19th January 2016

What’s next for the Thunderbolt Display?

Apple Thunderbolt display. Will it ever be ungraded?

When it comes to external displays Apple only offer us one option. The 4 ½ year old Apple Thunderbolt display.

With outdated design and specifications we consider whether Apple will ever refresh the display and if so when?

For a while now it has been impossible for us to recommend the Apple Thunderbolt Display to our customers. The only potential strength it had was that if your office looked like an Apple Store then the Thunderbolt display would at least help keep the aesthetic.

However, even that argument is somewhat flawed in that the Thunderbolt Display was released in September 2011 and that was before Apple reduced the iMac to its current slim line option. Therefore, to lease a 27” Thunderbolt Display would make it look like you had just invested in an old iMac. Hardly, the feelings you want to make yourself feel good about your latest acquisition.

At £7.50 + VAT per week on a lease it is expensive as a display. Add to that its resolution of 2560×1440 it is now firmly beaten by the newer generation of UHD, 4K and 5K displays.

History shows us that any Apple display mirrors the iMac range. As the 27” iMac runs a 5K display it seems logical to assume that should Apple refresh the Thunderbolt Display this would be the screen of choice.

The dilemma facing Apple is that the current DisplayPort 1.2 specification used in Thunderbolt 2 isn’t capable of handling the bandwidth necessary for 5K video over a single cable. However, Intel’s Skylake processors will give us DisplayPort 1.3 in Thunderbolt 3 which will allow Macs to drive 5K at 60GHz refresh rate, although none of the existing line up will be compatible.

So it could be that we wait until later on this year until we see an update Thunderbolt Display. However, Macrumours states that Apple may wait until the second half of 2017 before releasing a refreshed display. The reason for this is that both Skylake and the next generation of processor, Kaby Lake, can only provide 5K resolution by using Multi-Stream Transport. Whereas the next processors, Canon Lake, will be able to utilise Single-Stream Transport which will give a far more consistent performance.

As we saw last year Intel hasn’t always been great and sticking to its proposed timetable. Therefore, the concern for Apple Thunderbolt fans is that if a refresh is reliant on Intel sticking to its schedule then it could be many years until we finally see a 5K Thunderbolt Display.