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I would like to construct a desktop-like solution for someone who is not terribly computer-savvy by allowing her 2011 MBAir to connect to an external monitor, keyboard, and mouse. I've looked at various docking stations, but none of them appear to power the computer itself (at least I haven't found one), which means it would separately have to be connected to external power (note: this is a Thunderbolt 2 computer). So I've been thinking about just doing this without a docking station, since it isn't obvious that a docking station would make for less work.

The idea would be to just buy a monitor, bluetooth keyboard and bluetooth mouse. Is it the case that once all of these are configured, my wife could just walk up to the desk, plug in the monitor (and computer power if desired), and start to use the external devices for input? If so, can the laptop be closed during that time?

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It's called clamshell mode and it's supported by the macOS. Here's the Apple website about it

  1. Make sure that your Mac notebook is plugged in to an outlet using the AC power adapter.

  2. Connect a USB keyboard and mouse to your Mac.

  3. With your Mac turned on and the display open, connect the Mac to the appropriate port on the external display or projector and turn the display or projector on. Use an appropriate Apple video adapter if necessary.
  4. After your Mac notebook's Desktop appears on the external display, close the computer's lid. When you close the lid:
    • In OS X Lion 10.7 and later, the external display changes to a blue screen, then shows your Desktop.
    • In OS X 10.6.8 Snow Leopard and earlier, you can wake your Mac by clicking the mouse button or pressing a key on the external keyboard.
  5. You can now use your Mac notebook as you normally would with a USB keyboard and mouse.
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I do this, using a OWC Thunderbolt 2 Dock and external, wired Apple keyboard, wireless Magic Mouse and old Apple Cinema Display (using an MDP or HDMI to DVI adapter). It doesn’t power the computer, but it provides extra Thunderbolt, USB3 and HDMI, Ethernet ports that I can leave drives/peripherals connected to. The laptop is closed in clamshell mode and tapping any of the keyboard, monitor power switch, or Magic Mouse will wake the computer up.

This method requires only the power and one thunderbolt cable be connected to the laptop. Everything is connected to the OWC Dock. When I want to undock, I put the laptop to sleep and pull Power and Thunderbolt cables from it. The way I have things set up means that external drives are automatically unmounted. If you do not have any external drives that simplifies things a fair bit.

There are other brands of docks, and there’s also the (discontinued) Apple Thunderbolt Display that is a neater, all-in-one solution but is quite a bit more expensive.

Previously, I tried a Henge Dock but that was overly fiddly and basically required an extra, expensive PSU to be connected to it permanently.

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