Thunderbolt Display arrives, and it's worth the wait

Thunderbolt Display arrives, and it's worth the wait

Summary: Apple's new Thunderbolt Display is the monitor to get if you have a Thunderbolt-equipped Mac. It's a thing of beauty and it makes all other monitors hard to look at.

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TOPICS: Mobility, Hardware
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The 2011 MacBook Pro can drive two 27-inch Thunderbolt displays - Jason O'Grady

I took delivery over the weekend of the new Apple 27-inch Thunderbolt Display (MC914LL/A, $999) and it's a fine, fine piece of engineering. I replaced the previous generation 27-inch Apple LED Cinema Display (MC007LL/A) with the new Thunderbolt variety and, looking at them from the front, you can't tell the difference.

But you certainly can tell them apart from the rear.

In fact, If you didn't look at the back (or cheat and peak at the cables) Apple's 27-inch displays are virtually indistinguishable. They're both giant 27-inch, 16:9 aspect ratio, glossy, widescreen displays with 2560 x 1440 resolution. They both come equipped with a microphone, speakers and a video camera (the older, an iSight, the newer, a FaceTime HD camera).

Here's the port area on the backplane of the 27-inch LED Display, released in September 2010, with its (comparatively weak) three USB ports.

Apple LED Cinema Display (27

The 27-inch LED Cinema Display includes a built-in USB hub that uses one of your Mac's USB ports and breaks it out into three on the back of the display. Convenient? No doubt.

Now take a look at the backplane of the new Thunderbolt Display:

Apple Thunderbolt Display (27-inch) - Jason O'Grady

In addition to the three USB ports found on the old jive, the new Thunderbolt Display also includes (L to R) a FireWire 800 port, Thunderbolt port and Gigabit Ethernet port. And the best part is that all six ports are powered by the Thunderbolt port on your 2011 Mac. And do take note about the Thunderbolt part as you can't drive the new monitor with non-Thunderbolt (pre-2011) Mac.

The new Thunderbolt Display will be especially tempting for MacBook Air owners because you get to keep both onboard USB ports and you get three more to boot, for a total of five. But it's also great for MacBook Air owners that need Ethernet because you don't have to buy a $29 USB-to-Ethernet dongle (although you'll still need the dongle when you take your Air on the road.)

You can even daisy-chain Thunderbolt monitors together. MacRumors posted a video of it in action but it only works from a MacBook Pro because it has a discreet graphics card (sorry MacBook Air owners).

27-thunderbolt-display-cables

Arguably the best feature of this wonderful piece of hardware is the cabling setup. It's made for MacBooks. Anyone who has a MacBook and connects it to a desktop monitor, keyboard, mouse and untold other peripherals will attest to what a pain it is to undock/re-dock. This usually involves unpluging anywhere from 2 to 5+ cables. While that might not sound like much, doing it twice a day, five days a week (say, bringing your MacBook to the office) adds up to a lot of plugging and unplugging.

The new Thunderbolt display solves this problem with one cable the comes off the back, then splits into two, terminating in a Magsafe port (to power your MacBook) and a Thunderbolt cable (for everything else). That's it! You can literally undock this puppy in 2 seconds. However, if you have mounted hard drives, you should properly unmount them in the Finder before unplugging the master Thunderbolt connection to avoid the possibility of data corruption.

The only thing that I can find to complain about with the Thunderbolt display is the Y-cable that goes to Magsafe and Thunderbolt, the problem is that the cables should be a tad longer after the split. On the MacBook Air, the MagSafe port is on the left and the Thunderbolt on the right making it a bit of a stretch with the monitor cable. Granted, I'm splitting hairs, but another couple inches of cable would make it connect that much better.

All-in-all the new Thunderbolt Display is the monitor to get if you have a Thunderbolt-equipped Mac. It's a thing of beauty and it makes all other monitors hard to look at.

Last photo: Anand Lal Shimpi, Anandtech

Topics: Mobility, Hardware

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50 comments
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  • RE: Thunderbolt Display arrives, and it's worth the wait

    Will be waiting for the Samsung, LG or ViewSonic alternatives. :D
    TheFilipinoFlash
    • RE: Thunderbolt Display arrives, and it's worth the wait

      so 999.99 for a monitor that really should be costing 399 without the apple logo on it
      rparker009
      • RE: Thunderbolt Display arrives, and it's worth the wait

        @rparker009

        Some list prices for you of monitors with similar specs:
        Dell U2711: $1,099
        NEC PA271w-bk: $1,671.50
        msalzberg
      • RE: Thunderbolt Display arrives, and it's worth the wait

        @msalzberg

        That's odd... 'cause I'm seeing them multiple places for 400 to 500 cheaper than what you listed. Did you spend a long time looking for the highest price?
        mcmurphy510
      • RE: Thunderbolt Display arrives, and it's worth the wait

        @rparker009 <br>Dell UltraSharp 27" is just as nice, but has more input and you can share it with a Windows machine if needed. However, the price is about the same and it has height adjustment....
        ItsTheBottomLine
      • RE: Thunderbolt Display arrives, and it's worth the wait

        @rparker009 You can get a 27 inch monitor for $350 or so, but it'll be a 27 inch 1080p monitor, not a 27 inch 2560x1440 monitor. These beasts are still in a class all of their own, and Apple currently makes the least expensive model (if you exclude sale prices on the Dell Ultrasharp 27).
        Champ_Kind
      • RE: Thunderbolt Display arrives, and it's worth the wait

        @mcmurphy510

        I thought I wrote the words "list price." Oh, right, I did.

        I've seen the Dell discounted by about $100, and the NEC by about $600. In other words, discounted to about the same as the Apple.
        msalzberg
  • RE: Thunderbolt Display arrives, and it's worth the wait

    So how does Apple expect you to drive this display from, say, an older Mac Pro? Is there a Thunderbolt-to-miniDisplayport adapter?
    oledino
    • No need

      Thunderbolt was introduced commercially on Apple's updated MacBook Pro lineup on February 24, 2011, using the same port and connector as Mini DisplayPort.<br><br>In addition, Apple sells existing DisplayPort adapters for DVI, dual-link DVI, HDMI, and VGA output from the Thunderbolt port...
      frabjous
  • the new monitor has a facetime hd camera...

    ...and not iSight. Why exactly did you replace your old monitor?
    iravgupta
  • Due?

    Due take note? Come on.
    RobTinsman
    • RE: Thunderbolt Display arrives, and it's worth the wait

      @RobTinsman Due you think the brilliance of that new display kept him from noticing his typo? Haha!
      heymatthew
    • (or cheat and peak at the cables)

      Peak? PEAK? OMG, your English teacher just committed suicide...
      frabjous
  • RE: Thunderbolt Display arrives, and it's worth the wait

    Hopefully this means the non-Thunderbolt displays will drop significantly in price as people with pre-2011 Macs won't be able to use these. What a stupid thing for Apple to do. Why couldn't they make them backwards compatible and just lose the ability to use the Ethernet/Firewire ports?

    This is really a moot point for me anyway as I find Apple's displays incredibly overpriced. You can buy a gigantic Samsung LED monitor for a fraction of the Apple display. And I'm not an Apple hater. My wife and I have iMacs, MBPros, iPads, iPhones, iPods, etc. But I've never been able to justify the cost of their displays. Side-by-side, sure some displays/tv's/cars/sandwiches/women look better than others. But get it home without the side-by-side and do you really notice the difference?
    heymatthew
    • RE: Thunderbolt Display arrives, and it's worth the wait

      @heymatthew
      "Side-by-side, sure some displays/tv's/cars/sandwiches/women look better than others. But get it home without the side-by-side and do you really notice the difference?"

      Do NOT tell your wife that... or leave the "women" part out and tell her when it comes to women, you only settled for the best in the world :-)
      doh123
      • RE: Thunderbolt Display arrives, and it's worth the wait

        @doh123 LOL! Of COURSE I did! :)
        heymatthew
      • RE: Thunderbolt Display arrives, and it's worth the wait

        @doh123 Your 100% correct. However messing with photography I would look at this monitor and replace my 2 22" Samsungs (they are OK not good), but it would hoave to play well with my main Win7 machine...and from what I have read it doesn't
        ItsTheBottomLine
    • RE: Thunderbolt Display arrives, and it's worth the wait

      @heymatthew If you find a "gigantic Samsung monitor for a fraction of the Apple display," I guarantee you it will display only 2.1 million pixels (1920 x 1080), not the Apple's 3.7 million (2560 x 1440). A fraction of the price? No. A fraction of the resolution? Yes.
      paul613
    • RE: Thunderbolt Display arrives, and it's worth the wait

      @heymatthew
      Difference only matters when your display fails to play fair with calibration.
      Thom d
  • RE: Thunderbolt Display arrives, and it's worth the wait

    Who wouldn't spend $1,000 to save $30 on a dongle.....pricey at the very least, I spent less on my three 28" monitors.
    sy34010