From 1999 to 2016, Apple released and sold a range of external digitally connected displays optimized for Mac users. The displays started with DVI connectors, shifted to the Apple-made ADC connection, then back to DVI, expanded to dual-link DVI, flipped to the industry standard Mini DisplayPort, and finally ended with Thunderbolt 2 connectors. After not making a display for a while, Apple returned to the market with its own Thunderbolt 3 display, the Pro Display XDR, and started shipping it in December 2020 for a minimum of $5,000. It also now sells the Studio Display, which starts at $1,599.
Many of those older Apple monitors remain in the field and in use. Apple never releases much about unit sales, but it’s a fair guess that several million screens have been sold. While monitors dim and components fail over time, repurposing an external Apple display with a new USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 Mac remains one of the top questions Macworld gets from its readers.
That question has popped up more than ever since a large number of people who worked in the office switched to working from home. Many of us have or prefer a dual monitor screen; some readers have sent us pictures of multiple monitors controlled by the same Mac.
You may have upgraded your Mac since 2015 or 2016 and left an older Apple screen for compatibility reasons, but now it looks very appealing for your work-from-home situation. Let’s take a look at the options of different generations of Apple equipment.
(Also, don’t forget that if you have an iPad that can run iOS 13 and a Mac model released with macOS Catalina since about 2015, you can use the Sidecar feature to extend your Mac with an iPad. for other options, check out the more widely compatible Luma Display, as well as Duet Display, which works with Apple and other mobile and desktop platforms. We also have instructions for connecting more modem displays (and even an old iMac) as a second display.)
For more information about connecting a display to a Mac, see:
Connecting an older display to Thunderbolt/USB-C
In this article I discuss compatibility with Thunderbolt 3, which relies on the USB-C connector. All current Apple Macs include Thunderbolt 4, a high-speed data transfer standard that also relies on the USB-C connector. Apple’s version also allows backwards compatibility with Thunderbolt 2 and, using adapters, can connect directly to HDMI, DisplayPort, and USB 2 and 3, among other standards. Docks expand compatibility further, with Mini DisplayPort, VGA, DVI and other formats. (While we’ve written about this in several articles before, we decided to consolidate everything we knew, along with newer and better-reviewed adapters, in one place.)
Only a single Mac model ever had a USB-C connector without Thunderbolt 3: the 12-inch MacBook that Apple introduced in 2015, updated in subsequent years, and discontinued in 2019. I’ll list the exceptions below for clarity.
Since you’re more likely to have access to a newer Apple Display than an older one, I’ll cover the four digital standards Apple has used in reverse: Thunderbolt 2, Mini DisplayPort, ADC, and DVI (including dual-link DVI for larger displays). ).
If you’re not sure which screen you have, look on the back to find the model number (not the name, which often stays the same in many revisions), then enter that detail into Google to get the full tech specs and type. find connector.
Finally a MagSafe warning. Apple offered MagSafe and MagSafe 2 connectors with some of its later-generation monitors so you can use the display as a hub: plug in one or two cables and MagSafe, and your laptop was good to go. Apple has never licensed MagSafe to third parties, even though you can find MagSafe “adapters” for USB-C, these products likely violate Apple patents and are not certified by Apple.
As a result, if you use one and damage your Mac, you could lose your computer and unbacked up data for the minor convenience of reusing the display’s charging port, and it’s likely that Apple would attempt warranty repair to refuse (if it is under warranty). Read the one-star reviews on these products for more information. I’ve also noticed that retailers are hitting hard on their sales as there are almost none currently available on Amazon as I write this.
Lightning strike 2
From 2011 to 2016, Apple sold its Apple Thunderbolt Display, a 27-inch 2560×1440-pixel monitor that relied on a Thunderbolt 2 connector to carry data to and from a Mac, along with a MagSafe or MagSafe 2 connector (depending on model) for charging. The monitor had a 720p iSight camera (front-facing), microphone and speakers, and several connectors: a gigabit Ethernet port, a FireWire 800 port, and three USB ports.
You can look at the crouched Thunderbolt 2 connector to find a lightning bolt symbol to make sure it’s not an earlier monitor that uses an identical-looking connector shape, but can only handle Mini DisplayPort. (That symbol is a rectangle with a vertical line on either side.)
Apple sells a Thunderbolt 2 to Thunderbolt 3 adapter ($49; available from Amazon) that allows you to easily plug the Apple Thunderbolt Display into the adapter and the adapter into a Thunderbolt 3 port. (Note: this does) not working with a 12-inch MacBook, which has disappointed many buyers.)
While the Thunderbolt 2 cable doesn’t power a Mac laptop, it should allow use of all other ports on the screen. If you’re having trouble getting the camera to work and only see a black feed, try this software agent fix trick on Stephen Foskett’s blog.
Back in time we look at the LED Cinema Display. A 24-inch model (1920×1200 pixels) was sold from 2008 to 2010, and a 27-inch version (2560×1440 pixels) was sold from 2010 to 2013. This series of displays featured a three-ended cable with a USB 2.0 plug, MagSafe power, and a MiniDisplayPort. It also had a 480p iSight, a microphone and speakers, and a USB 2.0 hub with three built-in ports on the back.
Although Thunderbolt 2 and Thunderbolt 3 carry DisplayPort video using the DisplayPort standard, the way that signal is routed over the wire makes it incompatible with Thunderbolt. Confusing, I know, and annoying to people since the early Thunderbolt days.
To use an LED Cinema Display with a modern Mac over USB-C, you’ll need an adapter or a dock. Both the adapter and dock can be USB-C compatible (for a 12-inch MacBook) or Thunderbolt 3 compatible.
(Note: You cannot pass any DVI or dual-link DVI with a DVI-to-Mini DisplayPort adapter through a Mini DisplayPort adapter. The DVI-based signal cannot be encapsulated in that order. Most adapters and docks warn buyers, some of whom buy anyway and leave 1-star reviews in the comments.)
You have three solid choices for adapters:
Pass-through USB-C power supply: A great adapter with USB-C power throughput is the UPTab USB-C to Mini DisplayPort Adapter ($34.95). This is useful with a laptop with one or two ports, such as the 12-inch MacBook and all Thunderbolt 3 MacBook Air and MacBook Pro models.
Video only: If you have extra ports, work with a desktop computer or use a MacBook Air and don’t mind occupying one port with power and one with the display adapter, your best option is the USBCele USB Type C to Mini Display Port 4K Cable Adapterwhich is much more affordable ($14.99 on Amazon).
Mono price option: Monoprice offers a simple adapter, its Monoprice Select Series USB-C to Mini DisplayPort Adapter ($14.99).
With docks, options abound, but the cost is much higher. If you want to salvage an LED Cinema Display and not need the array of other ports in a dock, consider getting a much cheaper DisplayPort or HDMI display and a USB-C adapter for either format. to connect to your Mac.
However, if you want the ports: and to connect a 24-inch or 27-inch LED Cinema Display, consider a dock like the OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock ($329). It brings two Thunderbolt 3 ports to the mix, as well as gigabit ethernet, a combo audio in/out jack, optical (S/PDIF) output, SD and Micro SD card slots, and four USB 3.1 Type-A ports. It supports simultaneous display via Mini DisplayPort and Thunderbolt 3.
ADC and DVI
Finally, we’re all the way back to the earliest range of usable-sized digitally connected Apple LCD displays. From 1999 to 2004, Apple released the 22-inch Apple Cinema Display (DVI in 1999, ADC in 2000), the 23-inch Cinema HD Display (ADC, 2002), the 20-inch Apple Cinema Display (ADC, 2003; DVI, 2004), and the 23-inch (DVI, 2004) and 30-inch (dual-link DVI, 2004) Cinema HD Display models. These ranged from 1600×1024 pixels for the earliest to 2560×1600 for the latest largest monitor.
For all DVI-based displays, except the 30-inch HD model, you can get a simple, inexpensive adapter. For displays with ADC, you’ll have to find an ADC to DVI adapter on eBay or elsewhere, which was once plentiful. You may even have one in your junk box of old adapters. (Don’t try to fool me; I know you have one.)
A few well-reviewed adapters include one from Benfei ($16.99), Cable Matters ($19.99), and Weton ($25). Weton’s adapter also supports output to VGA and HDMI.
The dual-link DVI port on the 30-inch Apple Cinema HD Display requires a different approach to linking together the separate DVI signals driving the larger display. At least one reader had success with the Club 3D Dual Link DVI to USB-C Adapter ($44).
You may also choose to find an Apple Mini DisplayPort to Dual-Link DVI adapter, which is no longer manufactured but shows up on eBay and elsewhere from time to time. Monoprice also offered such an item, but of course it is also out of stock. This adapter combined with a Mini DisplayPort adapter or dock with the port known for Mini DisplayPort era monitors has worked for some.