I’d been toying with the idea of a full hardware setup upgrade for a while when Apple dropped the new MacBook Pros in mid-2018. My existing MBP was showing its age and just a single external display wasn’t providing enough real estate.
As a freelance web developer, my goal was to run dual screens from the MacBook Pro; one horizontal and one vertical.
Forgetting all previous painful memories of setting up a new system – my old MBP was five years old after all – I took the plunge. A top spec 15-inch MacBook Pro and two 27-inch Dell monitors were on their way.
After battling for the best part of a week to get my new tech into a “workable” state. I’d like to share the good, bad and the ugly of this setup combination. If you’re thinking about a similar approach yourself, hopefully, this post will help you out.
- 15-inch MacBook Pro (Space Grey)
2.6GHz 6-core 8th-generation Intel Core i7 processor, Turbo Boost up to 4.3GHzRetina display with True ToneTouch Bar and Touch IDRadeon Pro 560X with 4GB of GDDR5 memory16GB 2400MHz DDR4 memory512GB SSD storageFour Thunderbolt 3 ports
- Dell U2715H 27-inch monitor (x2)
- VonHaus Dual Monitor Mount
- Rain Design mStand Laptop Stand
- CHOETECH USB C to DisplayPort Cable (x2)
- CHOETECH USB C to HDMI 4K Cable (x2)
- Apple Magic Mouse (Space Grey)
- Apple Magic Keyboard (Space Grey)
- Bose QuietComfort 35 Wireless
- IKEA Galant Desk
Connecting Dell Monitors to a MacBook Pro
If you’re looking into buying a recent MacBook Pro, you’ll no doubt be familiar with port-gate. Apple has decided to add only Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports to their laptops moving forward. The issue being, hardly anyone has accessories that support Thunderbolt 3/USB-C; my new Dell monitors included.
With that said, I needed a solution to get my dual screen setup up and running.
The first thing I bought to used alongside my new port-sparse MBP was a HyperDrive hub. There are many hubs available on Amazon, but this one looked the best to me as it supported pass-through charging.
My aim was to use the HDMI cable supplied with one of my monitors to connect to the MacBook Pro via the HyperDrive’s HDMI port. As well as the HDMI port, the HyperDrive variant I ordered further extended the two Thunderbolt 3 ports it connects via; with two USB 3.0, SD and mini-SD ports.
I had a problem with the HyperDrive which rendered it pretty much useless. Whenever the hub was connected to my MBP, the WiFi would instantly drop. That’s a pretty big design fault. After looking into it, I realised I wasn’t the only one.
I initially thought that I’d be able to daisy-chain the two Dell panels. While there is an option in the monitor settings to activate this, it seemed to have no effect on my secondary monitor. I’d linked the primary screen, connected to the MBP, to the secondary screen using the DisplayPort to mini-DisplayPort cable provided. Only the primary screen had input.
After some research, I learned that Mac OS struggles to support the daisy-chaining of displays via DisplayPort.
So daisy-chaining was out too.
USB-C to DisplayPort Cables
Thankfully my next connection attempt was a successful one. I ordered two CHOETECH USB-C to DisplayPort cables from Amazon, connecting each to the monitors separately and into my MBP via the left-hand-side ports.
I’m sure other brands will offer similar cables, these were just the right length for my usage (1.2m) and very reasonably priced (£11.99 at the time of writing).
After fixing up the display rotation and arrangement settings within System Preferences on the Mac, I was away!
USB-C to HDMI Cables
If you prefer to use HDMI over DisplayPort, there are cables for that too. Note: you don’t need both types of cable, just 1 or the other.
I actually bought a couple of these too as I often need to hook up my MBP to my TVs. I got the same brand as the USB-C to DisplayPort cables, CHOETECH USB-C to HDMI, from Amazon.
All four cables totalled about £30 less than the HyperDrive I initially bought. Granted, I’ve lost a few port options, but I haven’t needed them so far. Part of me kind of prefers the individual cables than a bulky dock stuck to the side of my laptop too.
While there are a few improvements I’m looking to make to my overall home office setup (namely better cable management), I’m super impressed with the 2018 MacBook Pro and dual Dell U2715H pairing. It took a little time to research the right connectivity products, but once everything was up and running, I’m coding more productively than ever.
Running one of the panels up-right has been a real game-changer for me; it’s definitely worth trying if you’re a software engineer or web developer. My usage is predominantly, from left screen to right, code editor and terminal, browser windows, Spotify and Slack.
My Rain Design mStand does the job of elevating my new MBP up to the same level as the adjacent screen.
The 2018 MacBook Pro itself is a massive upgrade on my late-2013 model. My old machine used to sound like a Boeing 737 taking off with multiple code editor windows open, whereas the new one hasn’t even booted up its fans yet.
Lack of ports and the gimmicky touch bar aside (I’ve used it turn up the screen’s brightness, that’s it), the new MBPs are a great bit of kit for any developer that wants flexibility.
It’s the best productivity laptop I’ve owned, it has all the power I need and I can take it with me anywhere. Paired with the home office investments I’ve made, I can see this hardware lasting me another five years.
MacBook Pro + dual screens = happy dev.