One of the best ways to run multiple monitors from your laptop or any device where your output options are limited is with daisy-chaining. Connecting multiple monitors on a single cable chain instead of with multiple cables going to the same source device cuts down on cable clutter in a big way and helps keep your desk neat and tidy.
In some setups, daisy-chaining monitors is the only way you’re going to be able to enjoy a multi-monitor setup. Whether your laptop doesn’t have enough outputs, or you don’t have long enough cables to go from your laptop to every display, using a daisy chain system of connection can be far simpler and just as effective.
Daisy-chaining, officially known as multi-stream transport, or MST (in the case of DisplayPort technology) involves connecting a monitor to another monitor instead of directly to your system’s video out port.
It's a great way of minimizing cable clutter and extending the range of your monitors from the source system. There are some limitations to it since the maximum bandwidth of the single cable between the first monitor and the host system will need to handle the video stream for all daisy-chained displays, but there are plenty of high-end cables to help you daisy chain monitors while making the most of their display resolutions and refresh rates.
Daisy chain monitors are no different from any other monitors. There's nothing special about the displays themselves. It's all about how you manage the cables and Cable Matters has just what you need to make it possible.
Note: USB-C daisy chaining for extended displays is supported on Windows only. On macOS, Thunderbolt 3 is required for extended displays; daisy-chaining through USB-C only will result in mirrored displays.
What Are the Benefits of Daisy Chaining Your Monitors?
Daisy chaining your monitors together makes having a multi-monitor setup much easier. Instead of having cables that trail across your desk to reach your laptop or desktop, all of the cables can stay between the monitors.
A clean a tidy work area helps many people concentrate, further augmenting the productivity boost you get from having multiple monitors.
Daisy chaining also means that your monitors only need to be near one another (and a power source) rather than the computer. That makes it easier to have your monitors at a greater distance from your laptop or desktop since you aren’t restricted to the length of a single cable; the third monitor in the chain can be three cables’ distance away if you like. That can be really useful for unique orientations, too, such as vertically mounting your monitors or using one or another in portrait mode.
For creative professionals who use a lot of external drives for photos, videos, and other important files, daisy chaining with USB-C cables, like USB4 and Thunderbolt 3 and 4, lets you plug accessories into them too. That means you can use one of the monitors as a USB hub for your devices, further cutting back on cable clutter and simplifying your network of connected devices.
How to Daisy Chain Your Monitors
To daisy chain your monitors, you need a few specific things.
First, you need two or more monitors that support at least DisplayPort 1.2. Displays that will act as a middle link in the chain must include DisplayPort output ports as well as input ports. You also need DisplayPort cables, preferably high-quality ones, though they can be 1.2, 1.3, or 1.4, generation, they're entirely interchangeable. You can also use a newer DisplayPort 2.0/2.1 cable if you prefer, though there are only a handful of devices and graphics cards that support that newer, higher-bandwidth standard as of mid-2023.
Alternatively, you can use USB-C cables, but HDMI cables do not support daisy chain monitors.
DisplayPort is the more established daisy chain medium, as it has been supported since DisplayPort 1.2, which debuted in January 2010. To daisy chain DisplayPort monitors, all you have to do is connect the first display to your host system using a compatible DisplayPort cable, and the second display to the first's secondary DisplayPort output connection.
Note: Some monitors may need you to select the higher-end DisplayPort configuration (at least DP 1.2) to utilize extended monitor modes. Otherwise, you may be restricted to mirror mode, where both displays show the same content.
If your graphics card or laptop supports it, you may be able to increase the number of your DisplayPort daisy chain monitors even further, so that you have three, four, five, or even six displays – although that's typically reserved for the highest of high-end graphics cards. Unless you're running relatively low resolutions across all those screens too, you may start to run into bandwidth issues with the DisplayPort cables. For example, a DisplayPort 1.2 daisy chain can handle four 1080p screens, and two displays running at 2,560 x 1,600. DisplayPort 1.3 and 1.4 can daisy chain DisplayPort monitors up to 4K resolution, though only two of them at the highest resolution and only at 60Hz (even though DisplayPort does support higher refresh rates). They could do up to six 1080p daisy chain monitors, however.
Note: Intel’s current integrated graphics card supports up to 3 displays (this includes the laptop's built-in display). To use 3 independent external displays, you must close the lid of your laptop.
For the ultimate in daisy chaining monitors, you’ll need one of AMD’s RX 7000 series graphics cards – ideally the RX 7900 XT, or 7900 XTX, although the newer RX 7600 should suffice. You’ll also need DisplayPort 2.1 cables and DisplayPort 2.1 compatible monitors – which are few and far between. If you can, though, the capabilities are near limitless. DisplayPort 2.1 can technically support up to three monitors running at 10K resolution at up to 60 Hz. Although there aren’t any monitors with those sorts of stats at this time, they’re likely coming down the pipeline and when they’re available, daisy-chaining them together will be possible.
Even though you can’t have 10k daisy-chained monitors just yet, if you want to daisy chain ultra high-definition displays, DisplayPort 2.1 is the best cable and connector for the job.
How to Daisy Chain Your Monitors with USB-C
USB-C connections offer a similar multi-monitor solution to DisplayPort daisy chain technology. It has the option to extend and duplicate displays, useful for different scenarios, and cuts back on cabling while extending the range of your displays from the source system.
This is thanks to USB-C's alternate mode functions. Alternate mode simply allows a video signal to be sent over a USB connection, which was previously reserved for data only. In this case, it's the same DisplayPort 1.4 protocol, but over USB-C instead of the DisplayPort connector.
As well as using a high-quality USB-C cable, you'll also need to use a converter. You can use a cable with DisplayPort connectors, an adapter, or a multi-port hub, depending on your daisy monitor needs. Whichever solution is right for you, though, the USB-C output on the master display, must then output to the DisplayPort connection on the first or subsequent slave displays.
Note: Because DisplayPort cannot provide power for the subsequent displays in your daisy chain, you will need to provide a separate power cable for them, rather than relying on just a single USB-C cable for everything. That can mean the monitor charges your laptop though, which does at least eliminate the charging cable for that device.
Once set up, you shouldn't notice much of a difference with daisy chain monitors that use USB-C instead of DisplayPort. The only difference may be in terms of the maximum resolution or number of monitors you can support using the USB-C connection, as it doesn't have the same bandwidth as DisplayPort 1.4. That may mean running your daisy chain monitors at a slightly lower resolution or refresh rate to maintain full support for your multiple monitors.
That’s not the case with newer USB4 and Thunderbolt 4 connections, though. They offer some of the highest bandwidth possible from any cable standard, rivaling HDMI 2.1. Newer Thunderbolt 4 and USB4 cables have even been demonstrated as capable of up to 80 Gbps data rate, so you should soon be able to enjoy the highest resolution and refresh rates when daisy chaining monitors using USB-C.
Which Cables Do You Need?
For daisy chaining monitors, you’ll need DisplayPort cables to connect the monitors, and a DisplayPort cable to connect your first monitor to your host – either over DisplayPort or USB-C. Cable Matters recommends high-quality DisplayPort 1.4 cables to ensure you get the most feature-rich cable possible although DisplayPort 2.1 cables are viable too. To add a stylish look to your gaming setup and ensure that you're getting the longest life out of your cables, Cable Matters recommends a braided cable. The braided outer cable jacket provides extra flexibility, protecting the cable from kinking. It also adds an extra layer of protection from an unexpected impact damaging the cable core.
Monitor Daisy Chain FAQ
Still confused about daisy-chaining your monitor, or have some follow-up questions? No problem. Here are some of the most common questions we’ve received about daisy chaining monitors, along with our best answers.
Can you use Mini DisplayPort for daisy chain monitors?
Yes. The three main cable types for daisy chaining monitors are:
- DisplayPort – the standard, full-size DisplayPort connector.
- Mini DisplayPort – the miniaturized version of DisplayPort that looks a little similar to older USB-B connectors.
- USB-C – Needs to be USB4 or Thunderbolt 3 or 4 for full bandwidth support.
You’ll need input and output ports on the monitors, but when it comes to the output on your laptop or desktop, any of the above will do.
Do HDMI cables support daisy chaining?
No. One of the biggest advantages of DisplayPort as a standard, is that it supports daisy chaining, while HDMI does not. Technically you could use HDMI over USB-C for the final monitor in the daisy chain, but there would be little reason to when DisplayPort alt mode is so capable.
Do all daisy-chain cables have to be the same?
No. As long as all of the cables you’re using support Multi-Stream Transport in some capacity – be they DisplayPort, Mini-DisplayPort, or USB-C with DisplayPort Alt Mode – then you can use them all as part of a chain. You could use a USB-C cable to go from your laptop to the first monitor, and then a DisplayPort cable to go from the first monitor to the second.
Why are my displays mirrored instead of extended?
Plugged everything in and all you see is the same desktop across each display? If you’re on Windows, head into the Display options by navigating to Settings > System > Display. Scroll down to the section headed “Multiple displays,” and change the drop-down to read “Extend these displays.” You might also want to configure which display is the main one and drag and drop the different displays into the right position, depending on your setup.
If you’re on MacOS, only one external display is technically supported by most modern Macs and MacBooks, so you may get no picture at all on the second, or a mere duplicate of the original screen. There are workarounds to make the displays extend using DisplayLink software, but you’ll need to configure that yourself.
Why won’t my daisy chain setup work?
This is a tricky question to answer as it could be lots of things, but the first things to check are:
- Are you using cables and connections that support daisy chaining? Remember, HDMI doesn’t support daisy chaining.
- Do your monitors support MST? Older monitors don’t always support it, so your monitor may not be compatible.
- Have you updated your graphics drivers? It’s possible that a corrupted or out-of-date driver is causing you problems. Try updating yours. The latest Nvidia graphics drivers can be found here. You’ll find AMD’s drivers on its website, here.
- Are you trying to use too many displays? Some onboard graphics chips only support up to three displays. If you are using your laptop screen and two more, a third might put you over your limit. You’ll need to detach one of the others or disable the laptop display to get the third working properly.