Apple's LED Cinema Display: A Too Short Story

When it came time to choose a display for my 2009 Mac Pro, I decided to stick with Apple. I purchased Apple's 24" LED Cinema Display. I have not regretted it. With its deep rich colors, sharp text, and an extremely wide angle of view, it is almost certainly the best monitor I have ever owned. I've even come to appreciate the glossy screen, much to my surprise. And unlike any other display I could have chosen, it comes with a built-in iSight camera. Woo!

There's just been one problem. It should have been a minor problem — but it unexpectedly exploded into a relatively large and costly one. At issue: the length of the Display's connecting cables. Or, more precisely, the lack of such length. In brief: the length of the triple-headed (MagSafe, Mini DisplayPort and USB) cable is too short to connect to a Mac Pro. Why? Given the size of the Mac Pro, most people (myself included) choose to keep the computer under their desk rather than on it. Unfortunately, the Cinema Display's cable is so short that it often can't reach the ports of an on-the-floor Mac Pro.

How did Apple go wrong here? Almost certainly, it's because Apple views the display primarily as an accessory for MacBooks. They even have a Display-MacBook Pro combo pictured on the Cinema Display's box. With this setup, the monitor and the computer will typically be nearly adjacent to each other. In this pairing, the short cable makes sense.

With a Mac Pro, however, the cable is likely to run out before it reaches your computer. In my case, I managed to overcome this obstacle, but just barely. The MagSafe cable was unneeded and could be ignored. For the USB connection, I used a USB extender cable. For the Mini DisplayPort, however, no such extender was available at the time. Still, with a good deal of effort and careful positioning, I was able to get the hardware close enough to each other so that I could plug the cable into the Mini DisplayPort on the Mac Pro.

Apple's position. "Is Apple aware of this issue?," I wondered. "Do they have a suggested solution?" I went to an Apple Store to find out. The staff I spoke with were indeed aware of the issue. But they had no solution to offer. Apple does not make any extender cable nor does the Store carry any such cable from a third-party. The staff had no clue as to when or even if Apple would ever provide a fix. Consistent with what I read in this Apple Discussions thread, their position was that Mac Pro users should either buy Apple's 30" Display or go with another display brand altogether.

This seemed an odd position to me, as it is designed to turn away sales. Indeed, a couple of users in the above-cited thread returned a just-purchased Cinema Display after they discovered this situation. The Mac Pro comes with the still rare Mini DisplayPort. You'd think Apple would want to offer a display to work with it. Apparently not.

From bad to worse to better. This is where things stood for me —until about a month ago. One day, when I wanted to access the back of the Mac Pro, I slid it forward. Momentarily forgetting the precarious balancing act I had arranged, this stretched the Mini DisplayPort cable to the point of bending the connector at the end. In a misguided attempt to undo the bend, I made matters worse. The cable no longer worked at all!

Unfortunately, the cable is not user-detachable from the display. I knew this meant that the cable would need to be replaced — and that this would not be a simple matter. The end result was that I had to leave the Display at an Apple Store for over a week, waiting for the replacement parts to arrive and be installed. It wound up costing me $150 (more than half of which was for labor). There were some further complications (I won't bother you with the details) which later led to Apple replacing the Display altogether (at no additional cost to me). I now have a new and working Display again.

Good news. In the middle of all of this, I discovered that third-party Mini DisplayPort extenders were on the verge of coming to market. They were not available at the time of my trouble, but you can buy one now. I have since purchased one from CPU Stuff for $20. sells a similar cable for even less. The cable works perfectly — which means that I should never have to worry about this problem again.

Will Apple now start carrying these extenders in their Stores? Or at least recommend them to potential customers? I don't know. But, if you're considering a 24" Cinema Display for a Mac Pro, you now know what to worry about and what to do about it.