How to Connect an External Monitor to Mac

Use External Monitor Mac Featured

Whether it is for work or personal use, having extra screen real estate opens up a world of possibilities. Regardless of the reasoning, if you connect an external monitor to your Mac – be it a MacBook Pro, MacBook, or MacBook Air – it reduces or eliminates the feeling of limitations that come with any single-screen Mac computer.

Find the Proper Dongles or Cables

Aside from needing an actual monitor to use as an external display, there is one more component you definitely need. The right cables or dongles are necessary depending on how old or new your MacBook computer is. If you own a Mac that is dated between 2012 and 2015, you definitely need a good HDMI cable

Use External Monitor Mac Cables Dongles

If you do not own a Mac between from those earlier years, you may need something more specialized. MacBook computers that have DisplayPort built in require their own compatible dongles and cables to connect to an external monitor.

A Thunderbolt cable will be necessary for any MacBook-designed external monitor or a bevy of non-MacBook monitor models available. The latter two are both important connections for the USB-C crowd that need a compatible dongle/cable to work.

Thunderbolt 3-compatible monitors are also a strong choice as these cables will charge your laptop alongside use as an external display. This guide on Apple’s website will ensure you select the proper cable for your computer. 

Using an External Monitor

Assuming you have all the right cables, physically adding an external monitor is as basic as plugging it in and placing it on a desk. Initially, your monitor should mirror whatever is on your MacBook computer. It’s at this point that you need to arrange the two displays so you can easily drag windows and files from one screen to another.

To get started, go to the Apple logo at the top left of your screen and click on it. Inside the drop-down menu, choose System Preferences. On the System Preferences screen, choose “Displays,” which should be the first icon from the left in the last row. When the pop-up window appears, click on “Arrangement.” Assuming you only have two screens (one MacBook, one external), you should see two blue rectangles, one for each display. The “host” MacBook is shown with a white border at the top. What are your options at this point?

1. Your first option is to mirror your MacBook display to your external monitor. This may be good for someone who simply wants more real estate but will be distracted by multiple windows.

Use External Monitor Mac Mirroring

2. Uncheck “Mirror Displays,” and you can use the MacBook screen and the external monitor as two separate displays.

3. For optimal performance, the best positioning is to align the monitors the way they are positioned in real life. If you have the external monitor in front of you and the MacBook to the right or left, arrange the displays that way. All you need to do is drag the blue screens around until they are properly positioned.

Use External Monitor Mac Left Right

4. If you would prefer the external monitor serve as the “primary,” click on the white bar and move it to the other display. Note that whichever app serves as the primary display is also the one that will receive app notifications.

Use External Monitor Mac White Bar

5. For anyone wondering what happens to the dock, it should appear in whichever screen the mouse cursor is currently in.

6. That’s it. You have the setup done and can now configure and tweak to your heart’s content.

Using Sidecar with Your iPad

An iPad might not be a traditional monitor, but the release of macOS Catalina added a new feature, Sidecar. This functionality enables the iPad to act as an additional display for your computer. In order to make this work, you’ll need a supported macOS computer from the list on Apple’s website. You will also need an iPad that is running iPadOS 13. This includes the latest iPad Pro models, iPad (6th generation or later), fifth-generation iPad mini and the third-generation iPad Air.

Use External Monitor Mac Sidecar

Setting up Sidecar is the same for both wireless and wired connections. Using a wired connection is as easy as using either a USB-C or lightning cable to connect the two.

To enable Sidecar, make sure your iPad is on and near your MacBook. On the MacBook, look for the AirPlay button near the menu bar at the upper-right corner of the display. It looks like a rectangle pointing upward while inside a box. You should now see the iPad you wish to use as an external monitor in the drop-down menu.

Inside the same menu, click on the iPad and select it. The two should immediately connect and start working. You can now move windows from your MacBook over to your iPad to use as a secondary display.

With many people now working from home, the demand for an external monitor is larger than ever. If you are considering getting a portable monitor, here are some of the best you should check out.


David Beren David Beren

David Beren is a freelance tech writer with over 10 years of experience in the tech industry. He loves dogs, his kids and all things Nintendo.

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