Hardware

How to connect external displays to a 2017 MacBook Pro

Connecting external displays to a new MacBook Pro can be confusing. Here are ways to connect a variety of VGA-, DVI-, and HDMI-compatible monitors.

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Image: James Martin/CNET

Buy or use a new MacBook Pro, and you'll likely encounter trouble connecting external displays using cables and adapters that worked well with older MacBook Airs and MacBook Pros. Problems occur because Apple updated 2017 MacBook Pro models to use Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) ports exclusively, while older Macs use a variety of display ports, including HDMI, Mini DisplayPort, and Thunderbolt 2, which aren't compatible with Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C); instead, different cables and/or adaptors are required.

Problems may also occur because you run out of ports. Entry-level 2017 MacBook Pros (without the Touch Bar) only have a pair of Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) ports, one of which is required to connect the charge cord, whereas the Touch Bar-equipped (and all 15" model) versions include four Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) ports; these ports can be used for charging, DisplayPort connectivity, and connecting Thunderbolt 3 and USB 3.1 peripherals.

SEE: Mobile device computing policy (TechPro Research)

If you find yourself short of ports needed to connect external displays, especially because you're trying to connect a wired external keyboard or mouse, consider converting to using Bluetooth connectivity for such devices, thereby freeing ports that would have been dedicated to those peripherals.

But what if you want to connect one or more existing displays via VGA, DVI, or HDMI to a new MacBook Pro equipped with only Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) ports? This is when adapters and docking stations come into play.

Apple offers a Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) to Thunderbolt 2 Adapter. For $49, the adapter provides the ability to connect external displays using a Thunderbolt 2 cable connection to the new Macs. Note: This adapter doesn't receive power over Thunderbolt, so it doesn't permit charging a Mac by connecting another device, such as a Thunderbolt display.

I found it easiest to connect two pre-existing VGA/DVI-compatible displays to a 2017 MacBook Pro using a pair of Monoprice USB Type-C to 4K HDMI, DVI, VGA adapters (Figure A). At $19.99 each, these adapters have worked well and at reasonable cost.

Figure A

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Image: Monoprice

If you prefer sticking with Apple-branded adapters, you can choose from Apple's $69 USB-C Digital AV Multiport Adapter, which supports connecting a standard USB peripheral, HDMI display, and USB-C charging cable. Apple also offers a similar VGA-compatible cable for $69. As with all adapters, be sure to read the fine print—these two Apple adapters aren't compatible with G-Tech G-DRIVE mobile USB 3.0 hard drives (model number HF4F2VC/A) (Figure B).

Figure B

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Image: Apple

Docks are another option for connecting external displays to a 2017 MacBook Pro. The Stone-Tethered Dock from Henge Docks, $199, provides the ability to connect a compatible external display using Mini DisplayPort (Figure C). Note: Apple Thunderbolt displays are incompatible with the Mini DisplayPort connection.

Figure C

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Image: Henge Docks

A DockCase provides the ability to connect an HDMI-connected display to a new MacBook Pro (Figure D). I also employ a $29 Apple HDMI to DVI Adapter to enable connecting an external display via DVD using the DockCase's HDMI port, and the combination works fine.

Figure D

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Image: DockCase

There are many options for adapting and connecting external displays, even multiple monitors, to 2017 MacBook Pro models. You should be sure to plan how each of the MacBook Pro's existing Thunderbolt (USB-C) ports, and any accompanying ports added via a dock or adapter, will be used to ensure you don't come up short. And, before making a purchase, read disclaimers or warnings to try and avoid unpleasant surprises when you begin connecting peripherals—this is especially true if you have demanding video performance needs, such as for 4K and 5K displays, which will restrict connectivity options.

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About Erik Eckel

Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president o...

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