Apple’s M1 MacBook Air and MacBook Pro are full of surprises, although their limited monitor support is a surprise that no one expected. Fortunately, you are not stuck with living with just one desktop monitor. Here̵
We are going to use software called DisplayLink to add up to six external monitors to your M1 MacBook. This solution works well and does not compromise the speed of the M1 MacBook. Plus, your Mac treats monitors connected via DisplayLink just like any other external monitor, so you can control everything from System Preferences and not an annoying app. DisplayLink works even when your MacBook is closed – a concern some people have when they first hear about this workaround.
Still, DisplayLink has a small impact on CPU usage, which can become evident in some tasks. And while this workaround works today, a future macOS update may temporarily ‘break’ DisplayLink support. Keep that in mind when seeing some of the prices in this guide!
Purchase a DisplayLink docking station or adapter
Before downloading DisplayLink, shop around for a DisplayLink compatible docking station or USB adapter. This hardware is expensive, but is required for DisplayLink, a fact that could make you reconsider using more than one external monitor with your MacBook.
If you decide not to buy a DisplayLink docking station or adapter, consider using a laptop riser and USB-C hub with HDMI output to create an impromptu “dual monitor” setup.
For clean 4+ monitor setups: docking stations
Some USB-C Thunderbolt 3 docking stations have built-in DisplayLink functionality, so you can connect multiple external monitors to your MacBook without additional dongles or adapters. Just run the DisplayLink software, use HDMI or DisplayPort cables as usual and you’re good to go.
Most people who want to use 4 or more external monitors from their MacBook should opt for 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 via DisplayLink) with 4K resolution and provides 65 watt pass-through charging. The problem is, this dock doesn’t have a wide selection of ports, with only 2 USB ports, one USB-C port and an Ethernet connection.
If you don’t mind spending more, the Kensington SD4900P is a better option than the Dell Universal Docking Station. It supports four screens with a resolution of 4K, 60 watts charging for your MacBook and a wide selection of ports with different USB ports, card readers and an Ethernet connection.
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 existing docking stations cost way too much money. If you want to use five or six external displays with your M1 MacBook, pair the Dell Universal Docking Station or the Kensington SD4900P with an inexpensive USB DisplayLink adapter.
Best value for 4+ monitors
Dell 452-BCYT D6000 Universal Dock, Black, Single
The Universal Docking Station from Dell supports four external monitors with a resolution of 4K via DisplayLink. It doesn’t have a wide selection of ports, but it is the cheapest docking station for M1 MacBook configurations with more than four monitors.
Premium choice for 4+ monitors
For Budget 2+ monitor configurations: USB DisplayLink adapters
If you don’t need many external monitors, skip the expensive docking station and buy a USB DisplayLink adapter instead. These little adapters can add support for two or three monitors to your MacBook for a much lower price than full-size docking stations. Almost all USB DisplayLink adapters connect to your computer via USB-A, so you should also buy a USB-C hub if you don’t already have one.
Single port USB DisplayLink adapters significantly reduce the cost of most docks. If you want 4K video support, StarTech’s adapter is the way to go, but if you’re okay with HD video, check out Wavlink, Plugable, and Cable Creation’s adapters to see which ones are the cheapest (they are often sold). Dual-port DisplayLink adapters cost a little more, and StarTech’s 4K dual-port adapter is one of the few reasonably priced options.
Don’t forget that your MacBook doesn’t have USB-A ports, so you have to purchase a USB-C hub. This hub offers an HDMI output for the native video output signal from your M1, plus a pair of USB-A ports for your USB DisplayPort adapter. I recommend buying a USB-C hub with pass-through charging, such as the inexpensive Aukey USB-C hub. Larger hubs, such as 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 work even if you happen to have one lying around.)
Whichever USB-C hub you buy, make sure it has an HDMI port. Otherwise, you have DisplayLink USB video output, but you have no way to use your MacBook’s native video output!
Best for 2+ monitors
You need this for your DisplayLink adapter!
Download the latest DisplayLink software
Once you have installed your DisplayLink docking station or adapter, you can download the latest DisplayLink software. DisplayLink will ask for “Screen Recording” permission during installation – don’t worry, this will allow the software to easily display external displays.
After installation is complete, a DisplayLink icon will appear in the menu bar at the top of the screen. Clicking this icon will bring up a mostly blank window as all your DisplayLink monitor management is done through the macOS system preferences. Still, you should take a moment to check the “start app automatically” box in the DisplayLink window to enable the software at startup.
External monitors connected to your MacBook via a DisplayLink dock or adapter should start working automatically. They work just like any external monitor on macOS, with full support for virtual desktops and the Mission Control overview system. If your monitors connected to DisplayLink are not working, try reconnecting everything or resetting your Mac.
Some hubs and docking stations require external power for full functionality, so if you are having trouble getting your external monitors to work, double check that your hub or dock is plugged into a power outlet with the included power supply or a USB-C cable. If you are using a DisplayLink USB adapter, make sure it is plugged into the USB 3.0 port on your hub or dock (the blue one).
Manage your displays via system preferences
If your external monitors are working perfectly, you are done. But you should probably take a moment to rearrange your displays and adjust some of your display preferences.
Start by opening System Preferences, clicking the Displays option, and going to the Control tab. You should see the option to rearrange your displays in any direction you want (right to left, top to bottom, etc.). You can also choose which screen your menu bar appears on and enable options such as screen mirroring. Your MacBook should remember these preferences every time you connect your external displays.
If you’re using Spaces for virtual desktops, now is also a good time to play with the Mission Control menu of your System Preferences. If you turn off “Automatically reorder spaces based on most recent usage”, your Spaces will be forced to stay in a specific order instead of constantly rearranging themselves, which is useful when dealing with multiple screens. Other options, such as “Displays have separate Spaces”, may also be helpful when using Spaces with multiple displays.
External monitors connected via DisplayLink will continue to work when you close your MacBook, so you can sit back and relax once everything is set up. If your external monitors look rotten, give them a minute to warm up and try calibrating them. You can also use pre-made color profiles to skip the painful process of manually calibrating a screen.