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Rumors of a revamped Thunderbolt Display with high-resolution Retina display have persisted for years, but a new report claims that Apple may finally update its standalone display, complete with an external graphics card that would ensure all Macs could push the pixels necessary for a 5K resolution.
Citing unnamed sources, 9to5Mac reported on Wednesday that Apple is working on a new 27-inch Thunderbolt Display that would, unsurprisingly, feature the same 5K-resolution panel found on the company's existing 27-inch Mac.
More surprising, however, is the suggestion that Apple may include a graphics card within the display itself. Such capabilities are technically possible thanks to the high speeds of the Thunderbolt port, which some Windows PC makers have taken advantage of to turn portable laptops into gaming powerhouses when docked.
Embedding a graphics card into the Thunderbolt Display could help Apple to ensure that virtually any modern or future Mac could handle the processing power necessary to push pixels to a 5K-resolution display. That would be of particular interest to owners of the 12-inch MacBook, which features an ultra-low-power Intel Core M processor, which allows for a silent and cool fan-less design.
The fact that Thunderbolt can support external graphics cards has led to some unofficial workarounds among Mac enthusiasts, using some of the infrastructure Apple has built to support external PCIe devices for professionals. But doing so requires some nontrivial hacking to enable Thunderbolt GPU drivers, and the result remains buggy.
New hardware is not expected at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference keynote on June 13, where the company is instead expected to focus on the future of iOS and OS X. However, Wednesday's report suggested that Apple could pre-announce a new Thunderbolt Retina 5K display at WWDC for launch later this year.
Such a move wouldn't be unprecedented, as Apple offered a sneak peek at its redesigned Mac Pro at WWDC in 2013. The cylindrical desktop didn't actually arrive in the hands of consumers until just before the end of the year.
Given its niche appeal, a Thunderbolt Display could make sense as a product appealing to developers at WWDC. But there have been signs before of an impending refresh that never panned out.
Current Thunderbolt Display inventory has dwindled, furthering speculation that an update could be forthcoming. But stock also became limited earlier this year across Europe. Supply also dried up twice in 2013, with continued stock-outs likely related to the fact that the $999 product is outdated and overpriced when compared to other external monitors on the market.
Apple itself has been selling alternative displays, like the 4K IGZO Sharp LED monitor, for Mac customers looking for a high-resolution external display.