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
Related Forum: Mac Accessories

Top Rated Comments

sofila Avatar
77 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
77 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
77 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
77 months ago
Better question. Where is Apple's 2016 Macbook Pro?

(Then gimme thunderbolt display)
Score: 12 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Wild-Bill Avatar
77 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
77 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)

Related Stories

General black friday 20 sale feature 2

Best Black Friday Deals on Apple Watch, AirPods Pro, MacBook Pro, More

Wednesday November 24, 2021 8:06 am PST by
Black Friday 2021 has kicked off, and you can now get some of the year's best deals on numerous Apple products. In this article we're providing a quick summary of all the best sales we've seen so far this season. For more on the best sales happening this week, visit our Black Friday Roundup. Note: MacRumors is an affiliate partner with some of these vendors. When you click a link and make a...
iphone holiday

Best Black Friday iPhone Deals Available Today

Friday November 26, 2021 4:58 am PST by
Cellular carriers have always offered big savings on the newest iPhone models in holidays past, and Black Friday 2021 is no different. Right now we're tracking notable offers on the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro devices from AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile. For even more savings, keep an eye on older models like iPhone SE. Note: MacRumors is an affiliate partner with some of these vendors. When you...
airpods pro blue holiday 3

Black Friday: AirPods Pro With MagSafe Drop to $159 on Amazon

Tuesday November 23, 2021 9:12 am PST by
Amazon is now matching Walmart's price on the AirPods Pro with MagSafe, available for $159.00, down from $249.00. These are shipped and sold directly from Amazon, and although stock is low you can still get them in time for the holidays (mid December as of writing). Note: MacRumors is an affiliate partner with some of these vendors. When you click a link and make a purchase, we may receive a...
apple wallet drivers license feature

Apple Delays iOS 15 Feature for Adding Your Driver's License to Your iPhone Until Early 2022

Tuesday November 23, 2021 9:35 am PST by
Apple recently updated its website to indicate that an upcoming iOS 15 and watchOS 8 feature that will let you add your driver's license or state ID to your iPhone and Apple Watch in participating U.S. states has been delayed until early 2022. Apple previously said the feature would launch in late 2021. In September, Apple said Arizona and Georgia would be among the first states to introduce ...
airpods 3 blue holiday 2

Black Friday: AirPods 3 Hit Record Low Price of $149.99 ($29 Off)

Thursday November 25, 2021 6:10 am PST by
Amazon has introduced a new record low price on the AirPods 3, available for $149.99, down from $179.00. At $29 off, this sale price beats the one that we were tracking earlier this week by about $5 and it's only available on Amazon as of writing. Note: MacRumors is an affiliate partner with some of these vendors. When you click a link and make a purchase, we may receive a small payment, which ...
airpods pro pink holiday

Black Friday: AirPods Pro With MagSafe Hit Lowest Ever Price

Tuesday November 23, 2021 7:47 am PST by
Apple's AirPods Pro with the new MagSafe Charging Case is now available for its lowest ever price thanks to Black Friday sales. Note: MacRumors is an affiliate partner with some of these vendors. When you click a link and make a purchase, we may receive a small payment, which helps us keep the site running. The limited-time deal is available at both Amazon and Walmart, which are both...
apple watch cellular holiday

Best Black Friday Apple Watch Deals Available Today

Friday November 26, 2021 4:55 am PST by
The Apple Watch always makes a great gift around the holiday season, and for Black Friday 2021 we're tracking a few solid offers on numerous models of the Apple Watch. In this article, you'll find the best Black Friday sales on the new Apple Watch 7, but the best money-saving discounts will be found on older models like the Apple Watch Series 3 and SE. Note: MacRumors is an affiliate partner...
iPads black friday 20 sale feature

Best Black Friday iPad Deals Available Today

Friday November 26, 2021 4:48 am PST by
Although Black Friday sales began as early as October in 2021, the shopping holiday is now officially underway and we're highlighting the best sales for each of Apple's product lines. In this article, you'll find the best Black Friday sales on iPad Pro and iPad mini. Note: MacRumors is an affiliate partner with some of these vendors. When you click a link and make a purchase, we may receive a...