Here are some tips for using a MacBook or MacBook Pro with an external monitor. They range from the painfully obvious (for brand new Mac users) to one I actually just learned yesterday.
- When you connect an external monitor to your MacBook (or PowerBook, for that matter), you can combine your MacBook’s LCD and your external monitor to create one big monitor. That means when your mouse pointer goes off the edge of one, it will appear on the other. Open the Displays Preference Pane to configure the resolution and orientation of the two monitors. This type of configuration works well when you want to keep your main work on your larger external display, but still keep things like IM, iTunes, and email constantly visible on the smaller laptop LCD.
- Some windows act like they don’t want to be dragged on to your external monitor. If a windows is being stubborn, try dragging it up to the menu bar, and keep dragging, even if stays stuck below the menu bar. Sometimes once you have dragged it far enough that it has room to render the entire window, it will jump to the other monitor (Terminal used to have this problem, but Apple fixed it some time ago). If that doesn’t work, try dragging it from a corner of your monitor. My Adium contact list doesn’t seem to want to live on my external monitor, but I can coerce it up there by dragging up from either corner.
- When your laptop is open, you can’t switch to using the full resolution of an external monitor. I have no idea why, but it’s a fact of life for MacBook users. You can use both displays in "extended" mode, or you can mirror your MacBook’s display (which most likely doesn’t use the full resolution of your external monitor), but you can’t switch to using only the external monitor. Very strange.
- If you close your laptop, you can actually get the full resolution of your external display. Put your MacBook to sleep, connect your external display and an external monitor, and wake the computer up by pressing any key. You will have full use of your external display while your laptop is closed.
- If you really want to have your MacBook open while only using an external display, after following the procedure above, you can open your MacBook, and it’s screen will remain off, which means you can still use the MacBook’s keyboard and trackpad. Why you can’t get into this mode using F7, I have no idea. This is a good technique for allowing some heat to dissipate while still using an external display so the lid of your MacBook doesn’t melt or warp.
- You can boot your computer using just an external display. Just connect your external display, open the lid, hit the power button, and close the lid again immediately.
- In order to output only to an external monitor, you have to have the power cable connected. I tried for several minutes yesterday to get my MacBook to wake up with an external keyboard and monitor before unpacking my AC adapter from my backpack, and it wouldn’t work. It took me a while to make the connection (no pun intended), but I eventually discovered that with the power cable attached, everything works as expected.
And now for some other random tips:
- If you decide to buy the MacBook over the MacBook Pro (I actually like the MacBook slightly better, but that’s a topic for another post), don’t forget to buy a mini-DVI to standard DVI adapter. The MacBooks don’t have standard DVI port — just the mini.
- If you have a DVI to VGA adapter, stop reading this right now, go find it, and put it in your computer bag where it should be stored. You’ll thank me the next time you’re in front of a client or an audience, trying to mash a VGA cable into a DVI port.
- For the ultimate in multiple-display, multi-computer support, check out Synergy. Synergy actually lets you switch between different computers running different operating systems simply by moving your mouse from one monitor to the next. The first time you see it, you’ll swear it’s magic. Imagine two separate physical computers next to each other with two monitors, one keyboard, and one mouse. Just move the pointer from one monitor to the other, and you’re actually using the other computer. It even let’s you copy and paste between computers. If you’re a Mac user running Parallels, you might not see the point, but you still have to appreciate the technical wizardry.
Anything that I’ve missed? Post it in the comments.