Why go with stacked displays? [Setups]

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People wonder why one monitor isn't set vertically (portrait) rather than way up high. Well, there's a reason for that.
People wonder why one monitor isn't set vertically (portrait) rather than way up high. Well, there's a reason for that.

When you see people online showing off their computer setups with dual displays, you often see side-by-side horizontal monitors (landscape mode). Sometimes you see a horizontal screen and a vertical one (portrait mode). And sometimes you see stacked displays, with one landscape-oriented monitor mounted on top of another.

Sometimes you see the stack because of space issues, where there’s simply no room to either side of the setup. Other times you see a stack when someone wants to run four or five displays. And there are cases where the user couldn’t get one monitor to work in portrait mode, so they had to have both screens in landscape mode.

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Why go with stacked displays?

That last one appears to be the case here with Redditor Striker1106 and today’s featured setup post, entitled “My current M1 Macbook Setup for coding, studying and all day usage.” They run an M1 MacBook Pro with two Dell monitors in landscape mode. A 24-inch HD screen is mounted above a 27-inch HDR UltraSharp screen.

People commenting on the post asked some of the usual questions. How do you connect the monitors? Is there any latency or lag?

Well, when you have an M1 MacBook Air or M1 MacBook Pro, you’re limited. They don’t natively support more than one external monitor, used alongside the built-in screen. But there is a workaround you can try using  DisplayLink software and an adapter.

DisplayLink monitor can’t rotate

“You use a USB to HDMI DisplayLink adapter (there are a few on Amazon), and install the DisplayLink software for the adapter you bought. That’s basically all you have to do. I don’t really notice any lag,” Striker said, describing the upper monitor’s connection. The lower monitor uses just a USB-C connection.

“How do you use the top monitor?” another person asked. “Doesn’t the neck hurt? At this point, if it’s an application that runs vertically, isn’t it better to have the monitor(s) in vertical orientation?”

“I currently can’t use the upper monitor vertically because my DisplayLink adapter doesn’t support rotating the screen yet, that’s mainly why I stacked them. I use the upper one for Spotify or documentations and such,” Striker replied. “My neck doesn’t hurt while using them that way, I mounted them in a way that I can see the upper one comfortably by just leaning back in my chair a bit, but I don’t watch long periods of time on the upper one.”

Hence, Striker said, they have stacked monitors in landscape mode. They use two separate mounts to position the screens.

Possible workarounds

While we’ve seen other people suffering the same problem, where it was tricky to get one monitor to work vertically, it appears to be possible to do — even with a first-gen M1 MacBook Air or Pro.

(But first, take note: native support for more than one external display may be solved with the new MacBooks everyone expects Apple to announce today at the “Unleashed” event. It’s possible there won’t be any issue with the newer machines, depending on the additional ports and functionality they include.)

Second, Striker indicated the monitor run via DisplayLink driver and adapter can’t rotate. That’s a known limitation. But what if Striker rotated the other display — the one running natively with the M1 MacBook — in portrait mode? That should be possible.

To make it easier, it might take adding more equipment, like running both displays through a capable Thunderbolt 3 docking station.

Bonus note: Just how loud is that mechanical keyboard?

Another subject the comments of Striker’s post cover concerns something folks new to mechanical keyboards would want to know: How loud are those clackety keys? One person asked that about Striker’s Keychron K8 keeb.

“I’m using the Red switches,” Striker replied. “I’d say they are audible while typing, but not annoyingly loud. I usually got music running and then I don’t really hear it.”

This led another Redditor to ask about which color switches are the loudest and softest-sounding. The colors, such as red, brown and blue, are often included in the switch names (e.g. “Gateron Brown”).

“Red are the least, brown are some middle way between blue and red, and blue are the real clicks ones,” said Striker.

So now you know. Clack away.

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If you would like to see your setup featured on Cult of Mac, send some high-res pictures to info+setups@cultofmac.com. Please provide a detailed list of your equipment. Tell us what you like or dislike about your setup, and fill us in on any special touches or challenges.