The Apple silicon-based MacBook Air laptops shine when used to get stuff done on the go, but they have one significant limitation that greatly limits their potential for use at home or in the office: they can't natively connect to more than one external monitor. The good news is that this shortcoming can be circumvented using third-party solutions.
Tip: not sure which MacBook you have? Check your Mac's serial number to find out.
Requirements for Connecting Multiple Monitors to M1 or M2 MacBook Air
Before we dive into the how-to, let's lay the groundwork by going over the requirements for connecting multiple monitors to an M1 or M2 MacBook Air.
M1 or M2 MacBook Air
Obviously, you need an M1 or M2 MacBook Air. Specifically, we're talking about the 2020 MacBook Air (M1) and the 2022 MacBook Air (M2). These models, despite their state-of-the-art processors, support only one external monitor with up to 6K resolution at 60Hz.
The design of the M1 and M2 chips in these laptops is based on the mobile A15 chip, which was never intended to handle more than two displays. As a result, the 2020 MacBook Air and the 2022 MacBook Air only have enough communication lanes to support two DisplayPort channels to the GPU (one for the built-in screen and the other for a single external display).
FYI: have a 4K or 5K display? Learn how to use it with your Mac.
When it comes to circumventing the multi-monitor limitation of your M1 or M2 MacBook Air, third-party software comes to the rescue. The two main players in this field are DisplayLink and InstantView, with both offering unique methods to send video data over the USB interface, effectively enabling connection to multiple external monitors.
Developed by a California-based company of the same name, DisplayLink is the most popular and mature solution of its kind. InstantView, developed by American-Taiwanese company Silicon Motion Technology Corporation, offers a welcome alternative, delivering an almost identical user experience.
While both DisplayLink and InstantView function similarly in transmitting video data over USB, their key difference lies in the chip that decodes the data and the software sending that data from your laptop to a compatible docking station or adapter.
Good to know: if you're a gamer, you may be interested in learning about the best gaming monitor recommendations.
To really get the multi-monitor party started, you need a docking station or adapter. These accessories act as a bridge between your MacBook Air and your external monitors. They receive video data from your MacBook via USB, thanks to the DisplayLink or InstantView software, process it using a special chip, then send the processed video data to the monitors.
To save you some legwork, we've compiled a list of three tried-and-tested DisplayLink and InstantView docking stations and adapters:
- Dell USB 3.0 Ultra HD/4K Triple Display Docking Station (D3100): well-made and highly-rated docking station capable of supporting up to three 4K displays simultaneously.
- Plugable UD-6950 Dual DisplayPort Docking Station: this versatile docking station provides the ability to connect two additional 4K monitors.
- WAVLINK USB Laptop DisplayLink Docking Station: while limited to dual Full HD output, WAVLINK's docking station stands out with its affordable price and excellent versatility.
- WAVLINK USB 3.0 to Dual HDMI Video Adapter: efficient, plug-and-play solution that provides dual HDMI output from a single USB 3.0 connection.
- TOBENONE Dual Monitor Docking Station: a compact and convenient docking station that delivers dual monitor support and a variety of additional ports.
- Accell InstantView USB-C 4K Docking Station: though it has an average review score, this InstantView docking station provides a cost-efficient option for those on a budget.
Tip: when you're connecting the multiple monitors, you may have use for one of the best dual monitor stands and arms.
How to Connect Multiple Monitors
Once you have your MacBook Air, have chosen your third-party software, and found the perfect docking station or adapter, the stage is set. It's time to connect your MacBook Air to multiple monitors. Whether you're using DisplayLink or InstantView, the process is largely the same:
- Download the necessary software. We're using the DisplayLink Manager app for the purposes of this demonstration, but the InstantView software is very similar.
- Install the downloaded software. Open the downloaded installer file and complete the step-by-step installation process (in the case of the DisplayLink Manager app), or simply move the app to your Applications folder (in the case of InstantView).
- Connect your external monitors to the docking station or adapter, and the docking station or adapter to your MacBook Air.
- Launch the DisplayLink manager or InstantView, give it the required permissions, and configure your settings. Your external monitors should now be working.
Tip: if one or more of your external monitors aren't working, try these fixes.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do Intel-based MacBooks support multiple monitors?
Yes, unlike their Apple Silicon counterparts, Intel-based MacBooks do support multiple monitors without any third-party solutions. The exact number of additional displays and the resolutions supported can vary depending on the specific model.
Do DisplayLink adapters have any downsides?
The biggest downside of DisplayLink adapters is the small but constant strain they put on your MacBook's CPU when used to connect additional external monitors. Also, the image they output isn't as smooth as the image you'd get from a direct connection. This isn't usually an issue for normal office tasks, but gamers certainly wouldn't be happy with it.
Are DisplayLink and InstantView docking stations and adapters safe?
Both DisplayLink and InstantView docking stations and adapters are safe to use with your MacBook Air. Just know that the software required for these devices to work can slow down your computer or even cause crashes. However, it won't damage it.
Image credit: Pexels. All screenshots by David Morelo.
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