Instructions: Use the iMac as a Windows PC monitor

If you want to use an Apple iMac as a PC monitor, you can find step-by-step instructions here. Because some iMac models you can use the so-called Target display mode set up as a "target display", ie as a target display for an external device. It's basically pretty quick, but it requires a few prerequisites. In this guide you can read what you need to know about the topic and what the exact procedure is. Do you have any questions, tips or tricks on the subject in store? Then leave a comment;)

Instructions: Use Apple iMac as Windows PC monitor thanks to Target Display Mode. Here you will find the requirements, step-by-step instructions and tips for cables and adapters.

Instructions: Use Apple iMac as Windows PC monitor thanks to Target Display Mode. Here you will find the requirements, step-by-step instructions and tips for cables and adapters.

Use Apple iMac as a PC monitor: Here's how!

In an older manual, we already showed you how to do one use old iMac as Mac monitor can. At that time it was not yet clear to us whether and how the whole thing could also be transferred to a Windows PC. But now we have stumbled upon an opportunity that we do not want to withhold from you. To use the iMac as a Windows PC monitor, proceed as follows - and first have to answer a few questions ...

Do I have the correct iMac?

Not every Apple iMac is available for Target Display Mode. Look in the Apple menu under “About this Mac” to see which model you have. You can also see which operating system (Mac OS X, OS X or macOS) is running on it. And see what connections your iMac has on the back. Because the following requirements should be met:

  1. Apple iMac late 2009 or mid 2010 with 27 inch display and mini DisplayPort connection
  2. Apple iMac mid 2011 or 2014 with Thunderbolt connection
  3. The Apple computer has no Retina display
  4. It runs on the device maximum macOS 10.13 High Sierra
  5. There is a keyboard to enter a combination of keys at startup

Do I have the right cable / adapter?

In addition, your Windows PC or laptop should have a suitable video output, e.g. DisplayPort or Thunderbolt. With an adapter or a suitable adapter cable, you can also use the HDMI output to transmit the signal to the Thunderbolt or DisplayPort input of the iMac. 

When buying, make sure that it is an HDMI-to-Mini-DisplayPort cable or adapter. There are also “one-way streets” cables from Mini-DisplayPort to HDMI, with which you can connect MacBooks to external monitors, for example. So read carefully the product descriptions of the items with which you want to prepare yourself for the following procedure.

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Connect Windows PC and iMac: This is how it works!

If your iMac is compatible, you have a suitable cable and are ready to transfer, then you're good to go. These are the step-by-step instructions in case you want to use the iMac as a Windows PC monitor:

  1. Switches both devices off (shut down completely)
  2. Plugs the cable into the Thunderbolt, HDMI or DisplayPort port on the PC
  3. Plugs the other end of the cable into the Thunderbolt or Mini DisplayPort connector on the iMac
  4. Turns on the PC and iMac
  5. On the iMac, press and hold cmd + F2 or cmd + fn + F2 immediately after turning it on

The key combination when iMac is started activates Target Display Mode, which means that the Apple computer can be used as a monitor for incoming video signals. You shouldn't have to choose anything now. The transfer should work directly (as soon as the PC delivers an image).

The correct resolution for iMac monitor mode

If you want to display the PC image perfectly on the more or less improvised monitor, then check the resolution of the screen in the above-mentioned “About this Mac” window in the “Display” tab after a regular macOS start. Most of the time, however, a resolution of 2.560 x 1.440 pixels should be sufficient. If your PC can provide a higher image output to get closer to the number of pixels on the iMac screen, that's all the better, of course. In the case of Retina models with 4K or 5K resolution, however, the target display mode may not be supported at all. 


Your experiences with the iMac as a PC monitor

Have you already tried the whole thing or played through the points indicated after reading this article? Then leave your experiences as a comment. Because we have not yet tested the procedure, we have only translated information from an English specialist website and added a few notes. So if you have practical experience, let us and all other readers participate :)

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  1. Dan says:

    it says that I can no longer use the iMac with macOS 10.15 as an ext. Monitor for a Windows 10 computer can use?

    • Jens Kleinholz says:

      Hi Dan! Yes that's right. But you can reinstall the original macOS on the iMac. Here are the instructions.

      Or in short:
      Hold down Shift + Option + Command + R while booting. This installs the macOS version that came with the Mac, or the one that comes closest to it (if the original is no longer available)

  2. Rüdiger says:

    Hello, does anyone know where to get an HDMI to mini DisplayPort cable.
    Just find the other way.
    Can I then simply switch between macOS and Windows with a keyboard shortcut?

    • Jens Kleinholz says:

      Hello Rüdiger! I believe, this cable from Cabledeconn should work. It's bidirectional and works in both directions. I don't know exactly how it works with switching. But I do think that it should work with the key combination.

      • Rüdiger says:

        Thanks alot! Works perfectly. You can just switch back and forth.
        I run music in the background on IOS and work on Windows (connected to the laptop).
        Super cool screen to work with.
        Best regards and to everyone else, good luck!

    • Heinz says:

      Hello, I have a 2012 inch from the end of 27
      You have written…
      Apple iMac late 2009 or mid 2010 with 27 inch display and mini DisplayPort connection
      Apple iMac mid 2011 or 2014 with Thunderbolt connection

      2011 or 2014

      Doesn't my iMac work at all?
      Thank you very much

      • Jens Kleinholz says:

        Hello Heinz! I just looked it up at Apple again. Your model should be supported:

        • Via Mini-DisplayPort: iMac 27 ″, end of 2009 | iMac 27 ″, mid 2010
        • Via Thunderbolt: iMac in mid-2011 | iMac mid 2012 - mid 2014 (all sizes)
        • Not compatible: Older models and the model from the end of 2015 with a 5K display
        • Heinz says:

          Hi Jens,
          I have now obtained a suitable cable and set up High Sierra.
          As described, I press cmd + F2 or cmd + fn + F2 at startup, but I always end up at the start screen.
          1.) How do I recognize the Target Display Mode
          2.) what am I doing wrong?
          Would be great if you could help me again.
          VG Heinz

          • Jens Kleinholz says:

            Hello Heinz! So when Target Display Mode is on, the iMac should display what the other Mac is broadcasting. It should actually be clearly visible.
            Because of question 2: I don't know. Is it also an iMac that supports Target Display Mode?

          • Heinz says:

            Thanks for the quick replies.
            I am trying to couple a Windows PC (laptop) as the source with the Mac as the target.
            I have now used a Thunderbolt to Thunderbolt cable, but on the Mini DP (on the laptop) as the source and the Mac as the target.
            I have read that the Thunderbolt cables are backwards compatible, because I have not found an MDP for Thunderbolt.
            Maybe I'll have to try again with an HDMI to Thunderbolt adapter. What do you think, possibly more promising?

            However, what I also don't know is how it looks when the Mac is in Target Mode? Is that only possible if there is an input signal? I don't know if I was able to turn on target mode at all.
            I found a few more tips in the Apple support area, but none of them were successful.
            Thank you for your help.

          • Jens Kleinholz says:

            Hello Heinz! Unfortunately, I'm only theoretician. I don't have an iMac or PC to try this out with. If I have understood correctly, even a Mini DP to Mini DP cable should be sufficient, as Thunderbolt does not play a role in this interaction. I'm sorry I don't have any more tips. At some point I'll probably get myself a suitable, old iMac, so that I can have a say from the practical side. : D

  3. Simone says:

    Hi Jens,

    unfortunately it doesn't work for me. I bought the iMac 2020 in the hope of being able to connect my Dell laptop with it, because I can't work with the small laptop in the home office for a long time.

    I followed your instructions exactly and both devices are connected via a Thunderbolt port.

    Unfortunately, nothing happens after pressing the key combination.

    Greetings from a desperate Simone

    • Jens Kleinholz says:

      Hello Simone! If it's actually a 2020 iMac, then it won't work. Only iMac models from 2009 to mid-2014 can use this "target display mode", in which the iMac can be used as a monitor. It won't work 2020% with a 100 iMac ... there are no tricks. I'm sorry ... LG, Jens

  4. Wil says:

    With the above-mentioned Cabledeconn cable DP to Mini DP bidirectional, the 21 ″ Mid 2010 Mac (high sierra) does not switch to the target display mode, neither when starting the MAC with pressed cmd + F2 nor with a later cmd + F2 command. (There are different instructions on the net) Whether the problem is with the cable or the Mac is not clear to me. Seems to be a similar problem to Heinz. Greetings Wil

  5. Maddy says:

    Unfortunately, I have a similar problem and have already tried several cables.
    Today I got a Thunderbolt cable from the Apple Store. With this it works at least to connect my iMac2015 to my iMac2011 and by holding down the key combination cmd + F2 (both computers are already switched on) to finally get into "Target Mode".
    But I actually want to connect my Windows work laptop. So I also bought an adapter (Thunderbold 3 (USB-C) to Thunderbolt 2). Unfortunately it does not work. However, it can also be due to the laptop, as it gives a warning when it is connected that it may not work. Perhaps this (not exactly cheap) cable combination will help one of you. And maybe someone else has an idea what you might have to set on the Windows laptop (Windows 10). Kind regards, Maddy

    • Jens Kleinholz says:

      Hello Maddy! Thanks for your tips. I have to remember that for the next people who ask me. : D For your scenario, I would have the tip to send it by AirServer to try. The software is also available for Windows and you can then (if I understand correctly) use an iMac as a monitor.

      • Maddy says:

        Thanks for the tip. I'll definitely take a look.
        Unfortunately for me the problem seems to be "only" the Windows driver. Since this is a service computer, the IT there is not willing / authorized to install drivers for private monitors. So I hope at least that the solution will help other "desperate" people :)

        • Jens Kleinholz says:

          Oh, ok ... then you are unfortunately in the hands of IT. Or in a dead end. It's often the same. 😂

          • Paula says:

            Hello Maddy! I seem to have the exact same problem. But for me it's my private laptop. Have you been able to find out exactly which drivers are involved in your research?
            Thank you and best regards! Paula

  6. Bieri says:

    I thought I had found what I was looking for.
    Instructions: Use the iMac as a Windows PC monitor. Does this really only work with the specified IMAC models?

    I have an IMac Retina late 2015. Is there no solution?
    Thank you very much and greetings from Switzerland..RB

    • Jens Kleinholz says:

      Hello Bieri! Yes, unfortunately the target display mode is limited to the iMac models in the table. But you could do it with me AirServer try. This is a recommendation from a reader who has been using his iMac as an external monitor for years.

  7. Kidney says:

    Hello, thank you very much for the instructions. For me, target mode works very well. The iMac continues to work in the background and I am actively working on the company's Windows notebook in the foreground. Initially I only made the mistake of pressing the key combination when starting the iMac. The Mac is not interested in that and the start / login screen always appears. But if both computers are started and I have logged in to both, the keyboard shortcut works on the Mac. When switching the screen, the iMac will go black for a moment and then the Windows PC will appear. Many greetings René

    • Heinz says:

      Hello René, very interesting. You might like to share your configuration. Mac, PC, Cable, OS, Windows.
      If I could manage that too, it would be of great help.

    • Markus Müller says:

      Hi Rene,
      can you please tell me your configuration so that it works with iMac as a screen? Cables etc.
      Thank you.

  8. Kamo says:

    Hello, I want to connect my iMac (21.5-inch, Late 2015), macOS BigSur Version 11.6 to my HP laptop and use the iMac as a display. Do you think my iMac can't? What can I do? Thanks in advance for the tips. LG .Kamo

    • Jens Kleinholz says:

      Hello Kamo! That certainly doesn't work, as only models up to 2014 offer the target display mode. The solution for you would be Air Server, but the software only offers Full HD resolution: 1920 x 1080 pixels.

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