4k HD monitor usable in the short term with a late 2011 17" Macbook Pro?
March 16, 2015 3:49 PM   Subscribe

I have a late 2011 MBP 17" 8GB RAM, 2.5 GHz i7, Intel HD Graphics 3000 512 MB. I need an external monitor right now. I plan to buy the next generation MBP once they come out, top shelf version and upgrade the RAM. I need to know if I can use a 4k monitor in the interim.

I am looking at this:


In the future, I know I will be able to enjoy full super-HD. In the meantime, until I buy the new MBP, I need a monitor that works reasonably well. I do not need 4k resolution now, I just need a working external monitor. So I'm willing to change resolution, deal with some lag in the meantime. I want to order this online, and want to know for sure if it will work with my laptop.

Stuff I've read online is tech jargon or specific issues I'm not fully grasping. Some articles are about forcing older machines to support 4k. I don't want to do that. I want:

1. to order a 4k monitor NOW, that I will use in the meantime at sub-optimum resolution. But it NEEDS to work.

2. Use the same monitor later in the year after I buy a new top of the line MBP, and make use of the full HD resolution capability.

I'd be willing to consider other monitors, but I want a good quality for less than $1000. I am a self employed designer, so I need to make a decision soon. Can anyone help me out here? Thanks.
posted by jeff-o-matic to Computers & Internet (16 answers total)
Both the 2011 17" Macbook Pro and the U28D590D support 2560x1440, 1920x1200 and 1920x1080 via a Mini-Displayport to Displayport cable, which would be the preferred configuration here. The Mac will query the Samsung for the supported display modes and display at whatever top resolution they both can agree on, which should be 2560x1440 (but in odd cases may be 1920x1200 or 1080p).

It won't look as nice as with a Mac that has native 4K support, It doesn't look like there's any reason it shouldn't work.
posted by eschatfische at 4:10 PM on March 16, 2015

Response by poster: Thanks!

To be clear, I will need a mini display port (out) to HDMI?
posted by jeff-o-matic at 4:23 PM on March 16, 2015

To be clear, I will need a mini display port (out) to HDMI?

Older versions of HDMI don't support resolutions greater than 1080p. That monitor has a DisplayPort input. No reason to go through HDMI.
posted by aubilenon at 4:29 PM on March 16, 2015

This is the sort of cable you might use.
posted by aubilenon at 4:31 PM on March 16, 2015

aubilenon got it, but here's an even cheaper Mini Displayport to Displayport cable. Mini Displayport on the Mac side, Displayport on the Samsung side. No reason to use an adapter.
posted by eschatfische at 5:04 PM on March 16, 2015

That cheaper cable says it's good enough for the current macbook, but it doesn't support the full resolution of the 4k display. So when jeff-o-matic upgrades the computer, he'd need to also to buy a new cable. In the long run that's more expensive than just getting the 4k-capable cable today.
posted by aubilenon at 6:00 PM on March 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

A quick Google says that it will probably do 4k/30hz, which is half the standard refresh rate, but OK if you're dealing with largely static material. And as eschatfische explains, the computer should negotiate down to a lower resolution and higher refresh rate if it can't cope.
posted by wotsac at 7:08 PM on March 16, 2015

It should do 4k30hz over displayport, yea. BUT, big but here, you want to get this and select dedicated graphics before you plug the cable in. It SHOULD switch to the dedicated GPU right when you plug the cable in, but i know from experience that it doesn't always.

Bear in mind the machine will get quite hot even with just chrome running or something with the big gpu spun up all the time. You might want to put it on a laptop stand, or something. Mine gets offensively hot even just driving a second 1080p display.(although i have the retina model from the next year up).

30hz means lag, yea, but you SHOULD get the real full resolution right now. It just wont be good for anything but editing 30 or 24fps video(which will have some ugly pulldown/stutter) or static graphics/photo work. You're also going to have your vram, and likely a bunch of ram populated all the time. If you don't have 8+gb of ram now would be the time to buy at least that much(and you'll probably make the cost of it back when you sell the machine)
posted by emptythought at 5:02 PM on March 17, 2015

30hz means lag, yea, but you SHOULD get the real full resolution right now.

I am fairly sure that no MacBook Pro made prior to Late 2013 can output 4k video, at any refresh rate. Apple's documentation on the OP's computer and this page on the GPU inside the OP's computer both list 2560x1600 as the maximum supported resolution.
posted by aubilenon at 5:24 PM on March 17, 2015

That's definitely demonstrably untrue, i have a 2012 model that will even output 4k over HDMI, just at a low refresh rate(i believe 24hz). It definitely does it with displayport. This stuff has come up on the macrumors forums and other enthusiast-messageboard places if you're bored and want to poke around(op or aubilenon).

People were using junky early gen cheapo 4k tvs like this with them with success.
posted by emptythought at 5:32 PM on March 17, 2015

I stand corrected. Sorry for the misinformation!
posted by aubilenon at 6:04 PM on March 17, 2015

Response by poster: @emptythought

I get the monitor tomorrow and will reply then. In the meantime:

I DO have 8GB RAM. I really don't want to overheat or push things too far. Will I be able to simply choose a lower resolution so my laptop isn't getting overworked? Again, I'm fine working in a lower rez for the next few months until I get the new MBP (which I hope hope hope is announced soon)
posted by jeff-o-matic at 7:52 AM on March 18, 2015

The MBP switches between the more power-efficient integrated GPU (integrated into the Intel CPU) and the better preforming discrete GPU (by AMD in your case, or NVidia in more recent models) "as needed". But if there's an external display plugged in, it always uses the discrete GPU. This will use more power, and thus make more heat. But how much more depends on how taxed the GPU is. Rendering more pixels is more work of course, that only will really be an issue if you're doing things that involve updating the whole screen a lot, like video work or 3d/games. Depending on what kind of design work you do, it may not be an issue at all. But if it is, yes, reducing the resolution will reduce the load on the GPU.

I normally wouldn't expect this to be too big a problem, but it does look like the 2011 MBP's did have some overheating problems, so:
  • keep an eye on it, either by touching it with your hand, or with one of the numerous temperature monitoring apps available,
  • make sure you have good airflow around it
  • make sure your fan is working and clean (there's a good amount of air coming out of it when things start getting warm)
  • a monitor stand is a good suggestion to increase airflow/cooling

    Mine gets offensively hot even just driving a second 1080p display.(although i have the retina model from the next year up).

    I think I have the same computer as emptythought (Mid 2012 retina MBP), and it's usually driving a 2560x1600 display, however mine never gets hot enough to want to spin up the fan unless I'm playing games or doing bulk image processing or something. I guess the lesson there is YMMV.

  • posted by aubilenon at 11:23 AM on March 18, 2015

    Response by poster: Update:

    I cannot get any picture at all through the mini display to display cable. Zilch.

    The mini to HDMI is OK, not great. Pictures and photoshop look good, internet looks lousy. Ghosting around things, and "smearing" when I scroll.

    My brother has a RMBP 2014 and he's going to bring it by so I can see what it really can do. Thanks all. Will update again.
    posted by jeff-o-matic at 4:06 PM on March 19, 2015

    For what it's worth i've had a ton of bad luck with the cables that aren't just adapters. Minidp to hdmi, mini dp to dp. Tons of defective ones. I only buy the little short adapters and separate cables now. I've never gotten a bad one of those(at least yet, probably jinxed myself)

    If you're getting literally no picture, and the mac isn't even recognizing that it's connected and refreshing the display(does it?) then i'd say it's probably just a bunk cable.

    Seriously. So, many, bunk, cables.
    posted by emptythought at 10:21 PM on March 19, 2015

    Response by poster: When I plug in the mini dp to dp cable, the monitor definitely behaves differently… it goes darker black, then keeps switching from Display to HDMI (according to the label at top right that changes), so it appears there is some communication going on between laptop and display.

    Thanks for all the follow-ups. Once I test my brother's MBP I'll update.
    posted by jeff-o-matic at 7:58 AM on March 20, 2015

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