Traveling With A Laptop: Need a Second Display

The Backstory

I recently went on a business trip to install a new Cisco HyperFlex environment at one of our facilities.  I haven’t had to travel as much as I used to, so I’m a little off my game now.  I used to be completely prepared with all of the equipment a good systems engineer needs on the road.  I didn’t do terribly on this trip, but I was missing a couple of things.

First, I’ve got to spring for a new Bluetooth headset for telecom.  I recently bought a set of Jabra Elite 65t earbuds.  I love these things for music and entertainment.  They are a comfortable fit and don’t feel like they will fall out if I turn my head the wrong way.  The problem with them is that they apparently aren’t good for conference calls.  I have had complaints that my audio quality was bad.  So… I guess I’ll be buying another dedicated headset for that.

Second, as I was working on documentation for this new environment, I was greatly missing my secondary displays from the office.  I normally have my Surface Laptop connected to two 23″ external displays through the Surface Dock.  This is a fantastic work environment for me.  Working with just the Surface Laptop display was a little like having one hand tied behind my back.  It felt very crippling.

I know, I know… I’m probably spoiled.

Sadly, I have an external USB display that I could have brought with me.  That would have been great to remember when I was packing up.  The display works really well but it is rather bulky and really increases the weight of my computer bag.

So, I muddled through as I Alt+Tabbed  back and forth through active windows working on documentation.

It occurred to me the next day that I had the perfect solution in my bag the entire time.

The Solution

I’ve had my Surface Go since shortly after they were released and I really like it as a companion device.  I keep personal separated from business, so I don’t use my business laptop for personal work.  The Surface Go is my go-to for this when on the road.  It certainly isn’t as powerful as my personal Surface Book 2, but it fills the need while I’m traveling.  I can keep up with email, write the occasional article, and even do some basic work in Visual Studio Code.

How, you ask, does this help me in my need for dual displays?  I was just about to get to that.

Let me introduce you to another use for “Projecting to this PC” in Windows 10.

We recently started experimenting with this feature at work.  We have several PC sticks deployed to big screen TVs in various locations.  We wanted to see if this would be a valid solution for wireless projecting in conference rooms.  As it turns out, it is a very good solution.

This is also a good solution to give me a secondary display for my laptop!

I ran through the configuration on my Surface Go to allow it to be “projected” to.  I then connected to that remote display from my Surface Laptop and… voila!  I had a secondary screen.

**Look for configuration details later in this article**

By default, my system defaulted to mirroring my main screen on the Surface Go.  After a quick adjustment in the settings, I had configured my display to extend instead of mirror.  I also had to re-arrange where the screen was.  It defaulted to the right side but I had mine on the left.

The beauty of this arrangement is that you also have the benefit of touch input on this secondary display.  You can also run both devices off of battery power if you are in an area without access to wall outlets.

This can also be done with an iPad or Android tablet using the Duet Display application.  I won’t write an article on that one as their website does a nice job of explaining how it works.  I can say that I tried this and it also works very well.  The only downside to this solution is that you need to purchase the app for use on your iPad or Android tablet.  It is only $10 at the time of this writing so I don’t think that would be a real barrier.

The How-To

First, you need to configure the Windows 10 device you are going to project to.  In my case, this is my Surface Go.  You could use any Windows 10 device for this.

  • Launch the Settings app and click on the System tile.
  • Now scroll down to “Projecting to this PC” in the left side navigation pane.
  • Now, you set your options.  You can see my settings below.  I configured to allow projection when connected to any network.  You may want to modify this per your own security preferences.  I also set so that once a system has connected the first time, you won’t be prompted to approve the connection in the future.  You can also require a PIN for additional security.
  • Now, go to the computer that will be “projecting” and press Win+K to initiate a connection to a display or audio device. You should see your target device in the list. Just click on it to initiate the connection.
  • The connection will be established and you will see additional options.  This is where you allow input from the system being projected to.  I allow this so that I can use the touch screen on my Surface Go along with the desktop that is being projected to it.
  • There will also be a connection bar at the top of the screen of the projecting system.  You can set this to auto hide by clicking the tack icon.  You can use this to disconnect from the remote display as well.
  • Clicking the Gear icon will give you options to change the performance of the connection.  I haven’t experimented with these much yet.

The Final Product

Here is what my set up looked like in the hotel after getting the Surface Go set up as a secondary display.


That’s it.  It’s pretty straight forward.  I have seen some weird distortions occasionally on the Surface Go when projecting to it.  I don’t know if those issues are related to the lower performance of the device or possibly to wireless interference.  Your mileage may vary.

A Note about VPNs

As I continued to work with this I found one thing that just doesn’t work.  When I establish a VPN connection back to our corporate network, the wireless connection to the remote display gets all hosed up.  Now, this may vary depending on the VPN you are using.  It may also be due to the fact that our VPN prevents split-tunneling.  Either way, this is definitely a caveat worth mentioning.



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