How to Connect Your MacBook to a Monitor

By | March 31, 2022

Learn how to connect an external monitor to your MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, or other Mac.

Laptops like the MacBook Pro are great for working in a variety of places. You can take it to a cafe or just to another room in your house to keep it functional.

However, if you don’t need to be mobile, working on just one screen can be tricky, especially if you need to use lots of windows and large tabs.

Luckily, you can connect your MacBook to a computer monitor and give yourself a second screen. We’re here to tell you how to do it, and what to look for in a monitor if you’re buying one to plug into your MacBook.

Check Ports on Your Monitor and MacBook

To connect a monitor to your MacBook, you need to know what port you’re using.

Most modern MacBooks, especially MacBook Pros, have a USB-C port for connecting external accessories, such as monitors. Apple helped make the USB-C port fairly ubiquitous by incorporating it into the MacBook lineup.

Your MacBook Air or MacBook Pro 2020 computer has a Thunderbolt 3 or USB 4.0 port. This port is compatible with USB-C cables, but is faster at transferring data.

Just like other MacBooks, the 2020 model has only one type of port, only two to four, depending on your model. If your laptop is a few years older, you might have a USB, HDMI, Thunderbolt, or even Firewire port to consider.

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

Older monitors may use a DVI, VGA, or Firewire port if they are very old. Some modern ones use a USB-C port, but that’s still relatively rare.

USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports do exist on the monitor, as on some MacBooks, but are too slow at transferring information for your MacBook to display on the monitor through those ports. Even iPad can’t be used as a second monitor with it — you need to use Sidecar to display your Mac on iPad.

If you don’t already have a monitor, we recommend getting one that has the same ports as those on your laptop, as it really simplifies things for yourself and reduces how many cables and adapters you need.

If you have a lot of computers that you want to use on your monitor, or your MacBook is getting a bit old, a monitor with an HDMI port should be easy to find, and able to connect to almost anything.

Get the Right Cables and Adapters

Once you know which port you are using, you just need to buy the appropriate cable.

In some cases, it’s as easy as just buying a single cable. In other cases, you may also have to invest in an adapter that will allow you to plug one cable into two different ports.

Most likely, you will buy an adapter for the port on your MacBook. Fortunately, HDMI to USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 adapters are fairly common, and you can get them at Apple stores, as well as online.

Make sure you consider the length of your cable before buying it. It’s usually better to get something long, as you’ll be able to move things around the table or desk more easily. You can also rearrange things when necessary.

It’s less of a headache to cover or tuck long cables than it is to work with cables that are too short to comfortably connect two machines. Shorter wires can come off on their own; long cable won’t work!

Install Everything and Customize Your Settings

With your ports understood and cables procured, the next step is to plug in the cables and start using your monitor with your MacBook.

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

On your MacBook, you don’t have to do much more than plug in a cable (or cable with an adapter). At that point, your screen will flash black briefly and your monitor screen will light up, indicating the continuation of your laptop display.

Depending on where you set up your monitor relative to your laptop on the right, left, or even above or below it you may want to adjust how your screen works to mimic what happens in real life.

If your MacBook thinks the monitor is on the right, when it’s actually on the left, you’ll still have to move the cursor to the right to get to the monitor. This can be confusing, and definitely hurt your workflow if you have to switch views a lot.

To fix or avoid this, go to System Preferences > Displays. You’ll see two preference windows while doing so, one for your MacBook’s screen, and another for your monitor. In these two windows, you can adjust the brightness, resolution, rotation, and color of the screen.

We recommend this setting match, as it will provide a better view and work experience in the view.

To change the display settings of your MacBook and external monitor, click on the tab Arrangement available in one of the display windows. Then click and drag the blue squares representing your MacBook and monitor screens to positions that match how they would appear in real life.

While on the Settings tab, you may notice that one screen has a white bar at the top and the other does not. The bar determines which screen is the “main” view, which is the screen that shows the Dock and notifications when you’re using your MacBook.

To change which screen is the primary display, click and drag the white bar over the blue square you want.

In the Arrangement tab, you will also find a checkbox labeled Mirror Displays. Clicking this box will stop your monitor from acting as a continuation of your laptop screen. Instead, it makes it display an exact copy of your MacBook’s screen.

Mirror Displays are the perfect feature if you’re connecting your MacBook to a TV or projector screen and giving a presentation. With monitors, however, it’s probably best to leave that box unchecked and use the larger workspace the monitor creates for you.

Repairing External MacBook Monitor

If your MacBook monitor stays black or says “no connection detected,” make sure your cable is fully plugged into its port. If it does, try unplugging it and plugging it back in. We recommend connecting the cable to a different port, if you have several of the same type on both devices.

Still not connected? Try using a new cable to connect your MacBook to an external monitor. You can also try straightening your original cable, if a bend in it is causing the problem.

If your MacBook says you have a monitor connected, but the monitor is still dark, press the monitor’s power button to see if that’s the problem. Also, try pressing any key on it that increases the brightness.

As simple as that, unplugging the monitor’s power cable and plugging it back in can also fix the problem. And if you can test the monitor with another laptop or computer tower to make sure the monitor is working, that’s great too.

Using Monitor With MacBook Is Easy

MacBooks and monitors come with different types of ports, depending on the model. Once you get the hang of it, and have the appropriate cables and adapters in place, all you have to do is connect them to each other to start using the two displays.

It doesn’t have to stop there. You can connect to two monitors at once, or even more. But even just one extra screen can make work and play so much better, so we hope you have a monitor and use your MacBook more than ever.

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