Compared: Apple Studio Display vs. 2011 Thunderbolt Display

Posted:
in Current Mac Hardware edited April 1
We pulled our 2011 Thunderbolt Display out of storage to compare it against Apple's all-new Studio Display.

Apple's 2011 Thunderbolt Display compared to the Studio Display
Apple's 2011 Thunderbolt Display compared to the Studio Display


Apple killed off its Thunderbolt Display in 2016, leaving a void in the market. Apple didn't introduce a new option until 2020 with the Pro Display XDR. But this display carries a massive price tag and wasn't a true replacement for the more affordable Thunderbolt Display.

Enter -- the Studio Display.

Thunderbolt Display

Apple has a long history of pumping out high-quality, Mac-specific displays. Users may have forgotten this with the introduction of the 2022 Studio Display, but it strongly follows the precedence Apple set for itself.

In 1998, Apple launched the original Studio Display. These 3:4 format displays were available for a year before they were sold alongside Apple's Cinema Display. The Cinema Display eventually replaced the Studio Display and was sold from 1999 to 2011.





It was in 2011 that Apple launched the Thunderbolt Display. At the time, Apple touted that it had created the world's first Thunderbolt-enabled display. One of the cool features was that two of these displays could be daisy-chained together and connect to your Mac with a single cable.

Otherwise, it had an expansive 27-inch panel, an all-metal body, and it eventually replaced Apple's legacy Cinema Display.

We picked up one of those Thunderbolt Displays at launch and happen to have it still hanging around our studio.

Some familiarities with some modern upgrades

There are many similarities between both of these displays. Each of these Apple displays measures up to 27 inches on the diagonal and connects to your Mac via Thunderbolt. Albeit different generations of the high-speed connector.

Design and build

Both displays are made of anodized aluminum, though the Studio Display has much slimmer bezels, is overall thinner, and weighs notably less.

The Thunderbolt Display has an older version of Apple's stand that was used with several generations of iMac. Users had the option of picking up a VESA adapter kit should they prefer to mount the monitor.

Studio Display stand
Studio Display stand


With the Studio Display, Apple provided three stand options. The main tilt stand is similar to the 24-inch iMac, but the height-adjustable version is more akin to the Pro Stand found with the Pro Display XDR. There's a VESA option too though you'll need to decide which one you want at the time of purchase.

On the back of the Thunderbolt Display, Apple included:
  • Three USB-A

  • FireWire 800

  • Gigabit Ethernet

  • Thunderbolt

  • MagSafe cable -- 85W
Thunderbolt Display ports
Thunderbolt Display ports


The MagSafe cable is integrated into a perpetually-connected Thunderbolt cable to charge your portable Mac. With the advancements in Thunderbolt, the new Studio Display can deliver up to 96W of power over the single, removable Thunderbolt 3 cable.

Apple drastically simplified the ports with the Studio Display, only including three 10Gb/s USB-C ports. Because of Thunderbolt data limitations, it isn't possible to daisy chain two 5K studio displays like you could the Thunderbolt Display.

Resolution and image quality

The Thunderbolt Display had a resolution of 2560 by 1440 pixels, while the Studio Display doubles that, measuring in at 5120 by 2880. That gives the Thunderbolt Display a pixel density of 108 pixels per inch, and the Studio Display a Retina-quality 218 PPI.

Closeup of both Apple displays
Closeup of both Apple displays


For contrast ratio, the Studio Display has a 1200:1 ratio and the Thunderbolt Display has a 1000:1 ratio. Only a modest improvement for Apple's newest monitor.

Thunderbolt Display
Thunderbolt Display


Looking at them side by side, both displays look good. But the Thunderbolt Display looks a bit dated. It is inset further back from the front glass and it doesn't meet Apple's definition of Retina as the pixels are discernable while sitting from a normal distance.

It also has a slight yellow tint to the image, which may result from the ravages of time. Obviously, the newer Studio Display appeared more accurate.

Studio Display
Studio Display


Another big difference is brightness. Apple only had a peak brightness of 325 nits with the Thunderbolt display but the Studio Display can reach up to 600. This was readily apparent when we maxed out both displays.

Cameras, mics, and speakers

Each of the displays has built-in AV peripherals. They have cameras integrated into the top, multiple speakers, and high-quality microphones.

Studio Display speakers
Studio Display speakers


On the Studio Display, Apple has a six-speaker array, capable of putting out above-decent sound. It's the best-sounding monitor that we've tested to date. It also is capable of Spatial Audio, to some degree.

Conversely, the Thunderbolt Display has a 2.1 stereo set of speakers that don't sound half bad for their age.

That Thunderbolt Display has what Apple calls a FaceTime HD camera built-in. This is only a 720p camera, which technically counts as HD. This is below the 1080p resolution of the Studio Display's camera.




You can see the dramatic difference in the cameras in the shots above. Some issues have been reported on Apple's Studio Display camera, but here it looks miles ahead.

The Studio Display has a 122-degree field-of-view, portrait mode, and Center Stage.

Studio Display offers voice isolation
Studio Display offers voice isolation


There is a single mic on the top of the Thunderbolt Display and a trio of microphones on the Studio Display. The Studio Display's microphone array can isolate your voice too, which helps in noisy environments.

Only one is available now

Despite being discontinued in 2016, the Thunderbolt Display still looks surprisingly good. Its design isn't bad, the picture looks good, and it has quite a few good bells and whistles baked in.

Apple's two Thunderbolt displays
Apple's two Thunderbolt displays


Building on the Thunderbolt Display, Apple has added some unique features. For example -- the nano-texture glass option can drastically reduce glare.

Much is attributed to the A13 Bionic chip that drives the Studio Display, such as voice isolation, Center Stage camera tracking, hey Siri support, and video portrait mode.

We loved using the Thunderbolt Display, and so far, we're enjoying the Studio Display.

Where to buy

Apple Studio Display prices start at $1,599 for the standard glass model, topping out at $2,299 for the nano-texture glass with a tilt- and height-adjustable stand. Apple Authorized Reseller Adorama is knocking $50 off AppleCare for the new display with this activation link and promo code APINSIDER.

Need help redeeming the coupon? Here are step-by-step activation instructions.

You can also order the Studio Display at these retailers: Alternatively, you can find Apple's Thunderbolt display on eBay.

Read on AppleInsider
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 33
    y2any2an Posts: 130member
    So what did the Thunderbolt Display cost, back in the day?
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 33
    I still own a Thunderbolt Display and I really like it. Although my cats think it has a different purpose.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 33
    y2an said:
    So what did the Thunderbolt Display cost, back in the day?
    I can’t remember exactly but I think around $1000?
    tenthousandthingswatto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 33
    Most of the ultrawide monitors on sale in 2022 have the same 2K resolution as this 2011 model. 
    FileMakerFellerwatto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 33
    neilmneilm Posts: 956member
    The MagSafe cable is integrated into a perpetually-connected Thunderbolt cable 
    "Perpetually connected"? That's a bit optimistic — perhaps you meant "permanently".

    But in fact the Thunderbolt monitor's octopus cable was known for breaking its internal conductors over time and having to be replaced. Some disassembly required. I've still got a spare in a box somewhere.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 33
    JWSCJWSC Posts: 1,186member
    Received my Studio Display a few days ago. Beautiful display.  No nano-texture glass required.  Love the sound output.

    My Mac Studio isn’t scheduled to arrive until next week. So my son gets to use the Studio Display with his M1 MacBook Air for a week or so.  It was plug and play.  He’s going to hate it when my M1 Max Mac Studio arrives.  :D
    FileMakerFellerwatto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 33
    sflocalsflocal Posts: 5,988member
    neilm said:
    The MagSafe cable is integrated into a perpetually-connected Thunderbolt cable 
    "Perpetually connected"? That's a bit optimistic — perhaps you meant "permanently".

    But in fact the Thunderbolt monitor's octopus cable was known for breaking its internal conductors over time and having to be replaced. Some disassembly required. I've still got a spare in a box somewhere.
    I own three of the TB2 monitors.  Two of them are connected to my 2015 iMac that I'm using to write this post at the office.  One is connected to my home iMac.  All cables are intact and like new.

    These are fantastic monitors and for regular everyday use they are still great monitors that I would gladly continue using.  
    Rogue01watto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 33
    tewhatewha Posts: 12member
    y2an said:
    So what did the Thunderbolt Display cost, back in the day?
    The US retail price at introduction was $999.
    FileMakerFellerwatto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 33
    Andrew, you wrote: "Because of Thunderbolt data limitations, it isn't possible to daisy chain two 5K studio displays." Do you know if it's possible to daisy-chain a lower-resolution third-party monitor to a USB-C port on the new Apple Studio Display?

    I have a 27-inch Dell QHD resolution monitor, which is 2560x1440 pixels. That's the same resolution as the original Thunderbolt Display and Apple's 27-inch iMacs from the 2009 to 2013 models. (The 2014 edition of the 27-inch iMac was the first Retina 5K model at 5120x2880 pixels.)

    I have an Apple Studio Display on order. I'm hoping that I'll need only connect one cable (from the Studio Display's one Thunderbolt port) to my MacBook Pro (14-inch, 2021) and that the one cable will provide the MacBook both with power and with connections to two monitors — the Studio Display and a 27-inch Dell monitor with USB-C and QHD resolution. In other words, the chain would be: 14-inch MacBook Pro <—> Thunderbolt cable <—> Apple Studio Display <—> USB-C cable <—> Dell U2721DE monitor, if that works.

    Thanks for any info!
    edited April 1 watto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 33
    1080p = 1920x1080
    4K “Ultra HD” = 3840x2160 (2x 1080p; 3x 720p)
    “8K Ultra HD” = 7680x4320 (4x 1080p; 6x 720p)

    720p (“HD”) = 1280x720
    1440p (“2K”) = 2560x1440 (2x 720p)
    5K = 5120x2880 (4x 720p)

    720p is the original HD standard, or 1K. 2x 720p is 2K (Thunderbolt Display, etc.)

    Thus, relative to this, 1080p is 1.5K, “Ultra HD” is 3K, and “8K Ultra HD” is 6K.

    The thing Apple calls “5K” should have been called 4K. But that was already in use for Ultra HD. So Apple used 5K, following the same principle (rounding off the horizontal pixel count).

    This really makes me wonder what the rumored “7K” Pro Display might be. I’m thinking the new display will be what the industry has named 8K — in Apple’s terms, that same pixel count would be 5K + 2K = 7K … 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 33
    Rogue01Rogue01 Posts: 55member
    y2an said:
    So what did the Thunderbolt Display cost, back in the day?
    The Thunderbolt Display was $999.  Stand was removable and could be swapped with the VESA Mount by the customer.  Could daisy chain two displays together.  Offered Ethernet so your MacBook did not have to use a dongle.  And they still work great with a Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 adapter.  They ran hot though.  Since the Studio Display has two massive fans in it, I wonder if that display also could heat a room.  The Studio Display should have also been $999 and offer a removable stand.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 33
    Rogue01Rogue01 Posts: 55member
    Andrew, you wrote: "Because of Thunderbolt data limitations, it isn't possible to daisy chain two 5K studio displays." Do you know if it's possible to daisy-chain a lower-resolution third-party monitor to a USB-C port on the new Apple Studio Display?

    I have a 27-inch Dell QHD resolution monitor, which is 2560x1440 pixels. That's the same resolution as the original Thunderbolt Display and Apple's 27-inch iMacs from the 2009 to 2013 models. (The 2014 edition of the 27-inch iMac was the first Retina 5K model at 5120x2880 pixels.)

    I have an Apple Studio Display on order. I'm hoping that I'll need only connect one cable (from the Studio Display's one Thunderbolt port) to my MacBook Pro (14-inch, 2021) and that the one cable will provide the MacBook both with power and with connections to two monitors — the Studio Display and a 27-inch Dell monitor with USB-C and QHD resolution. In other words, the chain would be: 14-inch MacBook Pro <—> Thunderbolt cable <—> Apple Studio Display <—> USB-C cable <—> Dell U2721DE monitor, if that works.

    Thanks for any info!
    That is not possible.  Apple specifically stated that an additional display must be connected directly to the Mac.  The USB-C ports are for peripherals, storage, or networking.  Your Dell display would plug into the Mac Studio's HDMI port.
    FileMakerFellerwatto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 33
    entropysentropys Posts: 3,594member
    It is clear the Thunderbolt Display was quite good value for money back in the day, unlike the Apple Studio Display, although amused this comparison skipped the price relativities.

    In my unasked for categorisation of Apple products, the Apple Studio Display is slotted into the same group as the trash can Mac Pro, the butterfly keyboard single port rMB, the 2016 MBPs, the HomePod, and the Airpods Max as the last decades’ grossly overpriced and function compromised misses.

    PS: and one other thing. And it isn’t a small thing. When the Thunderbolt Display came out, daisy chaining a pair with a single Thunderbolt cable was really cool. Nowadays it is easy to do on windows with any computer using displays with multi stream transport (MST) support. Apple does not support  MST, insisting thunderbolt is the only way to do this (although even that isn’t clear on the new ASD, but otherwise you have to do a second cable to your computer if you want to add a second, non Thunderbolt  display).  Very, very annoying on a laptop, and if Apple isn’t prepared to provide a reasonably priced Thunderbolt Display, then it should enable MST support so we can do it over DisplayPort.
    edited April 1 FileMakerFeller
  • Reply 14 of 33
    JWSCJWSC Posts: 1,186member
    entropys said:
    It is clear the Thunderbolt Display was quite good value for money back in the day, unlike the Apple Studio Display, although loved how now this comparison skipped the price comparison.

    In my unasked for categorisation of Apple products, the Apple Studio Display is slotted into the same group as the trash can Mac Pro, the butterfly keyboard single port rMB, the 2016 MBPs, the HomePod, and the Airpods Max as the last decades’ grossly overpriced and function compromised misses.

    PS: and one other thing. And it isn’t a small thing. When the Thunderbolt Display came out, daisy chaining a pair with a single Thunderbolt cable was really cool. Nowadays it is easy to do on windows with any computer using displays with MST support. Apple does not support  MST, insisting thunderbolt is the only way to do this (you have to do a second cable to your computer if you want to add a second, non Thunderbolt  display).  Very, very annoying on a laptop, and if Apple isn’t prepared to provide a reasonably priced Thunderbolt Display, then it should enable MST support so we can do it over DisplayPort.
    Why would you need to daisychain anything? As you know, a Mac Studio can take up to four displays.  So what real world use does lack of a daisychain feature include?  What am I missing?
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 15 of 33
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 12,195member
    entropys said:
    It is clear the Thunderbolt Display was quite good value for money back in the day, unlike the Apple Studio Display, although amused this comparison skipped the price relativities.
    Nonsense, as usual. The Thunderbolt Display was $999 in 2011 -- about $1,260 in today’s dollars. LG's 5K display was selling for $1,299. Now Apple's Studio Display is $1,599 for their new, which is head & shoulders better than LG's monitor w/ more features and far better build/materials. These monitors do more than what the Thunderbolt Display did (and that's why they have their own SoC, onboard storage, etc).

    Sounds like you want a basic, plastic monitor, man. Go get one, who's stopping ya?
    edited April 1 thtdewmeFileMakerFellerwatto_cobra
  • Reply 16 of 33
    entropysentropys Posts: 3,594member
    JWSC:
    sure, who cares with a desktop like a Mac studio how many cables it needs out the back? The point though is that you do only want one laptop cable.  And a dock isn’t a solution if you have to buy it on top of the displays When you can easily use the display ports instead of a seperate dock. Some of us like to minimise cables.
    strangeDays:
    $1500 would be OK if it came standard with the optional extras and actually, you know, had little things like beta camera software actually sorted.  Outstanding would be if it was priced the same as the ancient LG. 
    And then there is the issue that the display is not updated compared with the latest IPS technology. LG itself makes better contrast screens it sells to Dell, if not at 5K. 
    But it isn’t.
    edited April 1
  • Reply 17 of 33
    eriamjheriamjh Posts: 1,385member
    I’m sure one could run displays from those USBC ports using a kludgey USB display adapter.  
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 18 of 33
    looking for guidance on monitor to pair with mac mini.  Not intereted in hi end apple monitor.  I am looking at this samsung M8.  https://www.samsung.com/levant/monitors/high-resolution/smart-m8-32-inch-uhd-4k-ls32bm801umxzn/

    I am curious what apple gurus think are the downsides of this setup (mini+M8-monitor)
    tx
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 19 of 33
    Andrew, you wrote: "Because of Thunderbolt data limitations, it isn't possible to daisy chain two 5K studio displays." Do you know if it's possible to daisy-chain a lower-resolution third-party monitor to a USB-C port on the new Apple Studio Display?

    I have a 27-inch Dell QHD resolution monitor, which is 2560x1440 pixels. That's the same resolution as the original Thunderbolt Display and Apple's 27-inch iMacs from the 2009 to 2013 models. (The 2014 edition of the 27-inch iMac was the first Retina 5K model at 5120x2880 pixels.)

    I have an Apple Studio Display on order. I'm hoping that I'll need only connect one cable (from the Studio Display's one Thunderbolt port) to my MacBook Pro (14-inch, 2021) and that the one cable will provide the MacBook both with power and with connections to two monitors — the Studio Display and a 27-inch Dell monitor with USB-C and QHD resolution. In other words, the chain would be: 14-inch MacBook Pro <—> Thunderbolt cable <—> Apple Studio Display <—> USB-C cable <—> Dell U2721DE monitor, if that works.

    Thanks for any info!
    I think Andrew means that if it was possible to daisy-chain two Apple Studio Displays, then Apple would have provided a second Thunderbolt 3 port to allow that (same deal with Thunderbolt 4). He's explaining why they didn't, but even if they did, anyone trying to daisy-chain a 4K display would also run into those same data limitations. In theory, your 2560x1440 Dell would work, barely.

    The three additional USB-C ports on the back are USB 3.2 Gen 2 (formerly known as USB 3.1), which can be either USB-A or USB-C. I think, by definition, they provide at least 7.5W power -- one of them is charging my phone right now. So think of them as USB-A ports -- you wouldn't plug a display into one of those. You could try it, though, before you do the following...

    You'll need a powered hub to do what you want to do. The good news is that hub will be your best friend. There are several CalDigit Thunderbolt 4 hubs, but if you want Ethernet then you'll want the TS4 (in theory the TS3+ would work for your setup, but you'd need to make sure it is supported):

    https://appleinsider.com/articles/22/02/16/caldigit-ts4-thunderbolt-hub-review-the-dock-of-our-dreams
    edited April 2 JWSCwatto_cobra
  • Reply 20 of 33
    crowleycrowley Posts: 10,353member
    Andrew, you wrote: "Because of Thunderbolt data limitations, it isn't possible to daisy chain two 5K studio displays." Do you know if it's possible to daisy-chain a lower-resolution third-party monitor to a USB-C port on the new Apple Studio Display?

    I have a 27-inch Dell QHD resolution monitor, which is 2560x1440 pixels. That's the same resolution as the original Thunderbolt Display and Apple's 27-inch iMacs from the 2009 to 2013 models. (The 2014 edition of the 27-inch iMac was the first Retina 5K model at 5120x2880 pixels.)

    I have an Apple Studio Display on order. I'm hoping that I'll need only connect one cable (from the Studio Display's one Thunderbolt port) to my MacBook Pro (14-inch, 2021) and that the one cable will provide the MacBook both with power and with connections to two monitors — the Studio Display and a 27-inch Dell monitor with USB-C and QHD resolution. In other words, the chain would be: 14-inch MacBook Pro <—> Thunderbolt cable <—> Apple Studio Display <—> USB-C cable <—> Dell U2721DE monitor, if that works.

    Thanks for any info!
    I think Andrew means that if it was possible to daisy-chain two Apple Studio Displays, then Apple would have provided a second Thunderbolt 3 port to allow that (same deal with Thunderbolt 4). He's explaining why they didn't, but even if they did, anyone trying to daisy-chain a 4K display would also run into those same data limitations. In theory, your 2560x1440 Dell would work, barely, but Apple isn't going to do it just for that. [Actually, I just realized I have the ability to test this -- I have an Apple Studio Display, a Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 adapter, and an Apple Thunderbolt Display (also 2560x1440). I doubt it will work, but I will try it now...]

    The three additional USB-C ports on the back are USB 3.2 Gen 2 (formerly known as USB 3.1), which can be either USB-A or USB-C. [I think, by definition, they probably provide at least 7.5W power, but I couldn't confirm that.] So think of them as USB-A ports -- you wouldn't plug a display into one of those.

    So you'll need a powered hub to do what you want to do. The good news is that hub will be your best friend. There are several CalDigit Thunderbolt 4 hubs, but if you want Ethernet then you'll want the TS4 (in theory the TS3+ would work for your setup, but you'd need to make sure it is supported):

    https://appleinsider.com/articles/22/02/16/caldigit-ts4-thunderbolt-hub-review-the-dock-of-our-dreams
    Apple list the USB-C ports on the Studio Display for up to 10Gb/s *, which should be enough bandwidth for a 4k display at 60Hz.  Whether Apple allow passthrough of a display signal to another monitor I don't know. I suspect not, and that each monitor  would need to connect to a separate port, but stranger things have happened, maybe there's a pleasant surprise.

    I don't think john-useless's requirement is to power the monitor via USB.  Only portable monitors usually allow that.


    * https://www.apple.com/studio-display/specs/


    watto_cobra
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