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Mac notebooks: How to use your computer in closed clamshell (display closed) mode with an external display

Learn how to use an external display with your Mac notebook while the notebook display is closed.

The following Mac notebooks support the use of an external display or projector while the internal display is closed:

  • MacBook Pro
  • MacBook Pro with Retina display
  • MacBook
  • MacBook Air

This is known as "closed clamshell" or "closed display" mode.

Requirements for closed display mode:

  • Power adapter
  • External keyboard, mouse, or trackpad
  • External display

Use these steps to enable closed clamshell (display closed) mode:

If you are using a wired keyboard and mouse:

  1. Make sure the computer is plugged in to an outlet using the AC power adapter.
  2. Connect a USB keyboard and mouse to your computer.
  3. With the computer turned on connect the Mac notebook (using the appropriate Apple adapter if necessary) to the appropriate port on the external display or projector and turn the display or projector on.
  4. After your computer's Desktop appears on the external display, close the computer's lid.
  5. When you close the lid: 
    • In OS X Lion and later, the external display will change to a blue screen, then will show your desktop.
    • In Mac OS X v10.6.8 and earlier, wake the computer up by clicking the mouse button or by pressing a key on your external keyboard.

You should now be able to use your Mac notebook as you normally would, with a USB keyboard and mouse.

If you are using a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse on a Bluetooth enabled Mac notebook:

  1. Make sure the computer is plugged in to an outlet using the AC power adapter.
  2. Verify that Bluetooth is turned on by using the Bluetooth pane of System Preferences or the Bluetooth menu icon.
  3. Pair your Bluetooth keyboard or mouse with the computer. For step-by-step instructions, see this article for keyboard pairing or see this article for mouse pairing.
  4. In System Preferences, be sure that the Allow Bluetooth devices to wake this computer option is selected.
  5. With the computer turned on connect the Mac notebook (using the appropriate Apple adapter if necessary) to the appropriate port on the external display or projector and turn the display or projector on.
  6. After your computer's Desktop appears on the external display, close the computer's lid.
  7. When you close the lid: 
    • In OS X Lion and later, the external display will change to a blue screen, then will show your desktop.
    • In Mac OS X v10.6.8 and earlier, wake the computer up by clicking the mouse button or by pressing a key on your external keyboard.

You should now be able to use your Mac notebook as you normally would, with a USB keyboard and mouse.

Note: If your external display is not recognized when it is connected and the computer is powered on, try connecting the display while the computer is asleep or while the computer is off; wake or power on the computer after you connect the display. 

How to disconnect your Mac notebook from the display after use:

For best results it is recommend that you put your computer to sleep before disconnecting your display.

Note: Some DVI and Mini DisplayPort displays—including Apple's aluminum-framed DVI displays and the 24-inch and 27-inch LED Cinema Displays—can be unplugged without putting the computer to sleep. If you aren't sure whether your display supports this feature, put your computer to sleep before unplugging the display.

Opening the internal display while in closed clamshell mode

Opening the display on your Mac notebook while it is in closed clamshell mode will have different results based on the operating system you are running.

OS X Lion and later

If you open the lid of your supported Mac notebook computer while in closed clamshell mode, the display will flicker to a blue screen after a few moments then both displays will become active. Close the lid to return to closed clamshell mode.

Mac OS X v10.6.8 and earlier

If you open the lid of your supported Mac notebook computer while in closed clamshell mode it may appear to have no video. This is expected behavior. When your computer is in closed clamshell mode the built-in display is disabled and all video memory is allocated to the external display for best performance.

To reactivate your built-in display, sleep the computer and then wake it, or use the Detect Displays button in the Displays preferences. You can also use the key combination Command+F1 on keyboards that do not have a Numlock key.

This document will be updated as more information becomes available.
Important: Information about products not manufactured by Apple is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute Apple’s recommendation or endorsement. Please contact the vendor for additional information.
Last Modified: Jun 19, 2013
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  • Last Modified: Jun 19, 2013
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