MacBook – Get External Monitor To Work With The Laptop Lid Closed

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Most of us are used to plugging in our PC laptop to a docking station at work to take advantage of a larger monitor and mouse, but when I initially tried to setup my MacBook in a similar fashion my external monitor would blank out. This article shows how to get your external monitor to work as your MacBook’s primary display with the laptop lid closed.

What You Need:

1. Off course a MacBook Pro or MacBook Air.

2. External Monitor or Display. (Doesn’t matter if it’s a Apple display or a third party display)

3. Keyboard and Mouse. (Doesn’t matter if it is wired or wireless)

4. Mini DisplayPort to VGA / DVI / HDMI adapter. (Make sure to match it with your Monitor cable)

Once you have the necessary components, connect your external Monitor to your Mac laptop using the MiniDisplay adapter and turn the display on. It doesn’t matter if you do this while your laptop is on or if you choose to start it after. I prefer the later approach. One of two things will happen at this point, you will either see a mirror of your laptop display or an extension of your primary “Desktop” with nothing on it. Both scenario’s are okay. Next connect your Keyboard and Mouse. Note, if you are using a Windows Keyboard and Mouse I recommend going thorough the setup wizard that pop’s up after connecting the Keyboard and Mouse. If using a Mac Keyboard and Mouse you can just skip or close the setup wizard.

Lastly, make sure the laptop is connected to a power source. Note, this is key to making this setup work. If your laptop is running on just battery, it will go into sleep mode once you close the laptop lid. Now close your laptop lid and wallah, your external display should kick in as the primary display of your laptop.

Note: In some cases, your external display  is not fully utilized when you initially connect your external display, especially in “Mirrored” mode. This is okay if you just plan on using your external display, since the display resolution will scale to full width once the laptop lid is closed. But if you occasionally  plan on using both displays simultaneously then you need to do some tweaking to utilize the full width of the external display.

display settings

To achieve this, with the laptop lid open and both displays working, open “System Preference”  and click on the  “Display” icon. At this point you should also see another window pop up on your external monitor. Now in the main display setting windows, select the “Arrangement” tab and uncheck the “Mirrior Display” check box. Once done close the display setting windows. That’s it! Now you can either choose to work with just the external monitor or use both displays and still be able to utilize the full width of the external display.

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About Vijay

Computer junky for 20 plus years and still obsessed with it. I enjoy exploring and tweaking popular operating systems and tinkering with computer hardware. Professionally, I work as a Storage Systems Administrator. When not on my computer, I love to travel, shop, read and hang out with my family and friends.

Comments

  1. Kristine Peterson says:

    I’ve tried the approach you mentioned for the external monitor connected to my mac air. When I close the lid of the air, it works. But if I’m away from my desk for a bit, the air goes into sleep mode. To revive it, I have to open the lid of the air. My mac tech told me I should be able to awaken it by hitting any key on my keyboard or moving my mouse (both are Logitech and wireless). But that doesn’t work. I have to open the lid. It’s a pain. Is there something I’m missing?

    • Hi Kristine, I haven’t run into any such issues. I use a Microsoft Wireless Keyboard and Mouse. Have you checked your “Energy Saver” settings under System Preferences? May be you can try and increase the “Computer / Display sleep” times. Also, see if unchecking “Put hard disks to sleep when possible” helps. Another alternative is to test with another set of Keyboard and Mouse. Let me know how it goes.

    • Hi Kristine, As Vijay suggested: either increase the time before the MacBook sleeps or try with another mouse / keyboard – there seems to be quite a few people complaining about the same problem with Logitech Mxxx mice and keyboards connected by their “unifying” connectors. On another note, and before you ditch Logitech altogether, try “Checking for updates” on your MacBook, and try also reseting the NVRAM and PRAM – this might also help.

  2. My macbook simply goes to sleep when I close the lid. Even with power connected. When i click the mouse or press a key it wakes up for a moment then goes back to sleep. Solutions?

    • Hi Bill, Does the external display work as a secondary monitor with the laptop display as the primary? Also, can you give me more specific’s about your setup.

    • Daniel Norman says:

      I just upgraded and got a new macbook pro 13.3 and my monitor goes on also for a second and then goes off and cant get it to come back on. I am using a vertical hedge dock which means i can’t use a dock if i want an external monitor. Bummer. I hope we find a solution to this problem.

  3. This had been working fine but now the external display started flickering when I shut the lid. If I open the lid the external monitor does not flicker. So I think the mini display adapter is ok. I have it in mirroring mode.

    Any ideas on how to stop the flickering when I close the lid?

    • Hmmm …. this is a tricky one. I suggest troubleshooting by process of elimination, below are a couple of suggestions to isolate the issue;

      #. Disable mirroring and see if the external display works along with the laptop display.
      #. Try changing the external display’s resolution, use factory recommended resolution when possible.
      #. Connect your external display to another system in a similar fashion and see if it works okay.
      #. Use another external display (like a TV) and see if an identical setup works.

  4. For me, mine works but whenever i turn the monitor on, my computer gets really hot and the fan keeps on rotating. Is there a way to fix that?

    Also, does the monitor work with your computer shut down.

    Lastly, instead of doing the mirror display, I only put the white bar on the monitor screen (The white bar inside the system preferences) because when I do mirror display, the quality of the screen becomes a little more unclear, do you know why??

    Thanks!

    • Hi Sam, No the monitor won’t display anything if the computer is down. Yes, I have heard of fan running at high speed especially when streaming videos, you might wanna check the apple community forum on this. Also, for issues with display clarity, try changing the resolution of your external monitor.

  5. Good stuff dude, I was freaking out before because my vga setup was working perfectly mirroring my laptop while the lid was closed. Accidentally tripped some wires and thought maybe my hdmi went bad but it was working when I opened the lid. But the screen stopped mirroring whenever i closed it. After reading your article found out needed to be connected to a power source. lo and behold the magsafe had been disconnected. Thx again!

  6. Guy Balzac says:

    Thanks for the tip. Good stuff.

  7. Good post. My situation is that using my new MBP Retina with the old Mac Display (Not Thunderbolt) the external keyboard doesn’t work. Only if I unplug and then plug again the USB cable in the display it start to work. Any suggestion?

    Thanks for the help.

    • Hi Juan, Sorry, for the delayed response. Unfortunately, no clue on this one. I suggest posting the question on Apple community forum.

  8. Since a update when I close my Macbook Air’s lid and hit the space bar the display will come on for about 10 sec enough time to login in. Then go back to no signal I have tried all three of my video cables on the 3 monitors I have done this for years. With the laptops lid open the signal never goes away.

    Macbook Air 2012 13
    Apple’s Bluetooth mouse and keyboard and connected
    Mac-safe connected and green

    Any ideas??

    • Hi Matthew,

      Do you have the external monitor and the laptop display in mirrored mode or are they set to display separately? Also, are both displays working at factory default resolution? Does using a wired keyboard and mouse change things?

  9. Your advice was great. I have a smashed MacBook and connected it today with a hdmi cable I bought from the apple store. I choose in the monitor settings to use my new monitor as the primary monitor. I played around a bit on the computer making sure everything was functioning properly. Then when I finished I thought I would try a restart to make sure everything works properly. But then that’s when the problems started. When I restarted my new monitor says no signal. I then tried it on another two tv”s with hdmi and no signal on any. All three tv’s had a signal before I was able to change the settings to make the primary monitor different. With no mac screen I have nothing more I can do. Please help!!!!

    • Hi Belle,

      Looks like you are in a pickle …. try and see if you can remote desktop into your Mac from another computer / device using Screen Sharing (Mac Only) or VNC client to fix the issue. See my latest article on how to do this and let me know how it goes.

  10. Michelle Bills says:

    Hi there: This is a great setup. I have our MacBook Pro (2010 model) hooked to our 27″ LCD flat screen. It works pretty well. My question is this. Is there a way to re-size the windows of the apps? Mine are huge and unwieldly. I know how to re-size the windows, but, the overall desktop is huge. I can see the tool bar at the top and all of that, but it’s everything that fits in the desktop. Enormous. Anyone have any thoughts on that?
    I’ve got the display set at the native TV resolution of 720p. It gives me the best looking picture, but an awkward desktop.
    Thanks again for your thoughts.

    • HI Michelle,

      I suggest playing with your external display resolution (System Preferences > Displays > Display > Resolution > Scaled), and setting it what suit you best. Also, you might want to turn “Mirror Display” off between the laptop and external display if enabled. But, just to re-size a window, you can click the green button on the top left corner of each window or else select and drag the edges of your window to suit your needs. Hope this helps.

  11. Why does the mac need to be plugged in to a power source for this to work? There are many situations where a power adapter isn’t available but it would be nice to have the computer connected to a external display with the computer closed. Seems like a strange requirement.

    • Hi Chris,

      Yes, it is indeed a strange requirement, but that is the only way to make this work.

  12. Hi, Everything works fine exept when i close my macbook pro, i can’t use my internet anymore. I’m still connected but have no internet and when i open it again the internet works just fine again. Any ideas?

    Thanks

    • Hi Thomas, Haven’t come across this one. Are you on a wired or wireless connection? Also, with the lid closed have you tired to disconnect and re-establish the internet connection? if not, I suggest giving it a shot. Also, try posting the same question on Apple’s community forum, may be someone else might have come across this issue.

  13. Shlomi Keslin says:

    Hi Vijay,

    What if I don’t want to leave the mac connected to a power source, is it possible to close the lid and still be able to work? Tnx

  14. Hi,

    When I leave my office I disconnect the Air from the monitor. On the train home I open my Air but it does not wake up. How do I wake it up without powering off and on? Don’t want to risk all the unsaved work.
    Jb

    • Hi Johan, I tired to replicate your problem, but I was able to wake my MacBook by opening the lid and hitting the space bar.

  15. Hi Vijay,

    I have a brand new MB Air running 10.8.5 connected to a Samsung XL2370 display using an Apple Thunderbolt to DVI converter. On the native resolution (“best for display”) of the Samsung screen (1920×1080) I get significant screen flicker. Have run the screen in clam mode, mirrored and not – no difference. I have eliminated the converter (used another one I have for my MBP) and the screen (ran it of a Windows machine directly of the DVI port). When connected to the MBA the screen will only behave properly at 1360×768 max resolution. Refresh rate is fixed at 60Hz (56Hz option greyed out). Funny thing is that when I change to the 1360×768 resolution I get a message “About to change the display mode” which I do not get with a change to e.g. 1600×1200, 1600×900 (which also flicker).

    I have trawled the net and there are lots of reports of screen flicker going back to 2009 – 2010 but apparently many people got the problem when they updated to 10.8.4, and most solutions relate to the use of third party converters. So this got me stumped. If you can shed some light on this I would be most grateful…

    Cheers,
    Arno

  16. Thanks Vijay. I was at my wit’s end when I realized that connecting to power source is the key. Appreciate if you can make this prerequisite in “bold captioning” on your blog. My MBP Retina works on clamshell mode now !!!

  17. Hi Vijay
    Any suggestions on how to use an external monitor on an old Macbook (2004). Is it even possible? The backlight is broken and I can’t even find the part. Any light you can shed will be much appreciated. Tx

    • Hi Kay,

      I looked up 2004 MacBook specs and looks like it came with a VGA and S-Video output. Try plugging in a VGA monitor or a TV with S-Video port to the MacBook and power it on with the power adapter plugged in. No guarantee’s but it might just work.

      Also, not sure if there is any sort of display toggle switch on the keyboard. If yes, I would try that too. Either way do let me know how things work out.

  18. Concerned Reader says:

    Please note: “wallah” should be the french “voilà” (pronounced “bwa-LAH”).

  19. Hi Vijay. I have a 2008 13″ Macbook that I have been using with an external monitor connected. Every time I close my lid the computer goes into sleep mode; other than that every thing views fine on the full 1080p monitor in mirror extended mode off the Mac.

    • Hi Anthony, I am guessing you want the display to switch over to the external display right? If yes, can you check and confirm the Macbook is connected to a power source?

  20. My displays show three screens. I only have my macbook and a TV set up but the option screen shows three, how do I delete that third screen

    • Hi Adrian, Hmmm…. beats me, looks like some sort of bug. What happens when no external displays are connected, does it still show the extra display?