I have a macbook pro retina 13 inch and I am trying to use a Dell monitor as an external display. I have an HDMI cable from the laptop to an HDMI to VGA convertor to the monitor. After some playing around, I finally got the macbook to recognize the external monitor. But, the external monitor still shows nothing. The mac screen changed to a weird square shape that I guess is supposed to be the Dell screen? I'm guessing there is some kind of display setting I need to toggle, but I can't find it. Also, the mouse can go way off the screen on the right side, but nothing appears on the monitor still. It is in "Power save mode". Any help is much appreciated!

  • What model is your Dell monitor? In System Preferences under Displays, what do you see?
    – bjbk
    Commented Dec 31, 2015 at 21:42
  • It's a Dell 1905FP.
    – amstrudy
    Commented Dec 31, 2015 at 21:49
  • Perhaps the HDMI <> VGA converter and/or the HDMI cable are malfunctioning. If the Dell is in power save mode, it isn't getting any signal. This monitor should also have a DVI input so if you can get a HDMI <> DVI converter, it may work. NOTE: the highest res/Hz the monitor can support is 1280 x 1024 at 75 Hz.
    – IconDaemon
    Commented Dec 31, 2015 at 22:15
  • OK I will try that. I did do a continuity test but that doesn't rule out a problem with the convertor.
    – amstrudy
    Commented Dec 31, 2015 at 22:29

2 Answers 2


If your HDMI to VGA converter is not powered, that's your first problem - HDMI is digital only and VGA is analog - a pure cable solution won't work - you need actual electronics to convert the digital HDMI signal to VGA and that requires power. If your converter is not plugged into a USB port it could be "converter".

If that's not it (and it sounds like your Mac does think it is connected to a second monitor so your converter may be just fine) you could just be suffering from the extremely dumbed down Display System Preferences in the recent versions of OSX. The monitor is in power save mode because your Mac is sending it a resolution/refresh combo that the monitor can't deal with. Unfortunately converters like HDMI to VGA often wipe out the EDID information which can cause wacky results like your seeing (often an out of bound signal and the monitor sleeping instead of showing you what you want to see).

There are many utilities that will give you more direct control over your displays and resolutions, but my favorite is this free little gem - Display Menu: http://displaymenu.milchimgemuesefach.de

You may have to fool around with resolutions and refresh rates to find the best one - or just look in the manual for the Dell monitor and find it's native resolution and max refresh rate and set it to it. That should do it!

  • Ok I will try that, thank you. I know that the converter is not the problem because it works fine with my Raspberry Pi.
    – amstrudy
    Commented Jan 1, 2016 at 18:39
  • After playing around a bit with the display preferences, I still can't get anything to show up on the monitor, which is still in power save mode. I looked up the specs: the max resolution is 1280 x 1024 pixels and the refresh rate is 60 Hz. I set those preferences, but I still couldn't get anything to appear.
    – amstrudy
    Commented Jan 1, 2016 at 18:49
  • Unfortunately not all HDMI to VGA converters will work with a a Mac. I had to try three before I found one (I think from Best Buy?) that worked - and it still occasionally flakes out where I have to either change resolution, unplug and re-plug it in or just flat out reboot the Mac. I'm not happy that the newer Mac Mini's only natively support one VGA connection and that for the HDMI connection you have to rely on converters that are often less than ideal, especially with Apples increasingly erratic graphics support :(
    – Eric E
    Commented Jan 3, 2016 at 7:15

Go to System Preferences -> Displays -> Arrangement You should be able to see your macbook screen and your dell monitor there and arrange how everything is displayed. If you want two monitor make sure to uncheck "mirror"

  • Hmmmm. I tried that. I still can't get what is on my mac screen to appear on the external monitor because it appears to be in power save mode.
    – amstrudy
    Commented Dec 31, 2015 at 21:44

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