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I learned that a MacBook Air's built-in screen turns off when I close the lid so I can continue working on an external display set to be primary. But the MacBook Air has a heat system that requires it to be open to work properly. Heat accumulates faster when it is in clamshell mode.

Is there any way to turn off just the built-in screen without closing the lid but keep the external display active?

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    The MacBook Air does not require you to leave it open for the heat dissipation to work properly. It works just fine and is built for operating in clamshell mode.
    – Gerry
    Sep 19 '12 at 16:49
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Run sudo nvram boot-args=iog=0x0 and restart. It restores the behavior on 10.6 and earlier where the internal display is not turned back on if the lid is opened in clamshell mode.

You can delete the variable with sudo nvram -d boot-args.

Other related questions here and at Super User.

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    This doesn't work on Mountain Lion.
    – user15322
    Sep 19 '12 at 18:33
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    It still works with my MacBook Air and Thunderbolt Display. You have to close the lid first or connect the displays when the laptop is closed.
    – Lri
    Sep 20 '12 at 4:55
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    Just want to add that closing the lid seems kind of "inefficient" since this prevents hot air from escaping through the fan/keyboard/etc.
    – Motsel
    Mar 31 '13 at 11:06
  • Is this still working?
    – Matt
    May 11 '20 at 19:19
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    Yes, this basic technique is working but the current (High Sierra, Mojave, Catalina: tested on a MBP 16" 2019) command is nvram boot-args="niog=1". More details here: apple.stackexchange.com/questions/21729/… Sep 26 '21 at 20:40
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My preference for this is to use a very small magnet.

As i proposed here, you can fool the Mac into thinking that the lid is closed by placing a very weak magnet on the sensor that is normally triggered when you close the lid.

The exact position of that sensor varies, but it should be somewhere at the very edge of the laptop, just behind the trackpad.

Of course you must be extremely careful bringing magnets near computers, but if you use one that is weak enough and small enough, you should be able to reproduce the effect of the magnet that is currently in the display portion of your laptop.

This uses the Apple laptop's normal mechanism to determine whether the lid is closed.. No mucking about in NVRAM, no rebooting with the lid closed, etc...

Finally, it must be noted that all Apple laptops are designed to be able to function in clamshell mode (and have been since the PowerBook Duo), as long as you do not obstruct the cooling intake and exhaust areas.

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  • Magnets are cool but open lid clamshell is possible in 2021 in High Sierra, Mojave and Catalina with an nvram command nvram boot-args="niog=1". Details here: apple.stackexchange.com/questions/21729/… It's much better to do this in software than risk cracking a screen with magnets. I've cracked a screen through stupidity by leaving something small on the keyboard. It's easy to do. Sep 26 '21 at 20:43

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