How to use your MacBook in closed-clamshell mode

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Save yourself some desk space with this closed MacBook mode. Photo: Rob LeFebvre/Cult of Mac
Save yourself some desk space with this closed MacBook mode. Photo: Rob LeFebvre/Cult of Mac

I was setting up my MacBook Pro with Retina display to work with a new external monitor today, thinking that when I connected to the monitor via HDMI and closed the lid, I’d see the display up on the new monitor.

I was disappointed when I saw absolutely nothing up on my new monitor, so I went searching to find out how to make it work. Is it a special setting in the System Preferences? I haven’t had an external monitor for a while, now; maybe things are more complex.

Luckily for me (and you!), it turned out to be much simpler to make happen. Here’s the recipe.

Ingredients:

  • MacBook Pro, MacBook Pro with Retina display, MacBook, orMacBook Air
  • Power adapter
  • External keyboard, mouse, or trackpad
  • External display

Directions:

Make sure your external monitor is plugged in and powered up, and connect your MacBook (any of the above flavors) via HDMI (or DVI, RGB via a dongle). Have your MacBook open to deal with any issues in getting the mirroring just right. Make sure you can see your display image up on your external monitor before you move to the next bit.

Make sure you’ve connected an external keyboard and mouse, either via Bluetooth, USB, or radio dongle. I like Logitech’s K811 keyboard along with the company’s M510 mouse, but any combination of external keyboard and mouse/trackpad will do.

Now, the step that I didn’t realize I needed: plug your MacBook into power. Apple’s delightful laptops will not let you use an external monitor when not connected to a power source. I’m not sure why that is, but I’m assuming that they want enough power coming from your MacBook to drive the signal clearly and strongly.

Once you’ve got it all hooked up, and you’re seeing your Mac’s screen up on the external monitor, go ahead and close the MacBook’s lid. You might see a short blank screen, but it should come right back up.

If, like me, you accidentally disconnect your MacBook from power while it’s in this closed-clamshell mode, it may look like your Mac shut down. Don’t worry; simply reconnect that magnetic power plug and tap the spacebar on your external keyboard a couple of times to wake the display.

Now you’ll be able to work on an external monitor without having to deal with the MacBook screen staring you in the face while you work. You can even store the closed MacBook to the side or under the external monitor to give you a bit more desk space.

Source: Apple

  • lchupacabras

    I believe you can also use the free app named Caffeine for this.

  • Simon Scherer

    when I use an external monitor and close the macbook, i can’t use my wifi anymore because it’s getting sooo slow. Someone can confirm that? I think it’s because the antenna is covered by the lid..?

    • Grosser600

      If changing the orientation of the lid a few inches makes wifi completely unusable you have other issues in your network. Closing the lid shouldnt do much to hinder your connection. Oh and the antenna is in the lid/display its self.

  • Jamie23

    What about gaming with the lid closed? Does it get too hot? Do the fans work well enough?

  • Loren Sims

    Clearly you should have spent your money on a Mac mini. This is no way to treat a MacBook of any kind…

    • DRE LIN

      I didn’t know the mac mini was a portable device also…

    • herbaled

      Clearly you’re mistaken. I constantly use my closed MBP attached to my Apple 30″ monitor and all works perfectly well … for several years now.

  • Max Best

    And how is simply closing the top of the MBPr saving any desktop space?

    • herbaled

      Don’t be pedantic. You know what he meant.

      • Max Best

        Nothing pedantic about my comment, I see no way you’re saving any desktop space, and see no use in shutting the cover while the laptop is connected to an external monitor. Perhaps you can explain.

    • SV650

      On my desk, the closed MBP sits on its edge behind the Thunderbolt Display, effectively consuming no desk space at all.

    • Rio

      Closing the lid turns the display off. One could argue that your are preserving the life of the display by allowing it to turn the backlight off instead of it constantly being on.

  • NotAllAdviceIsGood

    Fantastic way to ruin your laptop display. All that heat, pouring out through the keyboard and directly into the LCD panel…for hours and hours…

    • Well, you don’t need to treat your RMBP that bad to get it damaged…

    • herbaled

      You know that for a fact, do you?

    • Rio

      Yeah but atleast it’s not on for hours and hours serving no useful purpose. Closing it shuts of the display saving the overall life

  • herbaled

    Don’t just think two-dimentionally. Desktop “space” is not necessarily only the physical desktop but is also the area above it … i.e., the space the open lid/screen occupies. In my case, that opened lid/screen gets in the way when I want to reach for something and it restricts my movement. Therefore I close the lid and have more unobstructed work area.

    Also, having a screen I don’t need shining in my field of vision is annoying and distracting. If I don’t need to look at it, why should it be on?

  • Jimmy Burn

    Im doing this on my 2008 macbook pro years, with a vga to hdmi adaptor to my samsung tv, keyboard and mouse connected and a ps3 dualshock via blutooth to play retro games on my TV with the macbook closed :)

  • Are U serious? All Apple laptops works live this since 15 years! :)