Thunderbolt Display: A decade of desk setups

A look at how my desk setups have evolved over the past 10 years with the Thunderbolt Display at the heart of it all.

Last week Apple released an internal memo announcing that they will add Thunderbolt Display to their list of obsolete products. The news struck me as I used mine for almost 10 years straight, and it became one of my all-time favorite and longest-lasting Apple products.

I got the display in 2013, and while it makes me feel a bit old, it still feels like it was yesterday! Back then, I was in college studying graphic design and doing freelance branding and web design work. I decided to splurge on buying the display at its full price of $999. That might be cheap for a monitor by today's standards, but it was a significant investment for an 18-year-old in college. Looking back, it was well worth it, and I never regretted my purchase.

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By far, my favorite feature was that it allowed me to have a 1-cable connection to my Macbook via Thunderbolt. The 1 cable had a split at the end that offered both a Thunderbolt for the connection and Magsafe for the power. As the years passed and cables evolved, the Thunderbolt display continued to work thanks to adapters. Eventually, when thunderbolt technology evolved, the MagSafe part wasn't even necessary.

Also, loved the looks of the display; it made every setup look great. It was also great for designing with a 140p resolution, which was good for the time back in 2011 in a pre-Retina world. Another cool thing I appreciate is that it has not on/off switch, you just had to connect the Macbook, and it just worked.

Pics through the years

Over the past decade, my desk setup has gone through a number of changes, but one thing has remained constant - the Thunderbolt Display at the heart of it all. I decided to take a stroll down memory lane and look for pictures of my multiple setups that feature the display. You will see some significant time jumps, but for some reason could not find pictures during those dates. Also, I usually like to include links to tech I mention, but a few here are too old to find links for, so I apologize in advance. Here it goes:

July 2012: Pre-Thunderbolt era

One of my first attempts at a desk setup.

This was my setup right before I got the Thunderbolt Display. I have some sort of 24-inch HP display mounted to the wall. This was a mess, I have to say I've come a long way regarding desk setups (I hope at least). I was also using a Wacom tablet as a mouse stylus combo.

January 2015: First setup

Catching up with Reign while designing social media posts.

Although it got the display in 2013, This was the first pic I could find with the Thunderbolt display. My setup improved a lot with the new monitor. I think it also introduced me to a side hobby of collecting and testing different monitor stands. You can also spot the Bookarc holding the Macbook in the corner. Thanks to the Bookarc, from this point on, I almost exclusively worked with my Β Macbook in clamshell mode.

February 2016: Thesis companion

The desk was sometimes transformed into a cutting table.

This is from my last year of college while working on my thesis project, a board game about Graphic Design history. The setup feels similar, except I spot new speakers behind the Thunderbolt display.

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Phill was the best.
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Designing a logo while watching Gilmore Girls.

April 2018: At the office

Snacks and lego have always been staples in my setups.

In 2017 I started working at BOLD as a UX Designer (where I'm still currently working). They had an office in Puerto Rico, and one of the first things I asked IT for my desk was a Thunderbolt display. I had almost a duplicate setup at home and at the office, using a single laptop to connect with 1 cable. I found the Thunderbolt display built-in stand was way too low for regular use. That’s why you will notice I almost always used an extra stand.

January 2019: New apartment

For some reason, I used a stack of books for the display stand.

I got married in 2018 and moved into our current apartment. Moving meant that I now had my own room for a home office. But we used the room for storage for most of our first year. This was my first makeshift setup while we got settled into the apartment. The Thunderbolt display survived the move and was still working perfectly!

March 2020: Covid


I reorganized my setup a little bit. Upgraded my desktop to an Ikea tabletop. Ditched the stand and Got a VESA arm to mount the Thunderbolt display. You could attach and detach the display to build the stand, but it required precise and challenging credit card use to snap out the stand.

Also, by this time, Apple had already released their Pro Display XDR. While it gave me hope for a possible replacement for the Thunderbolt Display, its $4,999 was way too much to justify for me.

July 2020: Working from home

Doing some work in Axure while listening in to a meeting.

At this point I knew that I would be working from home for the foreseeable future because of Covid. It also became clear how outdated the display’s technology was. The built-in 720p webcam would not cut it for Zoom meetings, so I got a Logitech Brio webcam with 4k resolution. I also added a few more gadgets to improve my meeting setup; Logitech speakers, a Hue light strip at the back, and a boom arm with a Yeti Nano because the display's built-in microphone was terrible. I also tested a Logitech keyboard and the MX Master mouse. And as you see, I have yet another different iPad stand; it's clear I had a problem.

April 2021: Work buddy

Max always enjoys taking naps at our desks.

The setup did not change much for this one, but now I had a new work companion, Max. He always loves to be in our laps when my wife or I work; in this case, he was helping out with some wireframes. You can also spot yet another iPad stand.

August 2021: New chair and tech

Messy cables alert!

Now almost one year of working from home, I made a few more upgrades. The biggest one was upgrading my chair to a Herman Miler Aeron chair. My back pain was worsening, so this chair was the best investment I could have made. I also got a standing desk motor for my same Ikea kitchen top to try and alleviate the back pain. I had to change the shelf at the top so that the desk did not hit the shelve at the standing position.

At the time, I was also testing multiple new gadgets. I was playing around with both regular and X large versions of the Stream Deck. I was also testing out the Elgato Facecam versus my Logitech Brio (the Brio won).

November 2021: The last one

I cleaned up the desk for this pic, and it was not always this tidy.

This was my last setup with the Thunderbolt Display. It was still going strong, but I was very tired of the bad resolution. I was trying yet another monitor stand, lol. I also tried moving the desk to the middle of the office, but that only lasted about a year.

My setups might change, but Max keeps enjoying his naps on my laps while I try to work.

March 202: Hello Studio Display


On March 2022, Apple announced the Studios Display and boy, I was excited. It was everything I had hoped for and more. It was an instant buy for me. The Studio Display stayed true to its roots and felt like a natural successor to the impressive Thunderbolt display and a cheaper version of the more expensive Pro Display XDR.

A few nice improvements were that I no longer needed an external webcam because the built-in one was good enough for Zoom Calls. Also, I got the tilt adjustable stand option, meaning I no longer needed my collection of display stands.

Closing thoughts

The Thunderbolt Display was truly an iconic product from Apple. It proved a reliable companion for over a decade through important moments in my life. The design was sleek and stunning, and the ability to have a one-cable connection was a game changer. Although it had limitations, it will always be on the list of my favorite products. How about you? Did you ever have or want the Thunderbolt display? Let me know!