Testing the Pieces

Before we get to the display and Thunderbolt specific testing I wanted to confirm that the individual controllers in the Thunderbolt Display were just as capable as those in the Mac it was connected to. For the most part, they are.

Following in Brian Klug's footsteps, I created two RAM disks - one on a MacBook Air and one on a MacBook Pro. I connected both systems to my local GigE network and copied giant files between them. I measured over 780Mbps going from the MacBook Air to the MacBook Pro, and 832Mbps in the other direction (images below). That's about as good as it's going to get.

Next I tested performance over FireWire 800 and USB 2.0. For FireWire 800 I used a Western Digital My Book Studio Edition II configured in RAID-1 and measured peak read speed from the device. For USB testing I turned to a Corsair Flash Voyager 3.0 (USB stick) and a SF-2281 SSD connected to a SATA-to-USB bridge. In both of the USB tests I measured write speed to the USB 2.0 devices. Apple appears to have chosen its FireWire controller well as performance was only off by 2MB/s compared to the FW800 port on the 15-inch MacBook Pro. USB 2.0 performance wasn't nearly as good however, I maxed out at 16.4MB/s and saw typical rates closer to 15MB/s:

Transfer Rate Comparison
  FireWire 800 USB 2.0 (stick) USB 2.0 (SSD)
Apple Thunderbolt Display 70.0 MB/s 14.1 MB/s 16.4 MB/s
Apple 15-inch MacBook Pro (2011) 72.0 MB/s 21.2 MB/s 32.2 MB/s

Both the audio controller and FaceTime HD cameras interface via the Thunderbolt Display's internal USB controller. It's likely that one of those devices is forcing the controller to negotiate at a lower speed and thus ultimately limit peak USB 2.0 performance through the display. Note the gap in performance is much smaller if you're looking at transfers to a USB stick vs. an SSD. I happen to have a lot of SSDs around so I tend to use them as glorified USB sticks, I suspect the majority of users won't notice much of a difference due to the lower overall performance of standard USB sticks.

FaceTime HD Camera

Although Photo Booth in Lion captures at 1080 x 720, using iSightcapture I was able to confirm that the sensor in the Thunderbolt Display appears to be able to capture 1280 x 720 natively. Quality is what we'd come to expect from the current generation of FaceTime HD cameras.

I tested the camera both in Photo Booth and in a FaceTime chat with our own Brian Klug. The experience worked fine in both cases.

FaceTime seems to have issues when one party is in a noisy environment but that doesn't appear to have anything to do with the Thunderbolt Display hardware as I duplicated the issue on a MacBook Air as well. If you're curious, the problem I'm talking about occurs when the party in a quiet environment is trying to talk to the person with a lot of background noise. The quiet party will hear audio just fine but the noisy party will get a lot of broken up audio from the other side. It seems like FaceTime is trying to do some active noise cancelation that ends up doing more harm than good. I confirmed it's a FaceTime software problem by calling Brian via Skype without any issues.

The Changing Role of Displays Thunderbolt Performance
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  • A5 - Friday, September 23, 2011 - link

    No shit. Every single review, everywhere, where the hardware is provided by the manufacturer is advertising of some form. This is why you rarely see truly negative reviews of anything. Reply
  • ltcommanderdata - Friday, September 23, 2011 - link

    And what monitors are you looking at to get those prices?

    http://store.apple.com/us/product/MC914?mco=MjQ1Mz...

    The Thunderbolt Display is $999 not $1200.

    Dell's most comparable device is the U2711 which is IPS and is $1099 regular price, although it's currently on sale for $719.

    http://accessories.dell.com/sna/products/Monitors_...

    I don't know how frequently Dell does sales, but at regular price the Thunderbolt Display is in fact cheaper than Dell's while including more dock features like ethernet, firewire, speakers, etc.
    Reply
  • Stas - Friday, September 23, 2011 - link

    Do a google search on the model and you will find at least 5 online sellers that have the Dell monitor for <$850 Reply
  • Constructor - Friday, September 23, 2011 - link

    Sure. The Dell doesn't have an LED backlight, however, so apparently they're selling off the old stock with CCFL backlights before moving on to LED as well.

    It's tougher to get a larger colour space with a (white) LED backlight, but on the other hand it's mercury-free, uses significantly less power and lives longer than CCFL.
    Reply
  • doubledeej - Sunday, September 25, 2011 - link

    CCFL backlit monitors still have a better image. That's why you find them on the high-end monitors from other manufacturers. Apple is sacrificing quality by moving to LED. Look at the charts in the article. The Thunderbolt and Cinema Display monitors both fall in the bottom third of nearly all of them. They aren't that great. LED gives better power usage, but it comes at a price in terms of image quality. Reply
  • Constructor - Sunday, September 25, 2011 - link

    Better power efficiency, better longevity, zero mercury.

    Quite significant advantages.

    And in most metrics the TBD is actually pretty decent, particularly for its resolution and price.

    CCFL makes it cheaper to get a larger colour space than with RGB LEDs again at the very top.

    But for that it's far dirtier in all three dimensions (wastes power, turns the display into e-waste a lot sooner and releases mercury if not dismantled very, very carefully – and even then the mercury remains hazardous waste).

    Very few people actually have a use for an expanded colour space. Still few people actually experience limitations with brightness uniformity (my iMac 27" is fully sufficient for all my uses, with no problem noticeable). And all people benefit from the advantages.

    It would have been silly for Apple to make a display that's specialized to only very few people's needs and saddling everyone with lots of disadvantages. Eizo can do that. They've got many models and they are largely specializing on these kinds of uses (and even they are on their way towards LED backlights).
    Reply
  • jecs - Friday, September 23, 2011 - link

    He went to the Apple store and confused the starting iMac to the Thunderbolt display. Some are so eager trying to look calm and cool but forget to check the facts.

    And you started saying "Nice but..."
    Nice to what? if you did not check the real price you are objecting
    Are you going to say now that you like the Apple display?
    Reply
  • TypeS - Friday, September 23, 2011 - link

    Better check the price again there bud, it's $990.00USD

    http://store.apple.com/us/product/MC914LL/A?fnode=...

    The Macbook Air also starts at $990.00USD as well:

    http://store.apple.com/us/browse/home/shop_mac/fam...

    That's a grand total of $1980 before taxes

    The 13" Pros starts at $1199 as well.

    Dell lists it's U2711 at $1099 retail, with a current sale price of $949.

    If we take your assumption that ASUS/Samsung have similar spec'd and functional alternatives or $900, the total savings is $150.That is a far cry from half.

    Anti-apple critics are just as bad as the brainwashed Apple fanboys when they start pulling facts out of thin air.
    Reply
  • cactusdog - Saturday, September 24, 2011 - link

    The prices I quoted are from the Apple website in my country and they are accurate. Apple charge us a lot more than they do in the US.

    You're choosing the cheapest/smallest macbook that nobody wants and saying they are cheap. They are not. You can get a similar speced notebook for much less from Asus.
    Reply
  • mcnabney - Friday, September 23, 2011 - link

    Didn't you read the review? This display has poor color accuracy so you really can't compare it to displays that have it. Anand indicated that people accustom to laptop displays wouldn't notice it, but I guarantee that people who have historically bought and needed high quality displays WILL notice it. So you can't really compare Apple's new display to competitors that make displays for the publishing/imaging business. Reply

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