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External Display Buyers Guide

SVALT D Performance Cooling Dock with MacBook Pro 15-inch Retina display Apple Thunderbolt Display Apple Wireless Keyboard Workstation

The SVALT Cooling Dock transforms clamshell mode laptops into performance desktop workstations.

The SVALT Cooling Dock not only helps to improve graphics performance through turbo charging GPU cooling, but the clamshell configuration switches off the laptop’s built-in display so that graphic resources can be dedicated to driving multiple full-sized and high-resolution displays. Combined with separate keyboard, trackpad, trackball, mouse or drawing device of one’s choosing, the SVALT Cooling Dock helps to create a more ergonomic and productive laptop workstation, while it’s compact configuration helps to regain valuable desktop space and create a more clean, open and modern workspace.

External Display Setup

The laptop’s Graphic Processing Unit (GPU), is largely responsible for driving the display performance. Laptops have two kinds of GPUs, either a separate and dedicated dGPU, or an integrated iGPU built into the laptop’s main processor, the Central Processing Unit, called the CPU. For any given generation of laptop, a dedicated dGPU will out perform an integrated iGPU. Only Apple’s top end 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro (15MBP) comes with a more powerful dedicated dGPU. All other Apple laptops use integrate iGPUs, but their power varies from the entry level 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro (15MBP) using the most powerful iGPU, then stepping down in power to the 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro (13MBP) and then stepping down again in power to the 13-inch and 11-inch MacBook Airs (13/11MBA). As a general rule each new generation of laptop uses a more powerful dGPU and/or iGPU that allows it to drive higher resolutions across more displays than the last generation.

Each laptop model line offers different external display connection types, and each connection type has specifications that determine the number of external displays that can be connected as well as their resolution and refresh rate. Apple's newer 2016-2017 15-inch and 13-inch MacBook Pros (15/13MBP) laptops include multiple USB-C / Thunderbolt 3 ports (4 ports for Touch Bar models and 2 ports for standard keyboard). Older 2012-2015 15-inch and 13-inch MacBook Pros (15/13MBP) models include two Thunderbolt a or 2 ports and one HDMI port. Apple 13-inch and 11-inch MacBook Air (13/11MBA) laptops include one Thunderbolt 1 or 2 port. Port types include different generations, such as Thunderbolt v1, v2 and v3, Mini DisplayPort v1.1 and v1.2, and HDMI v1.4 and earlier. Note that Thunderbolt ports have Mini DisplayPort functionality, but that Mini DisplayPorts do not have Thunderbolt functionality. When selecting a port, go with a Thunderbolt port, as they can drive the most number of displays at the highest resolutions and with the higher refresh rates.

If you are not sure what type of connection your laptop includes then you can go to the top left of your screen, click on the Apple logo, click on “About This Mac”, click on “Support”, click on “Specification” under “Macintosh Resources” and then scroll down the page to “Connections and Expansion” for a listing of all possible display connection types. While on this page, review the maximum supported resolution listed under “Graphics and Video Support” and take note that different connections support different resolutions as well as different refresh rates (Hz).

In addition to the laptop’s GPU and connection specifications, keep in mind that the installed operating system version and the display’s firmware can impact display performance. That makes for a lot of variables to consider, so when setting up a workstation it is best to start with the manufacturer’s external display specifications, and then experiment from that point to see how many more displays and how high of a resolution you can drive by using clamshell mode graphic optimization.

Laptop Specifications

The following are baseline specifications from manufacturers to help get things started (see references below for details).

Laptop models that support up to two 5K (5120x2880@60Hz) displays, one display per Thunderbolt 3 port:
  • 15MBP 2016-2017
Laptop models that support up to a single 5K (5120x2880@60Hz) display thru a Thunderbolt 3 port:
  • 13MBP 2016-2017
Laptop models that support up to a single 5K (5120x2880@60Hz) display thru dual-Thunderbolt 2 ports:
  • 15MBP 2015
Laptop models that support up to four 4K (4096x2304@60Hz) displays thru each Thunderbolt 3 port:
  • 15MBP 2016-2017
Laptop models that support up to two 4K (4096x2304@60Hz) display thru each Thunderbolt 3 port:
  • 13MBP 2016-2017
Laptop models that support up to two 4K (3840x2160@60Hz) displays thru Thunderbolt 2 ports:
  • 15MBP 2015
Laptop models that support up to a single 4K (3840x2160@60Hz) display w/ SST thru Thunderbolt 2 ports:
  • 15MBP 2014-2015
  • 13MBP 2015
  • 13/11MBA 2015
Laptop models that support up to a single 4K (3840x2160@60Hz) display w/ MST thru Thunderbolt 2 ports:
  • 15/13MBP 2015
  • Note from Apple: If you use a 60Hz MST display with the MacBook Pro (Retina, 15-inch, Late 2013), only one additional Thunderbolt display can be supported. Learn more about Thunderbolt ports and displays.
Laptop models that support up to two Apple Thunderbolt (2560x1440@60Hz) displays thru Thunderbolt 1 and 2 ports:
  • 15/13MBP 2012-2015
  • 13/11MBA 2012-2015
Laptop models that support up to a single Apple Thunderbolt (2560x1440@60Hz) display thru Thunderbolt and Mini DisplayPort ports:
  • 15/13MBP 2012-2015
  • 13/11MBA 2011-2015

Display Options

There are many potentially compatible displays available from retailers, but the following are some popular displays (compatibility to be determined by display connection type, laptop capabilities and user setup):
  • 34” 3440x1440 curved Dell u3415w (18.6 lb)
  • 34” 3440x1440 curved LG 34uc97 (18.2 lb)
  • 34” 3440x1440 LG 34um95 (17.0 lb)
  • 32” 3840×2160 4K LG 32UD99 (__ lb)
  • 31” 4096x2160 Eizo ColorEdge CG318-4K (26.9 lb)
  • 27” 5120x2880 5K LG UltraFine (18.7 lb)
  • 27” 3840×2160 4K HP ENVY (12.15 lb)
  • 27” 3840x2160 4K Dell p2715q (11.1 lb)
  • 27” 2560x1440 Eizo ColorEdge CG277 (30.4 lb)
  • 24” 3840x2160 4K Dell p2415q (7.4 lb)
  • 24” 2560x1440 Dell p2416d (7.9 lb)
  • 24” 1920x1200 Dell u2415 (9.4 lb)
  • 21.5” 4096x2304 4K LG UltraFine (12.3 lb)

Display Support Options

Depending on the display’s stand and the number of displays in your setup, you may want to use an adjustable display support system. The support system needs to be rated for the full weight of all the displays. Herman Miller offers a good selection of high-quality supports, such as the following:
  • Wishbone Plus Dual-Screen Monitor Arm 19” WC (52lbs x 2)
  • Wishbone Plus Single-Screen Monitor Arm 19” WC (52lbs x 1)
  • Wishbone Dual-Screen Monitor Arm 16” WC (26lbs x 2)
  • Wishbone Single-Screen Monitor Arm 16” WC (26lbs x 1)
  • Wishbone C-Post (26lbs x 1) + Clamp + 19” Post
  • Flo Plus Dual-Screen Monitor Arm CM (20lbs x 2): $677
  • Flo Plus Single-Screen Monitor Arm CM (40lbs x 1)
  • Flo Dual-Screen Monitor Arm CM (20lbs x 2)
  • Flo Single-Screen Monitor Arm CM (20lbs x 1)

References



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