One of the biggest long-term advantages of the Mac has been the ease of connecting external monitors. The type of connector attached, the resolutions supported, and the total number have varied over time, but it’s a persistently easy task.
Or at least it was! In the last six years, Apple introduced USB 3 over USB-C (12-inch MacBook, now discontinued), Thunderbolt 3, which uses USB-C (and supports many types of adapters), and the M-series processor models of apple silicone. . Some Macs also have or still include video-specific connectors: In the past, that included DVI (multiple forms), Mini DisplayPort, DisplayPort over Thunderbolt 2, and HDMI.
More recently, HDMI 2.0 became the only remaining video connector that isn’t USB-C. Apple has built HDMI into many Intel models, as well as the M1 Mac mini, M1 Pro/Max MacBook Pro 14-inch and 16-inch, and Mac Studio.
Figuring out how many monitors can be plugged into which Mac has become a guess for many readers, according to our mail folder.
(Do you have a monitor that uses DVI, Mini DisplayPort, or Thunderbolt 2? See our 2020 guide on determining what you have and what type of adapter you need. Want to use an iMac as an external monitor? Only iMacs released in 2009 or later qualify in mid-2014. See “Troubleshooting tips for using an older iMac as an external display for a Mac with Thunderbolt 3”).
Here’s the mix of Macs from the last few generations, starting with the newest, not including the internal display for iMac and Mac laptops. Connections are via a USB-C connection, except where noted.
The resolutions, by reference, are:
- 4K UHD: 3840 × 2160 pixels
- 4K: 4096 wide, with common variations including 4096×2160 or 4096×2304 pixels
- 5K: 5120 × 2880 pixels
- 6K: 6016 × 3384 pixels
The highest supported resolution is listed for each setting or option set, but you can also use a lower resolution monitor. For example, the M1 Mac mini allows up to 6K over USB-C, but you can connect a 4K UHD monitor to that port instead.
Mac M-series monitor options
Most M1 and M2 Macs allow you to add only one external monitor; the Mac mini allows two. Despite many questions from readers, there is no adapter or trick you can do with Apple equipment to add an additional display beyond the level Apple supports.* The video circuitry just isn’t there.
Here are your options grouped by display options:
- MacBook Air M1 and M2, MacBook Pro 13-inch, iMac M1: An external display with a resolution of up to 6K
- Mac mini M1: One up to 6K via USB-C and one up to 4K via HDMI 2.0
(*You can use hardware that uses DisplayLink technology to add additional monitors over USB 3. Requires installing a kernel-level driver from the company. Read our review of the Mac-compatible StarTech USB 3.0 to HDMI adapter with DisplayLink.)
M1 Pro, Max and Ultra monitor options
With the October 2021 introduction of the M1 Pro and M1 Ultra chips, followed by the March 2022 announcement of the M1 Ultra, Apple dramatically expanded the display options for the pro-level models:
- 14-inch or 16-inch MacBook Pro with M1 Pro: Two external displays up to 6K via USB-C and one up to 4K via HDMI 2.0
- 14-inch or 16-inch MacBook Pro with M1 Max: Three external displays up to 6K via USB-C and one up to 4K via HDMI 2.0
- Mac Studio with M1 Max or M1 Ultra: Four displays at up to 6K via USB-C ports with Thunderbolt 4 and one at up to 4K via HDMI 2.0
The Mac Studio M1 Max configuration includes two front USB 3 USB-C ports that cannot be used with DisplayPort adapters; the M1 Ultra model upgrades them to Thunderbolt 4, which can be used with a standard USB-C DisplayPort adapter. This doesn’t decrease the number of monitors you can connect, but it might require an external Thunderbolt 4 dock to have enough free USB-C connectors for all your purposes.
Intel Mac with USB 3/Thunderbolt 3 monitor options
Intel Macs with Thunderbolt 3 had a more baroque variety of possible external monitor configurations. Here are the possibilities for the latest shipped version of each Thunderbolt 3 model and the 12-inch MacBook with USB 3 over USB-C:
- 21.5-inch Macs: One 5K screen or two 4K UHD or 4K screens
- 27-inch iMac (standard video card), 13-inch MacBook Pro: One 5K or 6K screen or two 4K UHD or 4K screens
- 27-inch iMac (AMD Radeon Pro 5700 or AMD Radeon Pro 5700 XT): Up to two 4K UHD, 4K, 5K, or 6K displays
- 16-inch MacBook Pro: Up to two 5K or 6K displays or up to four 4K UHD or 4K displays
- macmini: One 5K display over USB-C or up to three 4K displays with a combination of USB-C and HDMI 2.0 ports
- Mac Pro: Depending on video card, ranges from one 5K or 6K display or up to four 4K displays to four 5K or 6K displays or up to eight 4K displays
- 12-inch MacBook: A 4K screen
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