How Well Does the New MacBook Air Work with DisplayLink?

DisplayLink USB 2.0 graphics adapters are the easiest way to get multiple monitors attached to a laptop, especially one with limited connectivity. USB is ubiquitous, and you can always add an inexpensive USB hub to get more ports.

But compatibility with the Mac has been hit-and-miss. Mac OS has no special support for USB graphics – so DisplayLink’s drivers have to do quite a bit of work to integrate with the OS. And Apple’s new OS updates and platforms have sometimes broken the drivers, requiring another update from DisplayLink to set things right.

In particular, in the 15″ and 17″ MacBook Pro models introduced in 2010, Apple added hybrid switching Intel/nVidia graphics for power management purposes. The OS switches between them depending on whether lower power (Intel) or higher 3D performance (nVidia GeForce GT 330M) is called for. Unfortunately, that switching conflicts with USB graphics in Mac OS X in significant ways that DisplayLink has been unable to solve. As a workaround, users with these MacBooks can turn off graphics switching in the control panel.

On the bright side, with the 13″ MacBook Pro, Apple moved entirely to using nVidia’s latest low-power chipset, the GeForce 320M, which both is 1) an all-in-one non-switching solution and 2) makes use of integrated memory, which is a good match for USB graphics. This MacBook Pro doesn’t have the compatibility problems of the 15″ and 17″ versions.

The new MacBook Air, announced today, now too is potentially a great match for USB graphics – a small and light notebook for travel, but with the ability to connect many devices and up to 4 independent displays (one USB graphics adapter per display), all via inexpensive USB 2.0 hubs to expand beyond the two built-in ports.

But what about compatibility?

Fortunately, Apple has announced that the new MacBook Air uses the same nVidia GeForce 320M graphics solution as the MacBook Pro 13″ model, so the compatibility story should be the same. Just make sure to use DisplayLink’s latest 1.6 beta 3 drivers or newer, for full 64-bit OS support and the latest fixes.

This is based solely on the specs for now – hopefully we’ll get a newly minted Macbook Air owner to post here with their experiences. And again, for Mac OS X these are beta drivers for now, so only somewhat adventurous users should jump in to experience any of this multi-monitor madness.

1 comment on “How Well Does the New MacBook Air Work with DisplayLink?”

  1. RyanW Reply

    My current setup is a 13′ unibody macbook hooked up to 2 external monitors (1 a usb to dvi from Diamond – display link). I love this setup, but I really want the new 13′ macbook air. If everything continued to work the way I currently have it, I think I’d switch. However, It would be very bad if it didn’t. If you find someone who has tried it, please let me know.

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