How to Connect a Monitor to a Desktop Computer

Introduction

For many tech-savvy people, this may seem like an overly basic concept, but it can still be confusing with modern desktop systems. I have gotten a number of recent questions on YouTube, Reddit and Twitter that have prompted this post. So, lets talk about how to connect a monitor to a desktop computer.

How to Connect a Monitor to a Desktop Computer

The main source of this confusion is the fact that modern desktop motherboards usually have one or more video ports on the rear I/O panel of the motherboard. Those integrated video ports are only used if the CPU in the system has integrated graphics. If the processor doesn’t have integrated graphics, those video ports will not work.

Here is what it looks like when you are connected to the motherboard.

How to Connect a Monitor to a Desktop Computer
HDMI Cable plugged into Motherboard video port

If your processor doesn’t have integrated graphics, you will have to use a discrete video card that plugs into a PCIe expansion slot in your motherboard. Once your discrete video card is installed, you have to connect your monitor(s) to one of the video ports on the discrete video card. If you don’t do that, your won’t get a video signal on your monitor.

Here is what it looks like when you are connected to the video card.

How to Connect a Monitor to a Desktop Computer
HDMI Cable plugged into Discrete Video Card

Intel Mainstream Desktop Systems

For many years, most Intel mainstream desktop CPUs have had integrated graphics. Until the last couple of years, Intel has had an extremely high market share of mainstream desktop systems. Because of this, many people are accustomed to being able to connect a monitor to one of the video ports on the motherboard. This would still work, even if the system also had a discrete video card. It would work, but it is not the way you should be connecting the monitor(s) if you had a discrete video card.

Intel does have some desktop CPUs that do not have integrated graphics. These SKUs all have an “F” at the end of the model number. So for example, an Intel Core i9-10900F processor does not have integrated graphics. This means you must have a discrete video card and you have to connect your monitor(s) to the video card, not to the motherboard.

Intel Core i9-10900F Processor
Intel Core i9-10900F Processor

AMD Mainstream Desktop Systems

In contrast, most AMD mainstream desktop CPUs do not have integrated graphics. That means you must have a discrete video card installed if you want to have any video output. You also have to connect your monitor(s) to one of the video ports on the video card rather than one the video ports on the motherboard.

This is where many people seem to get confused. They are probably used to being able to connect their monitor(s) to any video port that they wanted to, because most Intel desktop systems would have a video signal from both the motherboard and the video card.

With most AMD mainstream desktop CPUs, if you mistakenly connect your monitor to one the motherboard video ports, you won’t get a video signal.

Glenn Berry

With most AMD mainstream desktop CPUs, if you mistakenly connect your monitor to one the motherboard video ports, you won’t get a video signal. I have seen this happen to a number of people who were building an AMD system from parts.

AMD does have some desktop CPUs that have integrated graphics. AMD calls them APUs, and they will have a “G” at the end of the model name. So for example, an AMD Ryzen 5 3400G processor does have integrated graphics. This means that you could connect your monitor(s) to the video ports on the motherboard and you would get a video signal.

AMD Ryzen 5 3400G APU
AMD Ryzen 5 3400G APU

You could also have a discrete video card in a system with an AMD desktop APU. If that were the case, you could connect your monitor(s) to either the video card video ports or the motherboard video ports. You would probably want to prefer the video card output over the motherboard output, but both would still work.

Here is a quick breakdown of which types of mainstream desktop processors have integrated graphics or not.

Processor TypeIntegrated Graphics?
AMD non-“G” modelNo
AMD “G” modelYes
Intel non-“F” modelYes
Intel “F” modelNo
Integrated Graphics Breakdown

Choosing a Video Connector

Depending on the age and price of your system and the age and price of your monitor(s), you will have several different types of video ports available. The ports you have available may be different between your video card, your motherboard, and your monitors.

The video card below has three full-size DisplayPort connectors and one full-size HDMI port. There is also a USB-C port that is meant for VR usage.

How to Connect a Monitor to a Desktop Computer
NVIDIA RTX 2080 Super Video Card Ports

You want to use the best type of port that is present on both sides of the connection. These are the most common types of video connectors, going from new to old.

DisplayPort is the best type of connection that is also commonly available on both video cards and monitors. If you have a choice between DisplayPort and HDMI, DisplayPort is usually better. Older components may only have HDMI, DVI and VGA. If you have a monitor that only has DVI or VGA inputs, you might want to consider getting a newer monitor if possible.

This post from Tom’s Hardware dives pretty deep into the details of different connectors and the different versions of those connectors.

Final Words

The main point here is that many desktop systems with Intel or AMD desktop processors will probably have two different sets of video ports. One set from the motherboard, and one set from the discrete video card. If you have both sets, using the video card is usually a much better choice for performance. When you only have video ports from the motherboard, they may or may not work, depending on the processor you have in the system.

If you found this post interesting, you might like my post about Avoiding Common DIY PC Building Mistakes.

If you have any questions about this post, please ask me here in the comments or on Twitter. I am pretty active on Twitter as GlennAlanBerryThanks for reading!

AMD, Intel, PC Hardware

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