How to connect an old MacBook Air to a Dell monitor?
April 25, 2021 12:01 PM   Subscribe

I have an older MacBook Air (2012) whose guts still work well (new insides in 2018) but whose keyboard has somewhat crapped out. I’d like to connect it to a hand-me-down Dell monitor, and I already have an external extra Mac keyboard and mouse. Now my question is….how???? Like what wire specifically goes from a Thunderbolt port to an old Dell monitor?
posted by Charity Garfein to Computers & Internet (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You want a Thunderbolt to vga (or whatever you monitor supports) adapter. I have one of these combo adapters from mono price and it works great.

Thunderbolt 2 is a superset of mini DisplayPort so those things work fine too
posted by advicepig at 12:18 PM on April 25, 2021 [1 favorite]

Old Macbooks have Thunderbolt ports which also function as mini-displayport. So the main question is what's on the old Dell monitor? Get mini-displayport to that. The cheapest you can fine will work fine - most of these will be like $13 or so. EXCEPTION: If the monitor is a big 27" or 30" monitor like 2560x1440 or more, and takes DVI, be sure you get an adapter that advertises "dual link" DVI, which will probably run you like $50.
posted by aubilenon at 12:19 PM on April 25, 2021 [1 favorite]

I bought this Mini Display Port to HDMI to turn my 2012 MacBook Air to hook it to my television.
posted by nickggully at 12:24 PM on April 25, 2021

Assuming this is your Macbook Air, you would want something with a Mini-DisplayPort jack for the computer end (which will plug into the Thunderbolt port) and something that your Dell monitor accepts (which is dependent on the exact model of monitor), most likely something like full-size DisplayPort, HDMI or DVI.
posted by Aleyn at 12:25 PM on April 25, 2021

The specifications for your 2012 MBA suggest you can use the following Thunderbolt-to-xyz adapters:

 • Native Mini DisplayPort output
 • DVI output using Mini DisplayPort to DVI Adapter (sold separately)
 • VGA output using Mini DisplayPort to VGA Adapter (sold separately)
 • Dual-link DVI output using Mini DisplayPort to Dual-Link DVI Adapter (sold separately)
 • HDMI audio and video output using third-party Mini DisplayPort to HDMI Adapter (sold separately)

Which adapter you would use would depend on your monitor. Do you have the specs of your monitor, or a model name/number you can share?
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 12:26 PM on April 25, 2021

Here's A Guide to Computer Ports and Adapters if you aren't sure which port the Dell monitor has. (I think HDMI, Display Port, DVI, are probably the most likely candidates).
posted by oceano at 12:27 PM on April 25, 2021

Response by poster: These are the ports on the monitor.
posted by Charity Garfein at 12:35 PM on April 25, 2021

From left to right, you have two USB ports stacked on top of each other, a miniDisplayPort, a VGA port, a DVI port, and an HDMI port. I'm not 100% sure about the miniDisplay Port. The link that oceano had has good photos of the various ports.
posted by elmay at 12:39 PM on April 25, 2021

I have an even OLDER Macbook Air (2011), and I run mine from a Mini Display port out (on the MBA) to a DVI in (on the monitor).
Works like charm.
If your mini- display port on your Macbook is X, and your Display Port, VGA port, DVI port or HDMI port is Y, get an X to Y cable, and you're good to go.
If I were you, I'd choose HDMI, as I think it will get you the best picture, but I am willing to be corrected.
posted by Bill Watches Movies Podcast at 12:45 PM on April 25, 2021

That last port on the right is not HDMI, as it's assymetrical. It's a DisplayPort.
posted by ShooBoo at 12:45 PM on April 25, 2021 [5 favorites]

Best answer: The blue connector, with 3 rows of 5 pins, is VGA. That's an analog standard, and we don't particularly want to use this one if we can help it.

The one to the right of that is DVI, Digital Video Interface, which is the next step up from VGA in terms of how these things evolved. Based on the sort of minus slot to the left end of it, that's a Single-Link DVI.

The one on the far right is not HDMI, but it's DisplayPort (that's the full-size displayport, as opposed to the Mini Displayport on your Macbook Air). HDMI is symmetrical and hexagonal (both left and right sides of the HDMI look like the angled right side of this one).

The cable you want is Mini Displayport to displayport.
posted by Sunburnt at 12:45 PM on April 25, 2021 [7 favorites]

Nthing that the far-right port is DisplayPort, not HDMI, and Mini DisplayPort to DisplayPort is the cable I'd pick for this.
posted by Aleyn at 12:48 PM on April 25, 2021 [1 favorite]

(Also, while elmay was correct that the stacked ports on the far-left are USB-A ports, the port next to it is a USB-B port and not a MiniDP port. You'd use a USB-A to USB-B cable to connect to your computer to make the USB ports functional, but it wouldn't provide any picture to the monitor. This isn't particularly relevant to your needs, however.)
posted by Aleyn at 12:53 PM on April 25, 2021 [2 favorites]

Need a picture of the back of the Dell, or the specific model of the Dell, or a list of the ports in the back if you can identify them.
posted by kschang at 12:54 PM on April 25, 2021

From left to right, you have two USB ports stacked on top of each other, a miniDisplayPort, a VGA port, a DVI port, and an HDMI port

Others have corrected the HDMI port, but the port next to the two USB type A ports is a USB type B port, basically making the monitor act like a (very small) USB hub. It sort of makes sense if your computer is buried under the desktop, you only have to route the two cables from above the desk to below the desk, and your mouse and keyboard don't need obnoxious 10+' cables, but it's probably moot to the OP's question. Or not, given that their macbook's keyboard is dead.

Also the pedant in me would say it's a DVI-D port (without the analog pins), but I can't remember the last time I've seen a DVI-I port in the wild.
posted by Kyol at 12:55 PM on April 25, 2021

This Mini DisplayPort to DisplayPort cable would be fine. Mini price cables are cheap but plenty good enough
posted by advicepig at 2:15 PM on April 25, 2021

DisplayPort will likely give you the best result. HDMI on older devices will top out at lower resolutions than DisplayPort of the same age.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 2:20 PM on April 25, 2021

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