How to Add a Monitor to a MacBook Pro

Give your MacBook Pro a dual monitor setup

What to Know

  • From System Preferences > Displays > Arrangement, use a second monitor in Extended Display mode or Mirror Displays.
  • To make the external monitor the primary display, from the Arrangement tab drag and drop the white menu bar.
  • Go cord-free: Use Apple AirPlay to wirelessly mirror or extend your MacBook Pro display on a compatible smart TV.

Whether you use your MacBook Pro for work or pleasure, it can be convenient to connect your device to an external monitor for a dual display setup. This article walks through the basic steps and settings to consider for your MacBook Pro dual monitor setup, such as extending a display or mirroring it.

How to Set Up a Second Monitor in Extended Display Mode

Use a second monitor to extend your MacBook Pro display setup and give yourself two screens to work with.

  1. Attach the relevant connecting cords between your MacBook Pro and external monitor.

    If you’re unsure which display ports you have on your MacBook Pro model or the cord options, get the specifics from this MacBook Pro model guide. It breaks down MacBooks by model year and lists the number of Thunderbolt ports (if applicable) and links to model spec sheets.

  2. Click the Apple icon in the upper left corner of your machine’s menu bar and select System Preferences and then choose Displays.

    macOS System Preferences with the Displays icon highlighted.
  3. Assuming you don’t have to troubleshoot MacBook Pro external display issues, you should see an Arrangement tab for your MacBook Pro and another display window pertaining to the external monitor.

    The Arrangement tab displayed under Displays System Preferences on macOS.
  4. Click and drag the display icons to your preferred orientation. You’ll know which display you’re actively moving when it’s outlined in red. This outline will also appear in real time on the edges of the affected display.

    Arrangement options for dual displays on MacBook Pro
  5. If you’d prefer to change your preferred or main display, look for the white menu bar at the top of the display icon. Click and drag it to the second monitor to change the assignment.

    The movable menu bar highlighted in the Arrangement tab of Displays Preference on macOS.

How to Set Up a Mirrored Display

In some cases, duplicating what you see on your MacBook Pro could be most desirable.

  1. Click the Apple icon on your MacBook Pro’s menu bar and choose System Preferences > Displays.

    macOS System Preferences with the Displays icon highlighted.
  2. Go to the Arrangement tab and select the Mirror Displays dialog box beneath the display icons.

    The Mirror Displays checkbox highlighted in the Arrangement tab in Displays System Preferences in macOS.
  3. You will now see both display icons stacked on top of each other, the Mirror Displays box checked, and the exact same content on both screens.

    The Arrangements tab of Displays System Preferences highlighting that connected displays are mirrored.

How to Add a Second Display Via AirPlay

Apple AirPlay makes it convenient to mirror or extend your MacBook Pro display with a compatible smart TV.

  1. Click the Apple icon in the left corner of the menu bar and select System Preferences > Displays and look for the AirPlay Display drop-down menu at the bottom of the window.

    The AirPlay Display menu highlighted in Display System Preferences in macOS.
  2. Use the drop-down arrows to select an available option for AirPlay streaming.

    The AirPlay Display menu showing a target for AirPlay in Display System Preferences on macOS.
  3. Click the dialog box next to Show mirroring options in the menu bar when available to reveal the AirPlay icon on your MacBook Pro’s menu bar.

    The AirPlay icon in the menu bar and the mirroring checkbox highlighted in Displays System Preferences on macOS.
  4. Input the code you see on your compatible smart TV if this is your first time connecting.

    Add AirPlay code to connect to a smart TV from MacBook Pro
  5. Use the display preferences options to use the TV in mirrored or extended mode and to adjust resolution settings if desired.

    Display options for a smart TV connected to a MacBook Pro via AirPlay
  6. To disconnect from your TV display, select Stop AirPlay from the AirPlay icon drop-down menu.

    The Stop AirPlay menu item highlighted in the AirPlay menu bar menu.

    Compatibility Issues to Consider

    A safe bet for a successful MacBook Pro dual-monitor setup is to start by confirming your model’s ports and display specifications on Apple's site, but here are a few general things to keep in mind.

    Compatible Cables and Adapters

    Not every MacBook Pro uses the same connections for managing external monitors. Whether you’re planning to use a Thunderbolt or Mini DisplayPort connection to set up an old iMac in Targeted Display Mode or you’re using a direct HDMI connection, double-check your MacBook ports and make sure that your monitor of choice is compatible ports-wise—or that you have an Apple-compatible adapter and cables to facilitate the correct connection. 

    Number of Supported Displays

    MacBook Pros with the new M1 chip support only one external display, but if your MacBook Pro has Thunderbolt 3 ports, each one should support an external display. Older models with Mini DisplayPort, Thunderbolt, or Thunderbolt 2 connections tend to provide the ability to connect up to two external monitors. When in doubt, check Apple’s site to confirm the number of supported displays for your model.

    Supported Display Resolutions

    Many newer MacBook Pro models (2019 and later) support ultra-high 4K resolution or even 5K or 6K monitors. If you plan on using one or perhaps multiple high-res external monitors, confirm your MacBook Pro’s graphics card supports your desired display configuration—both the resolution and the number of screens you want to include in your setup.

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