Apple rarely publishes sales figures on certain models of products they offer, but I can imagine they shipped at least hundreds of thousands of its two Apple LED Cinema Displays (24-inch, 2008 to 2010 and 27-inch, 2010 to 2013). based on the number of people who contacted and want to connect them to a USB-C equipped MacBook.
I’ve bought several adapters and cables that can take the Mini DisplayPort (not Thunderbolt) of the LED Cinema Display and convert it into something that goes over USB-C into a compatible tether that allows you to connect to a USB-C equipped MacBook. My tests show three affordable and viable options, plus a reasonable option for a full-featured USB-C dock that only requires a simple adapter.
Apple made several generations of its displays: the first used DVI (in single-link and dual-link flavors); the second, Mini DisplayPort; the third, Thunderbolt 2. I am interested here in the second type of connector, Mini DisplayPort, which is different from Thunderbolt 2, although both standards use the same type of connector. (You can find some options for DVI, but we chose not to test them due to the smaller number, display quality, and age of those that remain usable.)
Note that Apple says it is Thunderbolt 2 to Thunderbolt 3 Adapter does not work with DisplayPort and Mini DisplayPort displays, including the Apple LED Cinema Display. Thunderbolt adapters do not work. What is needed is a USB-C to Mini DisplayPort adapter.
While there are several USB-C docks on the market that accept external video, almost all of them only have an HDMI connection and, for example, there is no female Mini-DisplayPort to male HDMI adapter available. (Make no mistake and order one of the male Mini-DisplayPort to female HDMI adapters on the market.)
I searched Amazon, product manufacturer sites and other retailers for possible adapters, read reviews and decided to test four adapters. Some of the adapters tested go in and out of stock quickly, so I’m offering a few alternatives.
Connect two or more external displays to Apple Silicon M1 or M2 Macs
If you’re looking for a full USB-C dock, look for one like the CalDigit USB-C dock† I’ll discuss it below and in a separate review, but it has both HDMI and full-size DisplayPort connections, and only requires a mini-DisplayPort female to full-sized male DisplayPort adapter to work with an LED Cinema Display.
Not everything works perfectly over USB-C with the Apple LED Cinema Display, but it matches up pretty well. I tested on a 27-inch model.
If you only connect a Mini DisplayPort adapter, you will get the following with the tested products:
External audio through the screen speakers and audio volume control from the laptop
Power (but no data) to the USB 2.0 ports on the back of the display
The only glitch seems to be a small line of missing pixels in the top right corner of the screen when plugged in via the CalDigit dock, but it’s almost unnoticeable.
However, the missing part is brightness and USB 2.0 data throughput. I didn’t find the default brightness level disturbing or blinding, but that’s a very individual assessment.
You need to use a USB-C to Type-A adapter to connect the USB Type-A plug of the monitor, then you can control the brightness via a keyboard, Touch Bar or the Displays system preference panel, and connect a keyboard , mouse and other low data rate devices.
Connecting USB also enables a built-in iSight (640×480 pixel resolution) camera and microphone, which are redundant for a Mac laptop’s microphone and FaceTime support.
For a MacBook Pro, using USB 2.0 means giving up two ports to get brightness and other functions: one for the Mini-DisplayPort adapter and one to connect a USB plug. However, using a USB-C hub or dock with multiple Type-A ports can fix that problem.
what to buy
I found four different options that worked perfectly.
UPTab USB-C to Mini-DisplayPort adapter. This one UPTab adapter has the great advantage of supporting pass-through USB-C power. It is attractively made and appears solidly constructed. The $35 price tag may seem exaggerated compared to adapters and cables that cost $10 to $15, but the wattage-level engineering and components used to charge a Mac laptop comes at a cost. along.
For a MacBook owner, the power port is extremely convenient, allowing you to use the adapter without consuming any power. However, with the laptop’s single USB-C connector up and running, you’re stuck if you need to connect other USB devices, such as a wired keyboard or mouse, an external drive, or SD card reader.
Itanda Type-C adapter. The Ruggedly Made, Attractive, $20 Itanda is probably the best choice for a MacBook Pro owner. It is cheap and compactly takes up a port.
A few adaptors. If a direct adapter, like the Itanda, isn’t available and you want an alternative that works just as well in my testing, you can pair two adapters.
At $21.50 or $24 combined, both are more expensive than the Itanda, but I had no trouble getting the same sharp performance and support.
Some readers tried more complicated options, with a female-to-female inline Mini DisplayPort adapter, but given the two-adapter option, that’s no longer necessary.
Why not HDMI? You may be wondering why I didn’t try some kind of HDMI situation where I converted Mini DisplayPort to an HDMI plug or adapter jack and then plugged it into the HDMI port available in various USB devices. C docks. I tried a few variations of this, and it didn’t work, although others have had different luck.
DisplayPort is a video standard that works through its own proprietary connector styles (DisplayPort and Mini DisplayPort), and can be embedded as a data standard in Thunderbolt 2, Thunderbolt 3, and USB-C. While DisplayPort can also be routed over an HDMI cable – HDMI is its own set of standards – it doesn’t seem to survive the passage of multiple adapters and an Apple LED Cinema Display.
The only reason you’d want this option is if you have a dock that doesn’t have a free USB-C data port that allows DisplayPort pass-through and has an HDMI connection.