M2 Display Limit

The jump to Apple Silicon and the M1 chip was nothing short of astonishing. The Mac got way, way, way, better, quite literally overnight. In the timeline of the Mac, 2020 will be remembered forever (and it’s not about COVID). Even more staggeringly, Rosetta 2 ensured old Intel binaries ran well enough that you generally couldn’t even tell that you were running through an emulation layer. Whether running new or old binaries on M1 Macs, everything performed at either the same speed or faster (typically significantly faster) than their Intel counterparts. The move to M1 came with no asterisks, downsides, or drawbacks. It was a perfectly executed transition.

Well, almost perfect. The move from Intel to Apple Silicon meant Apple’s best-selling machines, the 13-inch MacBook Air and MacBook Pro, went backwards in one regard. They were no longer capable of driving two external displays.

But that was easily excused. It is only the first-generation of Apple Silicon after all. Although using two monitors at once is not really an edge case, it’s certainly not a dealbreaker for a base model laptop. As such, the sang was remarked upon and quickly excused as a footnote; a strange quirk of first-gen engineering.

Year two, here comes M2. CPU is better, GPU is better … and yet the one-display limitation remains. Count me surprised. I was a bit taken aback by that. Now that the glow of Apple Silicon transition has faded slightly, the footnote pitfall is slightly harder to ignore.

I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect any Mac to be able to output to two displays at once. It’s a weird thing to explain to normal people too; when is the last time a customer had to think twice about plugging in a second monitor to their computer? Decade-old Intel Macs could do it just fine. Plenty of old MacBook Air users spent the last two pandemic years working from home with a dual display setup, and now when they come to upgrade their years-old laptop, they are going to be unpleasantly surprised to find that the (otherwise shiny and new) 2022 MacBook Air can’t do that.

It’s still not a dealbreaker — and it doesn’t impact everyone of course — but it is a noteworthy con. I’m obviously not expecting the base chip to drive multiple 6K displays like the Pro/Max/Ultra chips can. An adequate bar would be the ability to output to two 4K screens at once, plus the laptop’s own screen. I don’t think I’m asking for much; just match what the old Intel machines could do.

I hope this isn’t a new product segmentation scheme on Apple’s part to differentiate pro and non-pro lines by how many screens they can support. That would be dumb. I don’t think that’s the case. The M3 will surely close the loop. Right?