Very few things can boost your productivity as much as adding more screen real estate to your MacBook Pro. One external monitor is useful, but two monitors can facilitate an even better computing experience.
To connect two monitors to your MacBook Pro, you can use its HDMI, mini DisplayPort, or Thunderbolt (over USB-C) ports and connect them to your monitors with the proper video cables and adapters. The MacBook will auto-detect the displays, giving you more screens.
As a former Mac administrator, I’ve helped many people configure external monitor setups with their MacBooks over the years. Read below for the details you need to get your display configuration just the way you want it.
Let’s get started.
- 1. Identify Your Model
- 2. Verify the Number of External Monitors Your MacBook Pro Supports
- 3. Secure the Necessary Cables, Adapters, and Other Hardware
- 4. Connect the MacBook Pro to the Monitors
- 5. Use System Preferences to Configure the Monitor Arrangement
- Can You Connect Two Monitors to an M1 MacBook Pro?
- Now Get Some Work Done
1. Identify Your Model
The first step in the process is to identify your MacBook’s model.
It is critical to know your exact model number and MacBook configuration to determine how many monitors your Mac supports (and at what resolution).
To find your MacBook’s model, click on the Apple logo in the top left corner of the screen and choose About This Mac.
You’ll see the model in the Overview tab, just below the macOS version.
In the above example, the computer is a MacBook Pro (13-inch, M1, 2020). Also, notate what type of processor your MacBook has. If your Mac is the Apple Silicon variety, the About window will list this as Chip. If you have an Intel processor, you’ll see this Processor instead of Chip.
2. Verify the Number of External Monitors Your MacBook Pro Supports
With your model in hand, we’ll check how many monitors your Mac (officially) supports.
Head over to support.apple.com and scroll down the page until you see the Search for topics search field. In the box, enter your model number and press the return key to search. Be sure to type out or copy and paste the entire model name.
In the search results, look for your model’s Technical Specifications page and click on the link. Once there, scroll until you find Display Support. Under this heading, Apple will list the number of external monitors your MacBook Pro supports.
If Apple says your MacBook only supports one external monitor, don’t jump ship yet; a workaround might still allow you to use two monitors simultaneously. We’ll cover that below.
3. Secure the Necessary Cables, Adapters, and Other Hardware
After verifying the specs for your MacBook Pro, you need to obtain the proper cables and adapters to connect the computer to the monitors. The video output on most MacBook Pros will be USB-C, HDMI, or Mini DisplayPort (with or without Thunderbolt).
Despite the presence of multiple USB-C ports on MacBook Pros, some are limited to fewer monitors than it has ports. In other words, the Mac will only recognize the first monitor (or two) plugged into USB-C.
On the support page from step two, the Display Support details will let you know how many monitors each port type can support. So, for example, your MacBook might support one external display over USB-C and one using the HDMI port.
With this information, next, check the video inputs on your monitor. If they don’t match up with the outputs on your MacBook, you’ll need to use an adapter or special cable.
Increasingly, you’ll find that newer monitors have USB-C inputs, but older displays are limited to DisplayPort, HDMI, DVI, or VGA. (We don’t recommend VGA because the display quality will be sub-par, but it can work in a pinch.)
A common video adapter is Apple’s USB-C Digital AV Multiport Adapter, but numerous options exist.
Another solution is a USB-C docking station for your MacBook Pro. Note that even with a docking station, you won’t be able to overcome the M1 MacBook’s limit of one external monitor without some special maneuvering we’ll detail below.
4. Connect the MacBook Pro to the Monitors
With the proper hardware, plug the cables into the monitors and connect them to the Mac. Ensure the monitors are plugged into a power outlet, turned on, and set to the proper input setting.
Turn on the MacBook Pro if it’s not on already. The Mac will auto-detect the monitors.
5. Use System Preferences to Configure the Monitor Arrangement
Open System Preferences and click on the Displays option. From this pane, you can configure your monitor arrangement as desired from this pane by dragging and dropping the tiles to correspond with your layout.
You can specify your main display by clicking on the Display Settings… button. Use the Use as: drop-down and change the setting to Main display.
Depending on your preferences, you can also change the options for each monitor to extend or mirror. In general, this should be set to Extended display.
Can You Connect Two Monitors to an M1 MacBook Pro?
Now for the million-dollar question.
Is it possible to use two external monitors with an M1 MacBook Pro? If you check the Apple support page, you’ll see that all MacBooks with the M1 chip only support one monitor. Even the new M2 MacBooks also support just one secondary display.
Never fear; there is a workaround.
We should first mention that this workaround is not guaranteed to work in future macOS releases and that it may not work at all for you. So if dual external monitors are essential for you, buy a Mac with an M1 Pro or M1 Max instead.
To use two monitors with your M1 or M2 Mac:
1. Download and install the DisplayLink drivers for macOS.
After installation, enable Screen Recording for the software in the Security & Privacy pane of System Preferences.
(Note: you might have to manually add the software by clicking the + button in the right pane.)
Also, when prompted, allow the software to launch at startup, so you don’t have to manually run the software every time you reboot your Mac.
2. Connect your first monitor as normal using a USB-C cable or USB-C adapter.
3. Use a DisplayLink-supported USB-C or USB-A to HDMI or DisplayPort adapter to connect the second monitor to your Mac.
A good option is Plugable’s USB Dual Monitor Adapter.
This adapter must work with the DisplayLink software. Otherwise, the device will attempt to use the MacBook’s native GPU for the video signal, which is limited to one monitor.
Instead, the DisplayLink system converts the video signal to USB packets to bypass the M1 and M2 limitation and then reconverts the signal to video at the adapter.
Although this workaround will give you 4K resolution at 60Hz, it is not recommended for gaming, as you might experience some unacceptable latency. Additionally, playback of HDCP content will not work with this solution.
Now Get Some Work Done
Armed with your shiny new dual-display setup for your MacBook Pro, you’re ready to dominate the workday with productivity like never before.
And even if you’re just using the MacBook for leisure, your dual monitor rig will make your computing experience all the more enjoyable.
Do you use multiple monitors with your MacBook Pro? Tell us about your setup below!About Andrew Gilmore