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 Roundup: Apple Pro Display XDR

Top Rated Comments

(View all)
Avatar
57 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)
Avatar
57 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)
Avatar
57 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)
Avatar
57 months ago
Better question. Where is Apple's 2016 Macbook Pro?

(Then gimme thunderbolt display)
Score: 12 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
57 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)
Avatar
57 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)

Top Stories

Five Mac Apps Worth Checking Out - June 2020

Tuesday June 2, 2020 2:25 pm PDT by
Apps developed for the Mac often don't receive as much coverage as apps designed for iPhones and iPads, so we have a series at MacRumors that highlights interesting Mac apps that are worth taking a look at. This month's apps are designed to make working from home a little bit easier. Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel for more videos. Meeter (Free) - Working from home often...

iPhone 13 Prototype Mockup Depicts Notch-Free Design and USB-C Port

Thursday June 4, 2020 10:07 am PDT by
We still have a few months to go before Apple unveils the iPhone 12, but rumors about the iPhone 13, coming in fall 2021, are already circulating. Japanese site Mac Otakara today shared a rough 3D printed mockup of a 5.5-inch iPhone said to be coming in 2021, which is from "Alibaba sources." The model may be built on leaked specifications and rumors, but where the info comes from is unclear. ...

iPad Pro With A14X Chip, 5G, and Mini-LED Display Expected in First Half of 2021

Wednesday June 3, 2020 6:22 am PDT by
Apple plans to launch new iPad Pro models with an A14X chip, 5G connectivity, and a Mini-LED display in the first or second quarter of 2021, according to the increasingly reliable Twitter account L0vetodream. The leaker claims that the new iPad Pro models will be equipped with Qualcomm's Snapdragon X55 modem, which supports both mmWave and sub-6GHz. mmWave is a set of 5G frequencies that...

Apple's First MacBook Pro With a Retina Display Will Become 'Obsolete' in 30 Days

Monday June 1, 2020 7:50 am PDT by
If you are still hanging on to a Mid 2012 model of the 15-inch MacBook Pro with a Retina display, and require a new battery or other repairs, be sure to book an appointment with a service provider as soon as possible. In an internal memo today, obtained by MacRumors, Apple has indicated that this particular MacBook Pro model will be marked as "obsolete" worldwide on June 30, 2020, just over...

$5 Billion Lawsuit Accuses Google of Tracking Chrome Users in Incognito Mode

Wednesday June 3, 2020 3:13 am PDT by
A proposed class action lawsuit in the U.S. has accused Google of violating federal wiretap laws by tracking the online activities of users when in Incognito mode. According to Reuters, the class action argues that by surreptitiously collecting information about what people view online and where they browse when they use Chrome's private browsing mode, Google has been intentionally deceiving...

Next iPad Air Could Feature a USB-C Port Instead of a Lightning Port

Tuesday June 2, 2020 8:30 pm PDT by
The fourth-generation iPad Air may be equipped with a USB-C port instead of a Lightning port, according to a new report from Japanese site Mac Otakara that says the information comes from a Chinese supplier. Apple transitioned to USB-C for its iPad Pro models in 2018, but other iPads have continued to feature a Lightning port for charging purposes. Mac Otakara says that the new iPad Air will ...

Next Apple Pencil Could Be Released in Black

Tuesday June 2, 2020 10:25 am PDT by
The next iteration of the Apple Pencil could be available in black for the first time, according to leaker Mr. White who shared the tidbit on Twitter this morning. A mockup of an Apple Pencil in black We haven't heard rumors of a next-generation Apple Pencil and it's not clear when a new model might be released. Apple is rumored to be working on mini-LED versions of the iPad Pro, and it's...

Apple's Stock Price Hits a New All-Time High [Updated]

Friday June 5, 2020 7:06 am PDT by
Roughly four months after hitting an all-time high just before financial markets and economies faltered in the face of the current public health crisis, Apple's stock price has returned to those levels and has set a new all-time high today. Apple's previous intraday high of $327.85 was set on January 29, and that high-water mark was surpassed just a few minutes ago as it hit $328.00 before...

Code in iOS 13.5.5 Suggests Apple is Working on Services Bundle

Wednesday June 3, 2020 5:04 pm PDT by
Rumors have suggested Apple is working on a services bundle that will offer multiple Apple services like Apple TV+ and Apple Music for one flat monthly rate, and according to 9to5Mac, code found in iOS 13.5.5 seemingly confirms Apple's bundle plans. Files in iOS 13.5.5 reference a "bundle offer" and a "bundle subscription," and these files weren't in earlier versions of iOS. The files are...

Deals: Get the Limited Edition Mac Bundle With 11 MacOS Apps Including Parallels Desktop for $54

Wednesday June 3, 2020 6:46 am PDT by
At StackSocial this week you can get the Limited Edition Mac Bundle featuring Parallels Desktop for a low price of $54 with the promo code RUMORS10. This new bundle features 11 total apps for macOS, including Parallels Desktop, TextExpander, PDF Expert, and more. Note: MacRumors is an affiliate partner with StackSocial. When you click a link and make a purchase, we may receive a small payment, ...