I occasionally run across someone criticizing Apple because MacBook Pro supports only a single external display. But that’s a limitation of only a couple of MBP models — most recent ones can connect to many more.
It affected the first professional-grade MacBook with Apple silicon, which is probably why people are still confused today. Current models support two or more external screens, with one weird exception.
Confusion stems from Apple silicon transition
External displays make MacBook users more productive. More screens means more space to work in, and that can be critical on 14-inch notebook. Even a 16-inch screen is small compared to a desktop monitor.
All MacBooks offer second-screen support. So the question is, which can handle more than one?
It’s a question that only became important when Apple brought out its own Mac processors in 2020. Before then, Intel-based Pro models offered plenty of additional screens. But the very first MacBook Pro with Apple silicon supported only a single external display.
That’s because it used an Apple M1 processor. The 2020 MBP was part of the Intel-to-Apple transition and was essentially an Intel model with a new chip plugged in. A chip that wasn’t completely up to the job of powering a professional-class laptop.
External display limitation now only affects consumer MacBooks
The M1 was never intended for pro-grade computers. It was for Macs aimed at consumers, like the MacBook Air and Mac mini from a couple of years ago. But it was the best Apple silicon available in 2020 so it went into the MacBook Pro released that year, too.
The first MBP with Apple silicon is now a bit of a historical quirk. The follow-up model MacBook Pro used M1 Pro or M2 Max processors. These were designed for professionals. That includes support for multiple additional displays. Both the 14-inch and 16-inch models can be connected to three.
This all started over again with the Apple M2 released in mid-2022. This is a consumer-focused processor and supports only a single additional display. That makes it right for the MacBook Air from last July.
But more-recent MacBook Pros that run the M2 Pro and M2 Max can connect to many more screens. The 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro from early 2023 can handle four.
The weird exception I mentioned is the 13-inch MBP that Apple released in summer 2022. It has a basic M2, not a Pro or Max, so it offers only a second screen, not more. It’s weird because this is a consumer device, despite the name — it’s a budget model not aimed at professionals.
And the average consumer doesn’t hook up more than one external display. Exceptions are almost always someone using their consumer-grade laptop for professional-grade purposes.
A nomenclature problem
Part of the external display confusion stems from the way people tend to refer to Apple processors. “M1” is a single processor but the term is also sometimes used as shorthand for a family of processors: M1, M1 Pro, M1 Max and M1 Ultra. The same goes for M2.
It leads to confusion. It’s easy to refer to an “M2 MacBook Pro” when the notebook is really an M2 Pro MBP. And someone can read “M2 MacBook Pro” and, because the M2 supports only one extra display, assume the notebook being discussed has the same limitation. In reality, it can take on four additional screens.
Spread the word
If you already knew that MacBook Pro models with Apple’s Pro or Max chips support multiple external displays, then this isn’t for you. But don’t assume everyone knows.
Turns out those few MBPs that are limited to just one extra screen confused a lot of people into thinking the limitation is universal. So if you know someone still using an Intel MacBook, you might make sure they are also aware that Apple silicon isn’t as limited as they might think. They might be waiting for a feature that’s been available since 2021.
Also, keep in mind that there’s a good chance the upcoming Apple M3 will again support only a second screen and not more. We’ll have to wait for MacBooks with the M3 Pro and M3 Max to expand that’s number.