How to connect the Apple Cinema Display to the new MacBook Pro – Macworld

Roger Harrop wrote in with a question that is on many, many of your minds, based on the email and Twitter queue:

I have just taken delivery of an impressive shiny new MacBook Pro, but I don’t seem able to get my Apple Cinema Display (A1267) to work with it. I bought the Apple Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 adapter but that doesn’t work—I suspect because the monitor has a Mini DisplayPort plug not Thunderbolt 2?

This is definitely prima facie confusing, and has perplexed tons of people who have considered buying a new MacBook Pro or purchased one and are trying to squash connectors together. Let me unpack the issue.

DisplayPort is a display standard. There are dedicated connectors that only pass video using the DisplayPort standard. The 24-inch and 27-inch Apple Cinema Display LED models (including Roger’s) had a three-connector cable that included Mini DisplayPort, USB 2.0, and MagSafe power.

Thunderbolt 2 rolled up a form of PCI Express data plus video using DisplayPort, and could support other kinds of data formats, like FireWire, through adapters or docks. The connector looks identical to Mini DisplayPort, but a Thunderbolt 2 controller and port could handle either a DisplayPort-only monitor or a Thunderbolt 2-supporting monitor, such as the Apple Thunderbolt Display, sold from 2011 to 2016. The Apple Thunderbolt Display used Thunderbolt 2 to connect to a Mac and deliver via the monitor FireWire 800, ethernet, USB, a camera, mic, and speakers. It also had a MagSafe power connector.

Here’s where it gets tricky. The USB-C standard for connecting devices includes USB 2 and 3, but allows for a bunch of extras, including DisplayPort, which are called alternate modes. Which modes a computer or other device can use depends on the controller. Apple opted to include DisplayPort’s alternate mode with the 12-inch MacBook (2015 and 2016).

The 13-inch and 15-inch MacBook Pros with Thunderbolt 3 support DisplayPort either over USB-C or as a mode within Thunderbolt 3! So a monitor that offers DisplayPort over USB-C (at up to 4K) can work with any Mac with USB-C, because all of those models support DisplayPort over USB-C. A monitor that offers DisplayPort via Thunderbolt 3 (at up to 5K) uses the same USB-C connector, but only works with Thunderbolt 3 Macs, as the DisplayPort data is encapsulated as part of Thunderbolt 3’s data stream.


Thunderbolt 3 is backwards compatible with Thunderbolt 2. Apple’s Thunderbolt 2 to Thunderbolt 3 adapter can pass through any Thunderbolt 2 data and it works with the new MacBook Pros. That includes supporting the Apple Thunderbolt Display.


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