Turn Off the MacBook or MacBook Pro Screen with the Computer Still On

Jan 14, 2011 - 26 Comments

You can turn off the screens of MacBooks with a few different tricks

You can turn off the internal MacBook Pro screen and still use the computer as long as it’s hooked up to an external display, and no you don’t have to use it in clamshell mode to achieve this.

Here are two ways to keep your Mac laptop with the lid open but the internal display turned off:

Method 1) Turn Down the Brightness

You’ll first want to gather all the windows from the internal display and drag them to the external monitor. You’ll also want to set the primary display to the external screen too. Then:

  • Launch the System Preferences
  • Click on “Display”
  • Slide the brightness scale all the way to the left to turn the internal display off, be sure to disable the ambient light adjustment too

The screen will now be black and stay off, however it can still capture windows, this is why it’s important to set the primary display.

The other advantage to using the lowered screen brightness trick is that the Mac stays active and usable while the screen is off, meaning it’s still accessible on a network or could continue a task (like downloading a large file or app) without having the display on. This works even without an external display connected too.

Method 2) Close and Wake the MacBook

This just tricks Mac OS X into only driving the external display:

  • Attach the external display you plan on using as the primary display
  • Close the MacBook Pro lid and wait for it to sleep
  • Wake the MacBook Pro with either an external mouse, keyboard, flash drive, or other USB device
  • The MacBook Pro will now wake but only the external display will be powered
  • Now you can open the MacBook Pro lid and the display will stay turned off

Using either method 1 or method 2 you’ll still be able to use the internal keyboard and trackpad of the MacBook Pro. Now, I’m a huge fan of lots of workspace so I’d recommend keeping the internal screen enabled just to utilize the additional screen real estate, but there are reasons you’d want to keep the internal screen off and just power an external monitor.

These tips should work with the MacBook, MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro.


Related articles:

Posted by: Paul Horowitz in Mac OS, Tips & Tricks


» Comments RSS Feed

  1. chang-heon says:

    I use clamshell mode. I use macbook pro early 13″. In clamshell mode, when the lid is open, the external moniter turns to black in 1-2 seconds and turns on. The lid is closed, external works well. I think This is because of lack of graphic performance. How do I use clamshell mode opening lid turn screen off?

  2. mar says:

    can i set up expose on the laptop monitor and leave the external ruunning? how can i do this

  3. […] shown you how to disable the internal display of a Mac laptop running OS X Lion or later with sleep or with the help of a command line trick, those are the recommended approaches but not everyone has […]

  4. […] their internal screen when the laptop is connected to an external display, this is generally achieved in two ways but since Mac OS X 10.7 the internal screen is more persistent and wants to stay […]

  5. Alvian says:

    Just turn down brightness and leave display mode on mirroring.

  6. […] their internal screen when the laptop is connected to an external display, this is generally achieved in two ways but since Mac OS X 10.7 the internal screen is more persistent and wants to stay […]

  7. Bajafferz says:

    I got lion on my 2007 macbook pro and method 2 no longer works, and i can’t play graphic intensive games until its resolved or else i risk frying the video card. Anyone??

  8. Doc Dan says:

    Yea it doesn’t work anymore with my new Macbook Air running Lion. Any suggestions?

  9. JJ says:

    Method 2 no longer works on Lion. D:


  10. Alberto says:

    If you use an external monitor don’t dim the internal monitor because it will always get resources from the gpu. It is better to keep the internal display off.

  11. Alberto says:

    (1) what is the meaning to not use 2 monitors when you can do it? (2 is better than 1)

    (2) what is the meaning to reopen the lid if the monitor is switched off? Just let it closed, no?

    • Paster says:

      (1) Full graphical power to one monitor. Makes a huge difference on less powerful cards.

      (2) Airflow through the keyboard, and in some cases: wifi signal strength.

  12. T says:

    Seems the easiest thing to me is just use the Brightness buttons on the top row of the keypad. 1 hit screen off, and 1 hit screen on if you have to check for any open windows. :)

  13. Martin says:

    I never knew about Control+Shift+Eject.


  14. Tim a says:

    How do these compare to just hitting Control+Shift+Eject?

  15. Martin says:

    I use ‘Expose’. Just assign “Put display to sleep” to one of the corners of the screen, mouse over and job done.

  16. Michael says:

    “Method 2” works the best if you still want to use the MacBook trackpad and keyboard, turning down the brightness still causes windows to get lost on that screen

  17. roobi says:

    You can do it without any external accessories. Just close the MacBook’s lid when you send it to sleep, next time when you want to wake it up, open the lid a bit and close down immediately, wait some seconds while the OS X loads and open it ;)

  18. xave says:

    My setup is a MacBook+BT Keyb & mouse+External Display. a friend of mine with a similar one was surprised to learn that you don’t even have to wait for Osx to boot to close the lid and wake up the computer thereafter: I open the lid, push the power button & close it. The MacBook now boots using the external display as the primary one.

  19. pkamyk says:

    works great, but the macbook pro must be connected to a power source

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