Q. I have a Mac laptop that has only some of those new USB-C jacks on it and nothing else — no standard USB, no HDMI or other video ports. Why is this, and how do I connect an external monitor to the laptop?
A. As some manufacturers work to make laptops thinner and lighter, their hardware has gotten more streamlined. Just as CD/DVD drives and VGA ports fell by the wayside a few years ago, traditional jacks like USB, the external microphone input, Thunderbolt and Ethernet have disappeared from many laptops (including newer Windows ultrabooks, MacBooks and Chromebooks) in favor of a versatile new standard called USB-C.
USB-C uses a small, thin connector that is shaped differently from the flat USB plugs commonly used by external drives, printers and other hardware. Some laptops, including Apple’s newer MacBook line, often advertise these as Thunderbolt 3 ports. Thunderbolt 3 is technology that uses the USB-C connector to create a “one port for everything” approach to plugging in hardware and can be used with USB devices, external displays and power chargers.
You can connect an external monitor to mirror or extend your laptop’s display through the Thunderbolt 3/USB-C port. How you do it depends on the jacks on the monitor you want to use. While external displays that include their own USB-C jacks on the back make for a simple connection with one USB-C cable, cheaper options that work with an adapter give you more choice.
Apple’s support site notes that its own Thunderbolt 3 adapter for older Thunderbolt 2 hardware does not work with monitors that use DisplayPort or mini DisplayPort connections, but third-party adapters can do the job. You can also find USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 adapters from Apple and other companies that let you connect an external monitor with an HDMI or VGA cable.
If you have limited jacks on your laptop, multiport adapters or hubs that plug into the USB-C jack and restore all those long-lost old connections save you the hassle of dragging around a bag full of separate adapters. Aukey’s Multiport USB-C Hub ($50 on Amazon) is one of the newer products, and others can be found online.