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. My mbp has a destroyed screen (a grand cherokee jeep drove over it), but it still runs. Im trying to do a fresh install, or something that would reinstall the os but keep my files… But I cant see to mirror my screens. Someone did it onetime, but I dont remember how. Also, before I started this reinstall, the gpu is doing absolutely nothing and the fps, and video output was horrible. Yes, the computer can work fine, I have had it working since it was damaged, just recent os problems.

    • Hi Andrew, To recovery your files (assuming you are not talking about deleted files) from a corrupt OS, you could boot of a Linux live CD and copy the your data over to a external disk. Now to answer the second part of your question, you can mirror displays by going to “system preferences > display”, where you should see a option to enable mirroring.

  2. THANKS! Nowhere did I find the tip about having the power cord attached to keep the machine from going to sleep when I close the lid. I’m bookmarking your site!

  3. Hi Vijay,

    I have a 2013 MBA, and it is connected to a 22″ 720p TV (TB-HDMI). What I want to do is this – the MBA is showing a website on FireFox and the TV is showing a website on Chrome. Can this be done? Thanks.

    • Yes, it is very much possible. Go to “System Preferences > Displays” and disable mirroring of your MBA and TV displays. Once done, simply drag your Chrome Browser window to the TV display.

  4. Adrian Harsanyi says:

    Hi Vijay

    I am using my Mackbook Pro (lid closed) with an external Acer monitor without any problems.
    BUT, when I am Dj-ing and using Traktor Pro app with an external kontroller after 10-15 minutes the screen goes black obviously for the simple reason that I am not using the keybord and the mouse either but everything is kontrolled by the external kontroller. Is there a way to stop the Acer turn itself off? It is very annoying that in every 15 minutes it tust turns itself off and than I have to type the password in order to see what is on the screen.
    Thanks

    • Yes you can do that, simply go to “System Preferences > Energy Saver” and increase the “Computer sleep” and “Display sleep” time.

  5. Hey!
    I tried to plug my Acer screen in , it worked then I went out in the kitchen and were gone for a couple of minutes. When I came back , my screen(extra monitor) were black , it still works , but it’s just black… Please help

    • Hi Daniel, Need a little more info about your setup to trouble shoot, anyways does it come on by tapping any key on the Keyboard or moving the Mouse. It might help to tweak the “Energy Saver” settings in “System Preferences” like i mentioned in the previous comment.