Final Words

As a display, the Thunderbolt Display is no different than the 27-inch LED Cinema Display. You lose some of the resolution of the older 30-inch panels but you get a much more compact form factor that feels far less overwhelming on a desk. Having the 27-inch display exclusively for the past year I can honestly say that I don't miss the 30. I've mentioned before that I'm more productive on a single high resolution display vs. two lower resolution panels, the 27 continues to suit my needs very well in that regard.

Quality hasn't changed at all since the previous generation. Color temperatures are finally more reasonable out of the box thanks to Apple's pre-calibration on all panels. Brightness and contrast are both good and calibrated color quality is professional grade. Color gamut is about the only blemish, a side effect of Apple's LED backlight. If you're coming from a notebook panel however, you won't notice the difference.

The real improvements here are obviously those enabled by Thunderbolt. Apple is turning its line of displays into docks for its mobile computers rather than just external displays. It started with integrating MagSafe and has culminated in GigE and FireWire controllers now a part of the display. For MacBook Air owners who don't have options for these high speed interfaces to begin with, the Thunderbolt Display is a must-have. If your MBA is a secondary or tertiary computer that only gets taken on trips perhaps the Thunderbolt Display isn't so life changing. For those users who have moved from older MacBook Pros to the 13-inch MBA however, the Thunderbolt Display is a wonderful companion.

For MacBook Pro owners the Thunderbolt Display is more of a convenience than anything else. If you ferry your notebook between locations frequently, having to hook up only two cables vs. several is nice. I don't know how else to word this without sounding incredibly lazy (I promise I'm not), but I'm more likely to move my notebook around if I don't have to unplug/reconnect 7 cables everytime I get back to my desk.

For me the Thunderbolt Display is good but not perfect. I wish it had a 1/8" stereo output, an SD card reader and USB 3.0 support. Give me those things and I'd be ecstatic. There's always next year's model.

Promise Pegasus owners beware. If you're writing to the Pegasus while listing to music via the Thunderbolt Display you'll eventually encounter dropped/corrupted audio frames. The problem seems confined to the Pegasus, so we'll have to wait on Promise for a fix. The Thunderbolt Display itself doesn't seem to be the cause of any issues.

Even with its limitations, the Thunderbolt Display is one of a kind. I do hope it's the start of a much larger trend. Short of a CPU and memory there's a bonafide motherboard inside the Thunderbolt Display, featuring many of the components we're used to seeing inside systems but now encased in a display. Thanks to SSDs, Turbo Boost and Thunderbolt the only thing holding notebooks back from being true desktop replacements is GPU performance. Sony has already toyed with the idea of sticking a GPU in an external box connected to their notebooks, perhaps that's something we may see more of in the future.

There are still significant concerns over the adoption of Thunderbolt in the future. While it may be free of royalties, there's only one company that makes Thunderbolt controllers: Intel. Not to mention the licensing fees for using the Thunderbolt logo. What made USB and PCIe successful was the ability for many companies to produce and integrate the necessary controllers. I believe we'll need to see the same from Thunderbolt for it to truly become ubiquitous.

Dissection
POST A COMMENT

289 Comments

View All Comments

  • bguidee - Friday, December 02, 2011 - link

    超激安ノートPCバッテリー >> 新品互換ノートPCバッテリー、安心1年保障。PCバッテリー、デジタルカメラ バッテリー、 過放電及び過充電防止回路付、 送料無料。laptopbattery。jp Reply
  • bguidee - Friday, December 09, 2011 - link

    超激安ノートPCバッテリー >> 新品互換ノートPCバッテリー、安心1年保障。PCバッテリー、デジタルカメラ バッテリー、 過放電及び過充電防止回路付、 送料無料。 laptopbattery,jp Reply
  • EmmanuelDécarie - Thursday, January 19, 2012 - link


    FYI, I just bought a Thunderbolt Display yesterday (2012-01-19) and I have plugged a Creative Xmod USB sound card (http://us.store.creative.com/Creative-Xmod/M/B000I... in the monitor and it works perfectly. I can use my own speakers that are much better than what comes with the monitor. So from my point of view, I don't miss the audio port on the monitor.

    I guess the Griffin iMic (http://store.griffintechnology.com/imic) could also works as a USB sound card to output sound from the monitor to your own speakers. But this solution is a bummer since this sound card don't add anything to the quality of the sound as do the Creative Xmod. So, you're right to say that's an oversight from Apple not to have an audio port. And Apple could have added more USB ports too.

    Thanks for your great review that helped me to take the jump to this magnificent display.
    Reply
  • EmmanuelDécarie - Thursday, January 19, 2012 - link

    Your CMS mangled the URLs.

    Creative Xmod

    http://us.store.creative.com/Creative-Xmod/M/B000I...

    Griffin iMic

    http://store.griffintechnology.com/imic
    Reply
  • anthony11 - Friday, July 20, 2012 - link


    "today I have no less than seven cables"
    Reply
  • snow peak - Saturday, July 21, 2012 - link

    I have similar annoying issue here, while playing songs which in iTunes on my new MBA(mid-2012) out via TB display's speaker.
    The audio data stream is routed from MBA to ThunderBolt display, and just one apple's USB keyboard connected to ThunderBolt display.

    You might be interested in trying experiment without external storage attached on TB display, and get same result with mine.

    The symptom is little static noise came with music play at beginning, and then the music gradually merged by static noise after a few of minutes or a couple of hours.

    I think it caused by hardware power ground layout issue, so no confidence apple could fix it via firmware update and no idea if I should return both my new MBA and TB display.

    This is really annoying!!
    Reply
  • paulrmc - Tuesday, August 07, 2012 - link

    Hi Anand,

    I don't know whether you looked at comparing directly connected USB drives to same drives hooked up to the TB Display. I was shocked today when I found out the difference. I'm using a USB 2.0-connected LaCie 2GB drive as a secondary drive to my dual-SSD mid-2011 Mac mini Server. Using BlackMagicDesign's Disk Speed Test I came to following results:
    - directly connected to the back of the Mac mini: 29MB/sec write, 33 MB/sec read
    - connected to the TB Display: 7.5MB/sec write, 11.7MB/sec read.
    I'm running OS X Mountain Lion 10.8 on the mini, and the tests were repeatable, after fresh power down - reboot cycles.

    Any ideas? Anyone?

    Paul
    Reply
  • hiscore - Tuesday, August 20, 2013 - link

    I have just discovered the source of my Thunderbolt display distorted audio issue. It is being created by my Drobo which is interfaced through iSCSI. I can replicate the issue every time when moving files to it. Granted the files are moving from my Pegasus array, so I guess there may still be some questions.

    I have been in constant contact with Apple support, Promise support, and Drobo support. Hopefully a fix will be supplied from someone.
    Reply
  • krakago - Saturday, June 07, 2014 - link

    Unfortunately this display is now a dinosaur, and a very expensive one. As of 2014 there are finally more devices and computers appearing with Thunderbolt, but peripherals tend to be very expensive and meanwhile USB 3 has become pretty much ubiquitous. That makes this Apple display unacceptably crippled. If it were cheap that could be overlooked, but it sells for a premium price. I've been looking for a display to use with my Macbook Pro, and comparing the price and features of the Apple offering to their competitors I can't see a good reason to choose the Thunderbolt Display. Apple really needs to bin this thing and bring out a modern version. Reply

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now