Where Is Apple's 5K Thunderbolt Display?

It is approaching five years since Apple began shipping the Thunderbolt Display in September 2011, leading many to wonder when the monitor will receive a long-anticipated update, if ever.

Apple could have refreshed the Thunderbolt Display with USB 3.0, Thunderbolt 2 and a tapered iMac-style design as early as 2013, but it has chosen not to do that. The company continues to sell the 2011 27" model with USB 2.0 and first-generation Thunderbolt ports for $999.

So, what has been the holdup? The answer likely lies in supply chain considerations and connectivity.

thunderbolt_display_elcap_roundup_header

4K Thunderbolt Display

Many have been long hoping that Apple would release a 4K Thunderbolt Display, considering that the latest Macs, and most models refreshed since late 2013, can be used with at least one 4K display.

But, typically, standalone Apple displays have shared the same screens as iMacs. Since Apple skipped over a 4K 27" iMac, Apple would have to source a separate screen to release a 4K Thunderbolt Display, and the product may be too niche for that to be worthwhile.

Meanwhile, with Thunderbolt 3 rolling out this year, it seems unlikely that Apple will bother with a refreshed non-4K Thunderbolt Display in the interim. So, as time goes on, the more likely possibility is that Apple will eventually release a much improved 5K Thunderbolt Display.

5K Thunderbolt Display

5K displays have an incredible 14.7 million pixels, resulting in sharper and crisper images, but they remain expensive. 5K models from Dell and HP retail for between $1,649 and $1,999, while Apple's all-in-one 5K iMac starts at $1,799, but cannot be used in target display mode.

Apple already sells a 27" Retina 5K iMac, and its screen could be the basis for a corresponding 5K Thunderbolt Display. The display could share the same 5,120×2,880 resolution, USB Type-C ports for connecting Thunderbolt 3 peripherals and possibly an ultra-thin design like the newest iMacs. But no current Macs could drive such a 5K display over a single cable.

Apple won't release the first Macs with Intel's new Skylake chips and Thunderbolt 3 support until later in 2016, and only those models will be able to drive a 5K display at 60Hz over one cable. While that makes a 5K Thunderbolt Display a possibility in 2016, Apple has good reason to wait until at least 2017.

Intel's Skylake processors for Mac notebooks, launching in early 2016, and Kaby Lake processors, expected to launch in the first half of 2017, will not be able to drive a 5K Thunderbolt Display over Single-Stream Transport (SST). The underlying issue is that both processor lineups lack support for DisplayPort 1.3.

Instead, the display would sync two channels over Multi-Stream Transport (MST), which can cause some performance issues. That means Apple may wait until at least Cannon Lake chipset (which promise SST 5K support) in the second half of 2017, before releasing a 5K Thunderbolt Display.

Because external displays are a relatively small market for Apple, it's possible Apple never plans to introduce an updated Thunderbolt Display. If a new model is in the company's plans, Apple will likely wait to introduce a 5K display until 2017 when most Macs can easily support it in order to maximize supply chain efficiency.

If you are interested in exploring third-party 4K displays, read our 4K and 5K Display Buyer's Guide for Macs.

Related Forum: Mac Accessories

Top Rated Comments

sofila Avatar
106 months ago
It's hidden in the same warehouse that contains Powerbook G5, 2015 17" Macbook Pro, 32 gb base model iPhone 6 and the ark of the Covenant
Score: 21 Votes (Like | Disagree)
akm3 Avatar
106 months ago
I couldn't wait anymore, for the price of one of these old monitors I bought two Dell 27" 4k monitors.
Score: 18 Votes (Like | Disagree)
bpeeps Avatar
106 months ago
Better question. Where is Apple's 2016 Macbook Pro?

(Then gimme thunderbolt display)
Might want to give them a little more than 15 days to release it.
Score: 14 Votes (Like | Disagree)
cmChimera Avatar
106 months ago
Better question. Where is Apple's 2016 Macbook Pro?

(Then gimme thunderbolt display)
Score: 12 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Wild-Bill Avatar
106 months ago
I can't believe they're still charging $999 for that woefully outdated display.

Nearly six years old, USB 2.0 and first gen t-bolt.

Totally unsat.
Score: 11 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Schizoid Avatar
106 months ago
Apple displays will quietly disappear.
But hey, you can keep on buying phones and tablets... don't worry about Pro computers, they'll quietly disappear too. Enjoy your watches.
Score: 9 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Popular Stories

Apple Logo Spotlight

Source: Apple to Announce New Products This Week

Sunday March 3, 2024 11:38 am PST by
Apple plans to announce new products with press releases on its website this week, a proven source familiar with the matter told MacRumors. While the products that Apple plans to announce have not been disclosed, there are rumors about new iPads, Macs, and accessories. It is unclear exactly what will be announced this week. Bloomberg's Mark Gurman today reiterated that Apple is planning new...
Apple Maps vs Google Maps Feature

Apple Maps vs. Google Maps: Which Is Better?

Friday March 1, 2024 7:10 am PST by
Apple Maps has been providing navigational guidance to Apple users for almost 13 and a half years now, and much has changed about the app in that time. However, according to data from Canalys, the overwhelming majority of iPhones in the U.S. still have Google Maps downloaded as an alternative to Apple Maps, which comes preinstalled on all iPhones. We want to hear from MacRumors readers. Which do...
apple tv plus banner

Apple TV+ Gains Over 50 Movies for a Limited Time

Friday March 1, 2024 6:29 am PST by
Apple TV+ today gained over 50 movies, adding to its back catalog of content for a limited time. The collection includes a large number of popular and classic titles. Subscribers can access the movies in a "Great Movies on Apple TV+" section in the Apple TV app. Some titles are also available in 3D. Movies in the collection include: 21 Jump Street 300 American Sniper Argo ...
iPad Air 12

Gurman: No Apple Event Planned for Upcoming iPads and Macs

Sunday March 3, 2024 5:09 am PST by
Apple does not plan to hold a traditional event to unveil new iPads and Macs, according to Bloomberg's Mark Gurman. Instead, he said Apple plans to announce the products on its website with a "series of online videos and marketing campaigns." If this plan is accurate, we can expect the new products to be announced with press releases on the Apple Newsroom website. Gurman expects Apple to...
airpods pro 2 pink

Apple Releases New Beta Firmware for AirPods Pro 2

Thursday February 29, 2024 11:41 am PST by
Apple today introduced a new beta firmware update for the AirPods Pro 2, both the USB-C and Lightning versions. The new firmware is version 6E188, up from the prior 6B34 firmware released in December. Apple does not often provide details or notes on what features might be included in the refreshed firmware, so it is unclear what's new. Note that this software is limited to developers at the...