2012 MacBook Air 13 Pushing Dual Thunderbolt Displays... WELL?

Discussion in 'All Things Apple' started by chadrandom, Jan 10, 2013.

  1. chadrandom

    chadrandom Junior Member

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    Hi everyone,

    This is my first AnandTech post, so hopefully it's in the right place...

    Has anyone here actually used a MacBook Air 2012 to drive two Thunderbolt Displays? I'm interested in this set up but I'd like to either get some feedback from someone who has done it, or see it on a video before purchasing.

    My concern is that I currently use a MacBook Air 2011, with screen active, plus one Thunderbolt Display, and just watching the wallpapers fade in and out displays choppiness that I am unhappy with. If I upgrade to the 2012 model and two TD's, I would not be using the screen on the MBA.

    Dual 2560x1440 is a lot to push. If I need to buy the most beastly MBA to make it happen, that's fine. However, I don't want it to be choppy all the time. I don't do photo or video editing; I simply have a ton of windows open all the time and need the pixel real estate. However, if the computer won't be able to handle rotating wallpapers, that will bother me. I know, that may be crazy, but that's me.

    Unfortunately the MBP 13 has the same graphics, and the MBP 15 is too big for my needs. So back to the original question...

    Anyone here actually used a 2012 MacBook Air to drive two Thunderbolt displays? How does it fair? Choppy? Smooth? What say you?


    Thanks for your input.
     
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  3. chadrandom

    chadrandom Junior Member

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  4. dagamer34

    dagamer34 Platinum Member

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    There's no point in upgrading from the 2011 to 2012 MacBook Air just to try drive 2 Thunderbolt displays. Wait until this year's model.
     
  5. TheStu

    TheStu Moderator<br>Mobile Devices & Gadgets
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    I'm with that ^ guy. The 1 generation bump won't be that noticeable, try and hold out for the 2013 model.
     
  6. runawayprisoner

    runawayprisoner Platinum Member

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    Or alternatively, get the 15" Retina MacBook Pro. That one is sure able to drive as many external displays as you can connect since it has beefy graphics, and it's only about the same weight as the 13" MBP.

    The most beastly MacBook Air 13" would be priced only about $200 cheaper than the base Retina MacBook Pro 15". Or if you get the Retina refurbished, you can get it for even cheaper.

    On a side note, my friend had a 13" MBA 2012 model connected to 2 Thunderbolt displays. Not the most beastly computer, but for what he was doing (coding, Photoshop), it wasn't too bad.
     
  7. chadrandom

    chadrandom Junior Member

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    Thanks for the replies everyone.

    dagamer34 & TheStu: I actually just bought the 2012 MBA13 256GB because I found one on Craigslist for $1,000 just 2 days old. It was just too sweet of a deal to pass up.

    So my question remains... can the 2012 MBA push 2 TB displays decently (meaning no stutter or constant fan blowing on graphically non-intensive work)?

    runawayprisoner: It sounds like your friend was (or is) doing exactly what I'm thinking of. I don't need to do any video or photo editing on my set up. It's just having tons of windows open all the time and wanting more screen real estate. However, I'm concerned it will be so taxing on the MBA that everything will be bogged down. Any chance your friend would be willing to post a video to YouTube (surprisingly there isn't one yet) or chime in here in the forums?

    Thanks for your thoughts everyone.


    Chad
     
  8. manly

    manly Diamond Member

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  9. runawayprisoner

    runawayprisoner Platinum Member

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    Unfortunately, he's pretty busy these days (product launch preps) to do those things.

    I can relay to you, though, that the performance isn't exactly smooth. If you have ever used a 2010 MacBook Air 11" with that Core 2 Duo 1.4GHz CPU and 2GB RAM, then... it feels exactly like that.

    Also he couldn't afford to push any application into fullscreen mode, because then it would disable the other 2 screens. His workspace was strictly windows-only (no pun intended).
     
  10. dagamer34

    dagamer34 Platinum Member

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    I don't think the Retina MacBook Pro would be able to handle 2 Thunderbolt displays smoothly as the Retina display itself has almost double the number of pixels on a standard 1080p monitor and it's not 100% fluid on its own compared to a 2011 MacBook Pro (I owned both).

    If you really want to drive multiple, high resolution displays, I think it's best to wait for Haswell (4th generation Intel Core CPU) with the high-end embedded DRAM SKU, it should make dealing with multiple high resolution displays a lot easier.
     
  11. TheStu

    TheStu Moderator<br>Mobile Devices & Gadgets
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    I have seen pictures of the 15" rMBP hooked up to 2*27" TB displays and 1*21" 1080p display.
     
  12. dagamer34

    dagamer34 Platinum Member

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    I didn't say it wasn't possible. He asked if such a scenario (or similar) results in smooth operation. I wasn't so sure.
     
  13. TheStu

    TheStu Moderator<br>Mobile Devices & Gadgets
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    You're right, you did, apparently I can't read properly first thing in the morning.
     
  14. runawayprisoner

    runawayprisoner Platinum Member

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    I've tried connecting my Retina to 2 Cinema Displays (no Thunderbolt Display at work yet, and no plan to upgrade).

    And it turns out that it's just the internal display that doesn't behave 100% fluid. The 2 external displays acts just fine.

    So I sincerely believe it's a software problem rather than a hardware problem. Also to that end, Haswell isn't a major improvement in CPU performance, so it's not very likely that it'll fix any problem that's not already there.

    If CPU was a problem, you'd think the 2.7GHz top-end rMBP shouldn't experience this performance issue, but it does.

    And I'm ruling out the internal Intel HD graphics because as soon as an external display is connected on the rMBP, the dedicated GPU is forced to be on. Attempting to force it off would just cause the external displays to black out.
     
  15. chadrandom

    chadrandom Junior Member

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    Thanks again for your thoughts everyone. It sounds like while the Intel 4000 is can technically do it, it can't do it very well. I think I'll wait for Haswell and see how things improve. It's kinda funny to me that Apple's sale of at least one more TB display is in the hands of Intel's ability to handle the additional load. It makes me wonder... if the next gen of TB Display will be retina, will it have it's own built in GPU to relieve the load on the computer? And if so, could a person daisy chain them to Thunderbolt's theoretical maximum without suffering considerable performance loss?

    I know it may be more than I really need, but ever since seeing a guy push 3 Dell U3011's in portrait I've been hoping to have a similar set up with TB displays daisy chained to a docked MBA13. That's my current dream set up for maximum productivity in a super sleek aesthetic at the home office, and maximum portability for travel. Sounds like it's going to be a couple years before that's realistic though. (... because the 15" rMBP is too big for my taste on the travel side of the coin. The 13" rMBP size is fine, but suffers the same fate with no discrete GPU. )

    Thanks again everyone. Curious to know what kind of set ups you guys use, recommend, or dream of too.

    Cheers,


    Chad
     
  16. manly

    manly Diamond Member

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    Haswell should double GPU performance, it wouldn't be surprising if that improved "snappiness" at Retina resolutions?
     
  17. runawayprisoner

    runawayprisoner Platinum Member

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    It actually doesn't matter. You can force the dedicated GPU and Retina would still not be 100% fluid compared to respectively-sized MacBooks. It seems Apple is doing a lot of the scaling on the CPU, and their attempts at trying to keep CPU usage down are causing those performance issues.
     
  18. Emulex

    Emulex Diamond Member

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    you can run it native resolution with switcher. Fluid as in what? if you are trying to play games with Anti aliasing that would be silly since the high res displays don't need it.

    Fine for business work