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Setting a primary monitor for launching games in a dual monitor rig

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I used to chuckle smugly whenever Liam wrote an article about yet another game that launches on the wrong monitor. That was never an issue for me on my single monitor set up, so continual woe for him was continual wry humour for me.

But in April this year, I did my first PC upgrade in over five years. It was a big upgrade, featuring both an epic graphics card and a shiny new Acer Predator monitor. But now I had a dilema... what do I do with the old 22" monitor I was using beforehand? You guessed it, I connected it up and placed it off to one side, the better to keep Chrome and Steam in view while gaming.

And of course, I immediately joined the "Wrong Monitor" crowd. If I'd known how frustrating this was, I'd have kept that smug grin off my face earlier. Clearly, karma likes to hit schadenfreude when it's down and Liam can consider this article my written and profuse apology.

It was pure torment. The order I connected them in was irrelevant. Display settings was irrelevant. Various xrandr endevours ended in frustration.  In fact, the only thing I found that would make a difference was a tick box in Nvida Settings called "Make this the primary display for the X screen":

But while that largely worked, it didn't stick between reboots, even when you hit "Save to X configuration File". It saved, but the tick always reverted to the wrong monitor regardless. Infuriating!

But that led, eventually, after far too much googling, to a potential solution. It's courtesy of this Ask Ubuntu answer, which I'll summarise here too. It's really straightforward. In fact, if you already know the device names of your monitors, you can skip straight to the final step!

1. First, install the arandr tool, which is a little GUI app to show monitor device names:

sudo apt-get install arandr

2. Then run it:

arandr

...and note the name of the monitor you wish to be primary. For me that was DP-5.

3. Finally, run xrandr to make that monitor the primary display:

xrandr --output DP-5 --primary

As noted in the original article, you can easily put that exact command into your Startup Applications directly to run this every time you log in to your PC.

For me, problem solved. If this works for you, be sure to upvote Etron's answer on Ask Ubuntu!

However, some have reported that this is only half the battle! There is one more step you might want to try. Having run all of the above, you might also need to:

  1. Browse to ~/.config/ and take a copy of your original monitors.xml file (just in case!)
  2. Delete the original - the next step will recreate it anyway.
  3. Open your system's control panel and choose displays (or in Ubuntu's case, run unity-control-centre display), then hit "apply" to create a new monitors.xml.

You can open this file in a text editor (such as gedit, geany or nano) and just make sure that only one of the entries has a "yes" against its "primary" field.

Also, GOL editor BTRE has a novel approach to this problem, using a custom xorg.conf. I've included his personal xorg.conf in a spoiler below. Note that his xorg.conf is for his mesa set up and doesn't actually include any options regarding primary monitor. For example, he has a TV set up in there which is disabled by default, but ready to be used if he activates it manually. So if you go down this road, make sure to add

Option      "Primary" "true"

...to one of your "Monitor" sections!

But if all else fails, or if you don't like the idea of running xrandr in a startup script on every login, maybe this will work for you.

Spoiler, click me - BTRE's xorg solution

Section "Monitor"
       Identifier   "DisplayPort-0"
       Option       "Primary" "true"
       Option       "DPMS" "false"
EndSection

Section "Monitor"
       Identifier   "DisplayPort-1"
       Option       "RightOf" "DisplayPort-0"
       Option       "DPMS" "false"
EndSection

Section "Monitor"
       Identifier   "TV"
#     Option      "Ignore" "true"
       Option      "Disable" "true"
       Option      "RightOf" "DVI-D-0"
       Option      "DPMS" "false"
EndSection

BTRE's note: The above is in /etc/X11/xorg.conf.d/10-monitor.conf The important bits are "Primary" and the positioning "RightOf", the rest is just stuff that may not apply to you (I prefer not to use DPMS and have a TV hooked up on HDMI I'd rather not get used until needed). This is just stuff you can find out more about in the Arch wiki.

If you have an alternative and/or bulletproof method, please (please!) share it in the comments. But so far, for me, the xrandr procedure I outline here has worked a treat.

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Kels 19 September 2017 at 10:08 pm UTC
I've had this problem a number of times. Pity you have to jump through so many hoops for a solution, but I might do it anyway.
Philadelphus 19 September 2017 at 11:04 pm UTC
Serious question: is right-clicking the game icon in the task bar and selecting "Move to the other monitor" not a feature on most desktops? I mean, it takes all of 5 seconds in Cinnamon. I agree it should be easier to set a primary monitor and have it stick, but it's just such a non-issue to me. (Though I'll concede that it's possible it's less of an issue for me because I have two identical monitors, so I don't really care where a game pops up. I could see it being a problem if you have a bigger/better monitor you want to play games on and smaller/worse secondary one for other things.)
tmtvl 20 September 2017 at 12:42 am UTC
PhiladelphusSerious question: is right-clicking the game icon in the task bar and selecting "Move to the other monitor" not a feature on most desktops?

Well, you're assuming the application doesn't capture the mouse and doesn't behave weirdly when moved between monitors.

That said, I have "switch between monitors" bound to ctrl-alt-left/right, which also helps me run applications when one of my monitors is showing a different machine.
sn0rlax 20 September 2017 at 1:22 am UTC
The "Save to X file" option in Nvidia Settings works, but you need to be sure to then move that file you just created to /etc/X11/xorg.conf.d/ This is where X looks for configurations upon boot.
Shmerl 20 September 2017 at 4:43 am UTC
I suspect KDE offers a better experience for it by now.
MayeulC 20 September 2017 at 5:24 am UTC
Worked pretty well on KDE last time I tried. Except for Payday 2.

I usually drag windows to the correct monitor with alt+click if they show up on the wrong one. Some windows require the Steam overlay to be open for this to work.

Also, I think you have less trouble if your primary monitor is on on the left (which has almost never been the case for me, sadly).
Shmerl 20 September 2017 at 5:26 am UTC
MayeulCWorked pretty well on KDE last time I tried. Except for Payday 2.

I usually drag windows to the correct monitor with alt+click if they show up on the wrong one. Some windows require the Steam overlay to be open for this to work.

Also, I think you have less trouble if your primary monitor is on on the left (which has almost never been the case for me, sadly).

If things get messed up consistently for some application, KWin offers quite flexible windows rules for that, which can assign specific window to specific screen.


Last edited by Shmerl at 20 September 2017 at 5:27 am UTC. Edited 3 times.
scaine 20 September 2017 at 6:30 am UTC
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sn0rlaxThe "Save to X file" option in Nvidia Settings works, but you need to be sure to then move that file you just created to /etc/X11/xorg.conf.d/ This is where X looks for configurations upon boot.

Yep, the "Save to X file" option works for me too, and unlike you, I don't have to move the file - it really does "just work". However, that particular option doesn't work - it would always revert to HDMI-0 on reboot. Pretty frustrating, as all the other options would save perfectly.

For everyone saying something along the lines of "just move the window", well...

a) What a hassle, right? This is about avoiding the need to do so, and
b) If you have different resolutions per monitor, that doesn't work too well. When I was running the Acer in 4K mode, the window would pop on my old monitor at 1920x1080. Even if I moved it, I'd have to then set the game options to the correct resolution. It was pretty tedious.

Also, some games just crap out horribly when they're moved. Unity games in particular seem to offset the mouse slightly... which I suspect is a Unity thing, because the offset looks suspiciously like the distance related to the size of the dash. Just a guess though.

QuoteOr just use a decent Windows Manager like Dwm or i3wm...

Well damn, but dwm looks ugly. And i3wm is a tiler, right, which isn't really my preference. But either way, this is about setting a default monitor, and less about the desktop environment remembering where you like a window or full screen app to appear. Unless you meant that these DEs have an inbuilt way to specify a default monitor, in which case, cool, but still not really my preference to be honest.
Shmerl 20 September 2017 at 6:32 am UTC
scaineUnless you meant that these DEs have an inbuilt way to specify a default monitor, in which case, cool, but still not really my preference to be honest.

KDE has the primary screen setting.
scaine 20 September 2017 at 6:44 am UTC
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Shmerl
scaineUnless you meant that these DEs have an inbuilt way to specify a default monitor, in which case, cool, but still not really my preference to be honest.

KDE has the primary screen setting.

Gotcha. Honestly, I'd have given KDE a shot if I'd known that. But I'm glad this fixes it for me, since I do prefer gnome to KDE. Although, my last KDE trip was back in the early KDE4 days so that's probably not a fair comparison.

MayeulCWorked pretty well on KDE last time I tried. Except for Payday 2.

I usually drag windows to the correct monitor with alt+click if they show up on the wrong one. Some windows require the Steam overlay to be open for this to work.

Also, I think you have less trouble if your primary monitor is on on the left (which has almost never been the case for me, sadly).

My primary monitor, the Acer, is on the left, but it would also default to the right monitor!

Also, Liam has tried this article's solution and found that some games, for him, still ignore the setting, like DOTA 2. I couldn't replicate his result though - this article has fully fixed the whole "wrong monitor" issue for me. At least so far. I've started about 10 or so games since making this change, including maybe about 4 brand new, freshly installed games, and they've all started on the correct monitor now.
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