Macbook + external display. Where does the Macbook go?

For 10+ years my daily driver has been a MacBook with an external display, keyboard, and trackball.

I use the external display as my main desktop, front and center in front of me, with the keyboard and trackball between us.

The MacBook’s built-in display is a secondary display … in theory. In reality, there’s too much neck-swivel for me to switch from one to the other, so I end up hardly using the MBP display at all.

Seems like a wicked waste of screen real estate. How do you solve the problem?

Here’s the setup.

Note iPad running Sidecar below the main display. I’m just trying that out for the past two days. I hardly use Sidecar—but for the few minutes a day I have used it, it has proven very handy.

Also of note:

  • Yes, that’s a 2010 27" Apple Cinema Display. Still going strong!
  • Regular ol’ table lamps behind the big Cinema display, for lighting on Zoom meetings. I have a meeting starting in a few minutes.
  • So much clutter!
  • Backyard pond visible out the back window, to the left. Sometimes we get ducks and even herons, which is lovely.

I have a similar setup but with 34” Ultrawide curved monitor as the main screen.

Like you, I rarely refer to the Macbook monitor and spent a few weeks using it in clamshell mode … and didn’t really miss it to be honest.

What works the best for me however is to try and be disciplined and use the Macbook monitor as a reference display (in my case, Omnifocus and today’s calendar / schedule). … and try not to touch it. It doesn’t always work and I sometimes ‘park’ a window on there when I want to focus on a single task on the main monitor but - having played around with different setups, the reference display appears to be the most practical approach.

Nice pond by the way. Also, in my nosiness, I noticed that you and I appear to share an interest in all things Oracle :wink:

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I’m also an OF and calendar on my reference monitor.

My third monitor (the MacBook) has music and chrome (for focusmate in a different browser so it doesn’t interrupt me when I use safari for work).

For the non main monitors I like things that I interact with but don’t need to be working with for any extended time.

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I have settled with my Air below the main screen and use it only as a reference monitor. After years of experimenting, I’ve decided I’m definitely a one-monitor kind of person for my task at hand, but a reference monitor is handy at times (basically, whatever I want to be able to glance at).

I never found Luna very stable for me. If my Air didn’t sit nicely under the main screen, I’d probably go with clamshell mode and use an iPad with SideCar.


I have found that if I put the MacBook below the big screen, the big screen is too high up. I guess that’s not a problem for you?

Maybe I should give it another try.

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I have almost the same setup as this. Keeping my Air below the main screen with half closed lid. I open and reposition the lid only if I need to make a video call. All the cable goes to the 24" 2k monitor.

I have Keyboard Maestro macros to:

  • easily Toggle Mirrored Display (and one to check whether current status is mirrored or not)
  • turn the second (MacBook’s built-in) monitor brightness all the way down
  • with this script compiled, I can control the external display’s brightness and contrast.
    • the scripts achieve some of what can do.

It works for me with my Air screen tilted way back. Not an ideal angle, but it’s only for reference and works well for me. It also lets me tuck the Air behind the monitor, giving me space for my keyboard.

School starts again soon, so I’ll have to see if this survives full-on work.

Nice, I’m pinching these ideas.