Using a Mac or PC laptop with the lid closed

Want to use an external monitor on your laptop with the lid closed?

Closed eyeLaptops have obvious advantages over desktop computers, to such an extent that most people now prefer them if they only have one “proper” computer.

However, there is one respect in which laptops are not as convenient, and that is that the screen is quite a bit smaller than you would typically use with a desktop computer. Of course, you can connect an external monitor to a laptop, but it often just isn’t convenient to have an open laptop on your desk as well as the external monitor.

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could hook up your external monitor and have your laptop closed (but switched on)? That way, you wouldn’t need to have it on your desk to make sure it’s safe while the lid is open.

Well, this is possible for both Mac and Windows PC laptop users, and it isn’t difficult to achieve. This does, of course, only make sense if you also use an external keyboard and mouse. It’s even quite OK to have an external wireless keyboard and mouse permanently connected, sitting on your desk ready for action (as long as you’ve got USB ports available on your laptop to be able to keep the USB receivers connected all the time, of course).

So, how do you set up your laptop to work with the lid closed when there is an external monitor attached?

Lid-closing Settings
Change the “Plugged In” setting to “Do Nothing” but leave the “On Battery” setting to “Sleep”

On a Windows 10 laptop

  • Click on the “Start” button and type the word “power” (without the quotes)
  • Click on “Power and Sleep Settings” when this is offered in the Start menu
  • Click on “Additonal Power Settings” (at the right hand side of the screen)
  • Click on “Choosing what closing the lid does” (at the left hand side of the screen)
  • Underneath the “Plugged In” column, against the “When I close the lid” row, select “Do nothing”. It might be a good idea to leave the option on “sleep” under the “On battery” column as you could otherwise put the laptop in your bag for carrying around and have it dangerously overheat (before draining the battery completely).

If you had previously been using your external monitor to “extend your desktop” then Windows is clever enough to adjust itself so that it now uses your external monitor as the main screen (and not as an extended screen). If you open the lid of your laptop again, it automatically re-assigns the external monitor as an “extended desktop”.

On a Mac laptop (MacBook, MacBook Pro, or MacBook Air)

Apple refers to using your laptop with the lid closed as “clamshell mode” (no, I don’t understand, either, but this is also the company that refers to routers as “airports” so I suppose they could call it anything they like).

Instead of changing settings when the machine is up and running, this is achieved on a Mac during the boot process as follows:

  • Switch on the Mac in the normal way.
  • As soon as you see the Apple logo, close the lid

That’s it.

If the Mac is already booted up when you wish to put it into “clamshell mode”, then proceed as follows:

  • Connect the external monitor, keyboard, and mouse
  • Put the Mac to sleep
  • Close the lid
  • Hit any key on the external keyboard to wake the machine. The Mac will now wake up, using the external monitor
Laptop with closed lid
With the lid closed, I could push the laptop under the shelf to make more desk room

Whether you are using a Mac or a PC, I would recommend checking the first time you use this closed lid technique that the machine doesn’t overheat.

If any part of it feels too hot to comfortably touch, then I would abandon this until you have been able to find a way to improve the airflow through and around the machine, and that – as they say – is another story.