Review: LG UltraFine 5K Display with Thunderbolt 3 for Apple's 2016 MacBook Pro

Posted:
in Current Mac Hardware edited January 7
Apple may have abandoned the monitor market, but LG has taken the torch for a high-performing display specifically for Apple users. Despite eschewing some of Apple's design principles, the LG UltraFine 5K Display monitor brings almost everything to the desktop that Mac users have been clamoring for, including a convenient, versatile Thunderbolt 3 connection.




The LG UltraFine 5K Display is 27 inches diagonal, and crams in 5K ultra-high resolution, with data provided by a single Thunderbolt 3 cable making setup easier than its ever been -- even with relatively ancient gear supporting the old ADC connector.

Setting aside the case plastics, which we'll discuss later, the display itself is gorgeous. It implements Apple's Wide Color standards, bringing the entirety of the DCI-P3 color space to the desktop.





Connectivity issues induced by the only computer fully compatible with the display -- the 2016 MacBook Pro with Thunderbolt 3?-- is eased somewhat with a trio of USB 3.0 type C ports on the back of the display. This provides a convenient way to attach mass-storage or input devices to the back of the display, albeit at a slower speed than full USB 3.1.

USB-C speed throttling




According to our testing, even USB 3.0 is somewhat limited in speed by the monitor. To test out how profoundly speed is affected, we connected a Sandisk Extreme 900 2TB SSD RAID through the monitor.
The LG UltraFine 5K Display is here now -- we're expecting it to stay on the top of the heap for a while, at least.
Direct to the MacBook Pro, the RAID managed 887MB/s read speeds, and 723MB/s write speeds, with large files. Connected through the display, the enclosure only managed 348MB/s read, and 317MB/s write.

A single PNY 480GB SSD had similar throttling. Directly connected, the drive managed 400MB/s read and 388MB/s write. Through the display, read speeds were limited to 333MB/s and 263Mb/s write.




This only gets worse as more drives are attached, but that's to be expected, given that the the data needs of the 5K display itself are not all that far from saturating the Thunderbolt 3 connection. However, why even the slower drive, that isn't close from filling the pipe is slowed, we can't tell, nor is Apple or LG talking about it.

If the peak speed is needed from an external SSD RAID, stick with connecting the enclosure directly to the computer.

Stretching the limits of connectivity

The LG UltraFine 5K Display does connect to older Thunderbolt 2 equipment through Apple's Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 adapter. The monitor is limited to a still very nice 4K resolution, and it does not keep the DCI-P3 color space.

Apple recommends that with the 2014 Mac mini and Mac Pro, that the display be used as a secondary monitor, as the monitor won't turn on until macOS has sufficiently progressed through the boot process. Otherwise, the boot picker for choosing which OS to boot into and recovery mode are not usable.

We have a hard time recommending the monitor for older hardware, however, unless an upgrade to a Thunderbolt 3-equipped Mac is imminent. It's just not a cost-effective choice, with 4K options from other companies available at a significantly lower price.




While 4K at 30Hz is doable on Thunderbolt 1 connections on the original 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display from 2012, don't even try it with the LG UltraFine 5K. It doesn't work at all.

The display is usable in Boot Camp with no connection issues, and the USB connections and integrated camera work in Windows too. We've found across an assortment of Windows PCs that the display runs in 4K resolution, but is subject to periodic, random, disconnections and reconnections lasting about a second. Regardless of how you approach the monitor from Windows, brightness and other monitor parameters can't be adjusted, with brightness stuck at about 50 percent.

We suspect that LG will issue a driver for Windows 10 shortly, rectifying both the 4K and disconnection situation. But for now, the monitor is technically Mac-only.

Users with older BootCamp installations should update their Apple-specific drivers first, before connecting the monitor.

Plastic bezels, and foreheads

Our only problem with the monitor is that there's no real sense of style attached attached to the display, like we're used to in every Apple-manufactured flat panel display since the blue and white G3-styled flat-screen. LG attempted make the monitor palatable to the wider computing world at some point in the future who want no Apple fingerprints on their technology, so to speak, and that's left us with an ugly, and perhaps too-large bezel.

Apple users are used to a "chin" on the iMac. While nowhere near as large, the LG sports the extra bezel on top of the display, in a slightly-oversized "forehead" that holds the FaceTime-compatible camera.




We understand that there's some extra circuitry required for the camera, but the non-symmetrical upper bezel is distracting.

The bottom line

If you can look past style issues, the display is an amazing performer, and fabulous for photographers and videographers -- especially those needing a 4K production workflow. With DCI-P3 Wide Color, images and video are crisp, connectivity is easy with Thunderbolt 3, and the display performs well in nearly all office conditions.

While there have been a rash of 5K displays unveiled at CES, to ship at some indeterminate time in the future, the LG UltraFine 5K Display is here now -- we're expecting it to stay on the top of the heap for a while.

Score: 4 out of 5, until BootCamp drivers are available and USB 3.0 connectivity speeds are worked out. After that, then 4.5 out of 5.

Where to buy

The LG UltraFine 5K Display is currently available for purchase only at the Apple Store. Special pricing is in effect at $974.00, although online orders have a 2-4 week wait. Shoppers can sign up to be notified when the display will arrive at B&H with free expedited shipping and no tax collected outside NY.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 23
    appexappex Posts: 485member
    Matte or glossy display?
  • Reply 2 of 23
    Thanks for the review...but, I agree. I'd need the missing "Apple-style" factor for it to be on my desk or in my home. it's why I go to great lengths to hide my cable modem/router, printer, an most other non-Apple tech products I own, in a closet! Obviously, TV's have to be visible for the most part. :)

    Great review tho. Really appreciate the effort. :)

    Best.
    equality72521pulseimages
  • Reply 3 of 23
    Damn that's ugly! Apple, strat making products again!

    Apple loses money in 2016. Do you think they know it's because they ONLY made TWO products last year?

    I can't take much more. 
    pulseimageswozwoz
  • Reply 4 of 23
    adrayvenadrayven Posts: 452member
    What kills it for me is the fact that there is no duel Thunderbolt 3 ports for pass-through. If I cannot daisy-chains 2 monitors off of a single cable, I don't see a point for me..

    The whole draw for me is single cable connectivity. I might as well as wait for LG or another to come out with a nice 4k Display that allows for this. LG has one thats very tempting, I want to wait for a revision or 2 prior to purchasing..

    And finally, I'm waiting to see if Apple does a mid year revision and price drop to the new MacBook. Notably, I want them to add the new tiered battery that they failed to put into the current one (like it is on the 12" MacBook) and I want to see Kaby Lake. Mainly because KL brings onboard TB3 .. which supposedly brings a lower power cost to using Thunderbolt accessories when it's on chip. additionally, KL brings up to 32GB of LPDDR4.. unlike maxing out now at 16GB.
    edited January 7
  • Reply 5 of 23
    Damn that's ugly! Apple, strat making products again!

    Apple loses money in 2016. Do you think they know it's because they ONLY made TWO products last year?

    I can't take much more. 
    Don't worry, Apple didn't lose money in 2016. According to an article in yesterday's AI, they made about $60 billion profit last year (before interest and taxes), and there's a big difference between losing money and making $60 billion.

    But I agree, that monitor is kinda funny looking with that fat top bezel.
    pulseimagespscooter63
  • Reply 6 of 23
    I see the trend. Apple has killed off so many products that we now need to rely on 3rd parties who won't make Apple style products, and the drivers will be half-baked. 

    In the past three years I haven't bought anything from Apple other than an iPad Pro. Even my iPhone is a 6+. 

    Meanwhile they could have sold me several new monitors, a couple of Airports and a new Mac Pro. That's about $12,000 Apple didn't make from me. 

    This monitor is a direct result of Apple under Tim Cook. 


  • Reply 7 of 23
    SoliSoli Posts: 2,555member
    Is that an AC power outlet for the monitor? It's 2016, I can't believe Apple still sells products that uses a technology that is over 150 years old¡ Shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders.
    pscooter63
  • Reply 8 of 23
    adrayven said:
    What kills it for me is the fact that there is no duel Thunderbolt 3 ports for pass-through. If I cannot daisy-chains 2 monitors off of a single cable, I don't see a point for me..

    The whole draw for me is single cable connectivity. I might as well as wait for LG or another to come out with a nice 4k Display that allows for this. LG has one thats very tempting, I want to wait for a revision or 2 prior to purchasing..

    And finally, I'm waiting to see if Apple does a mid year revision and price drop to the new MacBook. Notably, I want them to add the new tiered battery that they failed to put into the current one (like it is on the 12" MacBook) and I want to see Kaby Lake. Mainly because KL brings onboard TB3 .. which supposedly brings a lower power cost to using Thunderbolt accessories when it's on chip. additionally, KL brings up to 32GB of LPDDR4.. unlike maxing out now at 16GB.
    I didn't think KL brought 32GB of RAM, I thought we had to wait for Cannon Lake or Coffee Lake?
  • Reply 9 of 23
    SoliSoli Posts: 2,555member
    adrayven said:
    What kills it for me is the fact that there is no duel Thunderbolt 3 ports for pass-through. If I cannot daisy-chains 2 monitors off of a single cable, I don't see a point for me..

    The whole draw for me is single cable connectivity. I might as well as wait for LG or another to come out with a nice 4k Display that allows for this. LG has one thats very tempting, I want to wait for a revision or 2 prior to purchasing..

    And finally, I'm waiting to see if Apple does a mid year revision and price drop to the new MacBook. Notably, I want them to add the new tiered battery that they failed to put into the current one (like it is on the 12" MacBook) and I want to see Kaby Lake. Mainly because KL brings onboard TB3 .. which supposedly brings a lower power cost to using Thunderbolt accessories when it's on chip. additionally, KL brings up to 32GB of LPDDR4.. unlike maxing out now at 16GB.
    I didn't think KL brought 32GB of RAM, I thought we had to wait for Cannon Lake or Coffee Lake?
    Cannonlake.

    Kaby Lake is just an optimization step of their PAO (process-architecture-optimization) over their previous, tick-tock method. Although, since Cannonlake is just a process node change I'm not sure why LPDDR4 would be available at that step over the architecture step, yet that's what I'm reading.
    edited January 7
  • Reply 10 of 23
    adrayven said:
    What kills it for me is the fact that there is no duel Thunderbolt 3 ports for pass-through. If I cannot daisy-chains 2 monitors off of a single cable, I don't see a point for me..

    The whole draw for me is single cable connectivity. I might as well as wait for LG or another to come out with a nice 4k Display that allows for this. LG has one thats very tempting, I want to wait for a revision or 2 prior to purchasing..

    And finally, I'm waiting to see if Apple does a mid year revision and price drop to the new MacBook. Notably, I want them to add the new tiered battery that they failed to put into the current one (like it is on the 12" MacBook) and I want to see Kaby Lake. Mainly because KL brings onboard TB3 .. which supposedly brings a lower power cost to using Thunderbolt accessories when it's on chip. additionally, KL brings up to 32GB of LPDDR4.. unlike maxing out now at 16GB.
    With a 5K display hanging off the TB3, there is nowhere near enough bandwidth for another one downstream. The 5K signal takes about 80% of the pipe.
    Solidws-2pscooter63nubusjSnively
  • Reply 11 of 23
    nubusnubus Posts: 34member
    How can this plastic display get a 4 of 5 rating? Don't we have higher expectations?

    Dell (of all companies) just launched a 33 megapixel (8K UHD) monitor. It is far better designed but requires DisplayPort 1.4. Meanwhile Apple is making us believe that Thunderbolt 3 with DisplayPort 1.2 is the future of everything. It is not. This display is a disgrace. Tim Cook should apologize to Angela Ahrendts for asking her to sell it - and to us for expecting that we buy it.
  • Reply 12 of 23
    SoliSoli Posts: 2,555member
    nubus said:
    How can this plastic display get a 4 of 5 rating? Don't we have higher expectations?
    You should rethink your expeditions when your complaint is the plastic casing with no mention of the actual display accuracy or performance.

    Dell (of all companies) just launched a 33 megapixel (8K UHD) monitor. It is far better designed but requires DisplayPort 1.4. Meanwhile Apple is making us believe that Thunderbolt 3 with DisplayPort 1.2 is the future of everything. It is not. This display is a disgrace. Tim Cook should apologize to Angela Ahrendts for asking her to sell it - and to us for expecting that we buy it.

    No, they didn't "just launch" an 8K display. If you were paying attention they just announced one at CES. It doesn't launch until later this year, and as you note is requires DP 1.4 which is not currently supported on any 2016 Mac which makes your complaint even more ridiculous.

    kibbled_bitspulseimages
  • Reply 13 of 23
    nubusnubus Posts: 34member
    Soli said:
    You should rethink your expeditions when your complaint is the plastic casing with no mention of the actual display accuracy or performance.
    The accuracy is great and it certainly is nice to have charging in the same cable. Ethernet should have been part of it to allow fast access to file servers and network. As it stands, pro users will need this screen AND a network dongle while working on the desktop.
    No, they didn't "just launch" an 8K display. If you were paying attention they just announced one at CES. It doesn't launch until later this year, and as you note is requires DP 1.4 which is not currently supported on any 2016 Mac which makes your complaint even more ridiculous.
    Just like Apple, the display will ship 2 months from introduction. So... 1 quarter after Apple giving up on displays and promoting a plastic LG 5K monitor with a top-heavy bezel... then Dell doubles on the pixels with 8K UHD and a nice design. I hate it!

    Apple decided to omit DisplayPort 1.4 from the tMBP. We're stuck with DP 1.2 and it is being sold as the future of connectors.
  • Reply 14 of 23
    It has 5120 x 2880 resolution with a boatload of colors and you can plug two of them into your '16-MBP15 at a time. It's really an expensive proposition (even with the discount) because of the novelty of being a 5K panel and isn't recommended unless that extra resolution (either as extra screen-real-estate above a 4K pane,l or as extra-clarity above a 2K panel) is worth the premium cost to you. Really, it should be considered an optional part of the '16-MBP15 from an accounting perspective, because it has no real value when used with other computers and it is based on a display tech (like the '16-MBP15 itself) that is nearing the end of the road (probably won't look good alongside future laptop models). Also, it isn't a docking station, but there was some extra bandwidth leftover that they make available on a set of USB3 ports. The pedestal angles the panel backwards and forwards to adjust for glare, as well as up and down to adjust for user height (can also ditch the pedestal and use a real VESA-compatible arm).

    That loud static noise you hear is from people who bought iMac 5Ks as luxury items and are very confused by this utility appliance.


    /edited for type-os
    edited January 9
  • Reply 15 of 23
    jblongzjblongz Posts: 127member
    Check out the reviews on Apple's site.  Many complaints about the display not waking up from sleep.  Same problem I'm having with Apple's last Thunderbolt displays.  
  • Reply 16 of 23
    nubus said:
    How can this plastic display get a 4 of 5 rating? Don't we have higher expectations?
    I think Mike did a really good job of describing the aesthetic considerations in the context of a much, much, much, much, much more important discussion of how well it works with Apple products and the operational limitations it imposes (and why). I would not expect a tool to lose a lot of score points for not being pretty. It's a consideration, but it doesn't strike me as the kind of thing that would be near the top of the list or have a major impact on its rating.

    EDIT: Mike and AI, for future reference, in addition to the kind of excellent information and testing provided in this review (thank you!) I'd be interested in actual measurements of display performance when reviewing monitors. Like testing brightness and colour gamut to see if they meet claimed specs, accuracy of colour, consistency of brightness across the display, stuff like that.
    edited January 9
  • Reply 17 of 23
    nubus said:
    How can this plastic display get a 4 of 5 rating? Don't we have higher expectations?

    Dell (of all companies) just launched a 33 megapixel (8K UHD) monitor. It is far better designed but requires DisplayPort 1.4. Meanwhile Apple is making us believe that Thunderbolt 3 with DisplayPort 1.2 is the future of everything. It is not. This display is a disgrace. Tim Cook should apologize to Angela Ahrendts for asking her to sell it - and to us for expecting that we buy it.
    It gets an additional point for being blessed by Apple on stage, thus making it "fanboy compatible"
    edited January 10
  • Reply 18 of 23
    wozwozwozwoz Posts: 130member
    Look at all those ugly cables hanging out the back of it ... completely missing the point of a single cable that does everything ... and half-way up the monitor too. I put more thought into packing my lunch.
    frankeed
  • Reply 19 of 23
    I have this connected to a brand new iMac 4.0 32GB 4GB video - and find that it flicks off for about 2 seconds then back on ever few minutes.  Has anyone else experienced this?
  • Reply 20 of 23
    The Ultrafine 5K Monitor for Apple Mac, considering it charges while using the monitor, will it destroy my Mac laptop battery if kept plugged in all the time? 

    Just like leaving a Mac ac power supply plugged in day after day would destroy the battery?

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