Methods to Join Your MacBook to a Monitor

Laptops like the MacBook Pro are great for working in a variety of locations. You can take them to cafes or just different rooms in your home to keep working.

However, unless you need to be mobile, editing just one screen can be difficult, especially when you have to use lots of large windows and tabs.

Fortunately, you can connect your MacBook to a computer monitor and give yourself a second screen. We're here to tell you exactly how to do this, and what to look for in a monitor when buying one to connect to your MacBook.

Check the connections of your monitor and MacBook

In order to connect a monitor to your MacBook, you need to know which ports you are working with.

Most modern MacBooks, especially the MacBook Pro, have USB-C ports for connecting external accessories like a monitor. Apple helped make the USB-C port ubiquitous by adding it to the MacBook lineup.

The 2020 MacBook Air or MacBook Pro computers have Thunderbolt 3 or USB 4.0 ports. These ports are compatible with USB-C cables, but transfer data faster.

Similar to other MacBooks, the 2020 models only have one type of connection – only two to four, depending on the model. If your laptop is a few years older, you may need to consider USB, HDMI, Thunderbolt, or even Firewire connections instead.

When it comes to monitors, most modern day ones will likely have HDMI ports. Some monitors may use DisplayPort, but this is less common than HDMI.

An older monitor might use a DVI connector, VGA, or Firewire if it is very old. Some modern ones have USB-C ports, but that's still relatively rare.

USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports are present on monitors, as on some MacBooks, but the transfer of information is too slow for your MacBook to be displayed on a monitor. Even iPads cannot be used as second monitors. You'll need to use Sidecar to view your Mac on an iPad instead.

If you don't already have a monitor, we recommend that you get one with the same ports as your laptop, as this will make things a lot easier for you and reduce the number of cables and adapters required.

However, if you want to use multiple computers on the same monitor, or if your MacBook is showing its age, a monitor with HDMI ports should be easy to find and connect to almost anything.

Get the right cables and adapters

Once you know which ports you are working with, all you have to do is buy cables that match them.

In some cases, it's as easy as buying a cable. In other cases, you may also need to invest in adapters that allow you to connect a cable to two different ports.

You are probably buying an adapter to connect to your MacBook. Thankfully, HDMI-to-USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 adapters are widely available, and you can get them from the Apple Store as well as online

Related: The Best Thunderbolt 3 Docks for Your MacBook Pro

Make sure you consider the length of your cables before buying them. In general, getting something long is better because it will make things easier for you to move around on a desk or table. You can also rearrange things if necessary.

It is also much less of a headache to cover up or tuck away long cables than to work with cables that are too short to conveniently link two machines together. Shorter cables can come loose. long cables don't do that!

Plug everything in and adjust your settings

Now that you understand your connections and received the cables, the next step is to connect the cables and use your monitor with your MacBook.

First, make sure your monitor's power cord is plugged in and turned on. Then plug the cable that you connect to your MacBook into the monitor.

On your MacBook, all you should do is plug in the cable (or the cable with an adapter). At this point, your screen will flash black for a second and your monitor screen should turn on and show a continuation of your laptop display.

Depending on where you place your monitor relative to your laptop – right, left, or even above or below – you might want to customize how your screens work to mimic what happens in real life.

If your MacBook thinks the monitor is right and really left, you still need to move the cursor all the way to the right to get to the monitor. This can be confusing and definitely detrimental to the workflow when you have to switch between ads a lot.

To fix or avoid this, go to System settings> Show. You will see two settings windows, one for your MacBook screen and one for your monitor. In both windows you can adjust the brightness, resolution, rotation and colors of the screens.

It is good if these settings match as it will result in a better viewing and work experience in the displays.

Click to change the display layout of your MacBook and external monitor arrangement Tab available in one of the display windows. Then Click and drag the blue boxes These represent your MacBook and monitor screen in positions that match how they look in real life.

On the Arrangement tab, you may find that one screen has a white bar at the top and not the other. This bar determines which screen is the main display that shows the dock and notifications when you're using your MacBook.

Related Topics: Essential Tools and Tips for Working with Multiple Mac Monitors

To change which screen is the main display, Click and drag the white bar to the blue box You would prefer.

You will also find a check box on the Arrangement tab that says Mirror displays. Clicking this box will prevent your monitor from acting as a continuation of your laptop screen. Instead, it shows an exact copy of your MacBook screen.

Mirror Displays is a feature that is perfect when you connect your MacBook to a TV or projector and give a presentation. With a monitor, however, it is probably best not to check this box and use the larger workspace that the monitor creates for you.

Repairing an External MacBook Monitor

If your MacBook monitor stays black or says "No connection detected," make sure your cables are fully connected to the ports. If so, try unplugging and plugging them back in. It may be worth plugging cables into other ports if you have some of the same cables on both devices.

Still no connection? Use a new cable to connect your MacBook to an external monitor. You can also try straightening the original cable in case the bends it contained cause problems.

If your MacBook says you plugged in a monitor but the monitor is still dark, press the monitor's power button to see if that's the problem. Also try pressing buttons on it that will increase the brightness.

As simple as it is, unplugging the monitor's power cord and plugging it back in can help troubleshoot problems. And if you can test the monitor with another laptop or computer tower to make sure the monitor is functional, that's fine, too.

Using a monitor with a MacBook is easy

MacBooks and monitors have different connections depending on the model. Once you understand these and have the appropriate cables and adapters for them, all you have to do is wire them together to use two screens.

It doesn't have to stop there – you can connect two or even more monitors at the same time. But just a single additional screen can make work and play a lot better. We hope you get yourself a monitor and use your MacBook more than ever.

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About the author

Jessica Lanman
(5 articles published)

Jessica has been writing technical articles since 2018 and loves knitting, crocheting and embroidering little things in her free time.

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By Jessica Lanman

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