How to connect two or more external displays with Apple Silicon M1 and M2 Mac
The range of Apple’s MacBooks that use the company’s own Silicon M1 or M2 processor cannot connect multiple external monitors locally, a huge limitation on previous Intel-based Mac laptops that can run two displays when connected to a USB-C. Or Thunderbolt 3 docking station or hub.
The M1 Pro and M1 Max support multiple external displays. We expected the M2 to lose the M1 constraint, but it survived the plane M2; If available, expect the M2 Pro and M2 Max to support more displays similar to their M1 siblings.
However, there are ways around this M1 / M2 limitation, which allows you to run two external displays outside of an M1 MacBook, which we will outline here. Contains a software driver plus hardware adapter workaround and a hub or adapter workaround.
With software solutions, there are some risks involved because you need to install third party drivers and these may be unsupported by future macOS updates. And you’ll probably need to buy at least one adapter, whereas previously one display cable per dock plus external screen was sufficient.
The hardware solution includes a dual-HDMI adapter that requires a little tinkering with system preferences during setup.
If you’ve been waiting for Apple’s latest 14in or 16in M1 Pro M1 Max MacBook Pro models, you’re in luck because these laptops support multiple external displays. Laptops with the M1 Pro can connect up to two external displays with 6K resolution up to 60Hz, while MacBooks with M1 Max can connect up to three external displays up to 6K resolution and one external display up to 4K resolution up to 60Hz.
M1 / M2 owners, start saving or read on for a new MacBook Pro.
External Display: Big problem for M1 and M2 Mac
The first Mac to feature Apple’s Mac Mini, MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro 13in Apple-designed M1 CPU. They have received rave reviews here for improving their speed on Intel-based laptops, including MacWorld.
See our comparison of 13in MacBook Pro (M1) vs MacBook Pro (Intel) and MacBook Air (M1 Silicon) vs MacBook Air (Intel). We also saw the differences between the Mac Mini (M1) and the Mac Mini (Intel).
But if your MacBook setup involves running multiple external displays, you have a big problem. Apple’s M1 or M2 chips won’t just consider it – at least locally.
Apple M1 and M2 MacBook Air and MacBook Pro Tech specs that they support “only an external display with 6K resolution up to 60Hz”.
While the M1 and M2 MacBooks natively support only one monitor, the M1 Mac Mini natively supports two external monitors – one via the HDMI port and one via USB-C. But the M1 models of the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro only support an external display.
Apple has obviously promised to fix the problem in a future macOS update, but later M1 Pro and M1 Max, and the recent arrival of M2, will make M1 owners wait a long time. We have monitors for the M1 Mac and what you need to know before you buy.
Solution # 1: Install the DisplayLink software driver
Docking station manufacturer Pluggable M1 / M2 recommends using a combination of display technology to get closer to the single-monitor limitations of MacBooks. It should work with most third party docks, although many manufacturers do not recommend it.
Plugable multi-display docks use a combination of native USB-C alternative mode (native “alt mode” video output) and displaylink technology. This combination serves as a solution for the M1 / M2 platform that supports only a single external display via USB-C.
Note that DisplayLink requires a third party driver to be installed on the Mac. There are different versions of DisplayLink drivers and some parties come up with their own compromises.
And this solution still requires an additional hardware adapter.
The DisplayLink macOS app or DisplayLink Manager app is a way to enable DisplayLink technology in macOS. The app is available as a standalone installer instead of the Mac App Store.
1. First, download the latest Mac DisplayLink driver.
DisplayLink Manager Graphics Connectivity App v. 1.1.0 Compatible with macOS Catalina 10.15, macOS 11 Big Sur and macOS 12 Monterey. This can be managed via the displaylink icon in the Apple menu bar.
MacOS users need to allow “screen recording” for DisplayLink devices to work properly. It can be found in System Preferences under Privacy in Security and Privacy; Navigate to Screen Recording in the list on the left, then tick Screen Recording Permission for DisplayLink Manager after unlocking Padlock using your admin password. You may need to exit Displink Manager later and restart.
This DisplayLink support page has more in-depth details about DisplayLink Manager under MacOS Big Tune, Catalina and Monterey.
Installation is easy, but keep in mind that this version does not support closed-display / clamshell mode on laptops.
Other limitations include incompatibility with display rotation. Apple M1 / M2 requires DisplayLink Manager 1.6+ with MacOS 12+ to rotate.
DisplayLink Manager has an option to “launch at startup”, or you can drag DisplayLink Manager to your login items in users and groups.
Note that M1 / M2 MacBooks can run in clamshell mode (ie with the lid closed) with DisplayLink connected monitors, but Intel-based MacBooks can’t, and using DisplayLink will shut down the display when the laptop lid is closed. This is not important because Intel MacBooks can run two displays without a DisplayLink, although they will need DisplayLink to add three or more monitors.
2. Then attach the MacBook to a dock, such as a plugable UD-ULTC4K triple display 4K docking station or Caldigit TS3 Plus dock. Learn more about the best Thunderbolt 3 docking stations for more details, or you can connect via a simple USB-C hub.
3. For the first screen you can connect via Dock’s DisplayPort or HDMI port and it will be handled locally by the M1 / M2 MacBook.
You can connect the first external display to the HDMI or DisplayPort adapter via Thunderbolt 3 or USB-C.
HDMI or DisplayPort uses the Output Mode (Alt Mode), and since it’s basically a pipeline directly to the system’s native GPU, it will behave just like if you connect a USB-C to the HDMI dongle on your laptop. No user driver installation is required for this.
4. Additional displays cannot be handled natively by the M1 MacBook.
Using an adapter like the HDMI / DVI adapter from StarTech.com USB 3.0 you need to connect a second or third display through one or more of the USB-A ports on your dock or hub. It costs 80 or US $ 80, so you need to factor in when purchasing an M1 / M2 MacBook if you need multiple monitors.
Another option is a plugable USB dual 4K display adapter.
This adapter turns an available USB-A 3.0 port into a DVI-I or VGA port (DVI to VGA adapter included) and an HDMI output. Each display can simultaneously support a maximum of 2048 × 1152 resolution at 60Hz.
Be sure to use an active HDMI DisplayLink adapter that can support 4K at 60Hz, as some are limited to 4K at 30Hz.
DisplayLink converts system graphics data to USB data packets using an installed driver and system CPU and GPU. That USB data is then sent as a data packet via USB cable and converted to video information and output on the monitor via the DisplayLink chip at the docking station.
Solution # 2: Use a special dual HDMI adapter
Accessory maker Hyper sells two hardware solutions that allow you to add multiple displays to an M1 or M2 Mac.
The HyperDrive Dual 4K HDMI Adapter for M1 MacBook And HyperDrive Dual 4K HDMI 10-in-1 USB-C Hub Can be extended to two HDMI displays: one via HDMI and DP Alt-mode at 4K 60Hz and one via HDMI and Silicon Motion InstantView technology at 4K 30Hz.
Hyper says that they work “without downloading hard drivers” but some software installation is involved and you need to allow instantview access to your privacy settings in system preferences. You connect the hub or adapter to your M1 MacBook and find the HyperDisplay app displayed in a Finder folder sidebar. Double-click the macOS InstantView icon and follow the system preference instructions. Once done, your MacBook will automatically recognize the adapter.
The dual 4K HDMI 3-in-1 USB-C adapter (129.99) has two HDMI ports and connects to your M1 Mac via the integrated USB-C cable. Another USB-C PD port allows you to charge the connected laptop up to 100W — since the adapter itself uses two Thunderbolt ports on your M1 or M2 laptop.
A more complete solution is the Dual 4K HDMI 10-in-1 USB-C Hub ($ 199.99), which has 10 ports, including two HDMI ports and a 100W PC port seen on the cheap adapter, as well as Gigabit Ethernet, a 3.5mm audio combo jack, SD and MicroSD UHS-I card reader and two USB-A (5Gbps) ports. It also connects to the laptop via an integrated USB-C cable Between the two, this multi-port hub is of better value because you can use it as a dock when it is connected to a decent USB-C PD wall charger.
Buy directly from Hyper. UK shipping is currently a steep $ 66, so the factor is that if you are not based in the US.
DisplayLink root is valid but unsupported
Note that Plugable or CalDigit does not officially support this type of DisplayLink setup for Mac. The solution works, but they warn that it could get stuck in future versions of macOS.
Drivers may need to be updated every time there is a new OS update.
Does not recommend solutions for playable gaming, video editing, digital audio workstations (DAWs), and secure-content (HDCP) playback. For these workloads, users will want the full throughput of a “bare-metal” native GPU connection – such as provided by Dock DisplayPort or HDMI port using Alt mode.
Caldigit actively recommends using DisplayLink, as it deems it unreliable and there will be no coordination between driver and dock. Since this requires a third-party driver, users are at the mercy of Apple and third-party developers to support later versions.
However, this combination of display technology allows the M1 and M2 MacBooks to run multiple external monitors, and the M1 Mac Mini to run more than two.
The only risk is that it may stop working at any time, although this will not harm your system and you can simply uninstall DisplayLink.
So this is a solution with a potentially limited time but the possibility is that compatibility will be restored at some stage if the worst happens and you will get your multi-monitor setup back.
The HyperDrive dual 4K HDMI hardware solution shows more expensive but stable work between the two.
Read our M1 MacBook Air review.
If you want to use a second display with your Mac and your Mac screen is not turned on, read our feature on how to turn off the screen of a Mac.