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.

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  • decryption - Friday, September 23, 2011 - link

    No mention of how the built in Intel graphics perform on the high res screen? It was an initial concern of mine when the new MBA was released - how it would perform at that high resolution when paired up to a Mac running the 3000 HD graphics?

    Any UI lag? (e.g: mission control, swiping full screen apps, etc.)
    Reply
  • boblozano - Friday, September 23, 2011 - link

    Been using this combo for a couple of days and it's just about perfect. No lag, no complaints.

    I'd probably like usb3 and an sd reader as well, but those are nits.
    Reply
  • MonkeyPaw - Friday, September 23, 2011 - link

    I am surprised there's no card reader, but that's amendable by the USB. I don't understand the lack of audio ports. Macs are primarily media machines--how could they forget audio ports?!

    I guess you could use a USB sound card?
    Reply
  • JasperJanssen - Saturday, September 24, 2011 - link

    My guess is, Apple considers the humble analog audio port to be a dodo, except for use while actually on the move. But that's just speculation.

    All of the recent Intel-based macs that have been released, except the MacBook Air (and the Pro, which separates them), have an analog port that doubles as an optical output by plugging in the right (mini-TOSlink) optical cable -- maybe they would only want to include an audio port if it also included that optical part, which may well either make the port too deep for the regular port-location, and/or simply be too expensive. You could put a deeper port on the side of the monitor instead of the rear, but that would be both ugly and pretty expensive, as you'd have to add a whole extra PCB including a cable that goes to it.

    Come to think of it, I'm not sure that at the location of the other port there is enough depth even for a regular 3.5mm jack, let alone a miniTOSlink variant. A 3.5mm jack is about 15-20 mm long and might well simply not fit between the aluminium back and the display backlight.
    Reply
  • TypeS - Friday, September 23, 2011 - link

    I really don't understand why people ponder this. Intel's integrated graphics don't do much for gaming at high resolutions (do AMD and NVIDIA's IGPS either?), but they've been fine for years now for high resolution monitors. Reply
  • Ryan Smith - Friday, September 23, 2011 - link

    If you check the video Anand made for this article, he goes into more detail about MBA performance hooked up to such a large monitor. Overall the performance is respectable, but there are points where the GPU can't keep all of the GUI animations at 30fps. Reply
  • cactusdog - Friday, September 23, 2011 - link

    Its nice to have less cables but this kit would cost around $2500? You can buy a similar res screen+notebook for around half that and take a few extra seconds to plug in a second or third cable.

    For work purposes most people would only really need to plug in the display cable (hdmi/displayport) anyway, and maybe ethernet if theres no wireless...

    I dont think its worth the price premium unless you're getting it for free.....
    Reply
  • TypeS - Friday, September 23, 2011 - link

    Really... half? Dell wants $100 more for their 27" IPS 2560 x 1440 (16:9) display. And doesn;t come close to matching the capabilities of the Thunderbolt display. And a comparable notebook from Acer or Sony aren't much cheaper than the Macbook Air. So.. where are you getting this ultra portable notebook + 27" IPS display all together for only $1250?

    I don't like Apple much taking "facts" out of your arse is just as dumb as Steve Jobs' "magic".
    Reply
  • cactusdog - Friday, September 23, 2011 - link

    What are you talking about? The thunderbolt display is $1200 and the Dell is $899 but with discount you can get it for $750.

    The macbook starts around $1,300 with 13" screen and integrated graphics, then 15' + graphics is $1,699-$2000.

    You can get a similar size/spec Asus or Samsung with discrete for around $900
    Reply
  • cactusdog - Friday, September 23, 2011 - link

    BTW, this is an apple advertisement. People should understand how things work by now and understand how Apple target their marketing. Reply

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