I remember one of the features I admired on the Macintosh in the late 80s was support for multiple displays. First time I saw this was on an SE/30, using the internal display along with a big external CRT. It had all the expected behavior of one giant desktop, allowing the user to drag the mouse and windows between the displays. Pretty cool for 1988, or so I thought. This may have used some 3rd party product (Radius?), but I am pretty sure the Macintosh II had the functionality out-of-the-box at this time, just by dropping in additional NuBus display card.

I can't recall when Windows started to support multiple displays like this. Which version of Windows first offered this functionality and with what sorts of display cards? Were there any popular 3rd party solutions for Windows before this, that allowed the Desktop to span multiple displays?

NOTE: Specifically asking about the Desktop/OS recognizing both displays - not just "mirroring" a display to an external monitor or projector as any laptop with external video port could do.

  • WIndows 98 claimed to support up to 9 monitors in one virtual desktop (and I used to run it with 2). I don't know if that was the earliest Windows version though. Since Windows wasn't tied to proprietary hardware, presumably any "plug and pray" graphics cards should have worked. – alephzero Apr 17 '19 at 2:09
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    MS-DOS supported multiple monitors if one was attached to a Hercules graphics card. But I never tried this setup with Windows. – snips-n-snails Apr 17 '19 at 3:13
  • By no means an answer, so I'm commenting, but I did run a Windows 98/2000 box with two monitors around 2002, one on my primary AGP card and the other on a cheap PCI card I picked up. – Matt Lacey Apr 17 '19 at 3:58
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    I agree that Windows 98 was the first version to provide official support. However I think read at the time about video cards that supported 2 monitors using custom drivers on Windows 95. Not posting as an answer because I don’t have specifics. – Euro Micelli Apr 17 '19 at 4:33
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    I can verify that the Macintosh II had multiple-monitor support out of the gate in Spring 1987. I was involved with its beta-test cycle. There had long been rumors of a color-display Mac, but the multi-monitor support was a (welcome) surprise. We were given only a single display and card (4-bit-per-pixel monochrome!), but when more machines started arriving, we put another video card into the beta-box and it worked seamlessly. – jeffB Apr 17 '19 at 13:27

The first release of Windows to provide built-in support for multiple monitors, on graphics cards with appropriate drivers, was Windows 98. Support was subsequently added to the NT line with Windows 2000.

Some graphics cards provided support for multiple monitors in earlier versions of Windows, at least in Windows NT 4.0 as described here (with SP3, released in May 1997); Matrox cards in particular were famous for this. I used a G450 with dual outputs under NT 4.0 with two monitors.

I suspect that some CAD software (AutoCAD in particular) might have supported multiple monitors on Windows earlier than that — this was a common setup on other platforms (including DOS).

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    I also appreciate this post from Raymond Chen, a long-time Windows developer. They made sure that Windows 98 could handle up to 9 monitors, with the limit inspired by the opening sequence of the "Brady Bunch" show. – user616 Apr 17 '19 at 13:41
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    I remember from back then that conventional wisdom was to not install a Windows NT OS before SP3 was out, because by SP3 most of the teething problems of the new version were fixed. – user Apr 17 '19 at 14:24

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