Thunderbolt display or something else?
May 29, 2015 1:15 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a monitor for my MacBook. I have a Thunderbolt at work and it is great, but the $1k price seems Apple markup priced. Is there another market comparable in price? Or is the picture and sound not really matched? It has been forever since I actually looked at a monitor. Bonus question: On OS X with a gigantic monitor how do I lock things to the left and the right as if I were using two separate monitors? I lose track of things on this monitor.
posted by geoff. to Computers & Internet (17 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I have a Thunderbolt at work and a Dell UltraSharp at home. IIRC, the Dell was around $700. I have not been able to get the sound working on the Dell, but I really haven't tried that hard. The resolution is the same on both of them, but the Thunderbolt seems a lot nicer display. If I was buying a monitor to sit in front of all day, I would spring for the Apple product.
posted by elmay at 1:23 PM on May 29, 2015

The Thunderbolt display is nice because you can dock your MacBook audio, video and USB connections through it and its hub at the back.

It contains a iChat camera and microphone built into the bezel, useful if you do video or audio chats with FaceTime or Skype. It has speakers, but the audio quality is just okay.

Despite these features, it is overpriced, but not because of the Apple markup. It is because the display technology is three years old. Unfortunately for Apple, the consumer technology is not there yet to send 5K down one Thunderbolt pipe. So unless Apple caves in and goes with a two-port solution, we'll have to wait for a Retina display from them.

In the meantime, you can choose between less expensive or higher resolution third-party monitors to connect to your MacBook. You just lose out on docking and audio/video conferencing features, as well as Apple aesthetics and simplicity.

In the Displays system preference, you can select the layout of multiple displays by dragging one display icon (a rectangle on the screen) in relation to the position of second and subsequent displays. You can select which display has the menu bar. So, in other words, if your MacBook is to the left of your external display, you can position the MacBook screen on the left, and the menu bar on the right (external display), as desired.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 1:24 PM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Buy a used iMac cheap and use that in Target Display Mode via Thunderbolt. (It'll be cheap because you won't be buying a Retina iMac, since Target Display Mode doesn't work with that.) That's what I do, and it is wonderful. Otherwise, I'm not sure on the second question (apart from the screen-organizing options mentioned above), but for snapping things to specified portions of the iMac screen and my MacBook Pro's screen, I use BetterSnapTool. Defining snap areas with that really helps keep windows organized, especially when I'm chatting in Slack, running a Zoom meeting, and taking notes in Google Docs at the same time for work.
posted by limeonaire at 1:24 PM on May 29, 2015

Response by poster: Ah yeah snap areas is what I mean, in Windows if I want something to fill just 50% of the screen horizontally I drag it to the side until it outlines that it'll snap there.
posted by geoff. at 1:44 PM on May 29, 2015

I like Spectacle for window arranging.
posted by bradf at 1:46 PM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

The snap thing works like Windows does if you use BetterTouchTool.
posted by cmm at 1:49 PM on May 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

I use Flexiglass. It offers a lot of useful Windows 7-like features: for example, dragging a window to the edges of a screen to have it fill the screen, or half a screen.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 1:57 PM on May 29, 2015

I struggled with this for a long time. I saw my friend's Thunderbolt display and MOSTLY liked it, but struggled with the $1K price.

The thing that killed it for me is that while you CAN (I think) use the Thunderbolt display as a regular DisplayPort display is that you then lose the ability to change ANYTHING on the monitor-- like brightness or contrast. Even worse, I think that it defaults to max brightness. This is because Apple expects you to hook it up to a Thunderbolt computer, and then it (very very nicely) controls the brightness from software.

So-- your $1K display would probably not work that well with, say, the new MacBook! That feels very un-futureproofy to me.

I have that $600-$700 Dell display at work and I love it, although it is extremely corporate looking.

I just bought this for home: It's only 1920x1080, but it was REALLY REALLY cheap: $150. Aesthetically, it looks fantastic with Mac gear, and the matte screen is super. I just wish that HP made a similar model that was 2560x1440 at 27", but the closest they come is a weird Beats model that is 32": HP Envy 32.

My friend has been buying this Asus at his workspace as an alternative to the Apple monitor and swears by it.

Lastly, think about whether you would like a high DPI display, like the Retina iMac uses. In general it is iffy that you can drive anything higher than 3840 X 2160, so somehing like This Monoprice might be interesting. I did not go for a 4K monitor because I am skeptical of software support for them, at least in 2015. By 2017 they will be as standard as widescreen support...
posted by gregvr at 2:01 PM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Maybe keep an eye out for a used Cinema Display (predecessor to the TB displays)? I picked one up refurbished a couple of years ago for pretty much the same use case, and with an adapter it works just fine for my old MBP for a few hundred dollars less. In fact I picked up one of these and I use it to share the display between my Mac and my Windows box.
posted by Two unicycles and some duct tape at 2:03 PM on May 29, 2015

MacRumors' Buyer's Guide speculates the earliest we might expect a new display is at the end of 2015.

I got tired of waiting for Apple to release a new monitor, so I bought a Thunderbolt display for $600 on craigslist. That's what I would recommend.

That said, WWDC is a week away:
  • There might be some hardware announcements that could make you regret buying something today.
  • There might also be people on craigslist lowering their prices on Apple gear this week in anticipation of hardware announcements.

posted by homodachi at 2:26 PM on May 29, 2015

That Thunderbolt display is really overdue for replacement in Apple's lineup. It is still using USB 2 for example, while their computers all have USB 3 now. They even have to give you a MagSafe 2 convertor with it, as the medusa cable it comes with only has MagSafe 1.
I would wait a bit for a new product, or opt for a cheaper display from someone else.
posted by w0mbat at 2:31 PM on May 29, 2015

I use Cinch for snap areas and I really like it.
posted by devinemissk at 4:02 PM on May 29, 2015

For what it's worth, I use a 2013 MBP with a 2009 Cinema Display every day at work, and it's totally unproblematic and the old display is fine (I have to use a MagSafe2 adaptor, but that's not problematic either). So if you could find an old cinema display, that might be cheaper...
posted by leahwrenn at 5:57 PM on May 29, 2015

I just bought a 24" Dell UltraSharp for about $400 from Amazon and it looks as good or better as the Retina display on my Powerbook. I second the Dell suggestion.
posted by bendy at 6:32 PM on May 29, 2015

I have this LG 34" widescreen. It is beautiful - it's 3440x1440 and has thunderbolt input. It often goes on sale for $750 at NewEgg and they have an open box one for <> I use Moom for window management - besides doing the 'left /right half of the screen thing' it can memorize window positions - so i have several defined for development, etc.
posted by nightwood at 7:25 PM on May 29, 2015

Bonus question: On OS X with a gigantic monitor how do I lock things to the left and the right as if I were using two separate monitors? I lose track of things on this monitor.

I've recommended it several times here on the green by now, but I swear by Spectacle for this. Binding a mouse button to F3 (if you have a mouse with extra buttons) helps too.
posted by neckro23 at 9:03 AM on May 30, 2015

FWIW, the OS X 10.11 developer preview comes with these window anchoring features now built into the system.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 8:30 PM on June 15, 2015

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