Say I had an iMac (assume newest models) with 2 external displays (USB-C/Thunderbolt 3?) in my office. If I bring my (assume latest) MacBook Pro into the office and would like to use it rather than the iMac, could I connect the MacBook Pro to the iMac and then use the iMac and the 2 displays connected to the iMac as monitors for the MacBook Pro?

If so, what would I need to do to accomplish this?

Update: (I realized I didn't clearly state my goal)

Goal: I would like to have a desktop station in the office, but a laptop for when I'm out and about. If I was working on something on the laptop and don't feel like waiting/causing some sort of syncing between the laptop and desktop, i'd like to just use the laptop as the computer and the displays for more screen real estate. (Usually, I would just use the iMac in the office and the laptop when i'm not in the office)

Update 2: Perhaps a KVM switch is the way to go? Maybe they don't yet exist for thunderbolt3, but maybe this would be the best way? Have 2 monitors that go through a KVM to get to the iMac, but could also get to my laptop this way?


Short answer: No, this can't be done.

At the very minimum you would need to set your iMac into "Target Display Mode." The last iMac that will support this is the Mid 2014.

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Now, if you happen to have a compatible iMac (not the "newest model" you referred to), it still wouldn't work. Target display mode turns your iMac display into an external monitor for your compatible MacBook with a Thunderbolt port. It doesn't turn it into a "thunderbolt hub."

I am assuming you don't want to use the iMac and instead just use your MacBook and your goal is to get three monitors going... I suggest just getting a third monitor and hooking that up to your MBP and bequeathing your latest iMac to a worthy coworker. I am a huge proponent of finding the simplest solution and not layer it with complexity.


Short Answer

You're going to run into a number of hurdles, and what you want to do will be impossible to do the way you want to do it. And, it will be almost impossible to achieve the final overall result.

Long Answer

Below is a breakdown of the issues you face and the one possible solution I see that doesn't in itself achieve what you want the way you wanted to.


For starters, you wouldn't be able to use the latest iMac in Target Display Mode as the only iMacs to support this are:

  • Late-2009 27" iMac
  • Mid-2010 27" iMac
  • Any iMac from mid-2011 to mid-2014


You may have some limited success with a software solution. For example, people use Air Display to use existing iMacs as monitors for other devices/computers. However, this and other software solutions can be a little hit and miss, and then it's only to connect to the one Mac as a display.


The other issue is that you want to access the two external displays while they're still connected to an iMac which itself is going to be used as a display, so I don't see how you would achieve this.


As far as I can tell, the closest you would get to achieving what you want is to do something like the following:

  • Connect each of your two external displays directly to the MacBook Pro
  • Use software such as Air Display to use your iMac as a monitor

How successful this will be, and exactly how you achieve this (cables, hubs, docks, etc) will depend on your exact model of 2016 MBP and the models of external displays you have.

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