Hello, 14-inch M1 Pro MacBook; goodbye, 3 external displays? [Setups] | Cult of Mac

Hello, 14-inch M1 Pro MacBook; goodbye, 3 external displays? [Setups]

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Can you have three external monitors with a new M1 Pro 14-inch MacBook?
Can you have three external monitors with a new M1 Pro 14-inch MacBook?
Photo: HerrAusragend@Reddit.com

Let’s say you get one of Apple’s new MacBook Pro laptops — the 14-inch or the 16-inch with either the M1 Pro or the M1 Max chip. Do you still face the external display limitations seen in the M1 MacBooks (just one external monitor), or something similar? This is bound to be a common question leading to folks struggling to figure out what should work using the dreaded “pixel math.”

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And it was a fervent topic of discussion when Redditor HerrAusragend put forward his current setup, with the subject apparent right in the title, “Hyped for the new M1 Pro 14″ Macbook! But also goodbye 3 external displays …

He currently runs an Intel-i7-powered 2018 Mac mini and a gaming PC with his three displays. The middle of the three screens is used only for gaming on Windows, he said. He recently added a Logitech MX Keys keyboard alongside his Logi MX Master mouse for easy switching between screens and between operating systems.

M1 Pro and M1 Max MacBooks: How many external displays?

Right away, the post’s comments cascaded. People seemed frustrated with a perceived lack of clarity on the part of Apple.

“Wait, Apple said the 14 can only run 2 Pro XDR monitors, not just any displays,” said one. “If you do some pixel math it should still be able to run 3 4k monitors.”

Another quickly quoted Apple Support Technical Specifications info on the 2021 14-inch MacBook Pro:

Video Support Simultaneously supports full native resolution on the built-in display at 1 billion colors and:

Up to two external displays with up to 6K resolution at 60Hz at over a billion colors (M1 Pro) or Up to three external displays with up to 6K resolution and one external display with up to 4K resolution at 60Hz at over a billion colors (M1 Max)

Then HerrAusragend chimed in, “As every time, Apples marketing materials are pretty confusing. But yeah, according to the bandwidth this should be fine.”

“I think they said you can run 2 Pro XDR connected via Thunderbolt and still connect one 4K 60Hz display via HDMI,” offered another commenter.

Also depends on how you set them up

Part of the confusion people suffer owes to the fact that there’s more than one way to set up external monitors. The following in-depth description of real-world experimentation with a MacBook identical to HerrAusragend’s illustrates it:

I have a 14″ M1 Pro and I just tested it, here are some results:

  • I have two monitors connected to a CalDigit TS3 dock, one from HDMI to USB-C and the other with HDMI to DP

  • The first monitor is a Dell 1440p 144hz gaming monitor, the other is an LG Ultragear 34” Ultrawide, 1440p 144hz.

  • I have a 3rd spare Dell 1080p 60hz 27” monitor that only has HDMI output. It’s old and more of a “workstation” monitor

Firstly I tried just connecting the TS3 dock to the left side TS3 port with the dual monitors:

  • The 27” Dell 1440p ran at 85Hz as the highest value

  • The 34” LG ran at 144hz as the highest value

I then added via the HDMI port the 1080p 27” spare and it didn’t turn on, it did however identify the power and act like it was going to connect, but no dice.

Next, I disconnected the TS3 dock and just connected the 27” 1080p via HDMI. It showed up just fine.

Lastly I connected the TS3 dock AFTER connecting the HDMI monitor and only the 34” monitor booted up, the 27” did nothing.

I would say that it’s safe to assume that 3 monitors just isn’t possible and could be a limitation of the Display engine on the M1 Pros. I’m personally fine with a two (three if you count the internal display) setup, but at least this should shed some real life insight into how external monitors work on the M1 Pro.

When the commenter above says “3 monitors just isn’t possible” with the 14-inch M1 Pro MacBook, he means natively. Here’s a photo of his setup.

As other commenters indicated, using DisplayLink with adapters — already familiar as a workaround for m1 MacBooks — can increase the number of possible external displays. We’ve covered that pretty extensively in previous articles, some of which can be found here.

Check out HerrAusragend’s gear list below. It includes an impressive array of audio equipment from the likes of Audient, Audio Technica, Beyerdynamic, Rode and Yamaha.

Shop these items now:

Computers:

Monitors and mounts:

Input devices:

Audio and video

Lighting, furniture and accessories:

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.