How To Setup Dual Monitors on Your Mac
Updated Aug. 8, 2021, to reflect OS versions up to Big Sur 11.
People use dual monitors for many reasons. Some are design professionals or sound engineers, some are passionate gamers, some need different ways of boosting their creativity, and some think it looks cool, so they have to have them set up like that.
Hooking up your PC to dual monitors was never a big issue, but it wasn’t always the case for Mac users. Until just a few years ago, it was a major annoyance to hook up another monitor to your Mac. Fortunately enough, it is now easy to do. Just follow a few simple steps.
The trick is to find the right adapter. Once you have that covered, it will be a breeze, and you will be multitasking in front of two monitors in no time.
Connecting an Apple Monitor
Due to a general incompatibility with non-Apple devices, connecting another Apple monitor to your Mac is much easier than a non-Apple one. This is mainly because non-Apple devices use different connectors. However, Mac monitors are optimized for Mac devices, therefore making your PC setup better.
First of all, you need to locate the Thunderbolt Port or the Mini DisplayPort on your MacBook laptop. Depending on the version and age of your machine, you should be able to locate multiple Thunderbolt ports, but some later models now feature a USB port instead of a Mini DisplayPort.
In some cases, you may run into a mismatch with different versions of Thunderbolt ports. Usually, you will need to purchase an adapter that switches Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2. Keep in mind that Apple’s official products, such as the one pictured below, do not support Mini DisplayPorts.
After locating the ports, take the cable from your second monitor and plug it into the appropriate port. Once you’ve connected it, turn on both devices, and your laptop should recognize the second monitor automatically.
If these methods don’t work on your laptop, you will need to revert to connecting your second Apple monitor just like any other non-Apple one. Read on to find out how.
Connecting a Non-Apple Monitor
The easiest way to connect a non-Apple monitor to your Mac is by using an HDMI cable because most Mac laptops and non-Apple monitors come equipped with such ports. If your Mac is one of the latest models, it may not feature an HDMI port, in which case you will have to try using several other connections. Most Macbook Pro laptops feature Thunderbolt 2 or 3 ports, along with a couple of USB ports.
The easiest way to connect a non-Apple monitor to a Mac laptop that doesn’t feature an HDMI port is to use an adapter that converts HDMI to Mini DisplayPort or Thunderbolt, depending on your machine.
Perhaps the monitor that you want to connect to your Mac is an older one. In that case, it won’t have an HDMI input, so you will have to deal with DVI or VGA adapters. Usually, all you need is a Mini DisplayPort to DVI adapter.
Cables and adapters can really turn into a nightmare, but you really should keep in mind that there are several other options available, which rely on the USB-C ports that we’ve grown accustomed to on our Mac devices.
Purchasing a simple USB-C Digital AV Multiport Adapter might be the proper solution to all your troubles as it can handle connections with HDMI, USB-A, and USB-C devices. There are also similar devices that deal with VGA instead of HDMI.
Setting up the Rig
Once your battle with cables and adapters is successfully resolved, you can get down to the actual business of setting up dual monitors on your Mac laptop.
By default, your second monitor will be set as the one that runs on the right side of your desktop configuration. If the second monitor mirrors the first, but you want it to extend your display, you must go into the settings and options menu.
- First of all, you need to go to “System Preferences” represented by a grey icon with gears in the top-left section of your screen.
- Click on the first icon in the second row, titled “Displays,” which comes in the form of a stylized monitor.
- Click on the button that says “Gather Windows.” When you click this button, your main screen will show you icons for both monitors that are now connected to your system, the one on the laptop and the externally connected one.
- Go to “Display Preferences” and select “Arrangement.” By doing so, you will be able to freely move the icons around so that you can determine where you want your monitors in terms of configuration.
- Optional: Drag the “white bar” (menu bar) from the first monitor image to the second one if you want it to become the main default display with all the controls. The main monitor is also the one where all new windows open.
- Optional: You can also select the “Mirrors Display” option to duplicate the main display onto the secondary one.
Now that you know how to connect another monitor to your precious Mac and improve your productivity, you just need to be careful when hunting for a proper adapter.
It might lead to a little bit of frustration at first, as cables and adapters can sometimes be a drag, but with persistence and patience, you’ll be enjoying the vast real estate of two monitors in no time.