How To Get Your MacBook To Run A Non-Apple 2560-By-1440 Monitor

I recently upgraded my main external monitor to a new 27″ Dell display. All set to enjoy the high resolution glory of 2560×1140, I was perplexed. Why couldn’t I push the screen this high, using my MacBook Pro? The answer eventually turned out to be that the Mini DisplayPort to DVI adapter that Apple sells is limited to 1920×1200 resolution. The solution? A cheap Mini DisplayPort-to-DisplayPort adapter.

Going The Non-Apple Display Route

Apple sells its own 2560-by-1440 resolution monitor, the Apple LED Cinema Display. It works with a MacBook Pro no problem — I know, I tested my 2010 MacBook Pro with one when I was trying to figure out my issue with  a non-Apple monitor.

Unlike most displays I’ve seen, the Apple one is pre-wired. It has a Mini DisplayPort cable running from inside the monitor case and out to the part you plug into your computer. If your computer doesn’t have a Mini DisplayPort socket, you’re out of luck.

I debated going with the Apple monitor, but it doesn’t come with an anti-glare coating. The Dell that I eventually bought (links to everything below) does. Like many monitors, the Dell can handle several types of inputs: VGA, DVI, HDMI and DisplayPort.

Apple’s DVI Adapter Not “Dual Link”

When the Dell arrived, I connected to it using a DVI cable. I already had the Mini DisplayPort-to-DVI adapter that Apple sells, which I’d been using quite successfully to drive my old 24″ Dell with 1920×1200 resolution. The second picture to the right shows what it looks like.

With the new Dell, this configuration wouldn’t drive the monitor any higher than 1920×1200, despite the Dell being able to handle this. That higher resolution wasn’t recognized.

I tried various things. I checked to make sure I had the latest display card drivers. I did. I thought maybe I needed to manually choose a higher resolution in the way the display card allows, through Windows 7 (yes, I use the MacBook to run Windows 7 via Boot Camp). That didn’t help.

I tried other connections. I had a Mini DisplayPort-to-HDMI adapter and a spare HDMI cable. That didn’t help. I realized that maybe the problem was that my existing DVI cable was of the old “Single Link” variety and couldn’t carry the extra signal bandwidth for my WSXD display. Looking at the cables that came with the Dell, which I’d previously ignored, I realized a “Dual Link” DVI cable was included. But using that also didn’t help.

Eventually, I wondered if maybe a pure Display Port connection would do the job. Also, looking closely at Apple’s page about its Mini DisplayPort-to-DVI adapter, I saw a review noting that the adapter couldn’t do more than 1920 by 1200 resolution. That’s something you’d think Apple’s own specs about the adapter would note, but they don’t.

Hunting For Mini DiplayPort-To-DisplayPort Adapater

What I needed was a Mini DiplayPort-to DisplayPort adapter. Until now, I hadn’t really known much about DisplayPort at all. I thought it was only a quirky Apple thing. In fact, I assumed “Mini DisplayPort” meant DisplayPort. Nope, I learned — it’s yet the latest way to output video (and audio) from your computer, a sort of HDMI designed for computers. DisplayPort is a cable with plugs that look very similar to HDMI cables. Mini DisplayPort is a smaller version of this.

I called my local Apple store. No luck — they didn’t carry mini-to-regular DisplayPort adapters. I headed over to my local Fry’s Electronics. I was amazed they didn’t have them in stock, either.

Eventually, turned to Amazon. I found several options. I originally ordered a Mini DisplayPort-to-DisplayPort cable, but the delivery date got pushed back. So I turned to ordering a MiniDisplayPort-to-DisplayPort adapter. It came within two days and has been working perfectly to power my Dell to its full resolution ever since. Cost? $15.

The third picture to the right shows what it looks like; the picture at the top of this post shows it plugged into my MacBook. You can also see USB cables with that, but those aren’t related to the display cable. It doesn’t require them. Those lead to my various USB devices.

The new setup also sent sound, along with video, to my Dell monitor. That was a problem, as my Dell monitor doesn’t have  soundbar installed. This was easily solved. In Windows, right click on the speaker icon in your taskbar, select Playback Devices, then locate the speakers you want to use and set that your default.

Learn More

For more information, see the links below. The ones to Amazon earn me a little bit, if you ultimately buy through them:

Remember, if you buy any Mini DiplayPort-to-Displayport adapter or cable, be sure it will power 2560-by-1440 resolution, if that’s what your monitor can handle. Not all do.

Also see these past posts about monitors from me. In addition to my new main external monitor, my MacBook Pro is happily driving two additional external monitors, as well as its own screen. The last post explains this more.


Comments

  1. says

    Hey Danny, I’ve been following your multi-monitor w/macbook pro journey for a while and finally think it’s time for me to take the leap. I was initially holding out for the recently released Apple 27″ but I’m not sure about the glossy display. So this Dell looks like an attractive solution.
    From your lengthy experience, I have a question for you… Since I’m starting from scratch (no externals yet) do you think this monitor, plus two normal monitors, is worth the price tag or would it ultimately be better to just get three decent $400ish monitors and call it a day? The reviews on the value of the high res display seem to be mixed depending on whether the reviewer is a designer (which I am not).
    It would be nice to hear your opinion on this beefy display vs. a normal 1920 display

    Thanks! Keep up the good work!

  2. says

    Bradley, excellent questions. I’m actually planning a future post about my current monitor setup. But the short story….

    I really like having three different external monitors. I find it easier to put things on completely different screens, myself. Going to the higher resolution monitor, it was almost too much space. My browser window, it looks odd to stretch it too wide. And yet having two browser windows on my middle screen, with two more on separate screens, it awkward.

    I came very close to returning the Dell, figuring that my old 24″ 1920×1200 was good enough. But occasionally, I’m wanting to see a bit more on my main screen — plus my old 24″ was dying.

    If you already have two other monitors and are thinking a third, you might want to go the less expensive option and do a 24. I think the big 27 that Apple pushes is especially for those who really are planning only one big monitor — and since it’s a bit harder with Apple to do multi-monitors, that’s the solution people may accept.

    If you don’t have monitor at all, doing the three will still be more complicated. You’ll need the USB adapters I’ve written about. But it does all work and for me, is the solution I really like.

    Hope that helps!

  3. joe suburbs says

    do you think it would be possible to get 2560-by-1440 resolution from a 2008 MacBook Pro 15″?