I have an HP Pavillion dv9700 laptop that I installed Ubuntu 12.10 on a few months ago. It has a built-in monitor with a widescreen aspect ratio (1440 x 900 px) , and I wanted to also use an old MAG 17" flatscreen monitor (1280 x 1024 px).

At first I couldn't get it to work at all. Then my son helped me install a different driver, and that didn't work at first either. But I've managed to come up with a series of steps that I have to perform each time I boot it up that let me eventually use both monitors and have different content on each. Here's what I do:

I go into the Display section of the system settings and click on "Detect Displays". Then I select the 17" monitor and make sure the resolution is correct and click on "Apply." Usually this makes one or both screens go all fuzzy for a couple of seconds, and then it asks me to keep the configuration or go back to the old one. Sometimes this is enough and I now have 2 monitors, but mostly I have to do it a couple of times. If I do it 3 times and I still don't have both monitors working, I restart and do it again. Usually I have to restart once, sometimes twice, occasionally it works without having to restart at all.

So, I have two questions regarding this:

1. I'd love to better understand what's going on behinds the scenes and why this works and how to make it less random, if that's possible.

2. I want to upgrade to Ringtail but I don't want to do that and then find out this problem will be worse. Any wisdom anyone can share about that would be very helpful.

I appreciate any help anyone can give, and hope this might be helpful to someone else who has a similar problem.