How many of you are using dual external monitors with MBA?

Discussion in 'MacBook Air' started by phositadc, Mar 9, 2014.

  1. phositadc macrumors 6502

    Dec 9, 2012
    I have an 11" MBA w/ core-i7 + 8GB RAM + 256GB SSD arriving tomorrow from the refurb store. It's replacing a 2009 Mac Mini, to which I've had dual 1080p monitors attached since I bought it. I'm planning to use the same two dual monitors with the MBA when it arrives--one connected via the minidisplay port of the MBA, and the other connected via a USB-to-HDMI adapter.

    Just curious how many of you MBA owners are doing a similar dual external display setup. I've seen various posts about how to do it, but now I'm interested in how many people actually do it, and if they are happy with the setup. Thanks in advance for all replies!
  2. phositadc thread starter macrumors 6502

    Dec 9, 2012
  3. Dweez macrumors 65816


    Jun 13, 2011
    Down by the river
    Just a single external here plus the 13" MBA display.
  4. phositadc thread starter macrumors 6502

    Dec 9, 2012
    I set mine up with 2 external monitors this morning. One is connected via mDP to DVI cable, the other via USB-to-HDMI adapter + HDMI to DVI cable. Both external monitors are running 2048x1152. As you can see in the attached pic, this also works with the MBA display as a 3rd display.

    Overall, quality is satisfactory, but not great. The USB-to-HDMI adapter is not an ideal solution. Though not horrible, doing anything on it is a bit jittery. For example, the mouse cursor does not glide across the screen as smoothly as it does on the screen connected to the mDP port. Also, if I drag a photo or a window from the mDP screen to the USB screen, the photo or window will turn black for a second or two before showing up again. Almost as if the USB display takes a brief second to register the contents.

    I think these are just limitations of a USB display. As far as I can tell, it's not really taxing the CPU in any noticeable way, and I didn't notice any performance slow down.

    I think this setup would work for somebody doing primarily office-type tasks, but would probably be pretty bad for video and photo applications.

    I'm still on the fence as to whether it's good enough for me or if I would be better off with a solution that does not require a USB display adapter, such as the rMBP 13" which has two mDP and an HDMI output.

    Attached Files:

  5. sc4m macrumors newbie

    Mar 12, 2014
    I'm running dual 24" monitors off my 11" MBA, similar specs to you. I don't play games or do any kind of heavy video/graphics work so for my workflow it's just fine.

    The usb2dvi display adapters are a number of years old but the displaylink beta drivers seem to work just fine so I haven't upgraded.

  6. phositadc thread starter macrumors 6502

    Dec 9, 2012

    Nice. Thanks for posting. Seems far fewer of us are rocking dual external monitors than I would have guessed. I guess if you have one of the 27" 2440x1660 (or whatever the resolution is) displays, dual monitors is less necessary.
  7. iAppl3Fan macrumors 6502a


    Sep 8, 2011
    I run dual Thunderbolt Displays on the MBA. Runs wonderfully.
  8. jahala, Mar 12, 2014
    Last edited: Mar 12, 2014

    jahala macrumors regular


    Feb 7, 2008
    I use my 11" MBA with three external monitors, all 1920x1080. One is Thunderbolt to VGA, the others are connected to USB video adapters. As the previous poster mentioned, it is not that great for movies, but I use them at work for CAD and office tasks. The four-monitor system works great for that. The little MBA runs all the monitors just fine.

    Attached Files:

  9. elee888 macrumors newbie

    Jun 22, 2009
    Does anyone use just one external display in clamshell mode? That's what I'm doing with Thunderbolt/Digital DVI, but my 2013 MBA's fans kick on like crazy on simple tasks like web browsing. If I use Lightroom 5, the fans are full throttle. Weird thing was it wasn't like that a month ago. Still running Mountain Lion, does upgrading to Mavericks help with this fan issue?
  10. CoMoMacUser macrumors 6502a

    Jun 28, 2012
    Good topic. I was going to replace my iMac with a Mini with two displays, but with a Mini refresh nowhere in sight, I'm considering buying the displays and connecting them to my MBA. I'll be interested in the replies to elee888's post because I was wondering about heat issues in clamshell mode.
  11. phositadc thread starter macrumors 6502

    Dec 9, 2012

    I used mine in clamshell mode for a few hours. I also noticed that the fan came on. However, I lifted it up and felt the bottom, and it was not very warm. I was also only doing office type tasks. So nothing terribly CPU intensive. But I got the impression that it would work fine clamshell mode.

    I would also be curious to hear from others who have used it in clamshell mode.
  12. phositadc thread starter macrumors 6502

    Dec 9, 2012
    Just to update. Yesterday I had two instances of Safari open. Youtube in one of them, a news site on the other. I dragged the News site from the mDP monitor to the USB monitor, and it was not pretty. Hard to explain in words, but the graphics of the Safari window became garbled, parts of the window blacked out, and it was basically unusable. When I dragged it back to the mDP monitor, all was well. But each time I tried to drag it to the USB monitor, it was garbled and not usable.

    My conclusion is that the USB dual monitor solution is not a good one, even if only trying to do simple things as described above. Playing Youtube and reading a News website is not particularly taxing, but it was apparently too taxing for the USB monitor.
  13. scaredpoet macrumors 604


    Apr 6, 2007
    You'd probably want to go with something like this to get a GOOD dual monitor setup going:

    With this, you could attach the MBA to the dock, then attach the mDP adapter to the thunderbolt daisy chain. Then, remove the USB to HDMI adapter and plug directly to the dock's HDMI interface. As an added bonus, you get an extra USB port or two, plus ethernet if you want it.

    The USB-to-whatever display adapters have always been a very kludgy proposition.

    EDIT: Nevermind, it looks like for whatever silly reason, this dock will disable the HMDI port if you use an mDP display. Ridiculous! Looks like the only option would be to get a thunderbolt display.
  14. smellalot macrumors 6502

    Dec 6, 2011
    You probably want to hear something different, but this is my experience:
    I run my rMBP 13" with two external monitors and it doesn't make the slightest sound. I can run MATLAB calculations, which max one CPU thread and the fans don't spin up. The only time I will hear them is when I stream movies through amazon prime.

    Before this machine I had a MBP 15" 2010, a MBA 2011 11" and a Mac mini 2011 with dGPU. None of those machines were silent enough for me.

    I suppose Apple really DID improve the cooling system on the rMBP's a lot.
  15. phositadc thread starter macrumors 6502

    Dec 9, 2012

    Fwiw I returned the MBA and a 13" RMBP arrived from the refurb store today. Haven't had much time to play with it but at least I know it has native support for dual monitors. Though I do miss the size and weight of the MBA :(
  16. loby macrumors 6502a


    Jul 1, 2010
    I run my 2013 MacBook Air in clamshell mode all the time and do not have any issues. I asked A Genius during an online-chat service call about running the Air in clamshell mode, especially when rendering video and keeping the power plugged into the unit instead of using the battery. He said it is fine to do so.

    I use the Air as a desktop with a Cinema Display and power plugged in most of the time instead of battery. The Genius said that the Air has a setting that will shut off the system if it overheats. Also, it is safe to have it in clamshell mode all the time and use the Air.

    So no worries...use it as a desktop until the new Mac mini's come out...or just use the is a Mac Mini without a screen anyway...(insides).
  17. Joeforum macrumors newbie

    Mar 21, 2014
    Getting displaylink drivers to work

    Hey sc4m - glad you could get the displaylink beta drivers to work. Been trying without success. Was there any magic or trick or shortcut you did to get the driver to recognize the third monitor? Any help would be awesome.
  18. sc4m macrumors newbie

    Mar 12, 2014
    I seemed to have luck with an older set of beta drivers that I never bothered to upgrade. See if you can track down older beta downloads from late 2012 as that's when I would have installed mine.
  19. babbler macrumors member

    Apr 15, 2006
    I have just posted a question about this (sorry! Should have searched better first).

    My mid 2013 MBA is failing to drive two thunderbolt displays. If I daisy-chain the 2nd onto the thunderbolt port of the first, it stays blank.

    What are you doing differently!

  20. iAppl3Fan macrumors 6502a


    Sep 8, 2011
    I'm doing the same thing you're doing. Nothing different. It was pretty much plug-and-play for me. Although, I had to re-arrange the order of the monitors in System Preferences | Display.

    For troubleshooting purposes, if you have an extra thunderbolt cable try using that to daisy chain to see if the problem persist. I assume you tried each thunderbolt display separately already. Also, if you don't want to take it to the apple store, another advice would be to do a fresh install on your MBA to eliminate any corrupted files or something on the laptop. This solved my problems for older gen MacBooks.
  21. jasonlynch00 macrumors newbie

    Sep 24, 2014
    MacBook Air and dual external monitor

    I purchased a 13" Macbook Air with a 1.7 GHz Intel Core i7 processor and 8 GB of ram about a month ago with the hopes of adding 2 external monitors. One monitor is using the thunderbolt to DVI adapter and the other monitor is using a J5create USB3.0 External Graphics Card. I, unfortunately, haven't been able to use both monitors at the same time. I can mirror all displays, but when I try to split the displays, one of them stays blank. Has anyone else had this problem? I think it may be related to the fact that the monitors are the exact same and the computer can't differentiate between the 2. When I plug in an old monitor of a different type, it works. The monitors are Dell S2340M.

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