Recently (less than one year ago) i bought an iMac 21,5". Now i would like to use it as secondary monitor for my laptop. (My laptop runs Windows 7).

Is it possible? (I found conflicting opinions on the web, even on the Apple forum).

What type of cable do I need? (I will appreciate also a link to the product on some online store: amazon, ebay etc.)

Thank you in advance.


I tried air display... i'm not satisfied at all...

typical scenario: browser window on the main Windows laptop, dev tools/firebug on the secondary iMac screen. The mouse goes fast between the 2 screens (GOOD), but when i changed the selected tab nothing happens. I had to drag the dev tools window to the main screen to get an update of the selected tab. My test is ended here.

I'm still waiting for other answers.

I will prefer an answer that suggest me what kind of cable i've to buy, and where i can find it on the web.

  • I did more research on this and found out that you could try a DVI to Mini DisplayPort Converter (though opinions diverge on whether it will work with a Thunderbolt display). See my answer below for details.
    – jaume
    Commented Apr 4, 2013 at 8:50
  • @jaume I'm really grateful for the help you're giving me
    – Bruno
    Commented Apr 4, 2013 at 9:30
  • As far as i have come : my laptop is a lenovo with a so called display port (looks a bit like hdmi but isn't) and a 2013 imac: no chance to have the imac as a monitor. 2012 imac would work though, just need to have the cable.
    – user51703
    Commented Jun 21, 2013 at 18:59
  • Can you share where you got that information? What's the difference between years that breaks it? Have you successfully used a 2012 iMac with your Lenovo?
    – ruffin
    Commented Dec 7, 2013 at 17:54
  • Looks like it says about as much here.
    – ruffin
    Commented Dec 7, 2013 at 18:02

5 Answers 5


Thunderbolt-equipped iMacs prior to iMac (Retina 5K, 27-inch, Late 2014) (see this document), like your iMac (Mid 2011), support Target Display mode:

Target Display Mode lets you use your iMac as the external display for another, “primary” computer.

Thunderbolt-only solution

NOTE: This won't work for iMac (Retina 5K, 27-inch, Late 2014) and later iMac models as they don't support Target Display Mode.

If you happen to own a laptop with a Thunderbolt port follow these simple steps to extend your display (Thunderbolt to Thunderbolt cable required) (from KB PH4469):

  1. Connect the Thunderbolt cable to the Thunderbolt ports on each computer.
  2. Make sure the iMac and the primary computer are turned on and awake.
  3. Press F2 on the keyboard of the iMac.

(As a side note: Older iMacs with Mini DisplayPort also support Target Display Mode. The steps to configure and enable Target Display mode are very similar.).

A comment on DVI to Thunderbolt adaptors

You can't use Mini DisplayPort to DVI or VGA adaptors:

enter image description here

to connect a computer with a DVI/VGA port to a Thunderbolt display (from this thread):

I can confirm that Mini DisplayPort to DVI converter works ONLY from a Mini DisplayPort computer port to a DVI display. The reverse direction is not supported by those converters,

There is some hope, though, as the post goes on to say:

but there are other much more expensive ones that will convert DVI computer ports to Mini DisplayPort display.

The poster is probably refering to a product mentioned earlier in the thread: the Kanex C247D Single-Link DVI to Mini DisplayPort Converter, advertised like this:

Connect a (...) LED Cinema Display to your DVI-equipped MacBook Pro, Mac Mini, or PC with this (...) Kanex solution.

However, opinions diverge on whether it will work with a Thunderbolt display at all:

  • I am sure that Kanex don't do anything that will help you no matter how expensive it may be.

  • As far as I am aware, and I have done a lot of reading about this, you can connect an older display to the new Thunderbolt port of a new MAC but you CANNOT connect the Thunderbolt display to anything other than a MAC with a Thunderbolt port. The Kanex thing works from a Thunderbolt port into an older display, DVI or whatever but you cannot convert MAC DVI into Thunderbolt......I think

I've noticed that the LED Cinema Display is listed as a Mini DisplayPort display (from http://support.apple.com/kb/SP502):

enter image description here

so the adaptor may indeed only work with Mini DisplayPort displays, not with Thunderbolt displays, and as far as I can tell, your iMac will act like a Thunderbolt display.

It's up to you to try it, although $129.90 (as of this writing) is a steep price to pay for the Kanex adaptor just to test it.

Software-based solution

If the solutions described above aren't feasible or cost-effective, you can use several software solutions. One is Air Display:

Use your iPad, iPhone, Android, Mac or Windows PC as a second (or third) monitor with no messy cables or wires

enter image description here

There is a free trial version here.

Note: Windows 7 Starter edition is not supported.

  • Currently, I cannot verify... but i'm pretty sure that my personal laptop run the "home edition" of windows 7... So this solution does not fit my need... However, thank you for your answer.
    – Bruno
    Commented Apr 3, 2013 at 10:06
  • The Windows 7 Home edition (both 32-bit and 64-bit) is supported by Air Display, the restriction only applies to the Starter edition. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Windows_7_editions#Main_editions for more information on the Windows 7 main editions.
    – jaume
    Commented Apr 3, 2013 at 10:14
  • My dyslexia strikes back again... thank you :) I will give a try
    – Bruno
    Commented Apr 3, 2013 at 10:16
  • 1
    @jaume I went to add a short explanation of target mode video to explain the "cables needed" portion of the question and found it's not a short edit. Feel free to reorder things so AirDisplay is up top or reject my edit entirely if you're not comfortable collaborating on one answer covering both hardware and software.
    – bmike
    Commented Apr 3, 2013 at 12:26
  • 1
    @bmike Thanks, this makes the answer definitely more useful. As you can see, I modified your edit to highlight the steps relevant to the OP's hardware while mentioning the other information as a side note.
    – jaume
    Commented Apr 3, 2013 at 13:41

In addition to the above, other software solutions are Jinx, who offers a product called ScreenRecycler. Couple this with a VNC client like TightVNC or JollysFastVNC (from Jinx), you pay once for the main computer, and can use any number (one at a time) of other computers as a remote display. This software is currently in Beta, and I found that after 5-10 minutes of use, the remote display slowed and became very choppy. I don't know if this was because my main computer is running OS X 10.11 Beta, but I suspect it is just issues with the ScreenRecycler product. Also, the VNC Client does not detect the screen resolution of the host (remote) computer, and so does not allow you to take full screen unless it happens to be one of the predefined resolutions.

I found Air Display to work very well with acceptable performance, using 2 laptops (1 Windows, 1 Mac) over WiFi 802.11n. Mac was primary, Windows was remote monitor. However, you have to pay for each machine (1 at a time) that you use as a remote monitor - opposite of how ScreenRecycler is licensed. Air Display also used the host computer's screen resolution nicely, but at times motion became choppy.

Finally, there is MaxiVista - this one is one-way, only uses Mac, Windows or Linux as a remote monitor for Windows. I have not tested it, as what I wanted to do was use my Mac and extend to external monitors wirelessly, but the hardware is too old to support AirPlay to an Apple TV. MaxiVista runs from $49.95 to $129.95, which I find to be way too expensive, as the others are around $20. For the price of MaxiVista, you may as well just buy a physical monitor and skip the network bandwidth utilization and lagginess.


Incase anyone is interested, this is a bit late but it could be useful for anyone who searched and finds this page.

I had a 27" 2010 iMac and a pc with a DP (DisplayPort) connection so I just purchased a mDP (Mini DisplayPort) to DP cable from PBTech ($11.50 NZD). I don't know what connections you have on your laptop but all adapters I could find worked from mDP to VGA and not the other way around.

VGA carry analog signals which in terms of quality are one of the worst cables when connecting to an LED or similar screen. It's also probably why there are very little/any VGA to mDP adapters as they would be expensive and not too many people would purchase them. All sources I searched stated that it was either very difficult or impossible to go from an analog VGA to a digital mDP.

I did find something that should work for DVI but it is a bit pricey. You would need a Dual Link DVI to DP ($150 used - none selling new) and a DP to mDP ($7.53).

According to this Source VGA to DVI is possible but the cables required "are harder to locate and often cost upwards for $100" plus you would still the above DVI to mDP setup


DP connection:

DVI connection:

VGA connection:

  • If you can find a cable/adapter expect to add on at least $100 on top of what you would pay for a DVI connection

Hope it helps and doesn't empty out your wallet.

  • If you get these cables, its as simple as pressing ⌘ + F2 on your keyboard to switch between using your mac or your laptop/pc. Commented Oct 22, 2016 at 23:37
  • 2
    Unfortunately it looks like Avatron has removed Windows compatibility for Air Display. They only offer Mac solutions, to offer a tablet or phone as external display for a Mac. They also describe using a Windows PC, but there is no Windows software to download, so I think this must be a mistake in updating the description. Commented Oct 13, 2017 at 21:08

I tried various options (wasted my money on the Avatron Air Display of the accepted response, which doesn't support Windows 10, and no longer supports Windows clients with AirDisplay2 -the latest version supported in Windows- with the current AirDisplay3 currently supported in Macs; AirDisplay can now be considered a Mac-only solution, and pricey).

I found that spacedesk.net does a nice job using the HTML5 client in Mac, or an Android VM in your Mac as a client (probably better performance, haven't tried it yet).


Late to the party but I guess this guy's video deserves a spot in the solution here.

Use a second laptop as a second screen for your primary laptop (Windows or Mac)

I believe his solution can be used universally without pulling your hair out for future support, also use it for other purposes like streaming or connecting a camera via HDMI

TLDR: buy a capture card:

USB => 1080 30FPS 
USB-C => 4k 60FPS

After hooking up your capture card into your primary computer, connect the USB to the secondary computer and use the camera app on the secondary computer.

  • your primary computer will recognize the capture card as a secondary screen
  • your secondary computer camera app will take the source of the video via USB and display it as a second screen
  • Pls describe with enough detail the solution in the video you have referred to. This is good practice because if the link is broken for some reason such as the video being deleted, others can still benefit from the proposed solution.
    – Alper
    Commented Sep 10, 2022 at 10:35

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