Ask LH: Can I Run Multiple Displays With A Closed MacBook?

Ask LH: Can I Run Multiple Displays With A Closed MacBook?

Hi Lifehacker, How can I run two external monitors from my MacBook Pro with the lid closed? It’s got to be do-able, somehow. Thanks, Thinks-Outside-Two-Boxes

Picture by Benjamin Nagel

Dear TOTB,

This shouldn’t be a particularly difficult problem to solve. MacBooks have built-in support for running with the lid closed when using an external display and peripherals. Just connect the display, shut the lid, and wake the machine back up by pressing any key on the external keyboard. There’s a more detailed run-down on Apple’s support site if you need it. Some Mac enthusiasts recommend leaving the lid open (to allow heat to exit through the keyboard); if you’re running in this ‘clamshell’ mode, the display will remain blank.

So that deals with the lid-closing issue. The main challenge with running multiple displays after that is how to connect them. You’ll need an adaptor to connect to your machine’s existing Mini DisplayPort output; what kind of adaptor depends on the type of display you plan to connect, but there are options available for most display types you can think of.

In theory that should all work fine, but as regular Lifehacker readers will know, I don’t run a Mac as my day-to-day machine so I haven’t been able to test it directly. If MacBook-toting multiple monitor enthusisasts can offer additional insights, we’d love to hear them in the comments.

Cheers Lifehacker

Got your own question you want to put to Lifehacker? Send an email to [email protected], and include ‘Ask Lifehacker’ in the subject line.


  • Yes I use this “workaround” with my Mac Pro with two monitors. You can get dual DVI cables these days and the Mac does support it. The issue is though more to do with Macs don’t have the “hotkey” facility like PC laptops do. (You would think Steve would have thought of this by now…)

    Don’t even get me started on locking the screen…

  • I may have missed something in your reply, but the question asked 2 external monitors.

    Supposedly my Toshiba A300 (and possibly all laptops with appropriate ports) supports me running a separate screen on the VGA out and the HDMI/SVIDEO out. I’ve yet to test it as i had to dispose of my 2nd monitor before i found out it could do it.

    I don’t think a macbook will support 2 external monitors without extra hardware like this

    But since my Mac knowlege is almost entirely restricted to the Macintosh 512k Classic (and most of that is playing Load Runner, Mac Tank, Mac Paint and the ‘crash mac’ button on the side) its color cousin i used in highscool with Cuebase VST. i should defer to those more knowledgeable.

    • Wouldn’t the video card on your toshiba have to be able to support the vga and hdmi screens at the same time? I’ve tried it on an albeit older toshiba and does not work. I would imagine most video cards let you have one or the other, not both connected at the same time.

      • As i said i haven’t verified it, but the Fn menu (Fn F5, toggle screens) gives me LCD, CRT, HDMI, LCD + CRT, LCD + HDMI, HDMI + CRT (with the combos as Extended desktop or not).

  • To my knowledge there exists one or two products that allow you to attach two DVI monitors, but the OS treats them as a single, larger monitor. I’m not sure if you can configure them so it adds one above the other, the only example I’ve physically seen had them side by side. Because it is seen as a single monitor the menubar spans the whoooole way across the two monitors, and the dock, when positioned at the bottom, is displayed half on one monitor and half on the other. Far from ideal.

  • I run two external monitors from my black MacBook (early 2008). My primary display is connected through the Mini DVI port and the second display is connected via a USB adapter. The USB adapter is great for pretty much everything except video. It does seem to use a bit of system resources, but since upgrading to 4GB of ram it is no longer noticeable.

  • They also have a tendency to heat up quite a lot with the lid closed, causing heat damage to the display as evident in many online forums.

    Short version: you can do it, but you probably shouldn’t.

Show more comments

Log in to comment on this story!