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How to Add a Second Monitor to Your MacBook

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This is how to add a second monitor to your MacBook Pro, MacBook Air or MacBook. These are all great portable computers, and when you are at the office or at home you can upgrade your productivity with a second display.

Apple sells 12-inch, 13-inch and 15-inch MacBooks across the whole line. That’s great for sticking into a bag, but it’s not great for using your MacBook with huge spreadsheets, editing video and working on multiple things at the same time.

If you have room, you should consider adding a monitor to your MacBook. This makes working on two windows or apps at the same time easier and you can also increase the text size if you have trouble seeing or reading the screen.

Read: How to Use an iMac as a Second Monitor

You can also add an external keyboard and mouse to your MacBook Pro to turn it into a desktop workstation that you just need to plug your MacBook into. You can connect a monitor directly to your MacBook Pro, or you can buy a MacBook Pro dock. In some cases you will need an adapter.

Here’s how to add a second monitor to your MacBook. Plus a look at what you need and what to look for in a monitor.

What to Look for in a Monitor for Your MacBook or MacBook Pro

If you already own a monitor there is a good chance that you can plug it into your MacBook or MacBook Pro with an adapter and start using it. If you are shopping for a new monitor, there are some things to consider.

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Figure out how big of a monitor you want, if you want a widescreen monitor and what kind of resolution you need.

At the minimum you’ll want a 1080 x 1920 resolution monitor. This is also known as HD, and it’s good enough for many users.

QHD, QHD+ and 4K monitors are also great options and you will see a range of resolutions as you shop. Personally I prefer a curved widescreen monitor and i don’t need it to be 4K, but if money is no object you can go up to 4K or 5K in a wide range of sizes.

If you’re looking for a great, affordable monitor, check out the Monoprice 27-inch models. You should also check out this best selling 28-inch Samsung monitor on Amazon for $249.

Most monitors now offer HDMI, DisplayPort or Mini DisplayPort and a DVI or VGA connection. Some come with a USB C connection.

 

How to Connect a Second Monitor to Your MacBook or MacBook Pro

After you get your monitor on your desk or in the office, you can connect it to your MacBook.

If you are using a 2015 or older MacBook Pro, you can connect an HDMI cable from your computer directly to a monitor. If you own a new MacBook Pro with USB C or a 12-inch MacBook you will need a USB C to HDMI or USB C to DisplayPort adapter. The MacBook Air requires a mini DisplayPort to HDMI adapter.

On an older 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 or new MacBook Pro, 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.

second-monitor-2

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. My second monitor is at eye level, while my MacBook is on my desk, so I set the main monitor as my second monitor.

From there, you can start using your second monitor. You can drag apps from one monitor to the next and you can use an app like Magnet to move them around with keyboard shortcuts.

The MacBook will automatically detect your monitor whenever you plug it in, and macOS will remember window sizes with the second monitor as well. When you unplug, all windows go to your MacBook.

Best MacBook Pro Accessories

USB C to Lightning Cable

USB C to Lightning Cable
$25.00 from Apple

When it comes to connecting your iPhone to your MacBook Pro, the best option is to buy a USB C to Lightning cable instead of using an adapter that is more likely to get lost or left at home. Sure, an adapter would double as a USB adapter for other devices, but we're looking to remove adapters as possible.

I own two of these cables and I love them. Not only can I connect my iPhone directly to the Mac, but if I plug this cable into my MacBook Pro charger I can fast charge my iPhone X. This also works for the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus. When fast charging the iPhone charges up to 50% in 30 minutes. 

Apple sells two official USB C to Lightning cables.

  • USB-C to Lightning Cable 1 M - $25 at Apple
  • USB-C to Lightning Cable 2 M - $35 at Apple

You can use this to charge your iPhone or iPad, sync to iTunes and even to use with Duet to use your iPad as a second display for your 2016 MacBook Pro.

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16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. Carlajslaton

    03/06/2016 at 7:58 am

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  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?

  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.

  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 :)

  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 ?

  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.

    • BV

      10/08/2016 at 8:43 am

      Same problem here… Have you now found a solution ?

      • everydaydifferent

        10/08/2016 at 11:41 am

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

  7. home repairman

    12/14/2016 at 9:34 pm

    Good site you’ve got here..It?s hard to
    find high-quality writing like yours nowadays.

    I truly appreciate people like you! Take care!!

  8. sikopomp

    12/18/2016 at 10:51 am

    Thanks for all the help!

  9. Jillian

    12/27/2016 at 7:58 pm

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

  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

  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?

  12. Robin Frazier

    04/22/2017 at 10:17 am

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

  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.

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