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Apple’s M3 MacBook Pro is, belatedly, fixing its one-external-display limitation

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One long-standing limitation of Apple’s most basic Mac chips—the no-adjective M1, M2, and M3—has been their inability to work with more than a single external monitor at a time. This was one of the only ways in which the Apple Silicon era has been a step back from the Intel era, where most Macs supported at least two external displays, plus the screen built into the MacBook Air or Pro you were using. (Would an integrated Intel GPU actually work well with that many screens connected? Usually not. But at least you could try.)

When Apple launched the M3 version of the MacBook Pro last fall, the one-external-display limitation was still in place. But today’s announcement of the M3 MacBook Air came with a small but pleasant surprise for anyone who wants their Mac to do double-duty as a laptop and a desktop—if the laptop’s lid is closed, the M3 can now run a pair of external displays over its Thunderbolt ports. And Apple confirmed to 9to5Mac that the 14-inch M3 MacBook Pro would have the same functionality enabled via a future macOS update (we’ve asked Apple to verify whether it’s coming in the imminent macOS 14.4 update or at some future date).

Apple's spec page for the new M3 Airs explains its newfound multi-display support.
As of this writing, the M3 MacBook Pro's spec sheet still doesn't mention support for a second external display.

Apple’s spec sheets say that the M3 can drive one 6K display at 60 Hz and one additional 5K display at 60 Hz when your laptop’s lid is closed. The M3 MacBook Pro’s spec sheet still hasn’t been updated as of this writing, but we would expect it to be at some point after the relevant software update is released.

This is a welcome change from the M1 and M2, which can still only work with one external display whether the lid is closed or not. Each of those chips can drive a total of two screens at a time, the same as the M3, but the internal display always counts toward the total whether it’s actually in use or not.

This change makes the M3 MacBook Airs and Pros a bit more like the Mac mini, which has always supported a pair of external displays by virtue of having no built-in screen. The M1 Mac mini supports a single USB-C/Thunderbolt display plus one HDMI display, and the M2 version also adds the ability to use a pair of USB-C/Thunderbolt displays. It’s unlikely that a software update will add support for multiple external displays to the M1 or M2 MacBook Airs, but we’ve asked Apple if it has any news to share one way or the other.

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Source: Ars Technica

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