updated 08:35 pm EDT, Fri September 23, 2011
A high-quality monitor that works like a dock
Both PC-oriented website AnandTech and Mac-oriented portal MacWorld have recently reviewed Apple's new 27-inch Thunderbolt Display, and came to many of the same conclusions: if you're a MacBook Air owner who uses it as a primary computer, the Thunderbolt Display is a must-have accessory. For other TB-equipped Mac owners, the display makes a strong -- but not perfect -- case for a convenient dock and high-quality monitor combo for the price of a high-quality monitor alone.
At $999, the Thunderbolt Display may seem high compared to consumer monitors, but as both reviews point out, it's at par with the going price for displays of the same size and high-quality IPS screens -- and capable of professional-grade color work (with additional calibration) as well as able to support (depending on the Mac that's attached to it) up to a total of four 27-inch displays to a single machine. For non-Air owners, the display adds value by also incorporating a higher FaceTime HD camera, decent speakers (comparable to the default iMac speakers, but an improvement over notebook speakers), and the convenience of a one-cable hookup that powers the computer, Firewire 800, USB2, gigabit Ethernet and an additional Thunderbolt port for other purposes.
AnandTech uncovered an issue between the display and the Promise Pegasus RAID cabinet, but said it appeared to be a problem with Promise rather than the display. MacWorld's biggest complaint was that the stand, while allowing the monitor to tilt from -5 to 25 degrees, offered no other physical adjustments (AnandTech recommended a height-adjustable desk or chair to compensate).
Anand Shimpi of AnandTech also expressed some disappointment with the lack of USB 3.0 connectors, but admitted that he didn't expect Apple to support USB 3.0 as standard until the technology is included on Intel chipsets, which is expected to happen mid-2012. He would also have liked to see a 1/8th inch audio output (for connecting better speakers) and an SD card reader built-in (the monitor has it's own motherboard with all the various controllers on board; adding the SD reader would have been trivial to do).
Since MacBook Airs come with very few ports on their own (just two USB ports along with a single Thunderbolt port), the Thunderbolt Display is an ultimate "docking station" for it, adding Ethernet, Firewire 800 and more USB ports along with an extra TB port. For MacBook Pro owners, the Display adds a second (and even a third) monitor option and, primarily, convenience. The display offers less value to iMac owners, who already have all the ports, but it does perfectly match in both style and performance the iMac's built-in display.
Despite some confusion about how users can hook up additional displays (bottom line: additional Thunderbolt Displays are easy to attach, non-TB Displays are trickier) -- and its limitation on audio out, audio quality and USB speed -- the unit was praised in both reviews as a top-of-the-line 27-inch monitor that adds considerable value to its already-competitive price by including additional functionality not found on competing models. Until next year -- or Apple's next revision of it, which may add USB 3.0 -- it stands out as best in class for the type and quality of display it is. [Video via AnandTech]