The Best Thunderbolt Monitors Reviewed:

Thunderbolts and Lightning, Very Very Exciting

Apple’s own in-house Thunderbolt monitors are quite possibly some of the best computer displays ever created. When it comes to design work and sheer visual quality, they are pretty hard to beat. The Thunderbolt technology itself is also astounding, with massive amounts of bandwidth and wattage, connecting a professional-grade screen to your Mac has never been easier.

The biggest problem with original Apple Thunderbolt displays is undoubtedly the price. While we are all pretty much high-resolution screen and getting pixel-perfect images is a cinch.

The big problem is of course the price. We are used to paying the so-called “Apple Tax”, but some of the high-end Thunderbolt monitors from Apple are so expensive that they really can’t be justified for anyone but the most well-heeled design professionals. That doesn’t mean you have to settle for something that’s going to assault your senses. You can actually get a Thunderbolt monitor for much more reasonable prices that even exceeds the fancy Apple models in some ways. So if you are itching for a beautiful monitor to pair with your Thunderbolt-enabled Mac, one of these beauties is likely to help you see the whole picture.

Just remember that you need a Mac or MacBook that has both USB-3 and Thunderbolt 3 (or Thunderbolt 2 in the case of some older screens). With that sorted, it’s time to rock and roll.

LG 34UC98-W 34-Inch 21:9 Curved UltraWide QHD IPS Monitor with Thunderbolt

I’m a shameless fan of ultrawide monitors. These monsters are perfect for productivity,since you can effectively replace a dual-monitor setup with one. They can also show anamorphic widescreen films without any black bars, although all other content will have them. For gaming, these monitors are especially great and video editors have quickly started to grasp how well-suited they are for working with timelines.

LG and Samsung both have great ultrawides in their range, but in terms of price the LGs seem to offer the best mix of features, quality and asking price.

This 34” monster has an IPS panel, so you can calibrate it for design work and be assured of color accuracy. This is only a Thunderbolt 2 monitor, which is one of the reasons it’s going for a great price. That means you can’t have a bunch of other stuff chained in line, but if you are only looking to run the monitor, speakers, mouse and a keyboard it’s a sweet setup. Actually, the truth is that the 10Gbps available on Thunderbolt 2 is still plenty for most people. So even if you want to hook up a few hard drives or a printer, there should be enough data to go around.

This monitor is only a 60Hz model, which is typical of IPS displays. However, serious high refresh rate gamers and Apple professional users typically don’t overlap. At least not on the same machine. In any event, if you need a higher refresh rate than this you’ll have to look elsewhere.

The resolution on offer here is 3440×1440 pixels. That’s not a particularly high pixel density spread over such a large monitor, but using it at a comfortable distance should negate that issue.

It’s a real bargain, but as always with LG monitors, you should carefully check for any defects in the first few weeks. Take it from someone who has returned more than a few factory-defective LG monitors.

Dell UltraSharp U2715H 27-Inch Screen LED-Lit Monitor

Most people know Dell from their built-to-a-price office machines, but when the company tries it can make some really nice gear. Hey, these are the same people who make Alienware! Dell’s monitors are often overlooked because of their dull business image and reputation, but actually they make some of the nicest monitors I have every used. In fact, for a long time I ran two 27” ultrasharp monitors as my daily driver. Those screens were the ancestor of this lovely number that blows them out of the water with modern monitor specifications

By far my favorite feature of these screens has nothing to do with the screen itself. Instead, it’s the fantastic stand design that Dell has been using for ages. You can tilt and swivel the screen and even rotate it 90 degrees. Why would you want to do this? Well, I’ve found that working with landscape PDF documents and editing print copy all benefit from swiveling the screen into landscape mode.

Apart from the superb productivity ergonomics, the panel itself shows off what Dell can do. It’s a color-accurate, 2560×1440 QHD display with pin-sharp detail. While it isn’t a native 4K monitor, it’s right up there with the best of them in every other way. So if the resolution is acceptable to you, then this is one of the best alternatives to the pricey Apple screens. In fact, these work best in multi monitor setups, with the thin bezels on show. So why not take the Apple monitor money and blow it on two of these instead. There should still be change left over.

Samsung 34-Inch CJ791 Ultrawide Curved Gaming Monitor

If you’ve got a slightly bigger budget, then the general consensus is that Samsung has LG pipped overall with their screen technology. Not only that, but I personally have nothing bad to say about Samsung’s build quality. As long as you buy from someone with good return policies, LG is OK, but if you want something as close to bulletproof in the monitor world, Samsung has a great reputation.

This 34” ultrawide curved monitor isn’t cheap,but looking through its feature list it quickly becomes clear that it would be money well spent if you had it to spare. With a 3440×1440 resolution, it’s still a sub-4K monitor. However, you get an excellent 100Hz refresh rate and Samsung’s QLED technology. Their attempt at competing with OLED technology, using something called “quantum dots”. Quantum dots are significantly better than traditional LED LCD technology when it comes to producing vibrant, precise colors.Make no mistake, this is at the cutting edge of LCD tech. It’s a VA panel with a staggering 125% of sRGB. So you should have no qualms about using this for color-accurate creative work.

This screen has the latest Thunderbolt 3 connector, allowing for the full 40Mbps bandwidth you need to connect just about anything you’d want. Even better, the screen can provide 85W of laptop charging, so it really becomes the hub of an elegant one-stop docking station for your MacBook and just a great general purpose monitor for your Mac.

As for the curve, well usually I would say it’s a bit of a gimmick. It certainly makes no difference on a living room TV. When you have a 34” screen on your desk at a relatively short distance however, the slight curve can help bring the whole screen into your peripheral vision. It’s not worth getting a screen just for the curve, but in this case it’s actually a positive feature.

Finally, the design of this screen goes really well with the overall Apple aesthetic. For plenty of Apple users that’s going to be a big factor and this would look great in any studio or design setting where you are trying to make the right impression. Really, the only negative I can think of here is the price, but then don’t we always wish that the good stuff was better?

LG 34BK95U-W UltraFine 34″ 21:9 5K

While there are plenty of absolutely amazing screens on offer above, none of them are a proper substitute for the flagship 5K monitor from Apple. Which is why no list of third-party Thunderbolt monitors would be complete without this 5K beast from LG. It’s a monstrous 34” ultrawide Thunderbolt 3 screen with a staggering 5120×2160 resolution. It really doesn’t get much more high-end than this!

Sure, like most other 4K and up displays, you only get 60Hz from the screen, but for video and design work that’s just fine.

To top it all off, this is an ultrawide monitor, which is in my opinion the superior form-factor for productivity and creative work such as video editing. The real clincher is the price. In absolute terms this monitor is pretty pricey. Compared to the non-ultrawide 5K display from Apple, it’s nearly a third of the price. Is the Apple display three times better? I certainly don’t think so!

LG 27MD5KB-B UltraFine 27″ 16:9 5K

If you don’t care for the ultrawide form factor of the 5K display above and think that a 34” screen is just too big, then this 27” Ultrafine screen from LG is the most direct alternative to the Apple benchmark.

This is a 16:9 screen with a resolution of 5120×2880. It’s best feature is that you can literally buy two of these for the same price as a single Apple 5K display. Do you have to put up with LG’s slightly cheaper build quality and less fancy design? Yes you do. However, faulty screens can be sent back and no one but perhaps Samsung can look down their noses at the LCD panel technology LG is kicking out these days. With a 1200:1 contrast ratio and 10-bit accurate color, this screen should make all but the absolutely pickiest creative professional drool.

Just note that only Macs with two separate Thunderbolt 3 ports can run two of these babies at once. Such as the MacBook Pros form 2016 and onwards. Alternatively, you can use the money you save to buy a better specced Mac or MacBook. Unless you are an utter Apple diehard, this deal should be pretty hard to pass up.

Why Buy Third Party?

Even if the price of the Apple 5K display or one of its related members isn’t an issue, there are still plenty of reasons to pick third-party screens over what Apple offers. For one thing, at the time of writing Apple doesn’t offer any screens that have ultrawide aspect ratios. Ultrawide screens are a revelation and offer distinct productivity advantages over normal 16:9 monitors. You also won’t find anything really suitable for gaming in the Apple stable and Mac gaming is getting to the point where that might matter.

Styling is another reason. You may really like the looks of your Mac or MacBook, but Apple’s monitor designs aren’t always the right fit for every office or business. It’s easy to hide your Mac away, but the screen is always going to be the visible part of the system. In the end, third-party designs and color options are more varied, which could be a deciding factor.

If you want to use your screen with non-Mac hardware this could also be the right way to go. Most of these third-party screens will play well with just about anything over standard HDMI or DisplayPort inputs. Hooking other computers up to an Apple display can be more trouble than it’s worth. In the end, what really matters is consumer choice, This is one of the rare cases where Apple actually gives us the option to pair many different third-party core components and that’s better for everyone.

You may also be interested in our reviews about