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Thunderbolt Display stock-outs continue as Apple's iMac inventory improves

While Apple has begun to catch up with demand for its redesigned iMacs, the company's Thunderbolt Display remains in limited supply at resellers, potentially hinting that an update could be around the corner.

As of Thursday, the 27-inch Apple Thunderbolt Display is sold out at Amazon, MacConnection, and J&R. Resellers MacMall, B&H and Best Buy advertise that they have inventory available.

AppleInsider first noted in January that Thunderbolt Display units were in short supply at some resellers. The fact that inventory remains limited a month and a half later may hint that Apple is drawing down supply ahead of a refreshed product.

In disassembling Apple's current-generation Thunderbolt Display, the repair experts at iFixit discovered that the device employs the same LG TFT active-matrix LCD screen as the previous-generation 27-inch iMac. Miroslav Djuric, chief information architect at iFixit, described the Thunderbolt Display as "an iMac minus the computing hardware."It's likely that a new Thunderbolt Display would borrow design elements from the new, thinner iMac.

If that strategy were to continue, then some of the new design elements employed by Apple in its latest iMac would come to the next-generation Thunderbolt Display. The new iMacs include thinner LCD panels that are fused to the front glass of the display.

The chances of a soon-to-debut thinner Thunderbolt Display have also improved since January as Apple has begun to catch up with demand for its updated iMacs. The screen lamination process used in manufacturing the thinner all-in-one desktops led to production issues that plagued the hardware into early 2013.

Thunderbolt Display

As of Thursday, Apple has not yet completely caught up with iMac demand, as the company's website advertises that the 21.5-inch model ships in 2 to 3 weeks, while the larger 27-inch variety ships in 3 to 4 weeks.

But Apple also saw its domestic Mac sales grow 31 percent year over year in the month of January, according to data released this week by the NPD Group. That significant spike in sales was taken as a sign by analyst Gene Munster of Piper Jaffray that Apple has begun to catch up with demand for the new iMacs.

Beyond a thinner design, a new Thunderbolt Display would also likely see upgraded USB 3.0 ports. Apple began offering faster USB 3.0 connectivity on its 2012 Macs, including the redesigned iMac, offering transfer rates up to 5 Gbps, compared to just 480 Mbps for USB 2.0.