Apple’s latest line of MacBooks using the company’s new Silicon M1 processor cannot natively connect more than one external monitor, which is a major limitation compared to the previous generation of Mac laptops based on Intel.
In fact, these support the use of two external displays when connected through a USB-C hub or Thunderbolt 3 docking station or hub.
However, we have found a solution to run two external displays on a MacBook with M1, which we will describe below. There are some hidden risks, as you will need to install third-party drivers and they might not be compatible with macOS updates in the future.
Plus, you’ll probably need to purchase an additional adapter, compared to the fact that with the Mac generation Intel it would have been enough to use a base plus a display cable for each of the external displays you connect.
External displays: the big problem for Macs with M1
Apple’s new 13-inch Mac mini, MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro are the first Macs to feature the Apple-designed M1 processor. As you know they received great praise for their performance, something that you can read in the comparison of both platforms.
But if your MacBook setup requires you to use more than one additional external display, you’ll run into a major problem, since Apple’s M1 chip doesn’t consider it, at least natively.
While the MacBooks M1 natively supports a single monitor, the Mac mini with M1 natively supports up to two external monitors: one via the HDMI port and the second via USB-C. But the new MacBook Air and MacBook Pro M1 only support an external display.
Dock maker Plugable suggests using a combination of display technologies to get around the limitation of using a single monitor with the MacBook M1s.
Its multi-display docking stations use a combination of native USB-C alternate mode (“Alternate Mode” video output) and DisplayLink technology. This combination serves as a solution for the M1 platform which supports an external display via USB-C.
Note that DisplayLink requires the installation of a third-party driver on Mac. There are different versions of the DisplayLink driver and some come with their own compromises.
Connect the MacBook M1 to multiple external displays
We’ll explain how to connect different displays to your new Mac M1.
Download the latest DisplayLink driver for Mac
Application DisplayLink Manager Graphics connectivity v. 1.1.0 is compatible with macOS Catalina 10.15 and macOS 11 Big Sur. It can be managed through the DisplayLink icon in the Apple menu bar.
Installation is straightforward, but note that this version does not support Closed Screen / Clamshell mode on laptops. Other limitations include incompatibility with screen rotation.
There is an option in DisplayLink Manager to “start on startup”, or you can also drag DisplayLink Manager onto your login items in Users & Groups to get it working immediately.
Connect the MacBook to a docking station
Some examples of bases can be the base station Plug-in 4K USB-C display for triple screen, or the CalDigit TS3 Plus, which is also marketed in the Apple Store. You might be interested in our article on best USB C hubs for Mac.
You can connect the first display using the base’s DisplayPort or HDMI port, and this will be handled natively by the MacBook with M1 (Apple Silicon). You can also connect the first display with a Thunderbolt 3 or USB-C to HDMI or DisplayPort adapter.
The HDMI or DisplayPort output uses an alternate mode (alternate mode), and since this is essentially a direct pipeline to the system’s native GPU, it will behave as if you were connecting a USB-C to HDMI adapter to your computer. portable. It does not require a controller.
No native support for more screens
To connect the second or third display via one or more USB-C ports on your base or docking station, you will need to use an adapter such as the StarTech.com USB32HDDVII that you will find on Amazon at the recommended price of 110 $.
There are others of different brands. The requirement is that it supports DisplayLink to convert a USB-A 3.0 port to a DVI-I or VGA port (DVI to VGA adapter included) and HDMI output. Each display will be able to support the resolution of 2048 x 1152 pixels at 60 Hz.
Be sure to use an active DisplayLink HDMI adapter that supports 4K @ 60Hz, as some are limited to only 4K @ 30Hz.
DisplayLink uses an installed driver and the system’s processor and GPU to convert system graphics data to USB data packets. Then this USB data is sent over the USB cable as data packets and converted back to video information.
In this way, they are then sent to the monitors via the DisplayLink chip available to the base station or the docking station for their interpretation by each of the connected monitors.
System efficient but not supported
You must keep in mind that neither Pluggable or Caldigit They officially support such a DisplayLink for Mac configuration. The solution works, but they warn that it might not work in future versions of macOS.
Whenever there is a new update to the operating system, the drivers may need to be updated.
Plugable does not recommend the workaround for games, video editing, digital audio workstations (DAWs), and content protected playback (HDCP). For these workloads, users will want the optimal performance from a native GPU connection.
Caldigit actively recommends against using DisplayLink as it is considered unreliable and there would be no synergy between the controller and the docking station. Since it requires a third-party driver, users are at the mercy of Apple and the third-party developer for later versions.
However, this combination of display technologies is the only one today that allows MacBooks with M1 to work with more than one external monitor and Mac mini with M1 to run more than two.
The only risk is that it might stop working at any time, although it would not harm your system in any way. It is therefore a solution with a potentially limited duration.
Until then, I hope Apple hits the key to allowing us to support more external displays natively and naturally using the new Mac M1s.
Take a look at the article on how to connect a second monitor to your Mac or MacBook if it belongs to a generation of Intel Core chips.