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.

MacBook Pro with dual monitors attached

A bird’s-eye view of my home office setup.

Setup Spec

Apple Magic Mouse and Keyboard in Space Grey

All black (space grey) everything.

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.

MacBook Pro with USB-C ports

The MacBook Pro only has USB-C ports.

With that said, I needed a solution to get my dual screen setup up and running.

HyperDrive

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 returned the HyperDrive as it wasn’t an option for me when trying to connect my MacBook Pro to the two Dell U2715H’s.

Daisy-Chaining

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.

USB-C to display port cable

Using two USB-C to DisplayPort cables, I connected my MBP to the two Dell monitors.

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.

Final Results

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.

The dual monitor arm is really what pulls everything together aesthetically and I can highly recommend the VonHaus option I’m using – it’s so well made considering it’s low price point.

My Rain Design mStand does the job of elevating my new MBP up to the same level as the adjacent screen.

15-inch MacBook Pro 2018 with two Dell U2715H monitors

My finished home office workspace with 15-inch MacBook Pro and two Dell 27-inch monitors.

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.

Posted by Tom Hirst

Consultant WordPress developer with 10 years experience freelancing for agencies and businesses globally. Available for hire.



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7 Comments

  1. Certainly looks great Tom. Hope it works well for you.

    Reply

  2. I have a P2715Q and I wanted the exact same setup like yours, yup, going for the MBP 15′ 2018 too. Thanks for the post!

    Reply

    1. No problem, glad it helped!

      Reply

  3. Hi Tom,

    what do you think about the touchbar by itselft when you are traveling ?
    Do you have any problems with hitting it by accident ? What do you think about the F1 – F12 keys ??

    Reply

    1. Hi Matt!

      I’m still not really using the touch bar, to be honest. I’ve activated Siri accidentally a few times, but otherwise, it hasn’t been much of a problem.

      Day to day I don’t use the F1-12 keys much. Holding down ‘fn’ isn’t too much of a hassle if I need to though.

      I hope this helps!

      Reply

  4. Isn’t 27 vertically too high for you?

    Reply

    1. Hi Marcin,

      I haven’t found it to be too high, although I can see your point. I guess it depends on how far away from the screen you sit and where your eye line is.

      Another factor to consider would be how you split up the vertical space. For instance, I like to have two windows open split in half.

      Thanks for the question!

      Reply

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