How to Use Your MacBook in Clamshell Mode


Many like the convenience and portability of a MacBook but prefer to have a larger screen when doing real work. Using an external monitor lets you have the best of both worlds. There are many different ways to set up your workstation; some may prefer to use both the external monitor and their MacBook screen for some extra screen real estate, but if you don’t need that extra screen space, or if you have multiple external monitors, you may want to set your MacBook aside or tuck it away somewhere to free up your desk space.

Clamshell mode allows you to use your MacBook with the lid closed. For this, you will need an external monitor, an external keyboard and an external mouse or trackpad.

How to use your MacBook with the lid closed

You may be wondering about using your MacBook with the lid closed; after all, don’t you open the lid (and press the power button) to turn it on and then close the lid to put your MacBook to sleep? Well, it used to be more difficult to get your MacBook to work when the lid was closed; however, if your MacBook was built in the last decade (or is at least running Mac OS X Lion (from 2011) or later), it should be pretty simple.

Setting up for clamshell mode

If you don’t already have everything set up, here are the things you will need to do before using your MacBook in clamshell:

  • Connect your external monitor(s) using the appropriate cables for your MacBook (or hub). After connecting your external monitor, your monitor may prompt you to choose a few settings. For further monitor setup, see:
    • The manual (website) for your monitor.
    • System Preferences > Displays on your Mac.
  • Connect and pair your external keyboard and mouse or trackpad.

Using clamshell

After you have everything set up and you can see a macOS desktop on your external monitor, you can close the lid on your MacBook. Your external monitor will flash off, then back on. The desktop you see on your external monitor may switch to the one from your MacBook’s built-in display.

Turning your MacBook on or off in clamshell

You can sleep, restart or shut down your MacBook when the lid is closed:

  • Go to the menu bar at the top of your screen and click on the Apple  menu, then select Sleep, Restart or Shut Down.

Waking your MacBook when the lid is closed is as simple as wiggling your mouse or pressing a key on your keyboard. Powering on your MacBook is a different story, however; you pretty much need to open the lid and press the power button.

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Dr. Stacey Butler is a tech writer at macReports covering news, how-tos, and user guides. She is a longtime Mac and iPhone user and holds a Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. Here is her LinkedIn profile.

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