Apple might put a GPU right inside the Thunderbolt Display

A new external monitor is reportedly on the way, and it'll be able to do all the heavy graphics lifting on its own.

Apple Thunderbolt Display

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A Thunderbolt Display will run you a cool grand, but Apple hasn’t updated the external monitor/laptop dock in about five years. If you’re in the market for a second screen, you might want to hold off, because rumor has it that the Thunderbolt Display is getting a huge upgrade this year—and we just might see it at the Worldwide Developers Conference this month. [UPDATE: Rene Ritchie at iMore talked to some people who denied this would happen at WWDC. But that doesn't necessarily mean Apple won't make this sometime in the next year or two.]

WWDC isn’t typically a hardware-palooza, but 9to5Mac is reporting that the refreshed display might take the stage for one big reason: a GPU baked right inside. Why on earth would Apple do that? Well, the display is rumored to be 5K with a 5120x2880 resolution. The MacBooks you connect to a 5K display likely won’t have the graphics processing power to take advantage of that insanely high resolution. The (rumored) solution: integrating the GPU inside the display.

From what it sounds like, the refreshed Thunderbolt Display’s GPU would take over if necessary and let your Mac’s internal GPU chill out. It’s one or the other—they can’t work together—but the switch would automatically, without any extra work on your end. The bad news? According to 9to5Mac, it’s unlikely that older Macs would be able to take advantage of that 5K display, since it might need Thunderbolt 3. That uses the same USB-C form-factor that the most recent Retina MacBooks have—but those MacBooks don’t support Thunderbolt 3.

Why this matters: Your MacBook would pick up a super high-resolution screen if attached to this rumored upgraded display, which would be pretty awesome. Also, it’s about time for Apple to refresh its outdated hardware. The MacBook Pro is also reportedly getting an overhaul this year, but Apple might wait til fall to show it off—in which case, launching a new Thunderbolt Display alongside would make sense. However, Thunderbolt Display stock is currently running low, signaling that Apple might be clearing out existing product to prep for a brand new, more awesome one. Hopefully we’ll find out soon enough.

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