How to Connect an External Monitor to Your Mac

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Whether it’s 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 computer, you can achieve more and face less limits than single-monitor setups.

In this post, we look at how to connect an external monitor to your Mac and show you how your iPad can be pressed into service. We also discuss what you’ll need before starting.

Before You Start: Find the Proper Dongles or Cables

Of course, you’ll need an external monitor at the bare minimum, thoughn the right cables or dongles will be necessary depending on the age of your Mac. A good HDMI cable is a necessity for Macs dated from around 2012, although some of these models use other connectors.

MacBooks with a built-in DisplayPort require their own compatible dongles and cables to connect to an external monitor.

A Thunderbolt cable will be necessary for any external monitor designed for a MacBook. USB-C connectors will of course need dongles to get everything hooked up.

Monitors compatible with Thunderbolt 3 are also a strong choice, as these cables will charge your laptop alongside when used as an external display. Apple has a handy guide to help you select the proper cable for your computer.

How to Connect an External Monitor to Your Mac

Assuming you have all the right cables, physically adding an external monitor is straightforward: plug it into the right port, and your monitor should mirror whatever is on your MacBook computer.

At this point, you’ll need to arrange the two displays so you can move from one screen to another. To do this, head to your “System Preferences,” either from the Apple logo in the toolbar or through a Spotlight search.

The System Preferences screen.

Next, choose the Displays panel. When the pop-up window appears, click on Arrangement. You should see rectangles representing your monitors. The primary display is shown with a white border at the top. From here, you can implement the following:

  • Mirror your display. This is great if you need more space without the need for multiple windows.
  • Use separate displays. If you uncheck the option to mirror displays, you can extend your desktop using the second monitor.

For optimal performance, the best positioning is to align the monitors the way they are physically positioned. If you have the external monitor in front of you and the MacBook to the right or left, arrange the displays that way by dragging the rectangles around until they are properly positioned.

The Arrangement panel.

To make your second display the primary one, you can drag it over to the left side of the screen by clicking on the white bar. Note that your primary display will be the one receiving app notifications. The dock will also appear on whatever screen the mouse cursor is currently in.

Using the Sidecar Feature with Your iPad

An iPad might not be considered a traditional monitor, but since macOS Catalina, you’ve been able to use the Sidecar feature. This functionality enables the iPad to act as an additional display for your computer.

To make this work, you’ll need a supported macOS computer. You will also need an iPad running iOS 13 or greater. This includes the iPad Pro, the 6th generation iPad or later, the 5th-generation iPad mini, and the 3rd-generation iPad Air.

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.

The Airplay drop-down menu.

From the drop-down menu here, you should see the iPad you wish to use as an external monitor.

Click on the iPad, and your devices should connect and start working. You can now move windows from your MacBook over to your iPad to use as a secondary display.

In Conclusion

There’s always a reason to eke more screen space out of your setup. For some industries and applications, more space is vital. Connecting an external monitor to your Mac can extend your screen and give your projects room to breathe.

With working from home more common, there’s renewed demand for a second screen. We’ve rounded up a number of portable monitors for you to check out. Are you considering an external monitor, and if so, why? Let us know in the comments section below!

Tom Rankin
Tom Rankin

Tom Rankin is a quality content writer for WordPress, tech, and small businesses. When he's not putting fingers to keyboard, he can be found taking photographs, writing music, playing computer games, and talking in the third-person.

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