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Apple Thunderbolt Display Presents Problems For Linux

Michael Larabel

Published on 6 August 2012
Written by Michael Larabel
Page 1 of 3 - 54 Comments

For the past few weeks I have been trying out the Apple's Thunderbolt Cinema Display under Linux. While this 27-inch Apple Thunderbolt Display is beautiful and delivers stunning quality, it does illustrate another area where the current Linux hardware support currently comes up short. There's both good and bad news about using a Thunderbolt-based display under your favorite Linux distribution.

Apple's latest display is the world's first Thunderbolt monitor. Thunderbolt, for those not up to speed, is the Intel technology formerly codenamed Light Peak. Thunderbolt pairs PCI Express and DisplayPort into a serial data interface and opens up some interesting possibilities like being able to daisy chain multiple Thunderbolt devices (including displays) over a single connection. Apple's Thunderbolt Display boasts a wonderful 27-inch 2560 x 1440 LCD IPS panel that from a single Thunderbolt port is able to drive the display at its large resolution, provide connectivity for three USB 2.0 ports, one FireWire 800 port, one Gigabit Ethernet port, and one additional Thunderbolt port for connecting other devices. The Thunderbolt port also provides connectivity for an integrated FaceTime HD camera with microphone and there's an integrated 2.1 speaker system; the technology allows for 10 Gbps transfers in both directions. The Thunderbolt technology and capabilities offered by it are certainly interesting and open up new possibilities.

This 27-inch display is built very well just like Apple's other products. The display is LED-backlit and for convenience does offer a MagSafe/MagSafe2 power connection for being able to charge an Apple MacBook Pro all from the same power plug as the monitor (85 Watt maximum for the MagSafe power connection while the max power draw overall is 250 Watts). Multiple Apple Thunderbolt displays can be daisy chained together for an even more impressive setup, but with a retail price of over $999 USD per display, they are out of reach to most individuals.

The 27-inch Apple Thunderbolt Display has a 178-degree viewing angle, ambient light sensor for automatically adjusting the display's brightness, a smooth-motion hinge for adjusting the viewing angle from -5 to 25 degrees, and the 2.1 audio system also isn't too bad for being integrated into a monitor. Other tech specs on this 2560 x 1440 Apple display include 375 cd/m2 brightness, 1000:1 contrast ratio, 12 ms response time, 64 x 49.1 x 20.7 cm dimensions, and 10.8-kilogram weight.

The LCD display looks great and offers some impressive features that make it one of the most advanced monitors available. Testing of this Thunderbolt display happened at Phoronix with the Thunderbolt-enabled Apple Mac Mini (Mid-2011; Intel Sandy Bridge) and the Retina MacBook Pro (Mid-2012; Intel Ivy Bridge). Using OS X 10.7 Lion and the brand new OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion operating systems both worked "out of the box" and were fantastic with the display, as would be expected for Apple products. However, under Linux it was a different story...

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