer in the Remote Play menu – to Beautiful if you have a high-speed internet connection. But even if you have ultra-fast, optical internet, we still recommend hooking the laptop via ethernet for the best experience.