How to Connect a Dell Monitor to Your MacBook Pro

If you’ve recently acquired a Dell monitor or are planning to repurpose an existing one for use with your MacBook Pro, you might be wondering how to connect the Mac to the display.

What’s the best cable to use? Do you need special software? We’ve got you covered!

Not only am I an ex-certified Apple technician and an everyday MacBook Pro user, but I have also used a Dell Monitor with some model of MacBook Pro nearly every day for the past several years.

In this article, we’ll examine three different methods for using your shiny new Dell display with your MacBook Pro, and we’ll help you determine which method is right for you.

Let’s dive in.

Method 1: Plug Directly into The Monitor

Best to use when: you want to keep things simple, and your Dell monitor has an input compatible with your MacBook Pro.

Things to Prepare:

  • USB-C
  • HDMI
  • Mini DisplayPort, or Mini DisplayPort-to-DisplayPort cable.

Estimated Time: 2 minutes.

A Step-by-Step Guide

This method is the simplest as it requires the least amount of hardware and time commitment.

Step 1: Verify your monitor has an input that corresponds to your MacBook Pro.

  • USB-C: On the MacBook Pro 2016 and newer models, your only IO ports are Thunderbolt 3-enabled USB-C ports (or, for the 2021 MacBook Pros, Thunderbolt 4), so to use this method with any recent MacBook Pro, your Dell monitor must have a USB-C input. Some popular Dell models with USB-C include the UltraSharp U2720Q and the UltraSharp U2722DE.
  • HDMI: All MacBook Pros introduced between 2012 and 2015 include an HDMI port, so these can plug directly into any Dell monitor that has an HDMI input. Dell has myriad models that support HDMI, but one popular option is the P2419H.
  • Mini DisplayPort: Last is the Mini Display port. While all MacBook Pros from 2008 through 2015 support some implementation of video over Mini DisplayPort, this type of connector is much less common on Dell monitors. One model is the U2415 which also has two HDMI inputs.

Nevertheless, we should note that nearly all Dell monitors manufactured since 2009 have at least one DisplayPort connector. As this is the case, a Mini DisplayPort to DisplayPort cable should do the trick.

Step 2: Connect the cable to the monitor and turn on the display.

Connect one end of the cable to the monitor and then press the power button to turn on the display.

If your monitor has more than one USB-C port like the U2722DE monitor, make sure you plug the cable into the upstream port. The upstream port will be labeled in a variety of ways, usually with a DP icon (which stands for Display Port). If you’re unsure, consult your monitor’s documentation. All of these cables are identical on both ends except for a couple of caveats.

The Mini DisplayPort-to-DisplayPort cable has different connectors, so make sure to plug in the DisplayPort end (the larger connector) into the monitor.

The other exception is HDMI. A small percentage of HDMI cables require that one end be plugged into the source (i.e. the MacBook) and the other end into the display. These cables typically have identifiers for each end, but if you’re having trouble getting a video signal, it might be worthwhile to switch cable ends and test again.

Step 3: with the MacBook Pro powered on, plug the other end of the video cable into the MacBook Pro. If you have more than one USB-C port, any available port will work.

Method 2: Use a Video Adapter

Best to use when: Your monitor doesn’t have any inputs that correspond to your MacBook Pro.

Things to Prepare: A USB-C or Mini DisplayPort video adapter that converts to one of the inputs on your monitor.

Estimated Time: 5 minutes.

A Step-by-Step Guide

Various possible video adapter permutations are possible, but your source must be more advanced than the input on the display. 

So, for example, you couldn’t convert a Mini DisplayPort (Thunderbolt 2) source to USB-C (Thunderbolt 3). You could, however, convert a USB-C source signal to Mini DP.

Step 1: Connect your video cable to the Dell monitor.

The most common options here are VGA, DVI, HDMI, and DisplayPort. Avoid VGA if possible, because your picture quality will suffer from the outdated format.

Step 2: Plug the other end of your video cable into your video adapter.

Step 3: With your MacBook Pro on, plug the other end of the video adapter into your MacBook. 

The most common adapters are USB-C to HDMI and Mini DisplayPort to HDMI, but just about any video adapter you can imagine exists in some form. 

Method 3: Use a USB-C Dock

Best to use when: You plan to use the monitor most of the time you use your MacBook Pro, your laptop is a 2016 or newer model, and you have multiple peripheral devices. 

Things to prepare: You’ll need to obtain a good USB-C dock with a video port that’s compatible with your monitor.

Estimated Time: 10 minutes.

A Step-by-Step Guide

Step 1: Plug in your dock’s included power supply to an AC outlet.

Step 2: Connect your video cable to your monitor.

Step 3: Connect the other end of the video cable to your USB-C dock.

Step 4: Plug the dock’s USB-C connector into any USB-C port on your MacBook Pro.

What to Do after Connecting Dell Monitor to MacBook Pro

The good news is that you don’t need to install any Dell monitor drivers for Mac.

Once the computer is connected to your monitor, your MacBook should automatically detect the display and send out a video signal. If the Dell monitor is set to “Auto Select” the input, your display will switch to the detected input and show the signal from your Mac.

If the monitor doesn’t auto select the input, press the “input source” or “menu” button on your monitor and select the proper input.

Once you have video, you can close your MacBook lid – assuming you have an external mouse and keyboard – or use the MacBook display as a second monitor if you prefer.

If your MacBook Pro is a 2018 model or newer, you can also install a Dell utility called Dell Display Manager for Mac that helps keep your windows organized. The software only works with certain monitors, so consult the download page for more details.

What If the Dell Monitor Won’t Connect to My MacBook Pro?

The first thing to check is physical connectivity. Verify that all cables and adapters are snug in their ports. Also, verify that the monitor’s power cable is plugged in to power and secure in its socket.

Next, verify once more that your monitor is turned on and set either to “Auto Select” or the input you are using.

If you still don’t have anything on the display, disconnect and reconnect the cable or adapter plugged into the MacBook. Sometimes the display must be up and running when connecting for the Mac to detect it.

If that doesn’t work, open System Preferences on the Mac and click on Displays

You should see two displays in the window. If not, hold down the option key and click on the Detect Displays button so your Mac will scan for your external monitor.

If you’re using your MacBook Pro screen at the same time as the monitor, click on the Display Settings… button, select your Dell monitor and then change the Use as… dropdown from mirror to extended.

Still not detected?

Check for Software Update in System Preferences and then reboot the computer. 

FAQs

Here are some related questions you might want to check out as well.

How many external monitors can I connect to my MacBook Pro?

The answer varies depending on your model and the resolution, but here are a few examples:

  • MacBook Pro 2013 (Retina, 15-inch, Late 2013): two external displays up to 2560 by 1600 resolution.
  • MacBook Pro 2017 (15-inch): up to four external displays at 4096 by 2304 resolution or two at 5120 by 2880.
  • MacBook Pro 2020 (13-inch, four Thunderbolt 3 ports): one external display with 6K resolution or two at 4K.

If you have a different model than the ones listed here, visit Apple’s tech specs page, input your serial number in the search. 

Note: you can find your serial number by clicking on the Apple logo in the top left corner of the screen and then clicking on “About this Mac.”

Click on your MacBook Pro model, you’ll be directed to a new page. Now scroll down to the “Video Support” section. You’ll see detailed information on how many monitors your MacBook supports.

What’s the Mac shortcut to switch to an external monitor?

The key combination command + F1 will toggle between mirrored and extended mode. If your F1 key is set to be used as a standard function key in the “Keyboard” pane of System Preferences, then you will need to press the FN key simultaneously with command and F1.

Should I use a USB-C hub or docking station for this connection?

USB-C hubs and docking stations make using a Mac with an external monitor and peripherals much more convenient, but the extra hardware can be pricey. If you plan on working at your desk every day and have the cash, a USB-C docking station isn’t a bad investment.

Be More Productive Than Ever Before

As you can see, connecting a MacBook Pro to a Dell monitor is straightforward, assuming your monitor is compatible with your MacBook and you have the appropriate cables and accessories.

With a larger display at your disposal, not only will your eyes thank you, but you’ll also be more productive than ever before.

Do you have a favorite monitor to use with your MacBook Pro?

About Andrew Gilmore
Based in Norman, Oklahoma, Andrew is an ex-certified Apple technician with over fifteen years of experience in the IT world specializing in macOS and iOS. When he's not writing, he enjoys video games, reading, and really bad movies.

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  • Paul

    Is there a connection that doesn’t have the Dell monitor charge the macbook? I don’t want to kill my battery over time.

    Reply
    • Andrew

      To my knowledge, there’s no way to turn off power delivery (PD) from USB-C on Dell monitors. On newer versions of macOS, the mac will delay charging to 100% to prevent overcharging. If that’s not satisfactory, your best bet is HDMI or DisplayPort. If you only have USB-C ports on the MacBook Pro, then you’ll need an adapter.

      Reply