How to Add a Second Monitor to Your MacBook

Your MacBook can be a great for when you’re on the go, but if you’re mostly using it at home and want some larger screen real estate, here’s how to add a second monitor to your MacBook.

The largest screen you can get on a MacBook is 15 inches, which isn’t a whole lot of room to work with. You can usually get by when you’re working remotely, but if you have the space and capability, using your MacBook with a larger monitor is ideal.

Read: How to Use an iMac as a Second Monitor

A larger screen can make it easier to work on projects, allowing you to have multiple windows open side-by-side, or just be able to fit more text and other items on the screen at once, since some monitors can offer a higher resolution that your MacBook.

Whatever the case may be, getting a second monitor for your MacBook can be a great way to add a desktop computer feel to your setup while at home. Here’s how to add a second monitor to your MacBook.

What to Look for in a Monitor

First, before you can add a second monitor to your setup, you first need to buy a monitor if you don’t already have one. The good news is that it’s not that hard to shop for a computer monitor, but there are a few things to keep in mind.

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The first thing is resolution. In other words, how many pixels the monitor displays. Most basic modern monitors have a resolution of 1920×1080, which means it displays 1,920 pixels across and 1,080 pixels down. This is usually good enough for most casual users.

However, you can get monitors that have higher resolutions, including QHD monitors (2560×1440) and even 4K monitors (3840×2160). 4K monitors are still rather expensive, but QHD monitors are getting better in price. I recently picked up a Dell UltraSharp 25-inch QHD monitor for $250 on sale. The main to know is that higher-resolution monitors are generally more expensive.

Once you decide on a resolution, make sure to look at the cable connections that the monitor offers. Most basic monitors will offer DVI at the very least. The problem with DVI is that you’ll need an adapter to connect it to your MacBook.

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Many basic monitors, however, come with an HDMI port, so if your MacBook has an HDMI port, you can simply connect any HDMI cable between the two and off you go.

Most higher-end monitors don’t have DVI, but they’ll usually have HDMI, as well as DisplayPort connections, and these monitors will likely come with a DisplayPort-to-Mini DisplayPort cable that you can use with your MacBook.

How to Connect a Second Monitor

Once you have your monitor in hand, it’s now time to connect it to your MacBook.

If you have a MacBook Pro, it’ll be a bit easier for you, since the MacBook Pro has a variety of ports you can use. The MacBook Air and the 12-inch MacBook are a bit more of a challenge, but it’s still possible with some adapters.

On a MacBook Pro, you have two options: HDMI or Mini DisplayPort/Thunderbolt. As mentioned earlier, if your monitor has DVI, you can get Apple’s Mini DisplayPort to DVI adapter. If your monitor has HDMI, you can plug an HDMI cable in directly.

second-monitor-1

If you have a MacBook Air, your only options is Mini DisplayPort/Thunderbolt. With that said, you’ll either need the above adapter or a Mini DisplayPort to HDMI adapter.

With the 12-inch MacBook, it’s a bit more tricky, but to connect a DVI monitor to it, you’ll need a DVI to HDMI adapter, as well as USB-C adapter. Or if you’re using HDMI, you can simply just get the USB-C adapter.

The less options you have as far as ports go, the more complicated it gets, but there’s always a way.

Now, once you have connected the monitor to your MacBook and turn it on, your MacBook will automatically detect the added display. You’ll just need to customize it the way you want by opening up System Preferences and clicking on Displays.

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From here, the most important settings are found in the Arrangement tab at the top. This is where you can set which monitor is your main display. To do this simply click and drag on the miniature menu bar and place it on the monitor that you want to act as the main display.

You can also click and drag on a whole monitor to move it around and set how you want the desktop to act. For me, since my MacBook Pro is off to the right side and just slightly down from where my big monitor is, I’ve placed the desktop arrangement as such.

After that, you’re good to go and can begin using your second monitor right away. Your MacBook will automatically detect your monitor whenever you plug it in, and OS X will remember window sizes with the second monitor as well.

16 Comments

  1. Carlajslaton

    03/06/2016 at 7:58 am

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    Reply

  2. Ross

    03/10/2016 at 1:09 pm

    Great instructions. I’m wondering…is it possible to run a DVI adapter to VGA and then run a VGA cable to an iMac using an adapter from VGA to thunderbolt in order to use a MacBook as an extended display? Or it this for output only?

    Reply

  3. Jeanine Scott

    06/09/2016 at 7:40 pm

    I’m trying to connect an older Dell monitor to my macbook air 15″. I have the Belkin DVI adaptor. Everything is plugged in but adaptations is not showing on my display options. I’d very much appreciate any ideas you may have.

    Reply

  4. Kerry

    06/10/2016 at 4:46 am

    @Jeanine and Ross – I have old Dell monitor and a new Lightening cable and VGA adaptor. When I plug my monitor into the Mac Book I get flashing on my Mac Book screen and no Arrangement tab – any help you get please send my way too :)

    Reply

  5. jonathan niewerth

    06/20/2016 at 2:46 am

    hi, i have a macbook air and a dell monitor, I’m using the macbook air to remotely log into a pc that is at work, i can only get the display to show up on the mac and not the dell monitor. any thoughts ?

    Reply

  6. S.A. Paige

    07/25/2016 at 9:37 am

    I have two macbooks and can’t seem to get one to be a display, even when using command F2. Do you know if a macbook/macbook connection is possible? I don’t have a monitor.

    Reply

    • BV

      10/08/2016 at 8:43 am

      Same problem here… Have you now found a solution ?

      Reply

      • everydaydifferent

        10/08/2016 at 11:41 am

        Nothing yet. But if I do figure it out, I’ll let you know.

        Reply

  7. home repairman

    12/14/2016 at 9:34 pm

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    I truly appreciate people like you! Take care!!

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  8. sikopomp

    12/18/2016 at 10:51 am

    Thanks for all the help!

    Reply

  9. Jillian

    12/27/2016 at 7:58 pm

    I really like your writing style, good information, appreciate it for putting up :D.

    Reply

  10. Matt

    02/26/2017 at 8:04 pm

    i have two dell p2715Qt monitors and want to have them both “daisy changed” together so can have extended display on both, with my MacBook pro retina closed on desk- currently the only thing i am able to do is mirror display any ideas? have tried both display port and hdmi with no luck

    Reply

  11. Bhavesh

    03/24/2017 at 11:11 pm

    Hey I am using macbook pro with 13.3″ display. I want to use external monitor with VGA port on my macbook. Is there any way I can do this?

    Reply

  12. Robin Frazier

    04/22/2017 at 10:17 am

    Thank you Craig,
    This was a terrific tutorial. Very educational.
    You are awesome!!!

    Reply

  13. Sue sipila

    04/26/2017 at 8:09 am

    I have an older 2008 MacBook which has lost the screen. An easy solution was to attach an external monitor. I used this successfully up until last week. Now when I use this MacBook, if I need to open the book, I loose the monitors signal. Is there an easy solution? Other than buying an external keyboard? When I read the above instructions, I do not have a arrangement title between the display and color. This is a OS 10.7.5. I also just replaced the attaching cord from the electrical plug to the power source. The MacBook appears to have full function when the lid is closed, but as soon as you open it to access the keyboard the screen goes to the picture, loosing all info.

    Reply

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