How to close Mac and use monitor (clamshell mode)

5 min read

Having issues with the screen of your MacBook? Want to work on an external display with the lid closed on your laptop?

Did you know that you can use MacBook clamshell mode to bypass your faulty screen or just reduce visual clutter on your desk? A malfunctioning MacBook screen can be an expensive fix, especially if you don’t have AppleCare. With a monitor, mouse, and keyboard, you can use MacBook clamshell mode to turn your MacBook into a desktop computer. 

Here’s how to connect your MacBook to an external display with the lid closed, otherwise known as clamshell mode. 

An overview of MacBook clamshell mode and how to use it

Most Mac users know that they can connect their MacBook to an external display for better graphics — useful for gaming, photo editing, or other highly visible tasks, but you can also use your extra monitor when the lid of your MacBook is closed. This is known as closed-lid display mode, or clamshell mode, for short. 

With clamshell mode, you can take advantage of an external monitor without your MacBook’s smaller monitor cluttering up your workspace. This also works well when your MacBook screen has stopped working. Simply plug in your MacBook and connect it to an external monitor. Your documents, photos, and web browser will all be visible on your new display, and you can close the lid of your laptop while you get on with your projects.

Advantages and disadvantages of using MacBook clamshell mode

Using clamshell mode with an external display is the best way to improve the graphics while minimizing your MacBook’s resources. If your monitor is set up correctly, clamshell mode can offer better ergonomics than using a laptop for graphic-heavy work. 

Another benefit of clamshell mode is that you can use the mouse and keyboard of your choice, making for a more comfortable user experience. 

There is one important disadvantage of using clamshell mode with your MacBook. Because MacBooks dissipate internal heat through the keyboard, keeping it closed does interfere with its ability to cool. To offset this, use a MacBook stand to store your computer while in clamshell mode and take a break if your laptop gets too hot. 

MacBooks Pro tend to cool better than MacBooks Air. I don’t recommend putting a MacBook Air in clamshell mode for more than a few minutes at a time. 

How to use clamshell mode on your MacBook

Before you get started using your MacBook as a desktop computer, you will need a wireless mouse, keyboard, and external monitor. Newer MacBooks (with USB-C ports) will require an HDMI/VGA to USB-C adapter to connect to an external display. 

Once you have all the equipment you need, follow these steps to enter clamshell mode on your MacBook:

  1. Plug in your external monitor and your MacBook into a power outlet.

  2. Connect your external monitor to your MacBook with an HDMI cable and possibly a VGA/HDMI to USB-C adapter. 

  3. Turn on the external monitor.

  4. Open your MacBook and click the Apple icon in the upper left corner. 

  5. Click ‘About This Mac’ > ‘More Info’ > ‘Display Settings.’ Alternatively, choose System Settings > ‘Displays.’

  6. Choose your external monitor. You can also update any color and brightness settings at this time. 

  7. Make sure Bluetooth is turned on and connect your mouse and keyboard using the Bluetooth connection. 

  8. If you are using external speakers, connect them using a Bluetooth connection.

System Preferences - Displays settings

Update the power settings:

  1. Click the settings icon (usually on your toolbar).

  2. Click the Displays icon.

  3. Click ‘Advanced.’

  4. Toggle on ‘Prevent automatic sleeping when the display is turned off.’

  5. Click ‘Lock Screen.’

  6. Set the time for ‘Turn display off on power adapter when inactive’ to ‘Never.’

System Preferences - Lock Screen

You should be ready to close the lid to your MacBook and enter clamshell mode, but you might want to test out your settings before closing the lid by using Screen Mirroring. 

  1. Click on the Control Center icon in the upper right corner of your screen. 

  2. Choose ‘Screen Mirroring’ and click ‘Mirror Built-In Display.’

You should get a good idea of exactly how clamshell mode will work on your external monitor with Screen Mirroring. Once you are satisfied with the settings, close the lid and get to work. 

Improve your Mac’s performance with CleanMyMac X

Make sure your Mac is running efficiently by performing regular maintenance tasks that will free up much-wanted space, scan for malware, and optimize speed. CleanMyMac X scans your hard drive and offers real solutions based on what it finds. The best part? It works effortlessly behind the scenes so that you can take advantage of a fully optimized MacBook without any extra work. 

Here’s how to use this smart helper: 

  1. Open CleanMyMac X (free download here).

  2. Within the Smart Scan module, click Scan > Run. 

CleanMyMac X - Smart Scan complete

Tips for making the most of clamshell mode on your MacBook

We’ve covered the essentials of using your MacBook with the lid closed, but there are some other tips to keep in mind for the best performance possible:

  • Simply watching a movie on the big screen with your laptop in clamshell mode? No need to connect your Bluetooth accessories.

  • You can’t use an external monitor unless your MacBook is connected to a power source.

  • Depending on your external display, you may need to click or move the mouse to turn on the monitor. 

  • If you are using macOS Ventura, you can easily turn on your MacBook without opening the lid — just plug it into an AC adapter. 

  • Keeping your MacBook plugged in all the time will degrade your battery more quickly, so if you are using a brand-new laptop, you may want to use clamshell mode sparingly.

Ready to use your MacBook like a desktop for all those big projects you’ve been waiting to tackle? Clamshell mode for MacBook makes using an external display with your laptop closed easy.

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System requirements: macOS 10.13+
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