Make Apple Macbook Air M1 work with 2 external Quad-HD displays

Because my 4 year old Macbook Pro broke down I needed a new laptop. Reading lots of reviews of the new M1 Apple laptops, especially this one, I decided I wanted one of those. Problem though was that those new Apple Silicon laptops did only support one external display. Acceptable for the Air I think, but not very Pro for the Pro. I’ve been using a dual display setup a few months now and I did not wanted to go back to a single display setup. But after I found this video there seemed to be a workaround. So I ordered a new M1 Macbook Air and a USB-to-Displayport adapter that uses DisplayLink. Now together with my Thunderbolt 3 dock, everything works fine. Here’s my setup:

  • Macbook Air M1 running MacOS 11.1
  • Elgato Thunderbolt 3 Dock
  • 2 x Dell U2520D Quad-HD displays
  • StarTech USB to Displayport adapter USB32DP4K

The Macbook Air M1 is connected using a single USB-C cable to the dock. The dock’s displayport connector is connected to the first display using a displayport cable. One of the dock’s USB 3.0 ports is connected with the second display’s using the USB-to-Displayport adapter and a displayport cable. Both displays are running at their max resulution of 2560×1440 (Quad HD).

The displaylink drivers need to be installed on MacOS to enable the second display.

There are a few downsides to using the displaylink adapter. For starters, it’s not cheap for an adapter: it cost me € 99. Second: the displaylink-software is needed and it does not support night-shift. So when the sun goes down, both the internal and the first external display switch to nice dimmed, less blue mode, but the second display is still emitting bright blue light, so I have to manually adjust it’s brightness and color-settings. Third: this is a workaround relying on a third party driver, future MacOS updates could break this setup.