How can I use my laptop monitor screen for a desktop computer?

RadioGeorge used Ask the Experts™
I am putting together what I call a computer audio workstation for my office. To cut to the chase, what I want to do is use BOTH a Toshiba laptop a Dell desktop along with an external CD player/burner.  i will also be recording vocal stuff using a couple of microphones routed  to computer through a Berhinger Eurorack mixer.

I'd like to use the screen on the laptop as a monitor for the Dell for certain applications.

I know this sounds a bit old school, and it is. I have some specific audio recording work I'm planning to do on a regular basis and have determined hat a separate audio workstation will  enable me to do it easily and  save time.

What do you recommend?
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Because there are no video inputs to the laptop to feed the desktop display into you'll need to be a little more creative here.

There are hardware options which allow the video output from the desktop to be captured and displayed on the desktop, these plug into the laptop USB and you connect a cable from the desktop graphics card.

A simpler software solution would be to use a remote desktop option to connect to your desktop via your local network. The display from the desktop then appears in a window on your laptop and you can switch easily between the laptop and desktop displays on the same laptop.

Space Desk usually works without a hitch to use your laptop as an additional monitor:

Be aware that remote desktop does not give you an additional monitor. It's just using your laptop to view the desktop of the main machine.
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You could use RDP to log into the laptop and then see the laptop screen.  Worth a try
You could put Kavoom! KVM on both computers and then use the laptop as the "master" to show the desktop display.  (Uses the network connection).
You could use any of a number of remoting programs:
Built-in Windows Remote Desktop - remote from the laptop to the desktop.  A local, network-based solution.
UltraVNC - another local network-based solution.
LogMeIn - a 3rd party web-based solution
Splashtop - a 3rd party web-based solution
The first two are free and the last two may have free options but are generally paid.


Thanks to both experts who have commented so far (and so quickly!)

A couple of questions just to be sure....

gr8 gonzo:  Spacenet looks like a pretty good answer! I am not versed in all things technical, so I have a question or two.

First, I have Google Fiber as my Internet provider. I have a traditional "plus-in" to a router on another computer on my desk which I consider to be my main computer, and I also have another laptop (as does my wife) which are connected wirelessly. It looks to me that I can use Spacenet wirelessly to hook up on the desktop, on which I still have Windows XP. I never upgraded it, because I only use it for a few specialized applications. Would there be any problem with Spacenet on that machine?

MASQ: your thoughts, as well, please.

First, your internet connection shouldn't really matter here. The network communication should all take place within your home network, like neighbors having a face-to-face chat over the fence between their yards (as opposed to talking to someone over a cell phone provided by a carrier like Verizon or something).

Second, XP may be a problem. It's not among the officially-supported operating systems so it's anyone's guess as to whether Space Desk would work on it.

That said, I would strongly advise to upgrade from Windows XP. Newer versions of Windows have various means to run older applications. Staying on Windows XP is very risky and it will gradually lose the ability to use most of the internet, as the internet keeps pushing towards encrypting everything and XP isn't receiving any updates anymore that give it the ability to use modern encryption technologies. It's like talking to people that keep leaving to go to another party that you can't get into because they're all speaking a new language that you don't understand. Meanwhile, XP gets no support from anyone anymore, so it becomes increasingly vulnerable to attacks that could then use that machine to spread to other machines in your home. So it starts becoming dangerous just to have and use.

All that said, usually if someone is on XP, the hardware is also so old that it wouldn't run newer versions of Windows very well, so usually that means just buying a new computer (even just a cheap one). Also bear in mind that you could always run XP within a virtual machine on a new computer in case there were any compatibility issues with those specialized applications. It's a technical process to set up but it's doable (I know because I do it to run some old games from the 80s and 90s for nostalgia).
Why do you want to use the laptop screen as a second screen for the desktop?  Used monitors are typically inexpensive ($15-20 at Goodwill around here).  If you don't have provisions for a second monitor on the desktop, USB-VGA (or other) adapters are also fairly inexpensive.


RE: using laptop screen for desktop:  space.  Next to the laptop is the 6-channel pro amplifier (and that's where it needs to be) and that leaves some room on the right for a mouse pad, paper, notes, etc. I will be recording a lot of interviews on my phone and then editing those and producing them (adding open/close, equalizing the volume and doing some other audio tweaking, and hen uploading them. I don't intend to be cramped. Don't forget the two microphones attached via C-clamps to the top level (mics coming down from pro swivel studio arms.
So, if you used UltraVNC then you would connect to the desktop (from the laptop) and would then have a window (that can be full screen OR minimized) for the desktop on the laptop.  
Also, some services don't display the actual screen (don't ask me the particulars of this as I've rarely seen a difference), but UltraVNC does show it properly or completely....
It seems a reasonable option for your application.

On the other hand, Remote Desktop has some limitations that may (or may not) be an issue.

Neither of these depend on your internet service - as has been mentioned already.

Try both.  Its free and easy enough...

Fred - both RDP and VNC are still showing the existing remote screen so you would need to have the applications visible on the primary PC's screen. They are mirroring, not extending the primary PC's screen space.

If I'm reading the question correctly, he's looking for an additional "virtual" screen to be defined and for the laptop screen to host that screen, as if the laptop screen were an additional monitor.

A soft KVM like Synergy would sort of give him that result but he stated that he wanted the additional screen would be monitoring apps running on the primary PC - the KVM would be looking at apps running on the secondary PC.


I had no idea this was going to become such a long trail. gr8gonzo, you are correct in your more clearly stating what I hope to get done.
This being the case, I rather imagine that there would have to be a "phantom" 2nd monitor on the desktop - so the desktop could be set up to drive it.
Then a suitable remote program could access the phantom 2nd monitor.
I don't know of a device that would do that - except an old monitor.  That would keep it simple.
And, of course, the desktop would need a dual monitor capability which, if not available already, could be as easy as installing a new dual or additional single graphics card.

It appears that Synergy is a KM and not a KVM so I don't see how that could play in this scenario.  Same as Kavoom! KM.  
But, Kavoom! KVM might do it, amongst others.  ... but still with a phantom 2nd monitor installed on the desktop.
I know this isn't exactly what you're asking for but it's free and thought I would throw it out there!

Would suffice for what you are trying to accomplish?

Yes, Synergy is a KM - I used KVM more as a categorical term. Like you said, it's a similar concept as Kavoom (or Mouse without Borders per N8iveIT), but all of the KM solutions are based on the apps running on the secondary PC.

The Space Desk tool I mentioned is one application that implements that virtual screen and allows a secondary machine to be the host for that virtual screen. There may be other tools, as well - Space Desk is just the only one that I know of.
Yes, it appears that Spacedesk will do what I tried to describe but didn't know how to do it with any existing tool.


Whew! I never expected something that seemed like a simple situation to be so complicated.

And to make this question even more of an oddity, the chances are that I will not be using any of the solutions here. The reason for that is 100% my fault. Specifically, simply describing exactly what I want to do is rather complex, and I may not have done that.

The rest of the story:

Today, I went to the tech help desk at my local Micro Center and explained to a sharp tech guy there what I wanted to do. He understood and told me that anything beyond a simple screen-sharing setup (with or without a KVM switch) would be next to impossible because of my specification that moving files between the two (one is a laptop) without other plugs and wires would be my preference.

As we talked at greater length, it became clear to me that the suggested solution from N8iveIT is the most likely answer, with the other option simply being to use two separate computers and keyboards (bye-bye, laptop).

I researched the Mouse Without Borders idea, and, if it works,  that is the ultimate solution.

I did some digging and found a YouTube video from a young user who displayed how he basically hooked up several computers with that application, and it was very impressive. I did find one that will work on ancient versions of Windows XP.

One final note, speaking of Windows XP. It seems that any time I mention "XP," I start being lectured about how it's ancient, modern programs won't work on it, it's not compatible, yada, yada, yada.  My needs are fully satisfied yet today with Word and Excel from Microsoft Office 2000, 7-Zip, Cool Edit Pro (now obsolete but the install disk works fine) and a variety of other oldies but goodies that I have indeed used for 20 years now. Never a problem trading information with users of the most up-to-date counterparts. And audio files and editing follow suit. Since I do NOT have to connect to the Internet to use these programs, I don't worry about downloading viruses, etc.

OK, enough of a rant.

THANK YOU to all who responded. I appreciate your time and attention to my inquiry.

Hi RadioGeorge,

Glad you found an answer. Just to talk about XP - my comment (and likely the others' you mentioned) isn't intended as a lecture or to be condescending in any way, so I hope it is not read that way.

The reason I dove into that is simply because there is a story that I (and many others) hear repeatedly and we try to proactively protect others. It is truly advice said completely and solely with your interest at heart. Essentially it comes down to a two-phase story "XP works for me" and then later "need help restoring my files." The story often repeats because nobody ever thinks that story will end up also being theirs.

There are a variety of ways it ends up like that but XP is frequently either directly or indirectly a root, contributing factor. That's why when you say "XP", the klaxon sounds and we try hard to steer the person away from future heartache (many people have lost documents and precious, irreplaceable photos).

I'll say that you considerably reduce risk by not directly connecting to the internet, but that's not the only factor. At the very least, I'd recommend backing up any special files to a backup drive just in case.

In any event, I'm still glad to hear you found a solution that works for you. :)



Thanks for a very nice comment!

My practice hs been to have backups of backups and keep them current and healthy. So far, so good!

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