Apple Thunderbolt Display first impressions: Bold, big, pretty, and versatile

Apple's latest Thunderbolt device, the Thunderbolt Display, makes for a powerful and versatile workstation when coupled with a Thunderbolt-enabled laptop.

Apple's Thunderbolt Display makes for a great workstation when coupled with a Thunderbolt-enabled MacBook computer and an external mouse and keyboard.
Apple's Thunderbolt Display makes for a great workstation when coupled with a Thunderbolt-enabled MacBook computer and an external mouse and keyboard. Dong Ngo/CNET

Last month, when asked which one was better, Thunderbolt or USB 3.0, I said that it was hard to compare the two since Thunderbolt is about more than just storage. Now here's the proof: Apple's latest Thunderbolt-based device, the Thunderbolt Display.

This is the first display from Apple that uses Thunderbolt as the connection, and from my first impressions, it seems great.

First of all, it's extremely sleek with an aluminum chassis and a gorgeous-looking LED-backlight LCD. It's huge, too, with a 27-inch screen with a 16:9 aspect ratio and a maximum resolution of 2,560 x 1,440 pixels. I tried it with a MacBook Air and, once plugged in, the display took just a second to mirror the laptop's screen in its max resolution. When the laptop was closed, the Thunderbolt Display immediately become the computer's main display. And in case you want to do video chat when the laptop is closed, the display comes with a FaceTime HD camera and microphone, too. There's more: since Thunderbolt can also deliver sound, Apple incorporates within the new display some stereo speakers and a decent-sounding subwoofer.

All this means that when coupled with an external mouse and keyboard, the display will instantly turn any Thunderbolt-enabled laptop (or the new Mac Mini and iMac) into a complete workstation. Note that this works both when the display is plugged into the computer directly and when it's daisy-chained with another Thunderbolt device. I tried the new display with the Promise Pegasus R6, the first Thunderbolt storage device, and it worked just the same linked as it did as a single device.

In addition to the Thunderbolt goodness, the new display will add a slew of other peripheral ports to the computer, including three USB 2.0 ports (not USB 3.0, unfortunately), one FireWire 800 port, and one Gigabit Ethernet port. Since Thunderbolt offers 10Gbps bandwidth, you can actually use all of these ports at the same time without having to worry about reduced data rates.

So what's the catch? The new display only works with Thunderbolt-enabled computers and it's pretty expensive, costing around $1,000. To find out more about it, check back for the full review coming up very soon.

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