Apple continued its hardware revolution with its 2021 MacBooks featuring brand new Apple M1 Pro and M1 Max chips – two absolute powerhouses that raise the bar for laptop performance in more ways than one. These landmark notebooks also brought with them gorgeous displays, Apple’s classic and enduring build-quality, and a big expansion of external display support.
With the 2021 M1 MacBook Pros, you can connect up to four external displays if you have the right Thunderbolt docking station for the job, or you can use multiple Thunderbolt cables for direct connections to the MacBook.
Apple MacBook Pro 2021 M1 Specs
Where Apple’s MacBook Pros have never been hardware slouches, they’ve rarely been cutting edge machines with the most high powered hardware. That changes in 2020, when Apple introduced its first generation M1 processors, and in 2021, it continued that trend in true style.
The default system on chip (SoC) at the heart of the 2021 MacBook Pro is Apple’s M1 Pro. It features an eight core CPU with six performance cores and two efficiency cores, a 14 core graphics chip, and a 16 core neural engine. It includes 16GB or 32GB of unified (on-die) memory, too, and a media engine that aids video encoding and decoding.
You can upgrade the M1 Pro CPU to have a 10 core CPU and a 16 core GPU if you prefer, though the biggest performance gain comes from upgrading the monstrous M1 Max chip. That has a default 10 CPU cores and 24 GPU cores, with the option to upgrade to a 32 core GPU for maximum graphical performance, and up to 64GB of unified memory.
The base-model MacBook Pro M1 starts with 512GB of SSD storage, but there are other configurations with 1TB, and you can customize your selection with up to 8TB in the grandest configuration.
Each spec is available in both the 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pros, but you get a slightly different display on each. The 14-inch version comes with a 14.2-inch Retina XDR display with a resolution of 3,024 x 1,964, equating to 254-pixels per inch. The 16-inch model has the same pixel density, but to compensate for its largely 16.2-inch screen, it has a resolution of 3,456 x 2,234 pixels.
Both displays have an amazing 1,000 nits sustained brightness, and a peak brightness of 1,600 nits, making them gorgeous for everyday use and for watching HDR movies and TV shows on.
Still, if you want to connect an external display for something larger, or even multiple displays, the new MacBook Pro M1s are well equipped to do it. They have the official support for multiple external displays now, and the Thunderbolt ports to support it. All you need to do is connect up a Thunderbolt dock, or Thunderbolt cable to the MacBook and the display(s) and you’ll have instant external monitor support.
What cables do you need for the MacBook Pro M1?
Every new MacBook Pro comes with a single USB-C to MagSafe 3 Cable for charging, but it doesn’t include any cables that you can use for attaching accessories, or external monitors. For that, you’ll need Thunderbolt 4 cables.
If you want to attach multiple external devices or monitors to a single Thunderbolt port – to save the extra ports for other devices or to make a more permanent installation that you can quickly and easily plug into -- then a Thunderbolt dock can also be of real use.
Hybrid 14-Port Thunderbolt 3 Dock/USB C Dock with Dual 4K 60Hz
Those can unlock a wider range of port options for your MacBook Pro, including traditional USB-A, a greater selection of HDMI ports, and RJ45 Ethernet. To take full advantage of those, you will also need compatible cables, so be sure to plan ahead for the kinds of devices you want to connect, and what cables you may need to connect them.
Does the 2021 MacBook Pro M1 support multiple displays?
The answer is yes, depending on which M1 chip you have. The 2021 MacBook Pro M1 base model is still limited to a single external monitor, so you can use a Thunderbolt or HDMI cable for that. The M1 Pro and M1 Pro Max models support multiple monitors.
Each MacBook Pro M1 Pro or Max model comes with three Thunderbolt 4 ports. On an M1 Pro model MacBook, you can use two of those for external displays. On an M1 Max MacBook Pro, however, you can use all three. If you need another external display (the MacBook M1 Max can support a total of four) you’ll need to use the HDMI port instead, for which you’ll need an HDMI cable. HDMI 2.0 is fine if you’re just looking to connect a 1080p, 1440p, or 4K monitor at up to 60Hz, but if you want to use a high refresh rate 4K monitor, you’ll need an HDMI 2.1 cable.