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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25 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

  5. Check your monitor settings menu for the MST option. Once activated you should be able to Daisy Chain the screens. However, it will be limited to mirroring each other. For some reason Apple had decided to not allow storage monitors in their OS even though so the hardware supports it.

    This is an area they really need to improve.

    Reply

    1. Thanks, Trey, I’ll check it out.

      Reply

  6. Hi Tom

    This has been a great help as I two wanted to move from my iMac and second screen to the new MacBook Pro with 2x monitors but was worried about the USB C and daisy chaining options. But you have put my mind at rest and new MacBook and 2x Dell U2719DC on order

    Thanks for the post

    Reply

    1. Hi Shynee, thanks for the kind words! Good luck with the setup.

      Reply

  7. I’ve got an annoying issue. I was desperate to copy your setup, but having the 13 inch 2 USB-C port MBP, I need to use a hub with power passthrough to the port closest to to the monitor (if you know what I mean).

    This leaves me with some serious frustrations. It can be very flakey and can take me 20 minutes every time I connect up my laptop (painful since i’m in meetings all the time). I wonder if there’s a better solution by way of a hybrid, so one good hub and then a direct DisplayPort -> USB-C. Have you tried any hubs with enough ports in them? I need, at least, a USB port or two and/or ethernet.

    Reply

    1. Hi David, thanks for the comment.

      Unfortunately, I’m not using a hub at the moment. The one I mentioned in the original post just didn’t cut it for me.

      If you have a search on Amazon, there are plenty of options, but I can’t recommend any directly.

      All the best with the setup!

      Reply

  8. Really nice setup, going for the same thing here – but wasn’t sure if the daisy chain would work. I thought these Dell monitors had a USB-C in, in the back of them? So it was MacBook USB-C to Dell screen USB-C, but that’s Apple.

    I’m assuming its passing power from the screen to the laptop? Or do you have to run a separate power as well?

    Reply

    1. Thanks Andy!

      No USB-C, as far as I’m aware, in the back of my Dell monitors. I’m linking each separately directly to the MacBook using the cables mentioned in the spec.

      Having to run separate power too.

      Hope this helps.

      Reply

      1. That’s a shame, I’m trying to cut down on the cables on the desk haha. Great setup though! Thanks for sharing!

        Reply

        1. Yeah, it’s not ideal.

          That said, if you check out the monitor arm I’m using, it comes with cable tidying built-in. I barely notice the extra wires!

          Thanks for the kind words, glad you enjoyed the post.

          Reply

  9. Great setup.

    I saw aan the picture four ports are used for what do you use the last one?

    Reply

    1. Thanks Maarten!

      The fourth port in the image is used for a wired network connection mostly. Sometimes I swap it out to charge my phone or other wireless peripherals.

      Reply

  10. Hi Tom!

    Thanks for sharing great article! Could you please share your exact IKEA Galant Desk model, because there are several models available with different table legs. Would like to be sure that it can survive same configuration 🙂

    Reply

    1. Hi Tollee,

      Thanks for reading!

      I’ve just had a quick look on the IKEA website and I can’t find the exact modal – I did buy mine some years ago. However, it looks pretty similar to this BEKANT corner left desk I’ve found on their website here: https://www.ikea.com/gb/en/products/desks/office-desks/bekant-corner-desk-left-oak-veneer-black-spr-99006404/

      The legs on my desk are a little different though. I have the same adjustable height ones as featured on this desk here: https://www.ikea.com/gb/en/products/desks/office-desks/thyge-desk-white-silver-colour-spr-89110934/

      I hope this helps!

      Reply

  11. Hi Tom,
    Do the magic keyboard an mouse connect automatically when the MacBook is in range or is it a case of going through the Bluetooth settings every time you take your laptop away from the desk?

    Thanks.

    Reply

    1. Hi Ryan,

      The magic keyboard and mouse connect automatically every time the laptop is in range.

      Reply

  12. Michael Mercedes 3rd May 2019 at 1:04 am

    Tom, thank you so much! I have this exact same set up – had the 2 Dells and just bought a new new MBP same as yours to replace my 2012.
    1st Dell: USB-C to HDMI cable that is working as expected.
    2nd Dell: USB-C to HDMI female adapter, connected into a HDMI male-male whose other end goes into the Dell HDMI port — it’s this monitor that isn’t working.

    I swap the 2 cables and Dell #1 still works with the USB-C to HDMI female to male-male HDMI to the Dell. Dell #2 with the USB-C to to HDMI is not working in this scenario.
    So it’s clear – Dell #2 is the problem, right? I’m not so sure because if I plug them back into my MBP 2012 they both work fine, as they have for the past 2 years. This setup is as follows:
    1st Dell: Thunderbolt to mDP cable that is working as expected.
    2nd Dell: USB-normal to HDMI that goes into the Dell HDMI port.

    Any suggestions? Did you try a USB-C to mDP and USB-C to HDMI mixture? You addressed that you don’t “have to have 1 of each” — but can you and have it work?
    Thanks for any direction you can provide!

    Reply

  13. So how do you get power to a Macbook pro 13 inch for this setup? I was going to go down the write of just having USB-C to HDMI for my current monitor’s but I only have 2 ports? Why did Apple only put 2 ports on these 13 inch models? Anyone else figured out how to charge you MBP and also have 2 monitors hooked up?

    Reply

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