How to: Get your 30-inch Apple Display to work with your new Mac Pro

MacProFront

What’s another $100 when you’ve already spent $10,000 on a Mac Pro, am I right?

Here’s another tip from my “this might only affect me but I’ll throw it out there anyway” department (and I suppose this could also be filed under “First-World-Problems” too)… So after over 2 months of waiting, I finally received my super cool Mac Pro, (12-core, 64GB Ram, AMD FirePro D700 etc.). I connected it to a crappy 21-inch DVI monitor I had laying around while setting it up, with plans to move it over to my 30-inch (DVI) Apple Cinema display once all my apps and plug-ins were up and running smoothly. Well, today was the big day for the switchover, and imagine my surprise when my super cool top-of-the-line Mac Pro looked like absolute crap on my 30-inch Apple cinema display.

Before

Before

After

After

For some reason, the monitor was stuck at a resolution of 1280 x 800, and would go no higher despite the display’s native 2560 x 1600 resolution. Everything looked pixelated and blurry. It reminded me of when I would need to help my Dad with some tech support issue on his iMac, and I would see he had his resolution set to 800 x 600 so he could read the text (from the moon, apparently). Apps like Microsoft Word would have drop down menus that he never saw or even knew existed because his resolution was set so low that it cut them off entirely.

Well, suspecting that there had to be a reason for this, I did a little sleuthing and it turns out the reason is the Mini DisplayPort to DVI adapter I bought (for $30) for some reason isn’t powerful enough to connect the 30-inch Cinema Display to at full resolution. What I apparently needed to buy was the ($100) Mini DisplayPort to Dual-Link DVI Adapter. This adapter comes with a USB plug which I assume gives the adapter a little move juice so it can support the full 2560 x 1600 resolution. This is actually the FOURTH Mac Pro I have had hooked to this monitor, and I guess I didn’t realize my previous graphics cards all supported Dual Link DVI natively. I always thought the supported resolution of a monitor was dictated by the power of the graphics card, but it appears the limitation here is the super-lame, underpowered Mini DisplayPort technology Apple loves.

DualLinkDVIdisplayPort

I have to say, while this doesn’t exactly shock me, it certainly does annoy me. As a long-time Apple user, I am used to them sacrificing features and performance for shrinking inches and millimeters off their products (even professional products where we couldn’t care less what it looked like on the outside) just so they look cool. Sadly, while this monitor worked FINE on the previous generation Mac Pro with a worse graphics card, connected directly by the ancient DVI technology, it wasn’t going to work on the new “garbage can” Mac Pro. While dropping DVI may have let Apple make the Mac Pro look cuter, the move to Mini Display port doesn’t seem to have any benefit to the end user aside from us being able to give Apple an extra $100 for an adapter.

DualLinkDVIdisplayPort2

And while all that Mac Pro shrinking looks great on their webpage, it quickly looks a lot LESS nice from the back with all the cool adapters (and I have more coming).

niceAndNeat

OK, rant over. Anyway, if you are having trouble connecting your new Mac Pro to your “old” nice monitor, odds are its because your Mini DisplayPort adapter is not expensive, er, Powerful enough.

(Oh, and btw, this computer is crazy fast. Other than this annoyance, I love it).

Comments
33 Responses to “How to: Get your 30-inch Apple Display to work with your new Mac Pro”
  1. Sam B says:

    That’s because (as you wrote yourself) one of the adapters is DVI, while the other is Dual Link DVI; essentially 2 DVI adapters in one. To get that super high resolution you have to have dual link. It’s not a flaw of the Thunderbolt/MiniDisplay port, is that the adapter you originally used didn’t support Dual Link DVI which the monitor requires. Just out of curiosity, it would be interesting to get a DVI-HDMI adapter ($2 probably) and connect it to the HDMI output on the back of the Mac Pro. I wonder if you’d max out at 1920×1080 resolution or if you’d get full resolution.

    • well, I admit to not understanding the technical reasons, but why did the old DVI port on my last Mac Pro work fine and the Mini DisplayPort does NOT, if it is not the Mini DisplayPort’s “fault”?
      Seems to me the MDP is not able to do what a DVI port can?
      Thanks!
      – The Doc

      • Sam B says:

        The old DVI port on your last mac was actually a dual-link DVI port. And, for the sake of being pedantic, those aren’t actually MiniDP ports on your new Mac Pro, but Thunderbolt 2 ports, capable of 20Gbps throughput. It’s the teeny MiniDP to DVI adapter that’s the bottleneck. I’d still be curious about trying the HDMI port on the back, straight to DVI and see if it handles dual-link.

    • Jill says:

      I have bought half a dozen cables trying to solve this problem! I am SOO grateful for this post. And btw, YES, if you plug a DVI to HDMI adapter to your monitor it does come up high rez. The problem for me is that I use two monitors. One is a Cintiq and the other a 30″ Cinema display. There is only one HDMI port and from all my research a splitter only mirrors the monitors and doesn’t give you dual monitor capability. So for the Apple display I HAVE to to use a mini display port. I tried a DVI to mini display adapter – the results were low rez crap! The APPLE TECH from Apple Care told me to buy a DVI to HDMI adapter and plug THAT into an HDMI to mini display port adapter and THAT would give my high resolution… uh NOPE! I’ve now spent $300 on this BS and am HAPPY to spend another $100 just to have someone who has been dealing directly with this situation give me the solution!! Thanks a ton. Love my Mac Pro… kinda. Am in the ‘like’ phase until it’s running as good as my old tower. And my adapter optopus looks even worse than yours! Thanks!

  2. xgenius says:

    Get off your high horse for a moment, “the limitation here is the super-lame, underpowered Mini DisplayPort technology Apple loves.”

    You are kidding me right? The 30 dollar adapter you had is mini DisplayPort to DVI. The 30″ Apple Cinema Display has a Dual Link DVI. Thus you need a special adapter to get it functional. The only shame is that that adaptor costs so much but as websites have proven again and again, Apple puts high quality design, materials, and components inside of their adapters.

    So be happy and if before you try to get page views simply for your ego, how about learning something ‘technical’ instead of hoping the internet community will pardon you for not being actually tech-savvy.

    • I agree I should have done my homework as to WHY it doesn’t work, but I doubt this is a “page view” grabbing article. In fact I would assume this issue affects very few people. My rant is towards the end of a non-inflamatory “how to” headline, so anyone googling why their display doesn’t work will have their answer before I start whining.
      – The Doc

  3. CapM says:

    well, technically it sort of IS the Mini DisplayPort’s fault, as all high-end Mac-compatible graphics cards with DVI have had Dual Link DVI built in for quite a long time, and Apple switching to all Mini DisplayPort means everyone NEEDS to shell out for the $100 adapter in order to keep using their dual link displays. I would think a lot of people either forgot this or never knew it as it just used to work.

  4. Sam B says:

    You have an SGI console?!?

  5. jonafer says:

    I, too had to buy this adapter to connect my 30 monitor to the latest MacBook Pro Retina. While it works well, I am getting lots of horizontal “snow” lines (mixture of white and red) whenever the screen shows a solid black background. Also, another weird thing, this adapter only works using the thunderbolt port next to the USB, not the other one (closer to the power) if you want the native resolution. Thanks for sharing this info.

    • Keven Fedirko says:

      I also get the snow, I have tried every combination of thunderbolt port with a 23″ cinema display in every port combination, all give snow but sporadically when showing full black areas of the monitor. I took my mac and monitor to an Apple Store, and they said that’s the best that I can do/expect [this was circa Spring 2014] – live with the snow, until I can afford a 4K monitor. I have not had your port issues, so you might have a specific hardware issue (and perhaps Apple would replace your model with a newer one) … ? worth investigating I’d say.

  6. Matthew says:

    It is extremely well documented that the 30″ ACD requires dual-link DVI. However, for those with a 30″ ACD who didn’t realize this, I think your post might be something that comes up when they google. Here’s the Apple support page:

    http://support.apple.com/kb/ht3571

  7. Ken says:

    I just hooked up the same display at work and had the same problem. A quick google search and found your solution. Thanks for posting.

  8. Tim says:

    Weird question, but, what is your wallpaper? It looks like the Iron Giant or something, but I’m not sure. I like it!

    Awesome article, too. I’ll be getting my new Mac Pro in several weeks, and was not aware of this!

  9. John Vidale says:

    Thanks for posting this. A damned nuisance that Mac cut this corner.

  10. Tim says:

    Awesome, thanks!

  11. 0x00 says:

    Anyone seen an adapter that actualky works? The apple products are legendary for not working even after three iterations.iI just tried a Kanex, web searches suggested it had the highest chance of working acceptably (evenif not perfect) and it did not. Dropped connections more than once a minute. Same story as the apple adapter. Would love to find a working mdp to dual link solution…otherwise acd only useful with desktops with dl cards

  12. Matt says:

    Hi, thanks for this article!
    I have excitedly connected the 30in display to a new mac pro. The display is looking great, but none of the ports on the back of the display are working (USB, Firewire). There are two plugs that are currently not plugged in to anything, perhaps that’s the problem… Here’s what I’ve done: The big fat cable that comes out of the back of the display, it ends with 4 plugs: 1 plugged into the display’s big power brick thing, and I have plugged the screw-in plug into the adapter. I am not sure what to do with the remaining two plugs (USB&Firewire) that are part of the display cable. Should I plug them in somewhere? Note: The adapter (Mini DisplayPort to Dual-Link DVI Adapter) ends with two plugs and I have plugged those into the Mac Pro.

    Sorry for the extra-detailed description!, but if you can offer some help, I’d really appreciate it! I’d love to get the use of the ports on the rear of display. Keep up the interesting articles!
    Thanks,
    Matt.

    • Well the Firewire won’t work (without a firewire to Thunderbolt adapter), but there should be a USB plug on the Dual Link DVI Adapter. Plug the USB coming FROM your monitor into that and the USB should work. I am typing on my USB Apple keyboard connected to MY monitor…
      – The Doc

      • Matt says:

        Hi Dr. Macenstein:) Thanks for your reply. I tried the following: I shut down the Mac Pro, then I connected the USB plug on the display’s cable to the USB port on the adapter. Then, I started the computer, the computer came on but the display stayed completely dark. When I pulled the USB out of the adapter the display came on! It’s quite a mystery to me…
        Matt.

  13. Matt says:

    Hi Dr. Macenstein:) Thanks for your reply. I tried the following: I shut down the Mac Pro, then I connected the USB plug on the display’s cable to the USB port on the adapter. Then, I started the computer, the computer came on but the display stayed completely dark. When I pulled the USB out of the adapter the display came on! It’s quite a mystery to me…
    Matt.

  14. Yngve says:

    Do you know if its possible to hook up two Apple 30″ monitors to the new MacPro at the same time? To have dual monitors side by side at the same time with share desktop space?

  15. Mie says:

    Hi!

    Thanks for a great article. It was very helpful to me, and also all the replies to you.

    I have the same MacPro as you and the 30″ Apple Cinema Display. A year ago I bought this adopter to connect the display to a Lenovo computer: http://www.av-cables.dk/Displayport-adapter-kabel/accell-displayport-til-dvi-d-dual-link-aktiv-ati-eyefinity.html

    and there was no problem in that.

    Now with the new MacPro, I’ve use the same adapter, but I experience some black outs once in a while when I’m working. The display goes black for a few seconds, and then it comes back. It’s a little annoying, and I have tried searching the problem, and that is how I found your article.

    My question to you is, with the adopter from apple, do you experience these black outs? The apple adapter: http://store.apple.com/dk/product/MB571Z/A/mini-displayport-to-dual-link-dvi-adapter?fnode=51

    Again, thanks for a great article. I’m looking forward to your reply.

    – Mie

  16. Tony says:

    Hi I have a questions. I have an old 2008 imac I want to connect to my 30″ apple monitor. I do have the apple DisplayPort to Dual-Link DVI Adapter. It worked fine on my mac laptop. The problem is that my imac does not have a display port, it uses a mini dv port. Since I cant find an adapter of any kind, I used a DVI to mini DV connector from the monitor to the computer. The 30 inch monitor wont display full resolution.

    I am lost here.

  17. Sime says:

    Not sure if it’s worth $119AUD to buy one of these adaptors most ratings are 1 star on the apple site – I can’t find any in store anywhere in Melbourne, Aus. For the money I’d be better off selling the 30″ & getting a new 4k monitor and if need be a Mini DisplayPort to HDMI connector.

    • Paul Elliott says:

      Hey Sime. A Melbourne boy also. I have a late 2013 Mac Pro (‘trash can’). I had been using my dual 30″ Cinema Displays for a few years before that with the previous Mac Pro without problems. After some homework, before ordering, I did discover that I would need to purchase two Dual-Link DVI Adapters to connect to the new Mac Pro.
      I purchased them directly online from the Apple store. Everything worked fine… except maybe for a little ‘snow’ when solid blacks are on-screen. I didn’t attribute that to the adapters, I just thought my screens were showing their age.
      Is it adapters?
      Recently though I have had problems on re-start. The Mac Pro starts normally, an Apple logo appears and a countdown line. They disappear, but then both screens stay black and do not fire-up (although because of the snow I can see that there’s power there).
      After mucking around with connections etc. I discovered that when one of the monitors was disconnected, the Mac Pro and screen started normally. I then plug in the second monitor, it fires up normally and all is as it should be. Weird.
      Anybody out there with some clues as to why?

  18. Karl says:

    Hi. Speaking of 30″ monitors, what are the top 3 Video cards for a MacPro 1.1 running 10.5.8 to consider?

  19. Greg says:

    Thank you for a nice presentation. I just got a Mac pro (replacement – a nice deal but … the old was a better design) and tried to use my 30″ cinema display – yikes, imagine my surprise when I saw the 1200 resolution :-(
    The $100+tax solved the issue but … another problem came out.
    I can not figure out how to connect the USB to the display in order to make the ports working. Rebooting, changing the ports did not help.
    The USB ports on the display are dead. Just curious if you experienced any issues there?

    • Greg says:

      just to make sure: I connected the uSB cable from the cinema display directly to the usb port on mac pro. The Dual link adapter is connected to the Thunderbolt and USB on mac pro.
      I used different ports on mac pro for a cinema cable, but nothing worked.
      It is a PIA since there are only 4 ports and one is occupied for a screen adapter :-(

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