Apple’s M1 MacBook Air and MacBook Pro are full of surprises, though their limited monitor support is one surprise that no one expected. Thankfully, you aren’t stuck living life with just one desktop monitor. Here’s everything you need to use two or more external displays with your M1 MacBook.
We’re going to use software called DisplayLink to add up to six external monitors to your M1 MacBook. This workaround works well and doesn’t compromise the M1 MacBook’s speed. Plus, your Mac will treat monitors connected over DisplayLink just like any other external monitor, so you can control everything from System Preferences and not some annoying app. DisplayLink also works when your MacBook is closed—a concern that some people have when they first hear about this workaround.
Still, DisplayLink has a minor impact on CPU usage, and the macOS “Unlock With Apple Watch” feature doesn’t work while DisplayLink is enabled. While this workaround works today, a future macOS update could temporarily “break” DisplayLink support. Keep that in mind when you see some of the prices in this guide!
Table of Contents
Before you download DisplayLink, you should shop around for a DisplayLink-compatible docking station or USB adapter. This hardware is expensive, but it’s required for DisplayLink, a fact that could make you reconsider using more than one external monitor with your MacBook.
Some USB-C Thunderbolt 3 docking stations have built-in DisplayLink functionality, enabling you to connect multiple external monitors to your MacBook without additional dongles or adapters. Just run the DisplayLink software, use HDMI or DisplayPort cables as you normally would, and hit the ground running.
Most people who want to run 4 or more external monitors from their MacBook should go with the Dell Universal Docking Station. Not because it’s the best DisplayLink dock, but because it’s the best bang for your buck. The Dell Universal Docking Station supports up to four external displays (one native, three through DisplayLink) with 4K resolution and packs 65-watt pass-through charging. Problem is, this dock lacks a wide port selection, with just 2 USB ports, one USB-C port, and an Ethernet jack.
If you don’t mind spending more money, then the Kensington SD4900P is a better option than the Dell Universal Docking Station. It supports four displays with 4K resolution, 60-watt charging for your MacBook, and a wide port selection with several USB ports, card readers, and an Ethernet jack.
But what if you want more than four external displays? There aren’t many DisplayLink docking stations with that kind of monitor support, and the ones that exist cost way too much money. If you want to run five or six external displays with your M1 MacBook, then you’ll need to pair the Dell Universal Docking Station or the Kensington SD4900P with a cheap USB DisplayLink adapter.
Dell 452-BCYT D6000 Universal Dock, Black, Single
Dell's Universal Docking Station supports four external monitors with 4K resolution via DisplayLink. It doesn't have a wide port selection, but it's the cheapest docking station for four+ monitor M1 MacBook setups.
Kensington SD4900P Triple 4k Display Docking Station for Windows, MacBooks and Surface - 60W PD; USB-C, Thunderbolt 3/4 & USB-A (K36800NA)
It ain't cheap, but the Kensington SD4900P supports four external monitors at 4K resolution and features a ton of USB ports and card readers.
If you don’t need a ton of external monitors, then you should skip the expensive docking station and buy a USB DisplayLink adapter instead. These small adapters can add dual or tri-monitor support to your MacBook for a much lower price than full-sized docking stations. Nearly all USB DisplayLink adapters connect to your computer via USB-A, so you’ll also need to buy a USB-C hub if you don’t own one already.
Single-port USB DisplayLink adapters bring the cost down significantly from most docks. If you want 4K video support, StarTech’s adapter is your best bet, but if you’re fine with HD video, look at adapters from Wavlink, Plugable, and Cable Creation to see which is the cheapest (they go on sale a lot). Dual-port DisplayLink adapters cost a bit more, and StarTech’s 4K dual-port adapter is one of the only reasonably-priced options.
Don’t forget that your MacBook doesn’t have USB-A ports, so you need to buy a USB-C hub. This hub will provide an HDMI output for your M1’s native video-out signal, plus a few USB-A ports for your USB DisplayPort adapter. I suggest buying a USB-C hub with pass-through charging, like the cheap Aukey USB-C hub. Larger hubs, like the VAVA 12-in-1 are ideal if you want a wider port selection or a cleaner-looking setup. (A USB-C hub without pass-through charging will also work if you happen to have one lying around.)
Whatever USB-C hub you end up buying, make sure that it has an HDMI port. Otherwise, you’ll have DisplayLink USB video output, but you won’t have any way to use your MacBook’s native video-out signal!
StarTech.com USB 3.0 to HDMI Adapter - 4K 30Hz Ultra HD - DisplayLink Certified - USB Type-A to HDMI Display Adapter Converter for Monitor - External Video & Graphics Card - Mac & Windows (USB32HD4K)
StarTech's DisplayLink adapter lets you use a dual 4K external monitor setup with your MacBook. Keep in mind that you'll need a USB-C hub or USB adapter to use this with your MacBook.
Once you have your DisplayLink docking station or adapter set up, go ahead and download the latest DisplayLink software. DisplayLink will ask for “Screen Recording” permission during installation—don’t worry, this simply enables the software to render external displays.
After installation is complete, a DisplayLink icon will appear in the Menu Bar at the top of the screen. Clicking this icon shows a mostly empty window, as all of your DisplayLink monitor management happens through the macOS System Preferences. Still, you should take a moment to check the “launch app automatically” box in the DisplayLink window to enable the software on startup.
External monitors hooked up to your MacBook through a DisplayLink dock or adapter should start working automatically. They will function just like any external monitor on macOS, with full support for virtual desktops and the Mission Control overview system. If your DisplayLink-connected monitors aren’t working, try reconnecting everything or resetting your Mac.
Some hubs and docking stations require external power for full functionality, so if you’re having trouble getting your external monitors to work, double-check that your hub or dock is plugged into an outlet with the included power supply or a USB-C cable. Also, if you’re using a DisplayLink USB adapter, make sure it’s plugged into your hub or dock’s USB 3.0 port (the blue one).
Get the latest version of DisplayLink to start using your M1 MacBook Air or MacBook Pro with multiple external monitors.
If your external monitors work perfectly, then you’re done. But you probably need to take a minute to rearrange your displays and adjust some of your monitor preferences.
Start by opening System Preferences, clicking the Displays option, and going to the Arrangement tab. You should see the option to rearrange your displays in whatever orientation you like (right to left, up and down, etc). You can also choose which display your Menu Bar shows up on and enable options like screen mirroring. Your MacBook should remember these preferences every time you connect your external displays.
If you utilize Spaces for virtual desktops, now’s also a good time to fiddle with the Mission Control menu of your System Preferences. Disabling “Automatically rearrange Spaces based on most recent use” forces your Spaces to stay in a specific order instead of constantly rearranging themselves, which is useful when you’re dealing with multiple screens. Other options, like “Displays have separate Spaces,” can also come in handy while using Spaces with multiple monitors.
External monitors connected via DisplayLink will continue working when you close your MacBook, so feel free to kick back once everything is set up. If your external monitors look like crap, give them a minute to warm up and take a crack at calibrating them. You could also use premade color profiles to skip the painful process of calibrating a screen by hand.