How To Set Up Dual External Monitors On Your MacBook, MacBook Pro or Mac Mini


I’ve always been a bigger is better kind of guy. The biggest hard drive, biggest laptop screen, biggest monitor on my desktop, etc. It really has no end. What’s funny about me, though, is every 6 months or so I go through this big life cleaning thing and start downsizing everything. I suppose it’s some kind of self-preservation mechanism that keeps me from getting overrun by too much crap in my life.

Recently, on the tail end of a big declutter phase, I decided it would be very handy to have two 24″ monitors on my desk. Let me pause to say my dream system is a MacPro with dual 30″ Apple Display monitors connected to it. Some day, I’m going to get this setup. Course the $7,000 to $8,000 price tag to go with such a setup will definitely require me to be in a different tax bracket before I can even consider it.

Needless to say, I wanted dual monitors, which I happened to have at my disposal. The only problem is I sold both of my MacPro machines a couple of “declutter” cycles ago. I’ve got a new MacBook Pro that I use for everything. So I set out to see if I could somehow drive 2 external displays from the Mini DisplayPort on the MacBook Pro 15″.

To my surprise, it’s not only doable, it’s darn easy. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Matrox Dual Head 2 Go DP Edition (here’s a link to it on Amazon.com: Matrox Dual Head 2 Go DP Edition)
  • DisplayPort to Mini DisplayPort Cable
  • 2 DisplayPort to DVI Cables

That’s it. That setup will let you connect two monitors of all different sizes to your single MacBook, MacBook Pro or Mac Mini display port connection.

Setup of the device and monitors is pretty easy and straightforward. Once you unpack the Matrox DualHead2Go device, you plug in the cables and your hardware is ready to go. No power cable needed since it will pull power from the USB port on your laptop.

Next you install the Matrox PowerDesk software. This allows you to control settings across the monitors and handles a single stretched image across both monitors. I didn’t run the laptop display alongside the dual monitors. I just used the 2 external Dell 24″ displays and was very pleased. The picture was gorgeous and it was just like other dual monitor setups I’d used on desktop machines in the past. Here are a couple of pictures of where I placed the Matrox and MBP under my desk:

There were, however, a few wrinkles. First, your Mac won’t see the external displays as separate devices. Instead it sees it as one monster monitor. My displays were each running at 1920×1200, but as far as the Mac was concerned, it was just one device. This kills the ability to dock applications or other windows onto a particular display. You have to manually move things around most times. Also, the dock, which I typically have centered at the bottom was in the middle…..of the one monster display. This means it was half on one monitor and half on the other. Moving it to the left-hand side fixed that though.

The other problem I’ve run in to is some weird issue where my MacBook Pro loses the ability to display to the monitors. I have to go through a painful unplugging, plugging in and sometimes restart process to get things working again. Of course it comes at the worst times too. I finally broke down and called tech support (which I HATE doing) because I thought there might be an issue with the Matrox device itself. Turns out DisplayPort connections are some of the most finicky. Didn’t really get that problem solved.

Overall, this was a cool experiment, but not a realistic long term setup. If you’re desperate, give it a try, but keep your expectations realistic. It’s not without it’s faults.

Also, there are different Matrox devices for analog, DVI and even a triple display device.

  1. There is a better solution using USB. Buy a DisplayLink adapter and you can run a 1920×1200 display (http://www.displaylink.com/displaylink_hardware.html). The only caveat is that these things can hammer your processor for high-refresh apps (like full screen Windows in Fusion).
    The adapters are about $50-80 bucks, search Amazon for “displaylink adapter” and make sure it has the newer chip for higher resolution.

    tim says...
    October 25th, 2010 at 2:36 pm
  2. Hey dude, i have that painful reconnection problem too. Especially stupid when i want to hold a presentation… but I think its due to using gfxcardstatus to switch between intel and nvidia graphics. I use intel 99% of the time, which I guess is producing all the problems. Iirc, last time i used nvidia, and had no problems with pluggin an external display in. Couldn’t reproduce that though since i only use a MBP at work. Maybe you could try :D

    thorsten says...
    November 18th, 2010 at 10:40 am
  3. Awesome.. I feel your need to Biggie size then downsize… Its the nature of the addiction

    But I have been googling for this exact problem and i’m totally blown away by it. Its amazing to me that Apple cant do this with a simple plug. Dell with Windows has support this type of thing for a while .. Really odd. A $200+ extra “video card in a box” (matrox device) just to do what could be a simple plug job. Not good Apple..

    But you explained it well.. awesome setup

    jason says...
    January 8th, 2011 at 5:51 am
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