How to use two monitors with M3 MacBook Air

in Current Mac Hardware edited March 12

The new MacBook Air with M3 processor supports two external monitors -- when the lid is closed. Here's what to expect when using Clamshell mode.

Two MacBook Air models, one dark blue and one silver, overlapping on a white surface.
Two MacBook Air computers

Apple's Clamshell mode has existed for a very long time. In short, Clamshell Mode allows the user to connect an external display, and shut the lid. Depending on user choices, the main display will then generally be displayed on the external monitor.

On the M1 and M2 MacBook Air, you could only have one external display, regardless of the lid position. So, when you'd shut the lid, you'd get that internal display, mirrored, to the external with no option at all for a second external display.

In the new MacBook Air with M3 processor, this is a little different. Instead of being limited to one external display and that mirroring of the main display, you can have two external work surfaces with the lid shut.

As it has been with computers that support multiple displays, you'll still have to select one display as primary in the Displays control panel. This display will still mirror your main display and desktop.

Notably, this is only on the M3 MacBook Air. The core M3 14-inch MacBook Pro doesn't have the same feature -- yet. Apple has told us and other publications that it will come in a future software patch.

Monitor resolution support on MacBook Air with M3

As it stands, the MacBook Air with M3 processor can support full native resolution on the built-in display which is 2560 by 1664 in conjunction with a 6K external display refreshing at 60Hz. When in Clamshell mode, the internal display is deactivated, and in its place can go a 5K display refreshing at up to 60Hz.

So, the MacBook Air with M3 processor won't support dual Pro Display XDR units, but it will support one. We don't think that dual 6K displays is a common want for MacBook Air owners given the cost disparity between the two displays versus one MacBook Air -- but you never know.

And, of course, all the external monitors will need to be plugged in with Thunderbolt. We'd suggest a Thunderbolt dock to do so, to provide power and one-cable connectivity to both monitors and to all of your peripherals to the MacBook Air.

This opens up some new use cases for Apple Silicon MacBook Air

This support goes a bit beyond just workspaces. Most professional drawing tablets rely on external video to work properly, and this will allow a MacBook Air user to have a large display and use that tablet at the same time.

It will also be good for folks that need a teleprompter, like El Gato's new unit.

Apple has yet to update its support documents for the MacBook Air's new Clamshell mode. If there are any notable changes beyond what we've got here, we'll update accordingly.

Read on AppleInsider


  • Reply 1 of 5
    One thing I haven’t seen discussed is the fact that touch ID is no longer accessible with the lid closed. This is a dealbreaker for me. There are other ways to get to monitors up on a MacBook air, they cost a little bit an aren’t  supported by Apple.
  • Reply 2 of 5
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 6,861administrator
    One thing I haven’t seen discussed is the fact that touch ID is no longer accessible with the lid closed. This is a dealbreaker for me. There are other ways to get to monitors up on a MacBook air, they cost a little bit an aren’t  supported by Apple.
    ... why would it be? Clamshell on MBP has the same "flaw." DisplayMate drivers have some performance penalties associated with them, but they should work for most use cases -- until Apple changes macOS again and break them like they've been broken before.

    A Touch ID bluetooth keyboard is full retail for $150, and eBay for about $80.
  • Reply 3 of 5
    zmonk91zmonk91 Posts: 1member
    I have an M1, but the solution I found is to run one display to the Totu device and the other display HDMI directly to the macbook. Doing this also allows me to bypass native resolution to increase it as well. The only caveat is that displaying all three screens seems to eat up more RAM. 
  • Reply 4 of 5
    dewmedewme Posts: 5,362member
    This is a workable solution for those who want to use two external displays and don’t need access to their MacBook Air. 

    I personally wouldn’t see a big benefit from the two external displays with loss of access to the 15” MacBook Air screen, keyboard, Touch ID, and trackpad. I have my MacBook Air mounted on a sturdy stand placed very close to my 32” monitor. It’s close enough and high enough to allow me to use the MacBook Air comfortably as an extended display and to easily access the trackpad and Touch ID. On the other side I have my iPad Pro mounted at a similar height and use it as well as an extended display or an iPad with universal connect. 

    This effectively gives me three excellent screens. My wireless keyboard and mouse moves seamlessly between all three screens. For example, I can use the 32” screen for work or personal browsing and stick Mail, messages, Slack, a web browser, or whatever on the MacBook Air and Apple Music or a messaging app in the iPad Pro. It’s actually quite nice. I also have a NUC attached to the 32” monitor so I can run Windows on the big screen and continue to use the Mac and iPad independently of Windows since both of these devices have touch and keyboard interaction when the wireless mouse and keyboard are devoted to the PC. The 32” monitor also supports PIP and split screen if I want four screens. This works especially well when I run Apple Music on the Mac because it’s connected to a DAC powering big speakers and a subwoofer. 
    edited March 5 watto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 5
    The only reason I won’t buy a desktop is that I cannot get the same keyboard / trackpad arrangement. A mouse? Forget it. This arrangement creates the same problem.
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